Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dances with Snow

What strange weather we're having! It was forty degrees earlier this morning when David and I got up. Now I look out the window and big fat flakes of snow are falling, prompting me to check the thermometer again: thirty-six.

I love watching snow fall, at least when it's not falling thickly while I'm trying to drive a car on a highway with a long way to go to reach my destination. Maybe it's that snow still triggers some childhood delight; maybe it's partly because it amazes me that a snowflake, which is so near to being weightless, still has enough "gravity" to fall earthward (though some snowflakes, probably the driest ones, drift and dawdle their way down). Maybe it's knowing a little bit about the beautiful and delightful mysteries of snow crystals--that each one is unique, although more like countless unique variations on a theme.

I once gave my father, a guy who read, really read, Scientific American for fun and did the geeky math puzzles that were toward the back of every issue (am I making that up?), a book about snowflakes. I remember finding it in the Harvard COOP and thinking it was the coolest book! After my father died, and when my mother was moving house and trimming down her belongings a bit, I brought that book back to my house, happy to have it on my shelf.

It's a collection of plates from the photographs of "Snowflake Bentley," a Vermont gentleman, self-educated farmer and photographer who invented a way of photographing snowflakes and contributed greatly to our knowledge of their multi-variant designs. He also caught a few plates of frost on window panes--another marvel! Tree branches! Fern fronds! He's now the subject of at least one children's book and maybe even a museum in Jericho, Vermont, his longtime home.

As if that weren't reason enough to be entranced by snow, there's also more recent research that suggests that the molecules of a snowflake "know" how to go about building a particular crystal by communicating with each other through vibrations, almost musically, or dancingly!

Chet Raymo's book Honey From Stone includes the following lyrical descriptions of this phenomenon:

     "Careful studies have shown that on the atomic scale the snowflake is a frenzy of activity. The molecules of  water furiously wing their hydrogen arms like dancers in a tarantella. The electronic bonds between the molecules are made a broken a million times a second. Faults in the crystal . . . jump from place to place like unruly children in a teacherless classroom. And somehow, in the midst of this atomic caprice, the snowflake acquires and retains an ordered form.

     "Some physicists think that vibrations of the crystalline lattice are the instrument of communication, vibrations that are exquisitely sensitive to the shape of the crystal. If this is so, then the growing snowflake maintains its symmetry in the same way that members of an orchestra stay in consonance, by sharing the sound of the ensemble. The snowflake's beauty, then, is orchestral! The facultas formatrix is vibration. Nature shudders in its sublimity. Atoms dance to inaudible music. The cloud jams. The rock jives. The lake's still surface boogie-woogies."

And so it seems to be--as others, inspired by quantum physics, would also claim--all matter is energy vibrating! Indeed, everything is energy vibrating! Thoughts, moods, the stories we tell ourselves, what we believe about ourselves and our lives. And if energy vibrating, then far more malleable than we're apt to think. We can change the music, the tune, the dance. We can dance with the snow.

4 comments:

Meredith said...

I think you've just described "God."

d ogo said...

very cool

godofredo

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