Nobody enjoys the fact that it’s dark by 5pm. At the same time, it’s nice to take solace in the hot baths, the mulled wine, and the (usually) metaphorical hearth that you return home to during Winter. The season is a contradiction. Although bitterly cold to the point of unpleasant, its changes in light and in atmosphere are strangely invigorating. Today, I went happily outside wearing multiple layers to see what I could find in the park, idly supposing that there would be nothing interesting enough to warrant photography. As soon as I stepped through the gate I was faced with an amazingly sweet little squirrel, calmly gnawing its way through a decent-sized nut at the bottom of a beech tree. Fantastic!
As soon as I reached into my bag he turned, horrified, and tore up said tree at the speed of light. I danced around underneath, trigger finger poised, catching sight of him fleetingly in first one branch then another. A worthy adversary, he spotted me always at roughly the same moment, eventually melting away like a phantom. I scrolled through numerous blurry shots and – even worse! – shots of nothing but leaves. Yes, he was there in a couple. But nothing resembled a close-up. I looked back as I left. There he sat, high up in his beech, with a look at once cold and triumphant. You’ll have to get up earlier in the day, sunshine.
So dies the dream of Winter Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Maybe I should stick to things that are easier to capture?
We nearly made it through the winter without any snow…but suddenly with a drop in temperature it’s been descending in lovely soft flakes all day, insistently refusing to melt. This reminds me that (for some forgotten reason) I was reading recently about a man nicknamed “Snowflake Bentley” – a self-taught farmer from Vermont who invented one of the earliest methods of microphotography; using a bellows camera and microscope, he eventually managed to document thousands of snowflakes (or, snow crystals), catching them against black velvet before they were lost forever.
Although there have been musings on snowflakes since at least the time of Johannes Kepler, who figured out a lot about their mathematics, it’s thanks to Bentley that we know no two snowflakes are alike. It’s also thanks to him that modern-day residents of his hometown in Jericho are able to make some extra money selling a variety of snowflake themed merchandise. I wonder if an enthusiastic amateur would be able these days to make such an immense contribution to Science (and to art – because surely that’s what these photographs can be considered)?
A later, more traditional snowflake researcher – if such a thing exists – was Ukichiro Nakaya, a physicist who developed a classification system for snowflakes using images highly influenced by Bentley’s work. In 1936, Nakaya created the first ever artificial snow in his Low Temperature Science Laboratory at Hokkaido University. A museum in his name now displays a range of historic and modern exhibits while involving visitors of all ages in snow-related activities and competitions. The best part – or the geekiest depending on your point of view – is that the museum building is shaped hexagonally to reflect the structure of snowflakes. 🙂
Odd to say that my own camera isn’t as powerful as those ones from a century ago; but anyway I’ve tried to evoke some of the gorgeous white views outside with these photos. In some kind of Christmas-card re-enactment I even saw a robin sitting on the fencepost by my window. He flew away too fast for me to capture him.