I just looked out my window at the streetlamp across the street and discovered that it’s snowing. Humidity is high, so the flakes are mostly those big, fat wet ones characteristic of spring. Usually this prompts me to take an evening stroll, but it’s windy and wet and I feel more like sitting by the fire and reading tonight. My book will have to wait a bit, though, because once again the metaphor of snow is piling drifts too high to escape in my creative imagination.
We all were told in elementary school how no two snowflakes are alike. My interest in science led me eventually to dig deeper into just what my favorite form of precipitation actually is and how this miracle of nature occurs. I recommend that to you, if you’re interested. It’s as fascinating as life itself. Although many things seem to be just alike, more often than not, they are quite different. Like people.
For a single snowflake to wrap its prismic lines around a speck of dust high in the clouds, just the right amount of moisture must also be in its cloudy incubator and the temperature, too, at a specific degree. Its singular birth happens then when that one crystal alone is ready, and it drifts away in the wind to join others that also feel the tug of gravity and seek the earth. Together they might, just might, find their way down and discover a habitable environment that can accept them for a little while.
I have seen their collective mass completely erase the landscape and blanket the ground in undulating waves of glistening brightness when the sun eventually chases the clouds away. As a child I remember feeling like an explorer wading through it in search of my familiar back yard with its now buried treasure of toys or tools left out the day before, or maybe something new hidden there that somehow escaped my notice when the ground lay bare and cold.
More than once a storm has been more treacherous than beautiful. Tree limbs and power lines have come crashing down. Cars and trucks slid off treacherous roads and into ditches now deep with snow. I’ve been caught ill prepared and felt the bitter cold and wished for summer sun for just a moment, then indoors felt the needle sting of warming, too-cold flesh.
We are like the snow, I think. Our sameness as a species is undeniable even when our sometimes-varied colors and shapes proclaim those differences. Despite these seeming alterations, however, en masse we are as homogeneous as a Nebraska prairie lying fallow beneath a foot or more of a January blizzard. Our origins are essentially the same in our creation, release into the world, and gathering storm across the landscape in families, clans, cities, towns, and nations. One by one we become the entity of “human.” It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We would do much better to remember that.
Again, like the snowflake, we are also each unique. No two are alike. Reverse the process. Return on the windy road of each like/unlike life even past that moment of generation, of becoming. As with each snowflake’s matchless crystal, we have our own special combinations of DNA that make us so much like our fellows yet only our particular selves. It can be incredibly mindboggling.
Go even farther back in this process now. Another of my favorite concepts is that in order to have “wings,” we need “roots.” Those snowflakes that come to us are merely a new generation born from the incorruptible sources of the past. They are new, unique, yet created from the most basic, most elemental materials that have themselves cycled through, come and gone and now return. And so are we all.
I am a singular blending of genetic material and my environment. No other being that has ever lived or will ever live has been or can be a duplicate. Even a clone would not be “me.” My roots are generations of other individuals who were their own particular biological and sociological experiments. They were also special to their times and experiences. One snowstorm covers the earth in its own blanket. The next will look similar, but it won’t be the same. When I look in the mirror these days, my father stares back at me. I look at my sons and I see him, too, and my mother and my grandparents and their mother. My grandchildren go on.
It has stopped snowing. In a few days it will be spring. I look forward to the bursting buds on my maple tree to go from gold to green and in a few months shade me from the summer sun. It will be fun to sit on the porch and watch my grandchildren develop their uniqueness, and I’ll probably (again) exclaim to their mother, “Their grandmother smiled like that.”
And next fall I’ll be as excited as they as I look closely into the grey sky to spy the first snowflake.