Until I moved to Alaska's Arctic, I thought all those eight-sided snowflakes that we cut out with those rounded scissors in first grade were fiction.
"No two snowflakes are alike," the preacher intoned, when I was in second grade. His point, I supposed, was that God created us all in such a special way that we were unique, lovely, that there was nobody else like us.
The trouble was, though, that the snowflakes that fell all-too-infrequently over my Western Washington childhood home WERE alike. Identical. They all looked like little balls of white ice. Were their inherent differences microscopic? Was it a myth? I just didn't get it.
Also, the snow didn't fall often enough. A hopeful child could get a Flexible Flyer sled from Santa on her seventh Christmas, and not have a chance to use it until she was nine years old. Which would explain the incident at Aunt Opal's where Cousins Jeannie and Cindy and myself rode the sled down their inside stair steps, resulting in a need for wood refinishing.
Snow was a disappointment.
Until. One day when I was 29 years old, working in the Alaska oilfields, the season changed from Autumn to Winter in one day. Really, more like one hour. I would later learn that this was typical. The blue sky morning had quickly turned to black clouds by 11 a.m. And then, snow began to fall. But not the wet, slushy, iceball snow of my childhood, but the large, eight-sided snowflakes of First Grade Myth. Each snowflake was an octogonal geometric work of art and guess what? No two were alike!
I was wearing a black nylon parka, perfect for collecting and observing this phenomenon. I was a giddy child, catching these works of art on my tongue, thrilling to observing them on my parka sleeves. Each one truly unique, eight-sided, individual. WOW. Who knew?
I would later learn that people who live in the American snowbelt have many different descriptions for types of snow. Here in the arctic desert of Alaska, snowflakes are most often the beautiful, awesome, First Grade Prototype of snow.
Just as the French have 37 different words for LOVE, the Inupiat (Eskimos) have 12 different words for COLD. When it is so cold that your nose hairs will freeze before you even realized you HAVE nosehairs, the expression is ALAPA. If an Eskimo says ALAPA to you, keep your survival gear near; they really know what they're talking about.
But if you get a chance to experience snowfall in the arctic, do NOT rush indoors. Stay outside for a moment; capture the snowflakes, enjoy and marvel at them, hold them on your sleeve until they melt away, their brief existence proving to you that YES, there are no two alike and also: your pastor and Kermit the Frog are right: There IS nobody like you!