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  • Writer's picturewendybrd

Frost Beard Philosophy, by Wendy Peterman, PhD

Last year, I was hiking in late winter with a colleague in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon. We kept passing something fuzzy and white growing on small broken pieces of wood on the ground - white hair growing on sticks. At first, I thought it was the hyphae of a fungus but it was soft to the touch, oddly dry, and slightly cold. Eventually, I realized it was tiny filaments of ice that seemed to be extruded from the straw-like cells of the wood’s xylem.

After our hike, we looked it up. It turned out to be a phenomenon called “hair ice” or “frost beard.” It is ice that is extruded from the cells of the piece of wood, and it’s extremely rare. It only happens in freezing weather at that exact latitude during a brief period after the wood dies and only when a certain microscopic fungus is present inside the wood that pushes the ice out of the cells to form these hairs.

It was so special!

How cool that our imagination and frame of reference could conceive of such a phenomenon, and even more cool that nature has made such a specific process.

How does this relate to individuality and uniqueness?

Well, it’s different. It’s rare. It takes a precise set of conditions to manifest, just like our personalities. The unique circumstances and influences of our environments and our internal biology have shaped and formed us into something unique just like the fungi and the tiny icicles on those sticks. To me, these differences are beautiful, exciting, curious.

How precious the people who can see us in our uniqueness with the celebration and delight my colleague and I felt at our personal discovery of icy hairs on sticks in the woods.

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