On the patience of looking

On the patience of looking

On this snowless winter in New York, I ran across an etymology of “no two snowflakes are alike.” It comes from a 1925 report that predicts, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.” The author – Wilson Bentley:

In 1885, at the age of 20, Wilson Alwyn Bentley, a farmer who would live all his life in the small town of Jericho in Vermont, gave the world its first ever photograph of a snowflake. Throughout the following winters, until his death in 1931, Bentley would go on to capture over 5000 snowflakes, or more correctly, snow crystals, on film. Despite the fact that he rarely left Jericho, thousands of Americans knew him as The Snowflake Man or simply Snowflake Bentley.

Dubbed “America’s First Cloud Physicist,” Bentley’s obituary (note that he contracted pneumonia after walking home six miles through a slushy snowstorm) read:

Longfellow said that genius is infinite painstaking. John Ruskin declared that genius is only a superior power of seeing. Wilson Bentley was a living example of this type of genius. He saw something in the snowflakes which other men failed to see, not because they could not see, but because they had not the patience and the understanding to look.

Seems to me there is no greater goal and no greater compliment: Bentley not only devised a new way to see (transforming early physics of clouds and pioneering an understanding of snowflakes), but demomstrated the patience needed to fiercely look.

[Image: [Bentley] experimented for years with ways to view individual snowflakes in order to study their crystalline structure. He eventually attached a camera to his microscope, and in 1885 he successfully photographed the flakes. This photomicrograph and more than five thousand others supported the belief that no two snowflakes are alike …]