Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Ramblings on Snow

A single snowflake consists of many trillions of water molecules that form around a tiny particle of dust. A single snowman contains millions of snowflakes. A single snowstorm carries the seeds of thousands of snowmen.

We think of snow as pure because of the way light bounces off it, making it appear white to the human eye even though it is no more pure than rain. Still, if we are in the right mood, we find something in it that transcends its basic nature, its ordinariness.

Cold, crystalline, laden with our collective wonder, it drifts downward, blowing with the wind, whipping across the tarmac ribbons that cross the prairies, eventually settling beside fences or accumulating in corners, compressing itself into ice if left to its devices long enough.

In some ways, it reminds me of granulated sugar – silent but dangerous if you get too much of it. I learned recently that the sugar industry paid researchers who sought to downplay the link between sugar and obesity (as well as heart disease). So, just like snow, sugar in small quantities is pleasing – a delightful change of pace. In large quantities, it can be deadly.

And what is snow anyway? At times it seems like a liquid, flowing and blowing with gravity and wind. Other times it seems like a solid, compacting into hardness that can – over years – become ice – even though it actually is ice already: just loosely connected ice crystals.

They say that (like fingerprints) no two snowflakes are alike but I don’t think anyone knows that for certain. It’s just an assumption made from the study of thousands upon thousands of individual crystals, each one a smidgeon different than its neighbor, just like people.

Yet to us, the ones who traverse it or shovel it or just watch it fall and drift, there’s almost no difference, one from another. The flakes are all simply part of a larger mass, like grains of sand in a bucket. A few of them, to someone who has never seen them before, seem like a miracle. An avalanche of them seems like a nightmare.

I like snow, in small doses, on warm winter days, when I can nestle by the window and observe it, unbothered by the need to brave it.

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