The Snowflake Collector – 9: So as Not to Chase Away its Wonder

It was a miserable Easter that The Snowflake Collector encountered, and Whitsun was worse. Day after day the sun rose, but not he, not for hours. Most days, he barely made it onto the bench outside his hut, and since he had no appetite, he didn’t eat, and as he didn’t eat he grew gaunt, and the listlessness in his heart turned the skin that hung off his bones grey and painted his spirit all bleak.

There would have been butterflies to colour his mind; there would have been cute little crocuses. The meadows turned yellow with dandelions and green with fresh, rich grass and there were the multitude of insects with their implacable buzz and their hum; and the cows returned with their picture book bells that lent the valley its melodic chime in the distance.

The Snowflake Collector cared aught. He went not on his walks and he neglected his wood by the stream. He missed Yanosh, whose visits had become sparse, but he could not bring himself to wander down to the path the inn, an hour or so from his hut, to nod his silent ‘hello’ to him there and ask for an ale from his mother Yolanda. There was no point now to any of it, the pointlessness of it all was complete.

It was an unusually sullen day in June – after a month of May full of sunny disposition, bordering on the obnoxious – that The Snowflake Collector was sitting on his bench outside his hut when he saw Yanosh climb up the path at a pace. He was in no hurry, Yanosh, since he, much as The Snowflake Collector, had eschewed the notion of ‘hurry’, or rather had never embraced it, but he was a good and energetic walker, and he was young and so wherever he went, he went with a stride.

Yanosh sat down next to The Snowflake Collector on his bench, but today he didn’t even nod a ‘hello’, nor did he say anything, he just sat there, apparently more than a little perturbed. The Snowflake Collector did not speak either, but he looked over at him, to find his friend staring ahead of himself, at the ground. Something, The Snowflake Collector surmised, must have happened, most likely something to upset him, perhaps something that his mother Yolanda had said, though more likely something a teacher at school had remarked or something his inadequate peers had done; but to ask, The Snowflake Collector felt, was to pry, and it was not in his nature to pry, nor was it in Yanosh’s nature to expect him to.

Thus the young lad who wasn’t quite as young as sometimes he seemed and the old man who was nowhere near as old as he felt sat there in silence for an hour or two, until something occurred that took them both by surprise. It started to snow. They were in the mountains, at the end of the valley, near the glacier now slowly receding, just above the tree line, so snow in June was not unheard of for Yanosh and The Snowflake Collector, but although this had been an ill favoured month, they weren’t expecting it now.

When Yanosh and The Snowflake Collector now looked at each other, they both burst out laughing. They had no good reason, it was just that they cut surreal figures in a picturesque setting at the onset of summer when it had started to snow, and at this precise moment, for the first time, they realised this. The Snowflake Collector got up and with a few moves cleared the wooden table outside his hut, then he went into his kitchen and brought out a box that had in it the glass cubes he’d made. He brought out the bottles of liquids that he had bought and mixed and experimented with throughout the winter, and he stood at the table outside his hut, Yanosh watching him in fascination, and, noting down ratios and combinations with a heavy pencil directly onto the heavy table, he began developing new solutions, one emerging from the other, building on any progress he was making and discarding any failures without grief.

Three hours and forty-odd minutes went by in this manner before he needed a short break for comfort, and he disappeared momentarily, leaving on his table three cubes, each with a marginally different solution in it, and maybe he forgot or maybe his subconscious willed him to omit laying any kind of cover on them, but Yanosh sat and watched in an astonishment that unclenched his own heart how a gorgeous snowflake eased itself directly into the cube in the middle, and stayed.

Yanosh got up from his bench, slowly. Carefully he advanced on the miracle he was sole witness to and hesitantly, reluctantly lest he should undo it, lest a shake or a wobble or the hot breath from his nostrils should disturb it, he, holding on to the weighty wooden table, squatted down and watched, and watched. He didn’t notice that The Snowflake Collector had long since appeared behind him and in turn observed the scene, from just a little distance, also so as not to chase away its wonder. Then The Snowflake Collector became aware of another fat snowflake making its way just about straight into the same cube and he darted forward and caught that one with his hand, while with his other hand supporting himself on Yanosh to avoid knocking the table. Softly now he covered the cube with its purpose-cut lid and squatted down beside Yanosh to examine its beauty.

It was perfect. The liquid, in which the snowflake now floated was completely clear and the snowflake was still intact: minutes after immersing itself, it retained its shape, its intricate structure, its delicacy. It was miraculous. But could it last? The temperature outside on this day was just a few degrees above freezing. Would the snowflake, once brought inside, now melt and dissipate into its ether? The Snowflake Collector barely dared touch it but he fixed the lid to its cube now with a permanent seal of glue and left it standing there. Time would tell. Snowfall in June doesn’t tend to last very long: soon the sun would appear and subject his experiment to the most unforgiving of tests.

Yanosh went home as he usually did around this time when he had come to visit during the day, and The Snowflake Collector went inside his hut to lie down. He was exhausted. And although he had no certainty yet and certainly no evidence that this latest effort of his would bear fruit, that it worked, that his snowflake would still be there in the morning, he already sensed the unbearable burden of sorrow ease off his chest. Each breath of air he took in filled him deeper with reconciliation and for a moment he remembered that he hadn’t named this snowflake! No matter, he thought, as his eyelids grew heavy and he slowly surrendered to sleep: it can wait. If the snowflake is still a snowflake next time I wake, it shall have a name.

8: It Was, in Every Imaginable Sense, a Disaster <

> 10: George

The Snowflake Collector – 7: Every Day Brought New Gifts Now

Every day brought new gifts now from the universe. There was Alison and Cassandra. Timothy, Lou and Lysander. There was tiny Frederick and the majestic Cassiopeia. It snowed for several days, and each day The Snowflake Collector got up with a spring in his step and, before doing anything else of significance, went outside with three glass plates prepared, no fewer, no more, and welcomed the snowflakes into his world. Lavinia. Esteban. Roswitha.

He had no system, no method; he had a passion and a beating heart, he had no words to describe these snowflakes he so collected, but he gave them names. Balthasar. Emilio. Blossom. Alexander. He realised that it was easier to let them settle onto dry cold glass plates and then fix them with just one drop of superglue, than it was to catch them into a drop of glue that was already there on the glass before it dried out. He learnt he had best cool down the glue too. Once or twice he made a mistake and instead of a single snowflake ended up catching a cluster, and sometimes he damaged a snowflake he had caught while applying a dab of glue to it, but with nothing else occupying his mind, and little else making demands on his time, he soon perfected his technique and sharpened his eye for the snowflakes that wanted to be part of his life now, accepted his invitation.

He learnt to be at ease now with his calling and considered it an invitation he extended to these snowflakes, a welcome, and not a trap. Not a prison. And before long the first of the sturdy wooden cases he had made began to fill up, and when Yanosh came to visit him now, and nodded his wordless ‘hello’, to be answered by The Snowflake Collector in kind, he found on the table in The Snowflake Collector’s very small kitchen, and on the window sill and on the short shelf, these glass plates which had in them indescribable treasures: imprints of crystals, characters written by nature. And Yanosh brought along now not just his smartphone but also his camera for which he had bought a second-hand macro lens online with money he had been given by his mother Yolanda’s employer, the inn’s landlord, for a few hours work every day in the kitchen, and he took these glass plates and photographed them, finding new, better ways of taking his pictures each time.

When Yanosh showed The Snowflake Collector the pictures he took of his snowflakes on the display of his camera, The Snowflake Collector felt a well of love surge through his heart: a love for Ramira, Zahir and Kamala, but also for Yanosh for capturing them in their utter perfection and for taking the time and for having the care and for witnessing what he was doing and for allowing him to share. He had not, in years, maybe decades, felt a love such as this, for another human being, a friend, or for the world and that which was in it and for the soul that infused his existence. And he was grateful. More grateful, more gracious, more humble, for it. More whole, he sensed, than he had ever been. Yes, he was able to say to himself now, looking at the pixels in which a snowflake he had captured was recaptured and re-rendered with such exquisite clarity and detail as his eye alone could never have seen or let alone shown, I am thus become The Snowflake Collector: it is so.

No sooner had this thought formed in his mind, this sensation expanded into his body, this certainty grown in his presence, than he also was sure that what he was doing was wholly inadequate. He almost felt a rumble of anger thunder up through his chest, but since anger was so alien to him an emotion, so futile, so unnecessary, he allowed it to disperse into simple dissatisfaction: it will not suffice to do this, he said to himself and to his unending surprise and the even greater surprise of Yanosh too, he said it out loud: ‘this will not suffice.’

‘These snowflakes: they deserve better. These glass plates that I have cut for them and this case I have built: they are wrong. I cannot flatten these snowflakes! They are not created in two dimensions. I have to find a whole new solution.’

With this he went around his kitchen and he took each one of the glass plates he’d cut, into which he had already preserved all the snowflakes that made up his collection so far, and he looked at each one and apologised. Anna. Matthias. Rodrigo. Filomena. Lucas. One by one he held them up before his eyes and bade their forgiveness. ‘You have all been wronged,’ he told them, as he put them away in the case he had built for them with wood from a fir that had grown on his land by the stream, and he breathed a sigh of deep sorrow and said to Yanosh: ‘I will have to start over again. I shall keep them, of course, they are now collected and to destroy them would be sacrilege, even though I have wronged them.’ And he took all the glass plates he hadn’t yet used and sat down at his kitchen table while Yanosh was watching in silence, and he started cutting them up, twice each again, and assemble them into cubes.

After an hour or so The Snowflake Collector had made maybe a dozen simple, clean-edged glass cubes, one inch by one inch by one, fixed and closed on five sides, with the sixth side left open. ‘I will have to,’ he said to Yanosh, ‘find a liquid, a gel. Something that will preserve these snowflakes just as they are, that won’t flatten them, won’t deprive them of a dimension.’ Yanosh nodded in quiet agreement and said, ‘I’m going to look it up for you.’

6: A Snowflake Not Unlike Him <

> 8: It Was, in Every Imaginable Sense, a Disaster

The Snowflake Collector – 4: And He Had Many Memories

The Snowflake Collector was a lone man, but he was not lonely. He had in Yanosh a friend and in Yolanda a friendly face, and he had many memories, some solidifying like ice that is formed by the weight of the snow in the glacier, and others fading like snowflakes alighting atop a meadow too early in the year, or too late, and melting away with the first rays of the sun, much as the first snow in October had already melted and was no more now, and no less, than a harbinger, that had been and gone, of what was to come.

And also of what was to go: it would come and cover the earth and the path and the mind for much longer soon, throughout the winter and into spring, but go it eventually would. But during those cold months this year for the first time, and in all coming years left him for as many times as were in the gift of his existence, he would now collect snowflakes. The cows in the meadow he could see from the very small window in the very thick wall of the inn, which had already been covered once, briefly, with snow, looked forlorn now, a little, but also quite safe, because they were already near their barn and soon they would disappear in there for the winter.

He considered, while Yanosh went online with his smartphone to look up ‘how to collect snowflakes’ on the connected brain of the world, how each snowflake was perhaps like a memory, and that there would be, in a lifetime, as many memories as there were snowflakes in a season, though what these memories were – much as what these snowflakes would look like – depended a great deal on the era, the region, the weather, of course, and the altitude and the many, maybe innumerable, larger and smaller contributing factors, such as the overall climate and topography and the chemicals and particles, be they natural or manmade, in the air.

If every memory is a bit like a snowflake and every snowflake therefore a bit like a memory, then I shall collect these snowflakes like memories, and like memories they will be an artifice, in my collection, much as pictures in an album are a curated but also distorted reflection of memories, and they will be an artifice because in nature snowflakes will either solidify into ice and form layer upon layer of no longer distinguishable single delicate structures but the body of matter that is the glacier, or they will melt away with the sun, sometimes maybe having served a purpose – such as providing a surface for skiers to glide down the mountainside on – but more often not.

‘It’s really easy,’ Yanosh said after just a few minutes of such contemplative silence, during which, The Snowflake Collector noted with some delight, it had started gently snowing again outside already, ‘you just need some superglue or hairspray or something to fix them onto your glass plates; you freeze down the glass plate first so the flake doesn’t melt, then you dab or spray on the fixing agent and you put your snowflake on it, or let one settle: what you get in effect is an imprint of the snowflake, then you cover that with another glass plate to protect it, and you’re done.’

The Snowflake Collector breathed a silent sigh of relief. He had not expected snowflake collecting to be difficult, but he knew, from many long years of experience – as he felt he’d experienced them, though they weren’t that many, and they had not been any longer than any other years, except for the leap years that fell in between the ordinary ones, which had been just one day longer – that sometimes the simplest thing can turn out to be fiendishly complicated, and conversely sometimes the most daunting and difficult task can simply ebb away and turn out to be nothing more than a thing that just needed to be done. So finding, upon the reliable research carried out by Yanosh on his behalf there and then, that snowflake collecting was ‘really easy’ came, to The Snowflake Collector, as a relief, and as confirmation – though no such confirmation was needed – that he was on the right track, that he had found his calling, that the universe, at least this universe that he believed himself to be part of at this moment, was welcoming him into – perhaps even bestowing upon him – this role, and since he had already determined, as irrevocably as could reasonably, or even quite unreasonably be maintained, to be The Snowflake Collector, this meant that he and the universe were not now at odds but were in tune with each other, and for that thought alone, The Snowflake Collector felt immeasurably relieved but also grateful and calm; almost happy, though he did not, by and large, entertain any notion of, or great desire for, ‘happiness’, finding it to be so very unreliable and unsound a concept, but certainly, and this was the realisation that cheered him so greatly, at one with the universe. Had he not longed so long just for that, to be at one with the universe.

3: I Need to Know How to Collect Snowflakes <  

> 5: He Had Abandoned the Notion of ‘Hurry’

The Snowflake Collector – 3: ‘I Need to Know How to Collect Snowflakes’

While he knew well how to craft wooden cases, and for these wooden cases build sturdy boxes and for the sturdy boxes – many as there would be – construct a formidable shed, and had the tools in his hut and the fir trees on his land by the stream to make all these things, and while he also possessed a diamond glass cutter and knew where to find good solid flat glass to cut into precisely dimensioned plates of three inches by one, over time in very large numbers, The Snowflake Collector did not know how to collect snowflakes.

He had never before given any thought to the possibility that he might one day decide to collect snowflakes and thus become The Snowflake Collector, but now that he had determined to do so – as certain and as irrevocable as if it had been set in stone, and yet, of course, from a wider, much longer perspective, as transient too – he felt compelled to research the matter, in detail.

It would have appealed to his great sense of distance, which he so had sought out and which he so cherished, to undertake a long journey and walk down into the valley and from there take the yellow bus to the very small town and from there take a little red train to the nearest small city and from there a bigger and faster and greener or whiter train to the bigger (though still fairly small) city and there go to the large stately library kept by the university and ask a bespectacled and certainly not hostile but perhaps slightly weary librarian for a book on Snowflake Collecting, but he knew that such an excursion, which entailed the expense of time and resources, was an unnecessary and therefore wasteful exertion, and while he did not believe that time could really be expended any more than it could be kept in a jar, he nevertheless found any temptation that might have drawn him from his valley and into the city, overpowered, readily, easily, by the comfort and safety of his mountains.

So, instead, he walked down to the inn, an hour or so from his hut, in the outpost hamlet some few miles from the village, and there he was greeted with a smile by Yolanda, the waitress from the Ukraine. Yolanda had come from the Ukraine to find work here as a waitress, and she liked the landlord, because the landlord was not interested in her, he mostly spent time with his mostly young friends. Like everyone else, Yolanda knew The Snowflake Collector, although she, like everyone else, did not know yet that that’s who he was. She greeted him with her smile that she never needed to force and started pulling a dark ale for him because in all the years she had known (or thought that she’d known) him (for nobody really knew him at all), he had never wanted anything other than a dark ale from the tap.

‘Is Yanosh around?’ he asked her, having thanked her, as she brought the heavy beaker to him at the table in the corner with a small view out of the square window onto some very brown cows.

‘He is, I can call him for you if you like?’

‘When he’s not busy.’

The Snowflake Collector knew that Yanosh would not be busy now, because Yanosh was Yolanda’s son of about fifteen, and he didn’t like his peers down in the village too much, so he mainly kept himself to himself in his room, playing games on the computer or writing songs which he never played to anyone, or fantasising about travelling back in time to the past or forward into the future, or being naked with an actress he recently started to fancy.

Yanosh came down directly when his mother asked him if he would, because he liked The Snowflake Collector, and although he didn’t know yet that that’s who he was either, he, unlike almost anyone else in the world, sensed that he did know him a bit. They both knew each other, a bit. And they liked each other for knowing each other a bit, but not more, and for mainly leaving each other alone but when necessary being able to spend time in each other’s company without ever having to say or do anything.

Sometimes, when he felt particularly bored or lonely or uncertain why he was even here, or just wanted to be out of his room, but not anywhere where there were people, but also not anywhere where there were none, Yanosh would stomp up that same path that The Snowflake Collector had just come down now, and simply sit outside his hut, in the sun, or if there was no sun, then in the rain. It didn’t matter to Yanosh whether there was sunshine or rain, or no rain but clouds: he liked sitting outside The Snowflake Collector’s hut, because here he could sit in absolute peace with no demands being made on him and simply watch the world go by, which it didn’t, up here, because up here, the world stood pretty much still; but Yanosh, much as The Snowflake Collector, knew of course that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always, and while Yanosh did not find this either disconcerting or comforting – he had little need, in his life, yet, for disconcertion or comfort – he nevertheless found it soothing. And sometimes The Snowflake Collector would already be sitting there too and they would nod at each other and perhaps mutter ‘hello’, though with hardly any tone to their voice at all, and then sit there; and sometimes The Snowflake Collector would not be around but would find him there and join him, and they would similarly nod at each other or, not expending any unnecessary breath on words, perhaps mutter ‘hello’, perhaps not even that, but sit there in great silence, which they both so greatly appreciated, Yanosh quite as much as The Snowflake Collector.

Over the years that Yanosh had come to sit with The Snowflake Collector, there would have been the occasional short conversation, sometimes perhaps inside the hut, over a glass of Chrüterschnapps or with a slice of Bündnerfleisch, and so The Snowflake Collector knew that if he ever found himself in need of any information at all, the person to ask was Yanosh, because Yanosh spent most of his waking hours – when he wasn’t sitting with him here in front of his hut or in his very small kitchen – on his smartphone or his computer, and he therefore had access, any time night or day, to all the knowledge in the world, if perhaps not all of its wisdom.

Yanosh sat down and they nodded at each other their familiar nod that did not demand any words, and The Snowflake Collector said, to the querying glance of the youth, who in spite of his pain never once betrayed any sorrow:

‘I need to know how to collect snowflakes.’

2: His Task Would Be Immense <  

> 4: And He Had Many Memories