A “Snow” Full Moon

A “Snow” Full Moon

“Silently, like thoughts that come and go, the snowflakes fall, each one a gem.” – William Hamilton Gibson

January reminded us of what winter can really be like here in Southern New England when it dumped one to two feet of snow on The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.  Saturday, Jan. 29 we got walloped by a nor’easter blizzard that raged all day. It was our first blizzard in a while, and thankfully it hit on a weekend when most folks were off the roads and home from work and school. Having that much soft snow around was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday at 11:57 a.m. is the next full moon, known as the Snow Full Moon. Unfortunately, it will have set at that time but for most of us casual stargazers it will still look full Tuesday night and when it rises Wednesday night. The February Full Snow Moon is obviously named since it is typically the snowiest month of the year. We’ll have to wait and see if January was the start of an even snowier winter here in The Last Green Valley. We have had major storms well into March and even in April. I’ve said before in this column that I enjoy winter, but that January blizzard reminded me of one of my favorite wintertime memories. The light fluffy snow brought me back to the day my mom helped us catch falling snowflakes and taught us something at the same time.

It was during one of those glorious “school cancelled due to snow” days when we had been sent out to shovel the driveway. Mom had put a large piece of black construction paper in the freezer and about an hour later she put on her coat, hat and gloves, took the now-frozen paper from the freezer, grabbed a magnifying glass and joined us outside.

She held the construction paper flat to the sky, and we watched for about 10 seconds as light snowflakes covered the surface of the frozen paper. Carefully holding the paper flat, she walked under the covered carport to get out of the falling snow and wind. We gathered around, and mom said, “don’t get too close to the paper or your warm breath might melt the flakes.” One by one she handed us the magnifying glass to behold the wonder of beautifully shaped hexagon snowflakes, each frozen crystal different and distinct against the black paper. She told us no two snowflakes are alike. We tried in vain to find two that matched. It was the first time I saw real hexagon (six sided) flakes, just like the ones we had made in school to tape to the classroom windows.

I subscribe to a quarterly publication called Northern Woodlands that also puts out a regular e-newsletter under the banner The Outside Story. In December they published an article by Frank Kaczmarek, “How to Preserve a Snowflake” where I discovered the fascinating story of Wilson Bentley from Jericho, Vermont, the first to person to produce a series of photographs of individual snowflakes.

Like me, Bentley’s mother helped him learn about the fascinating structures of snowflakes. In Bentley’s case his mother gifted him a microscope after years of his attempts to draw snowflakes. He began experimenting with photography as a way to capture the temporary art of the snowflake. For years later, Bentley created the first photograph of a snowflake.

“Over the next 47 winters, Bentley produced more than 5,000 photographs of individual snowflakes. More than 2,400 of his images were published in 1931 in a book titled ‘Snow Crystals,’ which remains in print today, earning the farmer the affectionate moniker ‘Snowflake’ Bentley,” Kaczmarek wrote.

Bentley’s work convinced him no two snowflakes are the same and according to Kaczmarek he wrote in 1925 “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no design was ever repeated.”

Kaczmarek wrote “a snowflake begins when water vapor high in the atmosphere condenses on a particle of dust or pollen, then freezes into a tiny ice crystal. This initial crystal acts as a seed from which the snowflake grows. The crystal reflects the shapes of the molecules that form it. All snowflakes have a hexagonal, or six-sided, shape but exhibit unique geometries – from flat, plate-like prisms to elaborate branching structures. These differences are due to minute variations in temperature and humidity the growing crystal encounters during its fall to earth.

Most meteorologists agree it is incredibly unlikely that two snowflakes would experience identical conditions at the microscopic level as they travel downward, and so – in theory – accept Bentley’s belief that no two snowflakes are alike.”

The full Northern Woodlands article can be found at:

https://northernwoodlands.org/outside_story/article/preserve-snowflake

Next time we have snow I hope you’ll go catch snowflakes. Perhaps you’re inspired by the story of Wilson Bentley and will make photographs of your own with the latest technology. Or you might want to start with the simple materials my mother used so many years ago. If conditions are right, you just might catch your own perfectly shaped snowflakes. Most importantly, you’ll create memories to last a lifetime.

Will the February Snow Full Moon be a harbinger for more snow this month? I’ll be looking for more of those silently falling snowflake gems, each one unique and worthy of our amazement and wonder. I hope you’ll join me and enjoy the rest of winter. Spring will be here before you know it.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or by email bill@tlgv.org.

 

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