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Gene Myers.haiku column

The Haiku Society of America is pleased to host this ongoing column.

.Haiku: a place to share tools available to haiku writers and fellow haiku fans (like how to use Twitter, Facebook and Scribd for building community, self-publishing and marketing). The column will also feature interviews, blog spotlights and occasional multimedia presentations.

Gene Myers <poetgene@gmail.com>


2013 .haiku columns

.haiku column number 15 • 1-2-2013

by Gene Myers <poetgene@gmail.com>

A caveat: this is the first time I have tried my hand at haibun. Please excuse its faults and definitely feel free to email me with any tips you might have. That aside, I have been moved by all of the snow we've had since our white Christmas here in New Jersey. So I am trying something a little different with my January column.

Happy New Year! Gene

The Story of the Snowflake Hunter

wilsonThe harsh life of a farmer. Harsh Vermont winters. Now imagine being a Vermont farmer whose son has declared a different calling. Your teenager wants to dedicate his life to capturing the beauty of snowflakes. Such was the backdrop of the Bentley family in Jericho, Vermont.

Wilson Alwyn "Snowflake" Bentley was born in 1865. At 15, his mother gave him a microscope and it was under that microscope that he discovered his passion for the crystals of water we call snowflakes. Bentley was one of the first photographers of snowflakes. But let's call him a snowflake hunter.

Originally, he tried to capture their beauty by drawing them. Pencil in hand, he held his breath as he drew so the heat of his breath didn't melt the snowflakes. Then he switched to photography. By attaching a bellows camera to a compound microscope he photographed his first snowflake on Jan. 15, 1885.

According to Wikipedia, Bentley described snowflakes as "tiny miracles of beauty."

too high clouds
melting all the way down

He caught flakes on black velvet so their images could be captured before they melted. A collection of Bentley's photographs can still be found in Jericho. He thought of snowflakes as works of art and he spent his days searching for perfect specimens. Many said his passion for them tainted his work. Meteorologist Gustav Hellmann was a rival snowflake hunter. He aimed to set the record straight. Snowflakes are not symmetrical works of art, he said. Hellmann found them to be clumpy, lopsided, broken bits.

snowflake drifting
in the sun
you are melting

snowflakeIt was the WNYC radio show "Radiolab" that introduced me to this snowflake hunter rivalry. On these two fought. Bentley insisting the flakes should not be represented by their flaws and Hellmann insisting Bentley was a fraud, whose passion was slanting the truth.

Bentley cleaned up his images of snowflakes, so that they better represented the beauty of nature. But this made Hellman all the more hell-bent to expose Bentley as a bad scientist, a smitten artist. But still, Bentley held his ground. His photos can be found on greeting cards and holiday sweaters to this day. Bentley kept at it his whole life. He took thousands of pictures of snowflakes.

Bentley died of pneumonia on Dec. 23, 1931 after walking for miles in a blizzard to photograph snowflakes. Modern day snowflake hunter Kenneth G. Libbrecht of California said it best when talking about his own passion for finding the perfect specimen.

"Here I am with my little piece of cardboard in the middle of a continent where it's snowing all the time. I am catching some incredibly small number of these things for a brief period and getting some really cool pictures. You kinda wonder what else is out there? What are you missing? Imagine all of the beautiful little works of art that are just falling down totally unnoticed and then they just disappear. They are far prettier than the pictures I have. You know they are out there statistically," Libbrecht said.

the snowflake fades

• • •


Is there something you would like to see in a column? Email me at <poetgene@gmail.com>.

• .haiku column number 15 • 1-2-2013 •

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