Snowflakes and Chocolate
Some people like to photograph penguins; I like to photograph snowflakes. Now you’d think that living in Kodiak, Alaska would provide ample opportunities to photograph snowflakes. After all, we share the same latitude with Stockholm, Sweden.
Ah, but Kodiak Island’s weather is influenced by the warmish Japanese current, so we often end up with snow that resembles giant cotton balls; not the exquisite, 6-sided snowflakes you see in children’s books.
So to find snowflakes I must head north to Anchorage; more specifically, to Janet and Jerry George’s house. Once there, I set up my microscope + camera under a tarp, which has been draped over two sawhorses. It’s not the Ritz, but it works.
I spend as much time as I can outside. To dress for the part, I zip, button, snap and Velcro on many layers of clothes. I could pass as the Michelin man’s sister.
Then I get to work, using a tiny paintbrush to transfer each snowflake to a glass microscope slide. After double-checking the focus, I snap the picture. I spend a lot of time on my knees, and all this must be accomplished within seconds.
Oh, and I breathe out of the side of my mouth, like a swimmer.
When I no longer can feel the shutter release button with my fingers, I retreat indoors to warm up, grab a fresh camera battery, use the bathroom…
How I photograph snowflakes
Day One: The flakes were not great: covered with frozen water droplets which gave the snowflakes a warty appearance. Time for a break. Janet must have been watching me through the kitchen window. She met me at the door. “Come on in and have some coffee. Fresh pot. I also have these new Dove bars. Dark chocolate with almonds.”
I pulled off a glove with my teeth and reached for a candy. Fumbling a bit, I peeled off the purple foil wrapper and noticed a message printed on the inside. It read: “Renew your sense of discovery.”
“Mine says, ‘Feel free to be yourself,’ Janet said. We both laughed.
The next day, after chasing snowflakes for hours and then sitting down to a savory dinner of scallops (topped with marmalade and caramelized onions), Janet set a small dish of Dove bars on the table. “Just a little sweet to finish the meal.”
We unwrapped our candies. “Satisfy your sense of surprise,” Janet announced. Mine was, well, a little vague: “Stir your sense of pleasure.”
The third day began at 3:30 in the morning. I woke up, sensing a good flurry was happening. I suited up and headed out the door onto the deck. The air was still. An owl who-who-ed from a tree close by. Snow crystals fell like mini tumbleweeds, shimmering like tiny mirrors reflecting moonlight.
For 30 minutes I collected and photographed prisms, plates, stars and yes, the tree-like, stellar dendrites as the classic snowflakes are called. I even saw a rare, 12-sided snowflake.
Then it was over, just like that
The falling snowflakes shrank to the size and shape of poppy seeds. A strong breeze blew snow all over my equipment. I didn’t mind. I was ecstatic, having witnessed and photographed Nature’s magic. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped inside.
A little while later, Janet appeared in her nightshirt. “Coffee?”
Janet patted her cat, Pigafetta and sipped coffee. I described the 12-sided snowflake and the beautiful, jewel-like plates.
She smiled and pushed the bowl of Dove bars towards me. We both selected one and peeled off the red foil. The words printed inside seemed to leap off the wrapper. I looked at Janet. Her eyes were sparkling with playful delight.
Until next time… cheers!
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Marion Owen is a “Jill of all trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives, condensing topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening into bite-size pieces. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel newly recharged when taking pictures.