Monday, October 4

"Snowflake" is my middle name, bitch!

When I get all sad and angsty about life [coughEXAMScough], I like to distract myself by planning what tattoo to get next. What symbol, design, size, placement, and colouring? (I usually go for plain black silhouettes. Binaries FTW!) These plans shift so often that finances can't really keep up with my changes of heart. Which I guess is a good thing. If I had the money, I'd probably be covered in impulsive ink.

The tattoo flavour of the week in my mind is a single snowflake, either on my left wrist or left ankle. This morning I taught Elizabeth I's "I grieve and dare not show my discontent," which (while Renaissance poetry usually leaves me cold) is a totally fucking awesome poem. I was struck by the lines "Some gentler passion slide into my mind, / for I am soft and made of melting snow." I can't express how this makes me feel without reverting to the words 'totally fucking awesome,' but I guess that's just the ever-eloquent English Lit postgrad in me.

This got me thinking about snow; I have a book I bought in my first year at varsity called "The Encyclopaedia of Snow," which I got for exactly R1 at a library purging sale. I'm ashamed to say I've never read the whole thing; I was put off by the apparently factual but super confusing layout of the thing (I didn't know what PoMo was back then. The days of innocence!) But apparently it's a fancy novel which takes the form of an apparently random collection of extracts about snow... which turn out to weave into a (probably cheesy or pretentiously deep) love story.

The point is that - superficial as it is - this book has the loveliest cover and frontispiece (say wha'? Fun fact: a frontispiece is an illustration that isn't within the book itself, but precedes the title of the book.) The cover has very minimalist, fading snowflakes, while the frontispiece is a collection of photographs created by Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, a 19th century farmer who was frackin obsessed with snowflakes. How hardcore of a nickname is "Snowflake"? Mad props to Bentley for living up to the hype. He's actually the guy who, through years of photographing them, discovered that no two snowflakes are alike.

What fascinates me is the devotion and passion Bentley showed to his collection: in his lifetime, he collected over 5000 images of snow crystals, and it was no picnic to get a decent photo. Not only does one run the risk of melting the little thing with one's breath, but also be careful not to crack the little bugger while you get it onto a slide. And in a few moments the beauty of it was gone forever.

I'm on the official website of the collection now and I can't stop staring at these photos. Only a few of them are up, but they're mesmerizing. The above is number 13. There's something quite (for lack of a better word) inspiring about Snowflake Bentley. I can't think of anyone these days who would be so devoted simply to the idea of preserving and sharing the beauty of something so miniscule and precious. I'm quite keen to get the book of selected photographs published by Bentley in the 1930's, which is still available in paperback today.

I like number 13 for my imaginary tattoo, but now I've got 500 or so other images to study before I make a decision. And by then, my enthusiasm may very well have melted away.

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