Have you ever seen a snowflake up close? Really close? This is a story about snowflakes and a little miracle that happened while I was photographing them. First, you’d think that living in Kodiak, Alaska would provide ample opportunities to do such things. After all, we share the same latitude as Stockholm, Sweden.
But Kodiak Island is a temperate rainforest. Our weather is influenced by the 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.
To find “good” snowflakes I head north to Anchorage; more specifically, to Janet and Jerry George’s house. Once there, I set up my microscope + camera inside an outhouse privacy tent. It’s not the Ritz, but it works.
Loving the outdoors
When snow is falling, 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…
My personal story about snowflakes
Disappointment. The flakes were covered with frozen water droplets which looked like warts. I needed 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.
I chased snowflakes for several hours before 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.”
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 the 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 all over
Just like that. The falling snowflakes shrank to the size of poppy seeds. A strong breeze dusted snow all over my equipment. I happily resigned my fate, still glowing from the 30-minute gift of snowflakes. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped inside.
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.
Janet 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.
I hope you felt a touch of inspiration with my story about snowflakes.
Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!
You might also enjoy my little video about keeping the [snow] faith:
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.