Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Patience and understanding

In Comments recently there was some mention of Snowflake Bentley. Readers of Honey from Stone will know that Bentley has been a hero of mine since I came across the Dover collection of his snowflake microphotographs, hundreds of them, sometime back in the Sixties.

Wilson Bentley was born near Jericho, Vermont, in 1865. His mother was a schoolteacher, and from her he acquired a lively curiosity and a love for nature's minutiae -- drops of water, bits of stone, bird feathers, insects. By the time he was eight years old he had made a collection of every species of fern that grew in Vermont. On his fifteenth birthday, his mother gave him a microscope, and with it he looked at a snowflake. That was it! He spent the rest of his life perfecting the art of snowflake photography. By the time he died half-a-century later, he was known internationally as "the Snowflake Man." On the day after his death, the Burlington Free Press wrote: "He saw something in the snowflakes which other men failed to see, not because they could not see, but because they had not the patience and understanding to look."

If you have a very young child or grandchild, you might want to buy a copy of the Caldecott-Medal-winning Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin -- illustrated by the always wonderful Mary Azarian. Full disclosure: This book was published by Houghton-Mifflin, where my daughter Margaret presides over such things. She purchased from Mary -- as a present for me -- the original hand-colored cover illustration of Bentley at work, which now hangs in our dining room.