Snowflakes – nature’s hidden beauty

“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper” (Eden Phillpots)

A week before Christmas I wake to snow. There has been a light sprinkling for several days, but today the ground is carpeted in white. I resist the urge to launch into tasks and reflect on the scene unfolding in my garden. Snow has a stilling effect on me, so at odds with the demands of the season and today, from the sanctuary of a warm room, I am drawn to its mesmerising beauty. And what makes the sight more marvellous is the knowledge, that invisible to the naked eye, millions of intricately formed ice-crystals are falling and landing, like so many heaped jewels.

I reach for a book on snowflakes and immerse myself in the intricate designs photographed under the microscope. I ponder – for how many centuries has nature kept this miracle hidden from us – exquisite beauty unnoticed and unappreciated? Such jewels have fallen from the sky for millennia, but before the invention of the microscope in the 17th.c, they lay unrevealed; and not until 1885, did Wilson A. Bentley capture the first snow-flake on camera. Bentley, who lived in a small rural town in Vermont, would go on to photograph more than 5,000 snowflakes during his lifetime and he found no two flakes were alike.

Snowflakes remind me of the prodigious bounty of nature, which does not wait for an audience. The fleeting existence of each flake adds to the beauty of the world, even though it leaves no record. And I reflect on how much else in this amazing universe goes unnoticed, because we have insufficient vision to see things as they really are. How much still waits to be discovered about our planet, our cosmos? Who knows what secrets now hidden, will reveal themselves centuries hence, if humankind can develop the necessary technology? But must we wait for technology? Perhaps if we honed our eyes to look with a mystic’s vision, we would see, as William Blake did, “a World in a grain of sand and Heaven in a wild flower”

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