Overnight, the world turned white….. I always like to go outside before snow plows and shovels ruin a perfect picture. There’s something very magical about the light reflected by billions and billions of unique crystals. Fallen from heaven, those tiny flakes perform a timeless, selfless act. Down to earth, they reflect the light of the moon and stars, giving back what they receive, before melting away, only to be reincarnated.
A Buddhist might say that the beauty of snowflakes lies in their transient nature. One moment they’re here. The next, they’re gone. But leave it to less-philosophical people to attempt to defeat the inevitable passing of time and stop the clock from ticking. We’ve become quite good at it, actually. I’m not referring to the treatments available in certain celebrity spas. Mankind has developed even more sophisticated time capsules that do not involve the use of Clostridium botulinum.
Instead of smoothing away the ripples of the past, I wish to preserve them as best as I can. Why? Because those wrinkles are the storylines of our life. It’s where our ‘biology reflects our biography’, as Caroline Myss would put it. So, how do I go about my acts of self-preservation? It’s quite simple.
I am a professional voice-over actor, so for this purpose I use a clever device that is capable of capturing the moment, right before its echo is about to disappear into nothingness. It’s called a microphone. The very moment my sound meets the silence, I catch it; I record it and I store it in a safe place.
It wasn’t as easy for Wilson Bentley. Born in 1865, he grew up on a farm in Jericho, Vermont. As a teenager he became fascinated by snowflakes. When he was fifteen, his mother gave him a microscope, and soon Wilson was on a mission to capture what he affectionately called “ice flowers”. Trying to draw them was impossible, because the flakes would vanish before he was able to finish the picture. His breath would take them away.
After years of experimentation, the 19-year old Bentley became the first person ever to photograph a single snow crystal, using a bellows camera to which he adapted a Dutch invention, the compound microscope. And it was Bentley, who discovered that no two snowflakes are alike.
During his lifetime, he captured more than five thousand snowflakes. He also published articles for magazines and journals including National Geographic and Scientific American, and filled nine notebooks with 47 years worth of his observations and analysis. In 1925 he wrote:
“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”
Earlier this year, on a trip to Vermont, I visited the Snowflake Bentley Museum at the Old Red Mill in Jericho. There I learned that this pioneer of science and photography, who had dedicated his life to studying snow crystals, eventually died of pneumonia after walking home through a blizzard. But, as that blockbuster movie trailer voice-over guy would say: “His legacy lives on.”
While the world around me was covered up in white, I found myself reminiscing about a year that had nearly come to an end. Most moments had melted away, almost without a trace. But then I had to think of memories that had actually crystallized into something concrete. There’s this small collection of blog posts that can still be read, and of course my voice can be heard on countless projects that, hopefully, will be around for a while.
No matter what we do in life, at some point in our journey, all of us have to ask ourselves the big questions:
“Does what I do really matter? What’s the purpose? Do I make a difference? What do I leave behind when it’s my time to go home?”
I’m no expert in the afterlife, but who knows… long after I’m gone, my grandchildren might even pick up one of the audio books I recorded this year. And as they listen to my voice, painstakingly preserved for posterity, the sounds that were frozen in time become fluid. In a flurry of words, past and present embrace each other in the now of the moment, and nothing, nothing will ever be the same again.
Call me a flake, but I think that’s just very cool!