The power of a single snowflake

We journeyed north to Alaska for our family vacation this year. And as odd as it might sound, while in that remote, spectacular, unspoiled wilderness, I couldn’t help but think about the concept of community.

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Credit: Becky Nesbitt

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Credit: Becky Nesbitt

I see myself as a lifelong student, so when I’m interested in something, I want to learn more about it. As we were traveling past the ice fields and across the Aleutian and Alaska mountain ranges, I was reading about the early explorers who made their way into that part of the world. John Muir, a 19th Century author and naturalist, was one of the first non-native souls who trekked into that frozen, unforgiving place.

As Muir hiked over and around the tallest, snow-capped peaks in North America and gazed into the turquoise blue depths of massive glaciers, he marveled at the powerful forces of nature. And in those moments, when the only sounds ringing in his ears may have been humpback whales breaking the surface of the water or the wind whistling through the Western hemlocks, I think he was thinking about community too.

Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Credit: Becky Nesbitt

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Credit: Becky Nesbitt

While canoeing near glaciers in what is now Glacier Bay National Park, Muir wrote that he began to think about how those massive bodies of ice were formed from delicate snowflakes. He observed that a single snowflake, on its own, is fragile and powerless; but many snowflakes, gathered together, over time, formed a glacier. And those slow-moving rivers of ice carved mountains, created deep valleys, and gave birth to breathtaking fjords and great fresh water lakes.

As I was reading about his adventures, I thought about how a person, alone in that unfriendly wilderness, was a bit like a snowflake. Individually, of course, a person can have much more impact than one snowflake, but when one person becomes two or three or more, a “community” is born. Helen Keller remarked, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” People seem to be at their best when they work together, gathering around a shared goal or living peacefully in a common area. When we live and work together, we must face our similarities and our differences; we must harness our strengths – allowing each person to contribute an individual effort to a combined outcome. Just like those snowflakes within a glacier, each of us can be one part of collective force that might one-day move mountains.

To learn more about OSU Extension’s educational programs focused on community development, visit

Becky Nesbitt is an Assistant Professor and Extension Educator in Community Development with OSU Extension.

One thought on “The power of a single snowflake

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *