The Only Living Snowflake In New Hampshire

Apr 29, 2019

Mud Season has arrived in New Hampshire, and the snow pretty much gone. But as NHPR’s Sean Hurley tells us, there’s one final snowflake in the forest near his home that won’t be melting any time soon.

A few years back, while walking the path around Smarts Brook with my family shortly before Christmas, we came upon a group of men decorating a tree in the forest.

We came upon this group decorating a tree in 2016.
Credit Sean Hurley

Ornaments in hand, John Norman and Mike Boisvert told us they were hoping to spread a little holiday cheer.

“Maybe people will add to this one,” John Norman said. “Or maybe the tree next to it will start getting decorated and we'll have a little Christmas tree decorated forest,” Mike Boisvert added.

“It will be like three trees, four trees, five trees decorated in this area,” John Norman said. “We'll start a new tradition out here.”

In fact, two trees were decorated in the forest that year - the following year, there were three. Were John and Mike onto something, I wondered? Maybe - this past winter there were four.

This year there were 4 trees decorated in Smarts Brook.
Credit Sean Hurley

As an almost daily visitor to Smarts Brook, I began to hope there might be five. If I could happen upon a group decorating a 5th tree, maybe I could do a follow-up story that spoke to this idea of a growing tradition at Smarts Brook…

But there was no 5th tree and after the holiday passed, I began to hope that I might luck upon some group taking their ornaments down. Because that was another thing. After the initial wild tree decorating story aired there’d been a number of people critical of such antics – a suggestion that these dreamy decorators would never return to undreamily undecorate their trees.

Day after day, I roved the path, and one by one the trees were un-adorned, the decorations taken down…and I missed all the action.

But then - and only because the 4 trees had become so familiar to me by that point – I noticed there was a single ornament remaining on the 4th and furthest away tree – a silvery snowflake left on a branch. Accidentally forgotten – or had someone left it on purpose, I wondered?

A single silver snowflake - left behind on purpose or forgotten?
Credit Sean Hurley

As I continued to regularly pass the tree and snowflake I soon realized I’d turned it into a glass half empty, glass half full kind of question. On gloomier days I was sure the snowflake was forgotten.  On happier ones, I knew it was left on purpose and I liked to consider what seemed an arising difference…decorating a tree is one thing.  Leaving an ornament behind, another. As decorator Mike Boisvert had told me, “What's kind of nice about it is someone is doing it on behalf of not really themselves but for other people.”

But leaving a single ornament behind, if that’s what happened, something no one would see - spoke to a shift in intent. From public to private. From a thing left for other people – to something left for oneself.

Sometime in late March, on a particularly dark, glass half-empty sort of day, I decided to take the snowflake down. It was hung not by hook but instead was wrapped by rusty wire to its branch…and though I didn’t feel any moodshift, a little water must have fallen into my glass – as I soon find myself rewrapping the little wire around a lower branch.  Instead of removing it – I rehung the snowflake.

Nothing happened for the next week or so – and then something.

Someone else – the original decorator I thought it must be - had come along and moved the snowflake. I undid the wire and rehung it elsewhere on the tree. And in this way a game of sorts had begun…a kind of wordless messaging between two strangers.

And then it was gone...
Credit Sean Hurley

And then finally just this past week, as the real snowflakes melted from the forest and the ice disappeared from the trail, the silver ornament of this last snowflake was removed. The game was over.

That part of it anyway – because there’s a new game afoot now.  Whoever played the snowflake game with me is, I’m sure, sometimes, somewhere in these woods.  And no matter my mood, every stranger I see now on the trail adds a little drop of water to my sometimes half empty glass.  

Was it you? I wonder.