Joe Regenzeit, or actually American Weather Services, Inc., also a party in Rowland et al. v. Snowbird Resort, Inc., seeded the clouds with particles of silver iodide, which cause the water vapor in a cloud to condense and form ice, a process known as deposition (which is also a legal term, meaning, the taking of a statement from a witness: so already the legal and the meteorological are linked up). The ice crystals precipitate out of the cloud in the form of, you guessed it, snow.
Until recently, the seeding of supercooled clouds (so called because the water vapor in them is already below 0°C) to make snow was one of the most reliable techniques for weather control—or weather modification, as it is innocuously known these days. If you drop silver iodide (dry ice also works) into a supercooled cloud you can be pretty sure what will happen. My father made much of this certainty—which he may have exaggerated—in his arguments in re Rowland v. Snowbird.
The first successful snowmaking experiment in U.S. history was carried out in 1946, by Dr. Vincent Schaeffer, then employed by General Electric. Dr. Schaeffer took off in a small plane from the Schenectady Airport, and chased a cloud east for about sixty miles, to the flanks of Mt. Greylock, in the Berkshires. There the cloud seems to have allowed itself to be caught. Dr. Schaeffer dumped six pounds of dry ice crystals into its gnarled top, and snow began to fall from the bottom of the cloud, as if the cloud were an animal which had performed some obscure act of digestion. It fell on the western slope of Mt. Greylock, indistinguishable from ordinary snow.
The quantity of snow that fell is not recorded.
But now we come to an interesting historical coincidence.
Almost a hundred years earlier, Herman Melville looked from the window of his cabin, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, Mass., at the same mountain. “I look out of my window in the morning when I rise,” he wrote a friend, “as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship’s cabin; & at nights when I wake up & hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, & I had better go on the roof & rig in the chimney.” Melville was at sea in Pittsfield: badly reviewed, nearly drowning in debt, driven on by the storm of his own worries to write another book about the sea. Then one day in the winter of 1850, it snowed, and the snow-covered flank of Mt. Greylock looked to Melville like the white back of a sperm whale, rising out of the water. Or the back of a white sperm whale, I should write.
Mt. Greylock did not inspire Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. It may, however, have reassured him that, after months of desperate travel, the whale was in view. And indeed: when, after 538 pages (in the paperback edition I have with me here, one of the few books to survive the disaster of the last six years) of narration on various subjects, ranging from the well-known Whiteness of the Whale to the phrenology of the same cetacean’s head, the Fossil Whale, the whale’s possible future extinction, etc., etc.—when, after all that time, all that sea, Ahab, hoisted aloft in a cradle of ropes, finally sees the whale he has been chasing, he shouts, “There she blows!—there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!” A hump like a snow-hill: the end is in sight.
I wonder if Dr. Schaeffer looked over his shoulder, as his plane banked back towards Schenectady, at the whitening slope of Mt. Greylock, and thought, There she blows. Did he know what a whale—of an idea, I mean—he had brought into the world? For that matter, did Melville know? His total earnings from the American sale of Moby-Dick came to $556.37.
Mountains; whales; stories. If I were feeling giddier, I might speculate that humps like snow-hills have some rare quality which makes it hard to write about them briefly. As if the writer who once sets foot on one of those white humps finds himself, or herself, slipping forwards, downward, zigzagging, trying to prolong, by means of digressions left and right, the fall’s inevitable end. Melville would have made a great downhill skier. And I: if I keep this up long enough, maybe at some point I’ll be a decent novelist.