We've just received a foot and a half of the white stuff here in NW CT, the first significant snowfall of the season and an opportunity to become reacquainted with its many charms and challenges. While the old canard that Eskimo languages have more than 200 words for snow has been roundly debunked as reflecting more about our own values and attitudes about Eskimo-Aleut speaking people than linguistic fact, it is still worth considering that those who live in close proximity to snow have complex relationships with it. For every child who plunges gleefully into a snowbank or skier who hits the powdery slopes, there is another person cursing the slush in her boots while digging out after another school cancellation. Not many generations ago, those of us in northern climes struggled to stay warm and fed on the very limits of survival in lands where the snow lay deep.
All in all, it takes a person of very special temperament to maintain their affection and wonder for snow throught the long cold winter. One such was Vermont farmer Wilson Alwyn Bentley, who in 1885 at the age of 19 managed to photograph individual snow crystals by hooking up a microscope to his bellows camera. It was the first time anyone had ever photographed single snowflakes, and during the course of his lifetime "Snowflake" Bentley took more than 5,000 photographs of snow crystals. His photomicrographs are in many museum collections today.
A talented, sensitive and inquisitive man, he was regarded as decidedly odd by his neighbors in Jericho, Vermont, but his lifelong interest in atmospheric inquiry never lost its sense of wonder or dulled his curiosity. A lover of music, a talented artist, and a innovative scientist, the walls of Bentley's world came down in snow crystals, and we are all the richer for it.