The ? is for the skeptics. Dinosaur footprints are accepted as fossils and I suspect that other than slight differences in size and age, snowflake imprints are fossils as well. The Fiona Macleold quote beautifully describes how I have come to love the winter woods: “Go to the winter woods: listen there, look, watch, and the ‘dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than you have yet found in the forest.” To fully appreciate the secret of the moment you must be still and quiet. Once you have heard the snowflakes falling and seen one settle on your cold jacket, I know that you will cherish the mystique of the winter woods. An easy way to get a closer look at the snowflakes is to take some cold four-inch squares of black paper and a 10x hand lens on your hike. Let the flakes settle on the paper, pick out a beauty, and then observe it with the hand lens. With some stretching of my fossil definition, I think that these short looks at beauty and symmetry will make long-lived memory imprints on our brains.
Why fossil snowflakes? I will be doing a Snowflake Drop-in Program at Brecksville Nature Center on January 10 from 10 a.m. – noon. Several of my past programs were snowless and it was great to have had some fossils to show visitors. If you are interested in learning more about snowflakes, please drop in and perhaps the snow will also!
The secret to capturing snowflake imprints is cold equipment and good snowflakes. I keep everything on the back porch. If the black paper shows mostly broken or clumped flakes it will usually not be worth continuing. The embedding material is Krylon Crystal Clear spray paint. Clean glass microscope slides are the most useful surface. About six slides are evenly spaced in a shallow cardboard box and sprayed with Krylon. The box is set out into the falling snow until the slides become lightly covered with snowflakes. The box of slides is then put back on the porch for about 40 minutes. This allows the Krylon to dry around the imprints of the flakes. The slide can then be taken inside and allowed to sit until dry. At this point the slides may be examined with a hand lens or microscope and the location of good snowflake imprints may be marked on the nearest edge of the slide. The pictures of fossil snowflakes below were taken with a digital camera held over a microscope.
How many good fossil flakes do I have? About 100 out of 800 slide searches. Be patient, it’s worth it!
This link is an excellent source of snowflake information: snowcrystals.com. Also check Snowflake Bentley at snowflakebentley.com
John W. Miller, Naturalist
Brecksville Nature Center