A Snowy Optical Illusion

By , February 16, 2019

For me, life in Alaska (41 years total now, as of February 12th!) has largely featured optical illusions. I am constantly confounded by looking around me and seeing things that don’t make sense. Indeed, I made that the theme of my first book, Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska.

Recently, I saw something that didn’t make sense to me, and I got photos to back myself up!

snow on the deck

Snow falling through cracks creates parallel patterns cut diagonally by . . . other cracks? (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

After a recent snowfall, I noticed that the snow made a distinctive pattern on the deck, where it sifted through the cracks between timbers. I also noticed that, from the window, there appeared to be a different pattern falling diagonally to the main one, underneath the picnic table.

I walk out onto the deck every day to check the rain gauge. I went out that first day, glanced down as I passed, and could not see the diagonal pattern I’d observed. Too busy with my chore, I barely registered this until later. After that, it bothered me!

The next day, I looked out at the deck, and saw the same overlaying patterns. I took some photos, then went outside to investigate. I stopped at a point where I began to see what I was actually looking at, then got right up close and examined it.

snow on the deck

Closer up, the pattern begins to resolve itself, revealing what I actually saw (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

snow on the deck

From this angle, the drifts that created the diagonals become apparent (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

snow on the deck

A detail of the wavy drifts and the cracks, visible from this angle (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

As you can see in the photos, snow drifted under the table and bench in waves, which became the dominant pattern from the viewing angle afforded by the window.

I like this! Snow’s beautiful, sometimes even more so when it’s sculpted. We know we live in a beautiful place, but sometimes, it becomes even more beautiful, in small but wondrous ways.

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