Marion Owen Alaska
The glow from a small porch light defined my coordinates on the globe: A trampled patch of snow, the size of a manhole cover, located between a sliding glass door and an outhouse ‘privacy’ tent. …
Keys in hand, grocery list in my pocket, I head to the door for a round of errands.
While slipping on my gloves, I glance out the office window just long enough to watch several snowflakes make their way earthward. Finally, snow! I tossed the keys on the desk and scoot outside. Grabbing the black, 3-ring binder sitting on the barbecue, I hold it out at arm’s length like a beggar. One, two, three… the clear, individual snow crystals follow an air current down to the black plastic, and then touch down, oh so gently, like Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon. Magic fills the air as I prepare for what turns out to be 10-hour session of photographing snowflakes.
For five long days I had waited for snow. Outside, my camera-microscope waited by the barbeque, balanced on two milk crates in the wood shed. The weathermen teased me with forecasts of snow and single-digit temperatures, ideal snowflake conditions.
One after another the snowflakes come: Stellar dendrites, sectored plates, needles, double-plates, split plates, and snowflakes that look like cartoon characters. I work without gloves to allow for easy handling of the camera controls. But first I have to capture the snowflakes…
This is done by lifting a snow crystal off the notebook with the tip of a small paintbrush and transferring it to a glass microscope slide. While holding my breath I quickly focus and press the shutter release cable.
After 20+ years of practicing the art of snowflake photography, I still have a lot to learn. Lighting, for example, is very critical to illuminate an otherwise clear object. But I’ve picked up a few interesting factoids along the way. Like this one: Did you know that it takes only 15 minutes from the time the snow crystal begins to form around a tiny particle of dust (like a pearl around a grain of sand) to the moment it lands on my black notebook?
And that there are skinny snowflakes and fat snowflakes? Snowflake triangles and 12-sided snowflakes?
I suppose it’s easy to overanalyze snow crystals, how they form, what controls their shape and so on. Believe me, my mind craves to go there. But I’m reminded of a quote I read the other day, which helped me let go of the restlessness.
“One who mentally dissects and analyzes the botanical properties of a flower misses a full appreciation of its beauty. But one who focuses on how beautiful that flower is, allowing one’s intuitive feelings to respond to its pure essence, enjoys fully its loveliness.” — Paramahansa Yogananda
I hope you have a wonderful week. Thanks for stopping by. I’m finally off to do those errands I talked about at the beginning which includes mailing my seed orders for this year’s gardening season. Ah, the garden. That’s another story…
You can also find me on Facebook at Marion Owen Photography.
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 capture snowflakes with one’s camera. 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.
When the 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…
On 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.” Hmm, okay.
The third day began at 3:30 in the morning after 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.
A little while later, Janet appeared in her nightshirt. “Coffee?”
As Janet massaged Pigafetta (the cat’s) neck 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 up at Janet. Her eyes were sparkling with playful delight.
Here’s what both of our Dove bar “fortunes” said:
“Catch snowflakes on your tongue.”
To see more of my snowflake and snow crystal images, visit my Snowflakes and snow crystals gallery. (You can even get yourself a snowflake mouse pad!)
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Thank you for stopping by,