Wednesday, September 18, 2019

From the life of a snowflake

Project HaMo (translation): meditation on a winter sky

It's snowing. Gently and quietly, soft snowflakes flutter from a grey-speckled sky – the grey speckles are young snowflakes, newly born. One after another, they swirl down together, mingling and mixing, brushing each other. A quick one hastens ahead of a hesitant one, a heavy one clings to a light one, as if it would slow its onrush to the pace of the slowly hovering one. How they leap and gyre. But of course they do! They delight in their very being, sailing round like little birds of paradise. Can you hear them sing? What a joy it must be, to be a soft little flake among snowflakes.

Snowshower at the Aua da Zeznina, Swiss Engadine
Photo courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure
Tender as a maiden, snowflakes cast a quiet glow ahead of them as they drift softly and easily down. To be young forever is what they wish for. What infinite happiness: a life of dancing!

But woe is us. In all their softness and delicacy, they fall to the warm earth. How they tremble! One breath, and they are ruined. One sigh of air and, hardly wakened to life, they have already perished, in their hundreds and thousands, all at once. Hundreds of thousands of snowflake souls fly up to heaven. Alas, poor snowflakes!

It's snowing. The wind whips sharp ice-needles from the wild clouds. Hard knives cut your cold face. Today, the snowflake tribe is in a grim mood. Ice-cold in its furious intent, every flake makes war on the earth. In endless hordes, they drive down like polished projectiles, in dense phalanxes, spoiling for the fight. Showering down like spray, they close ranks, multiplying their force a thousand times, as legions of brave pellets drive after them. How they scour and rush, harried by the wind into slanting files. Try following one with your eyes, and a hundred hit you, thousands of henchmen to every leader, bold and quick, sifting down like sand.

What savage joy, to be a snowpellet among snowpellets!

How they defy the earth, these rough warriors. They prevail by sheer weight of numbers. Grim as a conquering army, they cover the earth, piling up thicker and thicker.

Yet they too will yield. One gleam of sun will vanquish the weakest and drive the stronger ones into each other’s embrace. Now the sunlight strengthens, and even the proudest are wilting. The grey-white masses, tough as they are, melt away; bold snow-spirits ascend to heaven. Did you hear their high, defiant song. What a farewell was that!

Did you see how the snowflakes died? Each knows it will rise anew, invisibly, so that it can lay down its life again and again. Is it because they know something we don’t that they die so easily and cheerfully?


This is an excerpt from a centennial translation of Ihr Berge (1916), a mountain memoir by Hans "Hamo" Morgenthaler (1890-1928). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.

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