The quiddity of snowflakes

We had our first real snow last night and I sat here listening to 50 Words For Snow and letting my mind drift. I thought about Wilson Bentley's first photographs of snowflakes.

From Gopnik's Winter:
"Over his lifetime, Bentley took portraits of 5,31 snow crystals... and inserted into the world's imagination the image of the stellate flower as the typical, the "iconic" snowflake—and he inserted, as well, the idea of the snowflakes' quiddity, their uniqueness, their individuality...

But in truth most snowcrystals, it seems—as he knew and kept quiet about—are nothing like our hanging star-flower; they're asymmetrical, irregular, bluntly geometric: typed as solid columns and simple prisms and simple needles plain and blunt and misshapen as, well, people." (p. 46)

But beyond flawless symmetry, there's more yet that we are wrong to assume about snowflakes. Cloud scientists have found identical snow crystals high up in those clouds.

"Snowflakes, it seems, are not only alike, they usually start out as more or less the same. But if this notion threatens to be depressing—it was only the happy eye of nineteenth-century optimism that saw radical individuality here—one can in the end put a brighter spin on things. It turns out that, while it's true snowflakes often start out alike, it is their descent from the clouds into the world that makes them alter... Their different shapes are all owed to their different paths downwards" (p.49-50)

More reading:
Photographing Snowflakes by Wilson A. Bentley
Snow Beauties by Wilson A. Bentley

Image sources: 1 | 2 | 3
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