Friends are like snowflakes: beautiful and different
Sign at Starbucks
We had a few (very few!) snow flurries in Tucson a couple of weeks ago. Yes, right here in the valley. This hardly ever happens. Most often the snow stays in the mountains, “where it belongs,” as I like to say. But because of the rarity, it’s a big deal when we do get a few flakes. The slightest dusting of snow and school will be canceled “until the roads are cleared” (which happens almost immediately once the sun comes up). Now be nice. I can hear those of you who live in more northerly climes politely snickering (and a few are even rudely guffawing…)
The fact is snow days are so rare here that my daughter, Mariah, who is now in the 7th grade, has only experienced one in her entire school career. So she has never really known that sublime sense of hopeful anticipation…doesn’t understand what it is to listen to the radio or watch TV, anxiously waiting for the announcer (please, oh please!) to mention her school’s name on the list of closures. Now, I suppose, this information is instantly available online—yet another case in which the immediacy of Internet provides us with too much information, too soon (whatever happened to that virtue of patience?)
But those glorious snow days of years past! What a joy they were! The unexpected gift of a day to do with exactly as you pleased—with no guilt—because, hey, what could you do? You were snowed in!
I fully expect Mariah will work her way to a psychiatrist’s couch over it one day—this missed childhood rite of passage (among many others, no doubt)—and all because of her mother’s stubborn insistence on living in the desert.
But I digress…
So while we don’t have a lot of opportunity to observe snow firsthand there’s enough winter lore floating around out there that we’re certainly aware snowflakes are often invoked as symbols of individuality.
No Two Alike?
There are no two alike, we’re told. And it’s true. Well, kinda, sorta, for the most part… Anyway, as Kenneth Libbrecht points out on his excellent site, SnowCrystals.com, “who would know if there were?”
This is the thing: all snowflakes start out as snow crystals, and some do, indeed, look pretty much alike at that point. But that’s only the beginning. So let’s back up for a moment and talk about what snow is not. It’s not “frozen rain.” There is such a thing, but then it’s called “sleet.”
Snowflakes, on the other hand, are created when water vapor condenses in the clouds and crystals form. These small crystals are generally simple hexagonal prisms. Some may be long, skinny columns, while others are more flat and “plate-like,” depending on which facet surfaces grow more quickly.
But then things start to get interesting. The original snow crystals begin growing, and as they do, branches sprout from the corners to create more complex shapes. The ultimate structure depends on the conditions in which the snowflakes grow—primarily the temperature and the humidity—as the following diagram illustrates:
As each individual snowflake makes its way from the heavens to earth, it encounters different environmental conditions, which may cause it to melt…or to grow. Because of the multitude of possible variables in its creation, as well as the conditions that act upon the snowflake to alter its structure, it’s probably safe to say that the larger, complex snowflakes (as opposed to snow crystals) are, indeed, all different.
So yes, the snowflake can serve as a beautiful symbol for human individuality. But the metaphor needn’t end there. Just as the snowflake is changed and altered by the conditions around it, we, too, are affected by what we experience on our journeys.
“Don’t be a flake,” conventional wisdom cautions. I disagree. We’re all flakes…intricate, beautiful snowflakes, continually branching out and evolving. And if the conditions aren’t right for the type of growth we desire, we can move or change them (an option unavailable to our mentor snowflakes). At minimum, we can always control our own reactions to a situation. As the poet Maya Angelou put it, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Although we all start out with similar characteristics, the way we choose to grow and change—how we reach out and extend ourselves—is entirely up to us. And through that process we become as unique as a complex snowflake, each more rare and beautiful than a snow day in the desert. Not by default, but by design.
Note: All of the images and diagrams included in this post are from the excellent snowcrystals.com site. Be sure to visit for much more in-depth and fascinating information about the science of snow crystals and snowflakes than I was able to include here.
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