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First snowflakes herald the promise of a beautiful winter

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By Sylvia Brockner

When I was in fifth grade, we were required to learn a poem and present it before our class. The poem I chose to learn and recite was the one printed below.

The First Snowfall
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow.
The still rails were softened to swan’s-down
And still fluttered down the snow.
— James Russell Lowell

This poem has remained with me all these years to remind me of the wonders of the first snow and the fun we had. The roads were not plowed, so there was no school. We couldn’t go anywhere, so we played outside until we were soaked through and cold. Then we came into a warm house, made something special such as fudge, and Mother would read to us in front of a fire in the fireplace.
I have usually enjoyed winter storms and the happy memories they bring. Snow days were wonderful days. They were happy days when we were all home together, sharing the love and warmth that flourished there.
The first snowfall in western New York was not unlike it is here. You never knew when it would arrive, and it was always wet and heavy. One year, it arrived when the apples had not yet been picked. Daddy woke us all at daybreak to get us out picking apples before the weight of them and the snow broke all the branches. It had not been cold enough to freeze the apples, so soon the barn was filled with bushels of apples. We were soaking wet and the rest of the day was spent inside.
Another thing we enjoyed as winter became entrenched was making snow houses in the drifts that accumulated along the snow fences. We each claimed our own section where we dug out “our” own house. Then we made tunnels to connect all five of them together. We all knew a little about various Arctic and Antarctic explorers, as well as about Native Americans and Eskimos from the books Mother had read to us that included Sir Wilfred Grenfell, “A Drive on an Ice Pan,” or Rould Amundsen discovering the South Pole.
Other times we were a small tribe of Native Americans or Eskimos, living in snow houses, out hunting for walruses or seals. Our imaginations were only exceeded by the appetites we developed. I don’t to this day know how my mother always had hot, wonderful food ready when we finally came home.
Snow is such a fascinating form of water. We often went out at night when it was snowing to catch snowflakes on a piece of black cloth and look at their intricate six-sided crystals. W.A. Bentley of Jericho, Vt., was making his world-famous collection of photographs of snow crystals at that time.
This was a difficult task with the equipment of the day. The photographs had to be taken in the cold so the flakes would not melt. Bentley photographed his in an old shed that kept the wind from blowing the flakes away. The cold froze his fingers as he focused on each snowflake with the clumsy cameras of the day. Nevertheless, he amassed an amazing collection of snowflake photographs that are still housed at the Buffalo Museum of Nature and Science.
When a liquid crystallizes, it forms a characteristic crystal that never varies, thus every quartz crystal is exactly like every other quartz crystal. However, when water crystallizes into a snowflake, each is different. They are all six-sided, but no one has ever seen two snowflakes that are exactly alike. That doesn’t mean that it is not possible sometime in the future.
If you think about the huge number of snowflakes that fall to make a single square foot of snow and then extrapolate this into the numbers of flakes that fall every year, and compare that astronomical figure with the actual few snowflakes anyone has really looked at, it becomes possible to understand why no one has ever found two identical flakes. However, it is possible that two identical flakes could exist. No one can know for sure if there is or isn’t a match, and more than likely we never will.
Snow is often detrimental to man just like last week’s storm in Denver when it broke tons of branches, which caused power outages and major traffic problems. Mostly snow is a benefit for it prevents forest fires and adds moisture slowly, so it can soak into the ground. Beyond this, snow improves the landscape aesthetically. By reflecting light, it adds many colors to the landscape. Snow makes winter more beautiful. We need to enjoy it for winter is a long season in most of Colorado.