Snowflakes, Curiosity and Gratitude
By Heather Melton, UTO Staff Officer
Little known fact: I am a huge fan of snowflakes. Years ago, my husband and I went to Vermont where we happened to learn about Wilson Bentley, or Snowflake Bentley as he is now known. Bentley was a farmer in Jericho, Vermont, and a photographer, specifically a pioneer in photomicrography. On Jan. 15, 1885, he became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal. During his lifetime, he photographed over 5,000 snow crystals, never finding a duplicate (which is why we can all say that no two snowflakes are alike), and his work impacted the study of meteorology. He also photographed dew, rain, and frost, but his snowflakes are the most impressive images. In 1931 he published a book (still in print today) featuring his photographs. (To learn more about Mr. Bentley, click here, or to see more of his images—the one above is one of his public domain images–you can visit here.) Seeing photographs of snowflakes from the early 1900s is incredible (to me at least); scrolling through them it is remarkable to notice not only that every one is different but how different each one is. From the shape and size scientists can figure out how “wet” the snow was or what the wind was like, and all because of Mr. Bentley, a farmer, who took painstaking notes about the weather and loved taking photographs. I share this story for two reasons: as a reminder that curiosity is an amazing gift, and we should be grateful for it within ourselves or in others; and that snowflakes (or nature in general) is a huge stimulus for gratitude, even on the bleakest winter day.
Curiosity is such an important human experience. It creates art, makes scientific discoveries, and inspires people to try new things. Snowflakes, for me at least, are a reminder to stay curious and to encourage curiosity in others. Unfortunately, we live in a time where curiosity isn’t valued, and that means we often struggle to uncover or express our feelings (which is why Brené Brown is always encouraging us to get curious about our feelings) and fuels the experience of doing the same thing and expecting different results. Curiosity can be messy, but it can also be magical. Curiosity is a chance to give thanks for a new thing discovered, learned, or experienced. It can be as simple as the year I decided I should teach myself embroidery, which has become a favorite hobby, or the year I tried needle felting, which has not. It can lead to rigging up a camera to take photographs of snow, to discovering how to fly a drone on Mars. Curiosity can lead to failure (which can also help us develop resiliency and perseverance), and it can also lead to great joy, or triumph. All of these things are reason to give thanks, because humans are born curious. As the new year starts, what are you curious about? What new thing do you want to learn or experience? What idea do you have that you’d like to test out? Perhaps the snowflake can be an inspiration to you.
Finally, nature is a reminder to give thanks at all times. Just as I will give thanks for the snow that will come from now until March here in the West, I will also be on the lookout for signs of spring the entire time. Nature is a constant reminder that God is making all things new, which means we can also be made new. Winter is often a reminder that some things will come to an end, others will hibernate, and new things will be waiting to surprise us when the ground thaws. While this is true in nature, it is also true in our lives. What call or gift has hibernated in your heart that is waiting to be awakened? Maybe it’s time to volunteer at the zoo because you’ve always loved animals. Perhaps it’s time to start that Etsy shop folks have encouraged you to do for years. Or maybe it’s time to let something that is no longer serving you well go (with gratitude for when it did).
As the new year begins, may the snowflake inspire you to be the amazingly unique person you were created to be, stay curious, and give thanks for all the changes that 2023 might bring your way.