We have probably all heard the term “snowflake” bandied about as a derogatory term for someone who is, in the opinion of the name-caller, ‘too sensitive.” Of course, real snowflakes, the cold, wet kind, really are sensitive…they can’t survive when there is too much heat around, for instance. Today, we are going to talk about that frozen, wet stuff.
“Mom, what kind of stories do you have for us today?” Allen was already settling down on the arm of my chair, in a good position to snooze off if he wasn’t interested in what I was saying.
“Since it’s been so snowy and cold in many parts of the United States recently,” I told him, “I thought we’d talk about snow.”
“Snow? What’s that?” I heard Kiki’s voice from over my head as she arranged herself on the top of the chair, letting her tail wag a bit in my face.
“You know what rain is, right?” I asked them.
“I do know,” Kiki said proudly. “Rain is that wet stuff that someone was throwing at us when we went out on the deck the other day.”
“Oh, yes. I don’t know who was doing that,” Allen added. “I love to go out on that deck. It’s a great place to watch squirrels and birds. Sometimes they even come up on the railing and chatter at us. Do you think anyone is out there today with wet stuff?”
“No,” I assured him. “The sun is out today. And actually, nobody is actually out there throwing wet stuff at you. It just comes from the clouds that form in the sky.
They looked at me like I was crazy. “Wet stuff comes out of the sky?”
“And so what does rain have to do with this snow stuff you were talking about?” Allen wanted to know.
“Well, both rain and snow come from the clouds, and they are both wet. If the air is cold enough, the wet drops freeze into tiny, hard pieces of ice crystals.”
Allen was wide-eyed. “Wow! They look like they have spiky corners. Do they hurt if they hit you?”
“One snowflake won’t hurt you because it is very tiny. In fact, sometimes it is fun to stick out your tongue and let some snowflakes fall on it. They feel cool and refreshing.”
“Do these snowflakes ever fall on our deck?” Kiki was still speaking from above my head.
“Most of the time, where we live, that wetness is just rain because it doesn’t often get cold enough here for it to freeze. However, I have seen snow on that deck a few times. It usually doesn’t stay there very long, unlike what happens in other places, where it can pile up higher than my head.”
Allen sat up. “I think I remember one of those times. I went out on the deck to see if there were any critters out there, and there was some white stuff on the floor that was very cold. I didn’t like it very much and ran back inside.”
“What happens when the snow piles up very high?” Kiki was amazed. “Don’t you get lost in all that stuff?”
“I’ve never really walked through snow that was higher than my head, but I have played in the snow.”
“But don’t your feet get cold?”
“People have things to put on their feet to keep them warm and dry. However, if I stay out long enough, my feet begin to get too cold and I come back in. The snow is slippery, and it can be fun for a while, to slide around in it. Sometimes people pack it together and make snow creatures, like this cat here.”
“Do you think we could go and touch that cat?”
“Unfortunately, that cat was made with snow in England, 14 years ago, and the weather has been warm a number of times since then. Remember, when the air is warm, the snow and ice melt.”
“That white stuff is made up of very tiny pieces called snowflakes. They are very fragile, and will melt quickly if the air around them gets warm. Sometimes when I am driving in the car, little pieces of ice hit the windshield and then they melt into water and roll down.”
”I think I’d like to see one of those snowflakes,” they both chorused.
“Over a hundred years ago, a teenager was interested in just that very thing. His name was Wilson Bentley, and he lived in Vermont, which is a pretty cold place in the winter.”
“Did he go out and get some of them and bring them in so he could look at them inside his warm house?”
“He couldn’t do that because the snowflakes would melt in the warm air. So he had to take them into their yard where they had a shed for keeping firewood. It was cold in there, but it was dry and there was no wind to blow his work away. He had to use thick gloves to pick up the flakes so the warmth of his hands wouldn’t destroy them. Then he used a straw from a broom and a feather to move them around.”
“Didn’t he get cold out there?”
“I’m sure he did but he was so interested in his explorations that he stayed out in the cold. His mother had given him a microscope left over from her job as a science teacher, and he was able to look at the snowflakes through the microscope and see what they looked like up close.”
“Did he take his cat out there with him? Wasn’t it too cold?”
“Sorry. His story doesn’t tell us about his pets. But I think a cat might have gotten pretty cold after a while, even if it did have an extra layer of winter fur.”
“And so what did these snowflakes look like?”
“Wilson was amazed to discover that each snowflake was made up of six sides or six spokes, and that no two were alike.”
“Do you think we could look in a microscope and see that?”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a microscope here. Neither do we have any snowflakes. Besides, you two don’t like to be cold. In fact, I don’t, either.”
“But I want to see what those things look like,” whined Kiki.
“Luckily, in 1885, that young man figured out a way to take pictures of the snowflakes. He put each one on a black board so that their structure would stand out. And luckier still, someone kept those photographs and put them in the Smithsonian Museum. There are more than five thousand of those photos, and every snowflake is unique — that is, no snowflake is exactly like any other one.”
“Hmmm…I was checking out our Christmas tree. It was holding some white things that look like those pictures. Are they snowflakes?” Kiki has been loving to explore the things on that tree.
“The white things that hang on our tree look like some of these pictures, but they are made out of something other than frozen water. Besides, they are much too big. If a snowflake that size landed on your head, you might not like it too much.”
“What about those big ones that are hanging on the wall over by the stairs? What are they made of?” This time Allen was wondering.
“I made those out of paper. I can show you how if you’d like.” Although you might need someone to fold and cut them for you. It would be hard to do using those cute furry paws of yours.”
“Well, you can help us Mom.”
“Of course I can. First you cut a piece of paper so that it is square. You can do this by making a fold in one corner. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it.”
Well, folks, before I end up with little pieces of white paper all over my floor, I guess I should sign off for today. Please stay warm and dry and healthy. We hope to see you next time.
I, for one, enjoy your blog posts.
I would give you a “Like”, but that would require a FaceBook account, which I don’t enjoy. 🙂
Thanks, Michael. I enjoy doing them and it’s always nice to hear that other people like reading them. Sometimes, I’m up to here with all the craziness going on in politics and just need to sit back and relax and smile for a few minutes. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Love the snowflake story. I also would give you a “like” if it didn’t require an FB account to do it. Thank you for writing these.