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They’re all different

This has not yet been a winter with a lot of snow, but I am sure more of it is coming. When the grandchildren were young, we often took out the sleds and ran down through the lawn.

We made snowmen and had snowball fights. We went skiing on some rather primitive skis.

If there was snow in the air, I taught the grandchildren to look carefully at each crystal. I shared this book with them to help them understand what they were seeing and the importance of the man who pioneered the research into snowflakes.

As I grew up, I loved to play in the snow. On a day when snowflakes were falling, I caught them on my jacket sleeve to examine. I had been told that all snowflakes were different. My “research” told me that was true.

Low and behold when my cousin, her husband, my husband and I traveled in the New England states we came upon a small museum. That museum was devoted to the work of Wilson Bentley otherwise known as “the snowflake man”.

Wilson grew up on a farm near Jericho, N.H. He had a tremendous interest in snow as well as other precipitation. That area received an average of 120 inches of snow each winter. “… from the beginning it was the snowflakes that fascinated me most,” said Bentley.

Bentley is credited with the phrase “No two snowflakes are alike.”

Bentley was a photographer and meteorologist. “While Lee’s army was evacuating Richmond and Grant’s army was moving south to block the retreat a baby boy named Wilson Alwyn Bentley was born.”

He was born on February 9, 1865.

What he accomplished is nothing but extraordinary for his time.

He pioneered work in the area of photomicrography.

On Jan. 15, 185, he became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal. From that first photo to his last which accounted for more than 5,000 images, he never found two alike.

His work was acquired by institutions all over the world. His writings and images were published in numerous journals including National Geographic and The National Weather Service.

In November 1931 his book “Snow Crystals” was published by McGraw/Hill. This book is still in print.

Bentley was homeschooled by his mother having only a couple years of formal education. It is said that his mother had a set of encyclopedias that he read diligently. It was probably in one of these books that he read about a camera that could take photographs through a microscope.

Although his father was not onboard, his mother persuaded him to purchase a bellows camera for his son. This was the beginning of Bentley’s intensive research with snowflakes.

A professor from the University of Vermont stumbled upon Bentley’s work and persuaded him to share it with the world.

Bentley describes the ice crystal like this: “A careful study of this internal structure not only reveals new and for greater elegance of form than the simple outline exhibit, but by means of these wonderfully delicate and exquisite figures much may be learned of the history of each crystal, and the changes through which it has passed as it journeyed through cloud-land. Was ever life history written in more dainty hieroglyphics!”

I never thought about a snowflake like that but I can see the merit of this thinking. Before a snowflake hits the ground, it has gone through a series of circumstances.

Bentley donated his original glass-plate photomicrographs of snow crystals to the Buffalo Museum of Science. I wish that I would have known about that when as a teacher we took our classes there to visit. I would have looked up the images.

While visiting the museum in Jericho I purchased a book about Snowflake Bentley written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian.

In my research I noticed that the book is still available for purchase. I used that book when I taught school to get my students interested in looking at snowflakes.

The bulk of the information for this piece came from Internet research into the man and his work. No doubt about it, snowflakes are fascinating. And you thought you were only looking at pieces of snow!

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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