On a recent trip to L.L. Bean’s version of Disneyland in Freeport, Maine, I spotted two unusual things: a 17-foot-tall Bean Boot and about a billion of nature’s most perfect snowflakes.
If you haven’t been to L.L Bean’s flagship store, here’s a quick bit of advice: Take a map, don’t lose your party, the animals are stuffed, the fish are not, and when you’re finished with all three of the expansive levels, it’s time to head over to Bean’s adjacent stores (yes, there are more) for home furnishings, boats, bikes and kayaks. Oh, and wear sneakers; unlike Disney, there are no trams (but there is a restaurant!).
Our family of five walked out of L.L. Bean like every other tourist: loaded down with brown shopping bags digging valleys into our arms. Unlike the other tourists, however, before we could get to the parking lot, we had to yell words most parents think they’ll never say: “Get down from that 17-foot boot before I come up there and bring you down!”
The weather had grown drastically colder while we were lost (I mean this literally) inside the store. Crisp winter air pelted our faces. The boys stomped in partially frozen puddles (you can do this when you are wearing Bean Boots), and I could almost see the legs of their now wet pants freezing over. Dustin and I lugged packages.
When we got to the car, Dustin loaded the trunk while I scolded the boys for getting their pants wet. Then I saw in Lindell’s hair what looked like a piece of glitter, or one of those annoying pieces of confetti that sometimes fall out of birthday or wedding invitations (why do people think these are a good idea?). I thought back to the time Dustin had gone out with a bunch of guys in his squadron and came home with glitter in his hair. That was an awkward conversation.
Me: Um, do you have glitter in your hair?
The other guys (looking at their watches and walking toward the door): Dude, we totally need to get home. See you later, pal. Maybe.
Me: Why would you have glitter in your hair, Dustin?
Dustin: Oh, the dancers at that club must have been wearing glitter or something.
Me: So how did it get in your hair? And what “club”?
It took awhile for Dustin to live down the name “Glitter.” I plucked the glitterlike object from Lindell’s hair while I glared at Dustin. No doubt, he knew what memory had crossed my mind. But this “glitter” melted between my fingers.
I looked at Ford, and then at Owen. All of my children had tiny pieces of “glitter” in their hair. I ran to the side of the car and peered at the ledge beneath the passenger-side window. Piles of perfectly formed snowflakes lay like a clump of shiny confetti waiting inside an invitation.
I ran back to Ford. He had the largest, most perfect snowflake I have ever seen in my life sitting atop his head. Another one fell on Lindell. Two more fell on Owen’s jacket. Dustin’s hair was covered with them. The flakes were intricate, symmetrical, and so flawless that they almost didn’t seem real.
The five of us stood in the middle of the parking lot and screamed: “Look at them!” “There’s billions!” “They are perfect!” “I’ve never seen a flake like this.”
Cars swerved around us. Drivers stared out their windows like we were crazy. I wanted to yell at them, “Don’t you see these flakes? Can’t you see them? They are perfect!”
Life for us had paused momentarily. We weren’t thinking about deadlines or homework or the drive back home. We could not think of anything except the magnificent snowflakes.
Passers-by with angry, disapproving scowls on their faces had missed the point. Their eyes were open, but somehow they couldn’t really see. It was as if something was in the way, reminding me of sidelines at children’s soccer games, where there is a row of parents with video cameras watching life unfold through a lens.
The snowflakes were so exceptional, yet also entirely fleeting. They melted in our hair before we could really get our mind around each perfect specimen. If we tried to pick one up, it turned to water in our hands. It was like the sky was raining absolute perfection, and we knew it might not happen again. (Just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating about these flakes, I put a picture on Facebook, and no one believed that it was real.)
There in the parking lot, I pulled out my iPhone, always at the ready (regrettably) in my back pocket, to snap a picture of one perfect flake in Ford’s hair. I looked at the snowflake through the lens. It was incredible. Without a single flaw. So I took the picture, forever freezing this miracle on a computer chip.
And suddenly, all at once, that act seemed rather profane.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.