Vermont is one of the most beautiful places to be in the wintertime. For me, there is something magical about watching the quiet snow fall and accumulate on acres of farmland that have been tilled with love for many a season. The desire to hibernate seeps into the structures that shelter us through drafty windows, yet special places like the poetic Robert Frost trail give reason to stay out and enjoy the short hours of daylight.
While we are not quite ready for sledding in Middlebury, there is a sweet holiday buzz that is palpable in the air. Freshly cut Christmas trees, snow tires, local food drives, ski garb sales, wreath raffle fundraisers, and bustling book shops are all indicators that this vibrant community is embracing the winter in quintessential New England form: equal parts wholesome and practical. What stands out the most though is how people look out for one another. Perhaps this comes with the territory of living in a small town where it is difficult to stay a stranger for too long.
Cerebella Design has found a wonderful support system in Vermont, and it is in great part because of the community here that we have been able to share our products and ideas with people across the country and around the world (yes, we have received our first international orders!). As the temperature drops, I am reminded of a winter story about a man from Jericho who brings true meaning to "inspiration under the microscope". Some of you may know him as the Snowflake Man...
Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) was born in Jericho, VT to a schoolteacher and farmer. Bentley was home-schooled by his mother until he was 14. His interests in the outdoors, weather, and snow developed throughout childhood and, at 15, he received a microscope for his birthday to start looking at nature more closely. Bentley began using his new "toy" to observe everyday objects like rocks and feathers. However, over the next few years his curiosity grew more focused on snow crystals and snowflakes. His first attempts to record what he saw amounted to numerous drawings, but he was not satisfied with them; the drawings did not truly capture the beauty of the snowflakes he found.
Shortly thereafter, Bentley learned about photomicroscopy, a method of capturing photographic images with a microscope. He finally convinced his parents to get him a bellows camera and rigged it to his microscope. Although he did not have any formal training in photography, Bentley worked hard to better understand the properties of snowflakes and the imaging techniques available to him at the time. In 1885, at age 19, he captured the first known photomicrograph of an ice crystal.
In 1922, Popular Mechanics Magazine published an article Bentley wrote called "Photographing Snowflakes". In it, he explains everything from proper lighting and temperature to what makes the perfect crystals: "The percentage of perfect crystals is likely to be larger when the snowfall is not too thick and heavy, with the crystals medium to small in size rather than large. The character of the snowfall often undergoes quite abrupt changes as a storm progresses..."
Bentley took over 5,000 photomicrographs of ice crystals and snowflakes in his lifetime. His images were published in the Scientific American and National Geographic, among other noteworthy magazines. The work is striking not simply because it is beautiful, but because it has scientific and historical relevance. The observations he developed over time through his artistic works helped to direct his academic meteorological contributions. Bentley's most famous paper related ice crystal forms to temperatures and wind profiles in a cloud. Other publications discussed crystal classification and raindrop size.