Micro-Season: “The Mountain Stream Freezes Over”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Mountain Stream Freezes Over”. This is the second micro-season of the mini-season Major Cold.  All the micro-seasons within Major Cold are:

  • The Giant Butterbur Flowers (Jan. 21 – Jan 24)
  • The Mountain Stream Freezes Over (Jan 25 – Jan 29)
  • The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs (Jan 30 – Feb 03)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

To celebrate this season, we will learn about what it takes for moving water to freeze, and then read haiku by Basho, Issa, and Shiki..

A Frozen Mountain Stream

All water will freeze when it reaches 32 ℉ (0 ℃). However, flowing water, such as water in rivers and streams, will freeze at a slower rate than standing water, like water in ponds or lakes. The scientists at UC Santa Barbara explain this concept by stating:

“For flowing water to freeze, the surrounding air has to be colder than 32°F, because the flowing water mixes with itself. So, the colder water on the surface mixes with the warmer water from the bottom, and the average temperature is somewhere between the two. . . Also, the motion of the water can cause heating. For example, water in a waterfall gains kinetic energy as it falls, which is converted into heat and sound energy at the bottom. Therefore, the surrounding air temperature would have to be lower to force the water in the waterfall to cool to 32°F and freeze.”(1)

So, for flowing water to freeze, it needs to be significantly colder than 32 ℉ for a considerable amount of time in order to facilitate the drop in water’s temperature below freezing.  This is why your neighborhood pond might be frozen but the river that runs through the town is not.

Now let’s take a closer look at two of the factors that influence how quickly flowing water freezes.    

The Source Of Water 

As we learned in “The Springwater Holds Its Warmth”, spring water is stored in underground aquifers and the temperature underground is warmer than the temperature above ground.   In Vermont, where the winters are pretty cold, the frost line is estimated to be 5 feet down.  That means that once you get below 5 feet down, the temperature stays above freezing.  Therefore, even if the spring water is not considered a “hot spring” the water that comes to the surface from an aquifer will be below freezing and will mix with the surface water reducing heat loss. 

How Fast Is The Stream Moving?

As the scientists at UC Santa Barbara said, movement produces kinetic energy. The faster the water is moving the more kinetic energy it will have. This will then create heat and slow down the rate at which the water can freeze.  A simple way to see this concept in action is to compare a slow-moving brook to a faster-moving mountain waterfall.  While the temperature around a mountain waterfall and a mountain brook might be the same, the brook will usually freeze faster.  Walter H. Smith, Associate Professor of Biology at The University of Virginia puts it this way:

 “In reality, freezing becomes a close dance between air temperatures and streamflow. The cooler the temperatures and the slower the flow, the more quickly a stream will freeze.”(2)

A Note About Ice Safety

Although it can be fun to walk on a frozen lake or river, it can also be dangerous. A general rule is that 4 inches or more of ice is safe to walk on.  Any less than that poses a safety risk. Also, ice that forms over rivers and streams can vary greatly in its thickness so extra care should be taken when crossing these waterways. 

Icicles photo by Dan Hamill on Pexels.com
Icicles by Dan Hamill

Seasonal Haiku

According to the World Kigo Database, Ice (koori) is a late winter kigo.  However, there are some variations of ice that make it a kigo for other seasons.  For example, First Ice is a mid-winter kigo.  Whereas, thin ice, melting ice, or floating ice are spring kigo.

With all this in mind, let’s read some frozen haiku.


awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice
(translated by Sam Hamill)
ice is bitter
in the mouth of the rat
quenching its thirst. 
(translated by David Landis Barnhill)
drawing water, 
ice-covered monks’ 
shoes make a racket! 
(translated by Thomas McAuley)


the ice of the moat
winter moon
(translated by David G Lanoue)
night wind--
the shrine's icicles
reflect the lights
(translated by David G Lanoue)
on honorable Buddha's
honorable nose
an icicle
(translated by David G Lanoue)


one spoonful
of ice cream brings me
back to life
(translated by Tanaka Kimiyo)

A Haiku Invitation

This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references frozen water in any form. You may want to write about the icicles that form on the eaves of the house, the ice on your car’s windshield, or even ice fishing.

Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!  


  1. UCSB Science Line; Question Forum
  2. Smith, Watler H. “Why Do Streams Not Freeze In Winter”. Appalachian Biodiversity and Society Lab
  3. “Adirondack Lake Ice Safety” Ausable River Association
  4. Ice (koori). World Kigo Database

Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor: Gábor Terebess.  Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Shiki’s haiku was retrieved from Terebess Asia Online

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89 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Mountain Stream Freezes Over”

Add yours

  1. Thanks Mark for another interesting and informative post and selection of poems concerning “The Mountain Stream Freezes Over”. ‘Thinking Writer’s Cap On’ time! Have a great day My Friend.

    1. Hi Anita,
      Thank you so much for joining the conversation and adding your work. I so enjoy the imagery of “wisteria trellis/draped in icicles” . What a wonderful moment!

  2. In one of those old travel books – “Things Japanese” put out in 1900, the author remarks how the Japanese after Feb. 2, would change into summer like clothing. He couldn’t understand what they were thinking. These series of postings does shed light on that peculiarity.

    1. Living in a the northern parts of the United States it is really hard to believe people would transition to summer weather so soon. However, by this calendar, spring is just around the corner! Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well.

  3. This is a fun challenge, natural phenomena demanding explanation. I particularly appreciate the sound imagery of Issa’s and Basho’s haiku. Ice cracking! I look forward over the next few days to reading everyone’s contributions. What immediately came to mind was the novel, “The Ice Palace,” by Tarjei Vesaas about a magnificent but dangerous ice castle and how it affected a little community.

    Rivers roar deeply
    Under cloudy mute surface
    —Frozen waterfall—

    1. Hi Mary Jo, I so enjoy the sound you bring into this haiku. I was thinking about the multiple ways to interpret “mute”. Either mute in sound or mute in color. Both are very applicable to ice. Wonderful addition. Thank you!
      Also, I am not familiar with the novel you mention, but it sounds interesting!

      1. Thank you, Mark. The novel is minimalist and spare in style but rich in meaning, like haiku. I think you would enjoy it. Very short, but it will stay with you a lifetime.

    2. Love your ku, Mary. Frozen waterfall resonates with me, specially now that in Mauritius we are witnessing spectacular torrential rains running down the mountains like frozen waterfalls. The Ice Palace is a very interesting and good read. Thank you!

  4. frozen fountain
    the layers of ice
    between us

    Which leads me to a question: would you consider this a haiku or senryu?

    1. Hi Eavonka, haiku or senryu? I think that is the big question. I just did a little dive into that for a haiku group that I started in town and reference the work of Hiruta from Akita International Haiku Network and Michael Dylan Welch (Graceguts).
      Hiruta said this, “senryu tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryu are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.” And he said, “Both haiku and senryu can be about nature, but if it’s about nature, it’s probably a haiku. In addition, both haiku and senryu can be about nature or human nature. Both haiku and senryu can be serious or humorous/satirical. A serious poem about nature is certainly a haiku. And a funny/satirical poem about human nature is certainly a senryu.”
      So, I am not really sure. I guess I would lean to senryu?? Maybe??

      1. Yes, I lean that way too on this one, but ultimately, I think poems like this one can be labeled either. I like that, but I know many who remain adamant about labels.

      2. I was listening to Ben Gaa’s Haiku Talk yesterday and he was reading another haiku that had a strong nature reference, yet was very much a commentary on human nature. He said that one was a haiku because of the nature reference. Hmmm. Maybe this is a case where it depends on the reader?

      1. Growing up in Alabama, we had iced tea for lunch and dinner. My wife and I went to California in 1970 for a year of graduate study. The first restaurant we went in for lunch, I asked for iced tea and the waiter was confused. So, when I thought about about the ice suggestion for a haiku, that remembrance just popped in my mind. I continue to love your posts! Thanks, LaMon

      2. Thanks so much for sharing the backstory to the haiku. It is often so interesting to hear the origin story of these short poems.
        I am glad that you are enjoying the post! Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Apparently I’m slow off the mark… and missed last week. I may try and attend to that. But I have some other catching up to do… including this lovely prompt.
    In the three decades that we have been where we are – the creek behind us has only frozen strong enough to hold a man once!

    Be back sooner or later.

    1. Thanks for the great addition to the conversation! I was thinking that I remembered you writing something for last week, and you did! Have a great weekend and I hope you are able to catch up with your mail!

      1. Thanks, Eavonka. That means a lot to me. Only the first did any editor ever choose for publication. The other ones I either had rejected multiple times or felt wouldn’t be accepted even if I did. My black ice was one of my favorites. ~nan

    1. These are really lovely and resonate to evoke real moments. I have several haiku on my blog with the tag “Winter.” A couple deal with ice, like this one…

      Dripping eaves, Children
      break off and lick icicles
      Pretend crystal spears

    2. Hi Nan, Thanks for sharing these! I don’t think you had the first one posted on twitter. It was a nice surprise! I agree with others, such a solid offering for the season. Have a great rest of your weekend!

      1. Hey Mark! You are correct; I didn’t post all of them on Twitter. I’d hate to give away all my secrets. Thanks for the compliment, too. Have a great weekend , too. ~nan

  6. Thanks, Mark, for sharing the information about ice and its forming, very educational. I also really enjoyed the beautiful words and serenity in celebrating ice.

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed this post and your haiku response is perfect for the season. Thanks so much for sharing your work! I hope you have a good week.

    1. Hi Cindy, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. It has been a week!! Thanks so much for your kind words and support. I hope all is well!

    1. I am so glad that you are appreciating the posts! I think finding ways to connect to nature is so important for our health. I have found that poetry is a great vehicle for me to do that.

      1. You’re absolutely right. Connecting with nature is the key to good health – both individually – and for the whole of humanity. And the more we take care of the health and well-being of nature, the healthier we will all be.

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