The Snowflake Collector – 10: George

 

The moment he woke up the next morning, The Snowflake Collector had only one thought: ‘George.’

That was his name. It would have to be. There was no other possibility. If he were still to be there, if the gel into which he had settled had not crushed him, or dried him out, or obliterated him; if he were still to be a snowflake today, then there was a chance – maybe a slim chance only, but a chance – that he would still be a snowflake tomorrow, and if he were to be a snowflake tomorrow, still, there may be a chance that the method had worked, that this gel was the formula that he would need to – be able to, now – apply. But time only would tell. Certainly, if he were to find him still there, where he had left him, on the kitchen table, then that would be a good sign. But it would be no more than that. And surely his name would have to be George.

The Snowflake Collector got up from his narrow hard bed and wandered slowly into the kitchen: a short distance that felt to him this morning eternally long. He did not want to cast his eyes over the table in the dim light that filtered through the small window, but before he could avert them, George had caught them, was calling them over to him: look at me, I am here! The miracle was complete.

Not only was he still there, he seemed to radiate, shine. Now, some fourteen hours after he had come into contact with the peculiar liquid inside the glass cube that had caught him, enveloped him, slowed him and then suspended him just precisely in time before he was able to sink to the bottom or dissolve, he seemed made of crystal indeed: it was quite extraordinary. The Snowflake Collector lifted the cube from the table and held it up against the pale light in which particles of dust engaged in their strangely courteous dance, and a swell of joy welled up in his heart as he saw: George is alive! He was as alive as any snowflake that wasn’t engaged in its own dance still, through the sky toward earth, could possibly be; he was vivid and compelling; he had as much character as any inanimate thing The Snowflake Collector had ever seen, and he knew now, for certain, The Snowflake Collector, that this was not a thing without soul: this was George, the most exquisite snowflake ever formed in the world, perfectly captured, by him.

The gel, overnight, had solidified into a firm but not hard cast that was still absolutely transparent and that seemed to allow George to breathe. Of course, The Snowflake Collector knew, in reality George did not breathe, and the cube was hermetically sealed, but it was a minimal malleability that seemed to keep George animated, if, certainly, no longer free. The Snowflake Collector put George down on the kitchen table and stepped outside his hut and wiped the thin layer of snow from the table that stood out there, and he found, as he knew he would, noted down on it the last set of proportions he had used, and he now copied them onto a piece of wood that he picked up from the ground, and took them inside: this was the key, and it was unique.

Not in the way he had heard on occasion some people call something ‘unique’ when they meant it was simply ‘special’, or ‘well made’, or ‘quite interesting’. This was a thing that was one of a kind: no-one else had found it before him and maybe nobody else ever would, or would want to, again, and it was far from certain that it would stand the test of time that now loomed before it, but for the time-being this was what he himself had achieved, and so far it was good; and if George were still to be there in October, or in November, or even December, whenever next the valley would be covered in snow, then he would apply this same formula to make the gel in which to preserve other snowflakes, and he would store them in a new sturdy case he would build to accommodate the new dimensions of these cubes, and if the following year, and the year after, all these snowflakes, and George, were still there, then he would be who he had decided to be, who he felt in his heart and knew in his mind he needed to be: he would become The Snowflake Collector, and Yanosh would be able to take pictures of these snowflakes with his macro lens that he had bought for his camera, and everything would be just so.

After this short burst of snow in the middle of June, the valley soon reverted to summer, and The Snowflake Collector put George on his own in the new case that he’d built, and occasionally he would take him out to look at him in awe. Yanosh spent some time away as sometimes he did this time of year, but when he came back to The Snowflake Collector’s hut late in August, he found him in a hopeful mood, and in good spirits. George was still there and he hadn’t lost any of his intricate beauty. The gel that had nearly hardened, but not quite, was still exactly as clear and still just a little flexible; it hadn’t hardened any further and nor had it softened, it had simply stayed as it was, neither hard nor soft, neither wet nor dry, neither hot nor cold, but all of these all at once and none of these, all at the same time.

The Snowflake Collector was ecstatic – quietly, inwardly so, as was his wont – at having, it seemed, found a way to preserve his snowflakes in their full three dimensions; but of course he was also worried, and gravely concerned: what about their fourth dimension, he wondered, and fifth? Even as I name these snowflakes and know that they each have a soul, how can I do that soul justice? How can I trap a snowflake and pat myself on the back, when I haven’t but caught it and barely scraped the surface of any understanding of what a snowflake truly is?

Yanosh was unperturbed by all this. ‘You’ll get to know them,’ he said, in his simple, laconic tone that was never agitated, and never bored, ‘and as you get to know them, they will reveal to you their fourth dimension, and fifth, and even, if they have one, their sixth.’ This rang true with The Snowflake Collector, and he held the arm of Yanosh – the first time possibly he had ever done so – and said, ‘thank you, Yanosh. I hope you are right.’

But what if he weren’t right, what if what Yanosh had said was well intentioned, but simply not true? There was no way of knowing, there was no way of anticipating, there was no way of solving this problem now. All The Snowflake Collector could do now, and for the remaining months of the year, until snow returned to the valley, whenever that should happen to be, was to look after George and prepare himself, for winter would come and with it would come the moment of truth and only then, come the moment of truth, could he really commence with his task that was quite immense.


9: So as Not to Chase Away its Wonder <

> 11: He Was, Now More Than Ever, His Own Man


The Snowflake Collector – 5: He Had Abandoned the Notion of ‘Hurry’

With daylight hours gradually usurped by darkness now, and cooler, longer nights now spreading their still presence over the valley, The Snowflake Collector set about his endeavour.

After the early snowfall towards the end of October, which had soon ceased and given way to one more spell of golden autumn with spice in the air, winter had now been sending more heralds, tentatively, at first, but unmistakably nonetheless, and welcome. While he knew now how to collect snowflakes and knew what things he needed to obtain, and what things to make, before he could do so, The Snowflake Collector was in no hurry. It had been many years since he had last allowed the world to impose on him any ‘hurry’, and it had revealed itself to him so futile then, so unnecessary and unnecessarily restless, that he had abandoned the notion of ‘hurry’ altogether, never to seek it out again, or permit it to return.

It would suffice completely, he knew, to collect one, maybe two snowflakes to begin with. Better, he thought to himself, do this and do this well than to rush into constructing a shed – indispensable as it would undoubtedly be – or building the sturdy boxes for the delicately crafted cases. No, he would build a case, yes, from wood he had already stored under the roof by the side of his hut, and he would cut some plates from glass he knew where to buy, and he would use some of the superglue that had been languishing in his tool box for years, but never been opened, and he would collect one or two, or maybe three snowflakes and see how that felt, how at home they would be in the case he would build.

So when Yanosh next wandered up the narrow path towards the end of the valley to sit outside The Snowflake Collector’s hut and maybe nod ‘hello’ at him, maybe not, he found him there in the late autumn sunshine sawing pieces of wood. He was not a master carpenter, The Snowflake Collector, but he had for many years now been living on his own in his hut, and soon after moving here he had purchased, for very little money, a small plot of land further down the valley, right by the stream, where there were already some firs, and where he now planted, for every old one he cut down, two young trees; and so he had, over time, gained enough experience making things out of wood to do so confidently, and well. Yanosh nodded what may have been a ‘hello’ to The Snowflake Collector, and The Snowflake Collector understood and nodded back what to most people might have been barely noticeable, but to Yanosh, with similar certainty, signalled ‘hello’.

It would often be the case now that Yanosh would find The Snowflake Collector thus or otherwise engaged in preparing his snowflake collection. He never explained what he was doing and Yanosh never asked, because to both it was obvious, but Yanosh enjoyed watching The Snowflake Collector at work, because there was a calm determination and purpose to what he was doing, and The Snowflake Collector was at ease in these tasks, for the very same reason. Sometimes Yanosh would hold up a long plank of wood or pass a tool or pick up a piece of glass that had fallen to the ground, but mostly he would just sit there and watch as The Snowflake Collector went about his new business.

Having never collected snowflakes before, or anything else for that matter, it did not surprise The Snowflake Collector, and nor did it surprise Yanosh, that not everything did go smoothly.

The first case he built, although beautiful and smooth, with clean but not sharp edges and a convenient handle at the narrow top, turned out to be useless as it was simply too large. It had looked, in The Snowflake Collector’s imagination, and in his rudimentary drawings which were not quite to scale, exactly right, but it came out not so. Once he had filled it with glass plates, each three inches long and one inch wide, it was too heavy for him to lift easily off his work bench, and so he started over again.

He also realised only now that he would not, after all, need to build sturdy boxes for these cases. He would simply have to build the cases themselves sturdy enough, and for the cases he would have to construct a formidable shed in which he would need to fit strong shelves evenly spaced, but there was no need, in reality, for another, intermediate layer of housing for his snowflakes, just as long as the cases were sound.

It was not until the second week of December that The Snowflake Collector was ready to collect his first snowflake. By then he had made and destroyed a first case for snowflakes that had turned out to be unwieldy and large, and he had made and dismantled a second case, which had been the right size and shape, but in which the glass plates that were to hold the snowflakes did not sit snugly enough, but rattled when he closed the lid and lifted the case off the bench, and this, The Snowflake Collector was certain, would not do. Having dismantled the case, he then saw that there was no easy way to fix the inadequacy, say by adjusting the slot width for the glass plates which had too much give, and so he discarded this second case too and made a third, better one. This, he found, when he slid all the glass plates he had by now cut from large sheets of plain glass – cutting himself several times in the process and once very painfully so – to be if not perfect then sufficiently solid and sturdy and strong.

By now there had been snowfall on several more occasions. But The Snowflake Collector was glad that circumstances had conspired, and maybe he and his subconscious mind had conspired with them, to make him wait until now, until very nearly the beginning of Winter, before he commenced his immense undertaking. He was not a stickler for rules, and it would have disquieted, even appalled, him to know himself one who awaited the ‘official’ date for the start of the season, or anything else, but if there was one thing The Snowflake Collector believed to be true then it was that to every thing there is a season, and while he had not given it any elaborate or conscious thought, he felt instinctively that the time for collecting snowflakes had not come, until now.

Now, towards the end of the second week of December, with the feast of St Nicholas already gone and the days in the valley short now and sombre when the sun wasn’t shining, and crisp and cold and still very short when it was, The Snowflake Collector woke up one morning from a night of fitful sleep with no dream that he could recall, and as he opened his eyes and glanced from his narrow hard bed to the small cross hatched window, which in all the years he had lived here had never been curtained, he saw that there was snow on the sill and there were big heavy snowflakes tumbling again from the sky, as there had been on that day when he had resolved to become The Snowflake Collector, which now seemed eternities in the past, but which was only in fact some six weeks ago, at barely the end of October.

His heart leapt at the sight, because he knew that this was the day, that the hour had come, that the convergence of all things leading up to now had finally made this Now possible, and real. With calm, serene joy, he rose from his bed, lit the fire in the stove, performed his rudimentary and no more than essential ablutions, dressed warmly and went to the kitchen where, in a small freezer compartment of his small refrigerator he had chilled a small stack of glass plates, much as Yanosh had instructed him to.

With three of them he went outside, picking up from the kitchen drawer the small tube of superglue he had placed there in preparation, and in front of his hut he put everything down on his bench. There he carefully dabbed a drop of glue on a frozen glass plate and, holding the plate in his hand, raised his eyes to the sky.


4: And He Had Many Memories <

> 6: A Snowflake Not Unlike Him


The Snowflake Collector – 2: His Task Would Be Immense

 

At first he didn’t know how to collect snowflakes; he did not even know whether it was possible to do so at all. All he knew was that if he were able to preserve and collect snowflakes, then he would have something meaningful to do for the rest of his days, because there would never come a day when he would chance upon a snowflake that would be identical to any he already had in his collection, and so his collection would never be complete.

This, he also already knew, would be both infuriating and soothing. There would be times when he would feel like throwing out all the carefully crafted wooden cases, into which would slide all the cautiously cut plates of glass, upon which would rest – for the relative eternity of any civilisation in existence being able to appreciate or even just be conscious of them – the snowflakes in their time-frozen state, and burning the lot in a bonfire. But he would not do so, he was certain, for deep down he knew how precious his collection would become, and how singular, how unique.

The wood for the carefully crafted cases would come from the firs on his land by the stream. Since he heated his hut in the cold months with wood from his land by the stream, he planted two young firs to replace each mature one he cut down, and this way, he thought, the balance in the valley (and therefore in the universe) would stay intact, even tilt a little in favour of trees, with his presence.

He knew well how to craft wooden cases, even intricate ones as these would undoubtedly have to be, because they would need to have slits in them at regular intervals just so spaced and so fashioned that a small plate of glass, in size about one inch by three, would slide easily in and out of the case, but stay firmly in place once stowed. The cases would have to be sturdy and each have a handle, so they in turn could glide effortlessly – apart from their weight, which would be considerable – in and out of a larger box, and this larger box would need to be stackable, because he knew that over time he would collect snowflakes enough to fill many of them. He would have to, he realised, build a shed. And he would build that shed from the same fir trees that stood on his land by the stream.

It was clear to him now that his task would be immense. Because not only would he have to carefully craft wooden cases, and for these wooden cases strong wooden boxes, and for these boxes a formidable shed, he would have to cut glass into regular plates, one inch by three, on which he would capture the snowflakes. And he would have to catalogue them. He felt unsure about how to catalogue snowflakes, since he had no experience or expertise in this, but as with most things that he had ever attempted in his life before, he also thought that he would find a way. What didn’t appeal to him was the thought of giving his snowflakes numbers. Numbers, he felt, when they are not being used for elegant thinking, are not poetic, certainly not poetic enough to record snowflakes. No, he was sure, from the very first moment, even before he had gone out to collect his first snowflake, that he would have to name them. And since – as everyone knows and he knew – each snowflake would be different, he would just have to find a specific name for each one.

As he sat down, that evening, outside his hut, having so made his decision to collect the snowflakes – not all of them, only some – and contemplated the great task ahead of him, and experienced the tremendous delight in not knowing which snowflakes he would catch and collect, and which snowflakes would elude him, and therefore what names he would have to find for those snowflakes he would keep, he felt a deep glow of happiness fill his heart. This is who I shall become, he thought to himself: The Snowflake Collector.


1: Barely the End of October <  

> 3: ‘I Need to Know How to Collect Snowflakes’


The Snowflake Collector – 1: Barely The End of October

Up at the end of the valley, the far end, before it yields to the glacier which reaches down from the mountain pass, slowly receding now with growing temperatures, lives an old man who looks at the world still with wonder.

He is not as old as he seems at first glance, and much older than his years all the same, for he knows. He knows, deep inside, what holds the universe together and what tears it apart and what being these molecules, what being that energy means. He knows it but he can’t express it, and so he won’t. He won’t talk about it, he won’t, in fact, talk about anything much, he appreciates silence.

When he was young he used to meet up with friends for a drink and a chinwag, and then it began to dawn on him that much of what he was being told, and even more of what he heard himself speak, was an array of variations on themes: things he’d heard said and had spoken before, in this way, or that, or another. Self-perpetuating reiterations of what everybody already knew and keenly agreed on, or hotly disputed, as was their whim.

And so he let go, he let go of his friends whom he loved but could no longer bring himself to like, and let go of the circuitous conversations that did nothing but remind everybody that they were still who they thought they needed to want to be. He was tired. And being tired he got old, older than his years, older than his looks, older than the oak tree in the oldest garden. And he moved, once or twice first, then twice or thrice more, and each move took him further away from those whom he had been, had made himself feel, acquainted with. First the country, then the coast, then the foreign lands, then mountains, then the valley and then the end of the valley, in the mountains again. The remotest place he could find.

It was not that he was happy here, it was just that he was content. Content not to need to desire happiness any more. And here he sat and walked. Sat by the house he’d bought for very little, and walked over the fields and the meadows and up to the vantage points from which he could see the peaks and the woods and the villages, in the very great distance. He liked that distance: distance was space, distance was calm, distance was perspective. Unencumberedness. Distance was good.

Winter came to the valley and it was barely the end of October and going for walks now was harder because everything was covered in snow. And this being the far end of the remotest valley he could find, nobody came to clear the snow or pave the paths or even the lane that led up to his hut. So he was stuck, in a way, and he liked being stuck, it meant, in a way, being safe. Safe from visitors, safe from the desire to go out, safe from choices. The persistent demand of decisions, abjured. Simplicity. He’d craved that. And now, he had it.

What he was able to do still was sit on the bench in front of his hut and watch the world go by. Except the world didn’t go by here, it stood pretty much still. Or so it would seem. And he knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always. He found it comforting. Disconcerting too, but comforting; and he’d said so. He’d said so and had been quoted as saying so too.

With each day that passed, winter became more present and more unreal: the snowflakes tumbling from the skies like clumsy, half-frozen bumble bees out of a freezer up in the cloud. There was something in him still that reminded him of the kindness of people, and he let one or two of these snowflakes alight on his hand, and they melted and ceased to exist. How sad, he thought to himself, how just and, yes, how poetic. And he recalled once upon a time being a poet, and that’s when he decided to capture and keep them. Not all of them, obviously, only some. And to collect them. To preserve them. He knew this was futile and went against nature, but therein exactly lay the exquisite sensation of thrill and deep satisfaction. To do something that was futile and that went against nature, but that would be indescribably beautiful. That was more than existing, that went beyond breathing and eating and sleeping and defecating and shaking in anger and dreaming and imagining and sitting and thinking: that was living. That was imbuing the accidental presence of clusters of mass-manifest energy in this constellation with something that surpassed everything, something divine, something purposeful and profound, something quintessentially and incomparably human: meaning.


> 2: His Task Would Be Immense