The glow from a small porch light defined my coordinates on the globe: A trampled patch of snow, the size of a manhole cover, located between a sliding glass door and an outhouse ‘privacy’ tent. Inside the tent, my camera equipment sat perched on milk crates, shielded from the falling snow.
It was 12 degrees in Anchorage, Alaska. I was staying at a friend’s house, though the 2 AM hour found me not in bed, but standing outside on their back deck. If a neighbor happened to be up at that hour, perhaps to pee, and looked across the yard, the scene might have appeared like a silent film: A short person, dressed in baggy pants and a down jacket with pajama tops poking up through the collar, shuffling in tight circles while holding a card at arm’s length. A narrow, white beam from a headlamp, darted around the card’s surface like a tiny stage light.
What the neighbor wouldn’t have been able to see was the snowflake ballet I was witnessing in the light of my headlamp, as hundreds of tiny white snow crystals sifted down like tiny parachutes. As each one touched down on the black foam core, their 20-minute journey to earth was complete.
I have a fascination–nay, a love affair–with snowflakes. Some of my earliest blog posts, such as Are Snowflakes Alive? share my profound joy of tracking down beautiful crystals and photographing them. It’s a thrill, like reaching the top of Everest, when a snowflake’s crystalline structure comes into sharp focus.
This night though, I was deeply frustrated. For three days, my efforts to photograph these sky crystals had been hampered by high humidity in the atmosphere that encased each snowflake in an armor of rime.
On this early morning, I scanned the black card for the perfect flake. Finding a potential candidate, I carried the card into the tent, scooped up the snowflake with a narrow paintbrush, and placed it on the microscope slide. Holding my breathe in anticipation (and saving the snowflake from a death-blast of warm breath) I brought the crystal into focus. Here’s what I saw:
“Darn,” I thought, feeling crushed. “Another bad one. I might as well go back to bed.”
Just then, a special clarity came over me and a thought filled my consciousness. “Do you still love me?”
It came to me clear as a bell. I don’t really know how to describe it, except that the words sounded bold, as if someone had shouted in my ear.
Transfixed, I stared at the snowflake through the view screen on the back of the camera, the question, “Do you still love me?” still ringing in my head.
It’s hard to describe what happened next, except that I felt full, connected, non-judgmental and filled with love. My whole attitude shifted and for the next couple hours I danced about, childlike, capturing and photographing dozens of “imperfectly-perfect” snowflakes. It was pure joy, like discovering new friends.
Here are the very snowflakes I discovered that night:
That night, oblivious to the coldness soaking into my feet and bare hands, I learned something about myself. For one thing, the question, ‘Do you still love me’ might well have been, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, you know.” (I think I’ll come back to that one in another post).
I also realized that we are all broken or blemished in some way. We carry baggage in the form of habits, desires, and indifference–tendencies that hold us back from knowing who we really are. That’s why we’re here on this little red schoolhouse called ‘earth.’ To learn, to grow, to improve our lot.
And you know what’s cool about the journey? You never know when or where your answers and inspirations will come from. A billboard, a comment from a friend, a newspaper article, or a snowflake.
Exciting, isn’t it?
Cheers and blessings,
Relevant links you might enjoy:
Striving for Excellence vs. Perfection, by Victor Cheng