WHEN I STARTED TEACHING in New York City in January of 1974 I made a promise to myself that whenever it would start to snow, and a student would call out in excitement, "Look, it's snowing!" that I would not respond in a way that would stop the enthusiastic delight. Rather, that I would share their joy and allow for some moments of wonder. For heaven's sake, we were in Harlem - if there was ever a place that needed some moments of wonder!
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein
A recent newspaper article about a Cosmology conference began with the question, "What creativity brought forth a trillion galaxies?" Indeed and we might ponder, what creativity brings forth the seemingly endless diversity of snowflakes?
Snowflakes are not frozen rain - that's sleet. Snowflakes rather are water vapor droplets that have condensed and frozen into ice around a dust particle or pollen high in the atmosphere. This becomes the "seed" from which the snowflake will grow. That much is known. What happens next depends on the temperature and to a lesser extent how much humidity is in the air. Those fluctuations bring about the endless branching or growth of the snowflakes while faceting creates the flat plates between the branches. That endless and often very subtle differentiation of each snowflake, believe it or not, remains a mystery.
When sunlight strikes accumulating snow, the collection of many snowflake branches and facets breaks up the light, sending it in all directions, resulting in the white appearance that so delights us.
If I were a teacher today each student would have bits of dark wool and magnifying glasses at the ready. When it snowed we'd reach out the window to catch snowflakes on our wool and then make quick examinations (before melting could steal away the moment) to see the uniqueness of the flakes we caught. Snow on snow on snow - wonder on top of wonder on top of wonder