The Enormous Snowflake from Issue 54
It was a bleary winter morning when Rawlins Petrie discovered something unusual on his farm. He had to look at it several times and scratch his head to make sure he was seeing correctly. To be perfectly honest, he scratched a few other places than his head and still couldn’t be sure. Which was odd, really. In a country that sees a fair bit of snow each year, you’d think a born and bred country boy who was nearer to 70 than he was to 60 would have no trouble identifying a snowflake.
Of course, Rawlins was well aware that the very thing that make snowflakes interesting is that no two are ever exactly alike. Not quite, anyway. As individual as fingerprints. As intriguing as the shattered jewels you see inside a kaleidoscope.
They always reminded him of an old German woman who’d loved on one of the farms near his parents’ place when he was growing up. Despite a terrible case of arthritis which would have crippled most people in such a cold climate, the woman, whose name he could never quite pronounce and no longer even remembered, was an expert at scherenschnitte, the Pennsylvanian Dutch art of intricate paper cutting. Perhaps the craft went even further back to Europeㅡto strange little villages in dark forestㅡshe didn’t know. In any case, it was alive qme weel as long as the old German woman practiced it. When little but egg money was available, she made beautiful shelf edgings from sheets of old newspaper. She made thingsㅡso complex and fragile lookingㅡpeople were afraid to hold them in their hands for fear they would disintegrate.
She made garnishes for on top of freshly churned butter, doilies, and dogtooth silhouettes. She made fanciful animals to hang from a stick suspended over a baby’s cribㅡand whole trees full of Christmas decorations. And she was wily too. After her cutting work was done, she’s sometimes “antique” the paper by sponging it with very strong coffee to give it a stained effect.
She made doves of peace and trumpeter swans with their signets. She made snowshoe rabbits and crescent moons. There were roses and icicles and spiderwebbed stars. Hands and hearts conveyed generosity and compassion. Tulips represented Man’s quest for God. Everything meant something.
But what the old woman made more of than anything else was snowflakes. Endless paper
snowflakes, filling the rooms of her farmhouse just like snow. Rawlings remembered them vividly. The exact hexagonal symmetryㅡstained glass arm and crystal hairㅡas remarkable in their fierce geometric precision as the logarithmic spirals that occur in elephant tusks and even a canary’s claws for softness and organic curve.
The secret of how she worked was mysterious to Rawlins. Once, as a boy, he actually watched her do it. She sat in a ladder back chair by an old school desk with her precious sheets of pure white paper, a long straight-edge ruler, a sharp pencil and a soft eraser, a dressmaker pin, a bottle of white Elmer’s glue with the cow on it, and a pair of the finest pointed scissors he’s ever seen.