January 4, 2024 at 8:15 a.m.

Snowflake Scuffles

By LARRY PERKINSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Vocabulary was never a particular strength, so I use the dictionary.  Lately I’ve found that mine is hardly adequate.  For example, snowflake once meant, believe it or not, just a “flake of snow.” Now it is a derogatory expression for individuals with “an inflated sense of uniqueness and an unwarranted sense of entitlement” as defined by Wikipedia. Honestly, that definition offends me since I was born into the Fellowship of the Snowflakes. How could anyone be more unique?

As my grandfather breathed his first breath in 1896, a guy who came to be known as Snowflake Bentley was a young farmer and meteorologist in Vermont.  By the way, what farmer doesn’t qualify as a meteorologist?  It’s in their bones.

On a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandpa Petty once shared about the winters of his youth.  Some mornings he would be covered in a blanket of nature’s white when he awoke in the loft of his family cabin.  While he was brushing off a soft, icy layer, Mr. Bentley was already taking pictures of individual crystals.  For my personal gratification, Mr. Imagination has intertwined their destinies.

By 1895 William Bentley had become the first to photograph a single snowflake.  The process developed into a lifetime endeavor that produced thousands of pictures and the discovery that no two snowflakes are alike.  A man who can capture snowflakes and celebrate differences deserves his glory, and my family may have been put on this earth to preserve it.  The mission of our guild is to ensure that uniform snow crystals are not found.

It is possible that my grandfather eliminated evidence that could have proven Bentley’s studies wrong.  What if a Vermont snowflake had a doppelgänger in Virginia that was destroyed as Grandpa got up to fetch a pail of water and stepped on it?  A single, identical flake would have invalidated the “we’re all different” observations and the motivational speeches that followed.  My grandfather never drove a Bentley, but he comes from a long line of people who are predisposed to preserve the Bentley notion.

In my blurred, almost snow-blind vision of history, James Petty pursued a quest, and his gallant aspiration continues.  Over the years he stomped on, shoveled, and battled through a lot of winter precipitation.  He rode his mighty workhorse through drifts and followed his bird dogs into powdered woods as they charged after rabbits and squirrels.  Bentley just might owe him a bucket of gratitude for obliterating a lot of matching snowflakes.

Maybe the Virginia Pettys and the Vermont Bentleys are related. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that my family is intent on protecting the concept of uniqueness.  No two snowflakes may be alike (if we can help it), but the Pettys have a common kismet.  We are the Knights of the White Stuff.

Legend has it, that relative was the first to buy an aluminum shovel in Indiana.  In Virginia a distant uncle owned the prototype of the plastic model.  More than one cousin possesses a gas-powered blower.  A myth says a clairvoyant in the family sensed Snowflake Bentley’s future and invented the snowplow in the 1830’s.  Mixing up all the snow so individual snowflakes cannot be photographed is what we do.

We don’t always employ the same approach, but many of us are armed to the teeth with multiple tools.  Shovels, blowers, and plows all work.  And, if finances limit our toys, we get physical. The two-fisted pounding together of the crystals requires only a little effort and some gentle molding.  Snowball tossing is an ancient but effective technique for flake disfiguration.

My personal ploy draws some attention.  When I sense a snowflake that may have a twin, an instinctive reflex just takes over. My tongue shoots out like a frog catching a fly, and I take care of the duplicate instantly.  It’s not pretty and rarely socially acceptable, but over the years I’ve swallowed enough to have made nine or ten Frostys.

As the keepers of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar are certainly a more prestigious fraternity, but the Knights of the White Stuff humbly accept their own legacy.  We are dedicated to the proposition that no two snowflakes, or snowflake catchers, are alike. May we embrace the differences.