Thursday, October 26, 2006

The gift of sleep

naturalist and Bearwalking recently gave us links to low-temperature scanning electron microscope photographs of snow crystals. (Click to enlarge)

Hans Castorp, on Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, looked at snow crystals on his sleeve and found them "uncannily anti-organic, life denying." The effect was terrifying.

Beautiful, yes, but frightening. The cold, aseptic stillness of the inorganic. These are the insignia death wears on its sleeve.

But on an even more microscopic scale the crystals are aquiver with the eternal and ubiquitous vibrations of atomic matter. Looked at close enough, the icy hardness we see in the photograph dissolves into pure song, a kind of music that no human ear is keen enough to hear. The hardness, the Euclidian perfection, the life-denying fixity of the ice crystals are illusions of human perception. And just as well. If we could see or hear the commotion at the heart of every ice crystal -- every cloud, every stone, every cell in our body, the whole of creation burning like the bush Moses saw while tending sheep on the mountain -- all that agitation might be scarier than death.