Friday, November 25, 2005

First snowfall

One fat flake. Then two. Then dozens dancing in the air. One lands on the sleeve of my jacket -- a perfect hexagon, an icon of some great ordering principle in nature. Hold out my arm. Another, and another. Each with an invisible heart of stone, a microscopic grain of atmospheric dust about which water molecules crystallized high in the storm. Now my sleeve is covered with flakes, patterns of flawless loveliness and infinite variability. The flakes seem static, the essence of rigidity, but I know that the molecules are impressed into their symmetries by atomic vibrations of exquisite sensitivity, molecular resonances, a kind of cold, wet cosmic music.

"The snowflake eternally obeys its one and only law: Be thou six-pointed," wrote the naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch. The story of the snow was finished the day the universe was born, but the story of life is still in the telling. Life is "rebellious and anarchical," said Krutch. "It may hope and it may try."

And so we hope and try, living in a world of our own imagining, struggling to escape the blind inevitably of nature's laws, trying on new futures: six points? five? seven? ten? As Krutch reminded us, no living thing can be as icily beautiful as the snowflake, but no snowflake can know what beauty is.