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Woman standing on porch platform at end of Long House.

The Snowflake Fable

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake” a wren asked a wild dove.
“Nothing at all” was the answer.
“In that case I will tell you a marvellous story” the wren said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow—not heavily—just like in a dream, without a sound and without  any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953 rd dropped onto the branch — nothing at all you say — the branch broke off.”
The wren flew away.
“Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world” thought the dove.

Kurt Kauter (c. 1975)

Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.

Wendell Berry (1988/90)


Berry is surely right to point out that if we seek to espouse a cause we should do so for personal conviction Turbulent river waters. An example faces us all now for we need more than facts or even pictures to challenge our abuse of the planet. of its excellence, not for the reward of possible future change. However, the fable of the Snowflake reminds us of a different sort of error, that of letting a hypothetical probability (that ours is in fact the one millionth voice that will make a difference) stop us acting when we can never know the odds, nor know where we are in that long queue towards success. These are not matters decided by rationality or logic. Pagoda on pillar in pool.
How basic to our lives is self-contradiction and the edifice of logic?

And what a sad state we would be in if reason had the last word, for then no branch would ever break.

Kauter has been forgotten by the internet apart from this one fable which probably appeared in New Fables under the title The Caribou Says... However, I have not been able to confirm this. I used this version in the 1980s, but no longer have the reference. Kauter was born in Germany in 1913 and moved from the West to Gotha in East Germany in 1958, where he died in 2002. Sadly the fable is widely quoted with no reference to its author. Berry is commenting on Hayden Carruth poem called On being asked to write a poem against the war in Vietnam, in this commentary he notes the naivity of protesters. The quote is from page 62 of the Counterpoint edition of What are People For?

The snow laden branches were photographed in Dingwall, Scotland, in January 2023.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 1st April 2023

Murphy on duty to this site