Through the night, there was no sound in the forest. And with the dawn, the forest folk looked out on a world that was white and wonderful, a world covered with a fluffy coat of winter lace. Every twig and every tree had been transformed with exquisite snow sculpture, the young conifers stood huddled in their robes of ermine, and every rock and bush had become a castle in a fairyland.
The juncos and chickadees soon were stirring in the branches, and the nuthatches were on the porch for suet. The gray squirrels came out timidly at first but soon were leaping from branch to branch, bringing down a snowslide on their eager way to breakfast. And all the forest creatures made autographs trailing through the white space.
What a sparkling world greets the sunrise. White! Because every facet of every crystal reflects the rays of every color band of light. Every tip of cedar has become a spray of tinsel. Every twist of weed and vine is interwoven in a scintillating veil of lace.
The brook flows quietly between the mounds of snow that muffle every sound. A million feather crystals blanket everything in frozen whiteness. One snowflake on another, a million feather crystals, as light as angels’ kisses, fall to weave this mantle that glorifies and softens every line.
One snowflake is a fairy jewel, and in a million, all are different, every one a new creation. Endlessly they fall from heaven in a pattern of creative newness cast from a molecule of water, always the very same ingredient. Mother Nature makes design an everlasting freshness. And yet, with every variation, there is pattern.
You will never find a four-leafed snowflake. Always it is the six-pointed star, six or three and the multiple of three. And why three? Because the molecule of water is composed of three parts, two of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Three parts to build with, the snowflake has endless variety in arrangement of triangles. An artist could spend hours together in the design of a single snowflake, for its sextuples can run to 60 times six. No jewel is so complex in design, no gold or silver work so intricate. To form a sapphire crystal may take a million years, but the magic of a snowflake is created in the split atom of a second.
A moderate temperature in the sky brings the wet snow with big, soft flakes that float silently down to overlap and weave a downy fluff that crunches underfoot. On a colder night, a dry, powdery snow is formed of tiny pellet ice crystals, and each will roll and slide independently of the others. This is favored by the lovers of the ski slopes, especially if a few inches of powder lie atop a smooth, hard snowpack.
While the quietly falling snow is better for embroidery and lacework, the winter wind finds another way of expression with exquisite snow sculpture. Only the blowing wind can build a snow figure on the windward side of a fir tree. And look to the leeward side of rocks and trees for the sculptured carvings of symphonies in snow. No mere sculptor has achieved such rhythm of flowing lines, the flutes and folds that suggest and yet surpass the soft drapery of velvet.
In the snow-brightness of moonlight, it is enchanting to see the tracery of shadow painting that lies under the bare branches of trees. In the soft colors of blue and gray are the shadow patterns that complement the beaded whiteness of the snow. Deeper in the evergreens are the accents of stronger blue and black. Above in the clear sky is another form of crystal lace. There is a glowing circle around the moon, perhaps a double halo. Moisture particles in the rarefied coldness at the top of our atmosphere have become tiny ice crystals, just large enough to refract a ray of light and form a halo around a silver moon.
If the night is cold enough and there is moisture in the air, the frost will be very busy at work etching lace designs on every windowpane. By morning these will show relief designs of ferns and palms and filigree, much like the fossil patterns of prehistoric forests. Window etchings are fugitive and fanciful, crusted with diamonds, spangled with stardust; they are like a dream world and fade as quickly.
After a day of cold winter rain, the temperature may drop quickly, and in the morning every twig and branch is covered with a crystal coat of ice. Nature now has taken up the art of glassmaking with free-flowing bobs and scallops. The bare-branched trees are hung with crystal drops like huge candelabras. The bending twigs are jeweled with frozen raindrops, and every clinging vine has become a sparkling lavaliere of ice. Perhaps nothing is more beautiful than a tree dipped in shining crystal standing out against the blueness of a winter sky.
Snow born of cold is yet a blessing. Whatever it may mean to poet or photographer, it is something more to the keepers of the forest. In the mountain country, the rangers climb the high altitudes on snowshoes to take the measure of the snow. A snowfall is a bank deposit, a frozen asset soon unfrozen and drawn against when needed.
Near mountaintops, the winter snow melts slowly. Day by day, trickles form and creep along the rock where flowers grow beside the snowbank. A gurgling rill winds down the slope through green-shooting grass, becomes a brook in the center of the high meadow, and with a bubbling trill, it tumbles over miniature falls and around the roots of sheltering pines. At the head of a canyon, it assumes a creek, glides down rapids into quiet pools, spreads out over a shallow strand, reforms and rushes down the canyon, singing.
The streams converge, and the creeks become a river that flows toward the valley of growing things. It may be captured now in a lake, a dam or an aqueduct; it may go to the city or to the distant sea. No matter where it travels in its useful life cycle, it will be back again in the winter. The air absorbs it in fleecy blankets of moisture; the sun beckons, and it rises skyward to start a long journey. Over the mountain rendezvous, it meets a colder current and settles lower. Magic goes to work compounding atoms of air and water, changing temperature, adding movement.
Born again in the heavens are new and fresh patterns of crystal — purified, glorified, immaculate. Winter lace in the making — weaving, spinning fairy stars, floating earthward, down, down to the mountains. Dancing before the wind, the miracle of snowflakes comes again to the forest, a blessed, everlasting event.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in our November 1948 issue.