Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Advantages of Being Odd

Liz brought home a book from the library the other day that I read to the kids. It was a book on Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. She picked it up because it looked interesting. At any one time she actually has about 50 books on loan from the library. Both of our kids love having us read to them, and we have set an arbitrary lower limit of 30 minutes/day for each of them (which is often far exceeded).

So I'm a few pages into this book, and suddenly I get the realization, this guy was on the spectrum! The book mentions that he didn't like to play with other kids, never married, and was obsessed with the weather. Now I have no way of proving he was on the spectrum, of course, but certainly there are several other clues woven into the story.

First of all, Bentley dedicated his life to taking pictures of snowflakes. In his lifetime (during the late 1800's and early 1900's) he ended up taking pictures of 5000 different snowflakes! That's a lot of snowflakes. It took him two years of trial and error with a camera that he persuaded his parents to buy for him for Bentley to perfect the technique and capture the first snowflake (or more properly-snow crystal) on a photographic glass slide.

I've read a bit more on him on the web today. Bentley donated much of his collection to the Buffalo Museum of Science. In a biography on their web site the following can be found:

...To the villagers of Jericho, Vermont, Bentley was considered odd, and was known to many of them as the "Snowflake Man" because of his quiet nature and unusual preoccupation with his snow photography. But Bentley was a sensitive, thoughtful man; a gifted and intuitive scientist who was also a talented musician. He played the piano, organ, clarinet, coronet, violin, and composed music for a community marching band. Though it was never confirmed that he stood barefoot in the street playing his violin as snow fell from the gray sky, he would occasionally entertain villagers by imitating the sounds of animals and birds with his violin. Frequently, however, the people of Jericho would watch as he hurried past them, camera under his arm, notebook in hand, running to capture freshly falling snow. ...

Just think of what the world would have missed, if not for this "oddball". Not only is his collection beautiful, but Bentley also made great advances in photomicroscopy and contributed to scientific understanding of a natural phenomena. His birthday was yesterday, February 9th.

So here's to the "oddballs" of the world. The ones who see things that others around them don't, and have the intense interest to pursue passions that result in making all of our lives fuller. The world would be much worse off without them.

Joe is 208


kristina said...

And to the odd snowflake.....

abfh said...

Hi Joe. Have you seen Lili Marlene's blog? I think you would enjoy it. She often writes about historical figures and modern-day achievers who are on the spectrum, and she keeps a list that she frequently updates.

Club 166 said...

Hey, ab,

Thanks for the link! I hadn't seen that one yet.

It looks interesting.

Lili Marlene said...

Mr Bentley was fascinated with small things, was a collector (of photos of snowflakes), he had an obsessive and long-term unusal interest of a scientific nature, his special interests were visual in nature (photography and the study of snowflakes), he might have had an unusual tolerance for an extreme of temperature (cold), had a substantial musical talent, had a weather obsession (like famous aspies Glenn Gould and Henry Darger), and had an unusual degree of social isolation for, it appears, his whole life. I'd say Mr Bentley was an aspie!