Friday, 1 February 2008

The Survivalist Cult of Snowdrops and Passing Sorrow

Oh sweet snowdrops, you appeared over night,
in only your nighties, that's why you're white.
(Passed on to me by a friend , winner of the annual worst pastoral couplet)

So driving through the back roads of the fens today, I spot a great swathe of snowdrops and on the radio the weather forecast tells me it is about to become bitterly cold. So it happens every year, up they come and then the sky falls in on them. Such is life sometimes, struggling up, doing your best then getting dumped on. However, from experience I know that they survive thick snow, the severest of frosts but now that the winters are turning to flood round here their survival is even more hard won. Although these are a flower that like damp soil ( hurrah the fens do damp with ease) , they do not survive sodden,; the bulbs rot and they die. Snowdrops have long been seen as a metaphor for survival as demonstrated by Coleridge and Wordsworth. Here is, On Seeing a Tuft of Snowdrops in a Storm by Wordsworth

As you well know dear reader, I am not pastoral, I move amidst nature with a great sense of na├»ve wonderment but little knowledge, all that I know often comes at me via obscure or seemingly unconnected sources. For instance my mother was given a drug to combat Alzheimer’s Disease some time ago. This was a drug based on galantamine that I discovered is to be found in snowdrops. In her case it did very little except make her throw up and spend hours on the loo and still she buried ornaments in the garden, exploded pressure cookers, insisted the neighbours were bugging her telephone and worried about the ducks that were wandering about in her kitchen. Her constant paranoia about being poisoned was, I felt, quite well founded in this particular instance.

So from that experience I learnt that snowdrops were an ancient medicine that a modern use had been found for. Of course googling those particular drugs, I wandered down other internet paths looking at snowdrops. They are not native to Britain, relative new comers, originally from Asia and any in the wild are strictly garden escapees. This applies to so many of the plants and trees we now see as quintessentially English. Would that other kinds of immigrants could also be as happily embraced as having something wonderful and beautiful to offer our country but then I suppose it did take centuries for them to be ensconced in the British psyche as part of our heritage. My own lofty height in the Fens is still, in some quarters, seen as something to be suspicious of, given the small, squat Fen stature; not only an incomer but a notably different looking in-comer, a Redwood amidst the reeds.

The ancient myth is that snowdrops were created by the angel that escorted Adam and Eve from Eden after they messed up with the apple and knowledge busines. He made them from flakes of snow just to show them that it would not always be winter. A sort of wooden spoon, a 'never mind, things can only get better from here'token. Of course I suppose if you had lived in a perfect temperature controlled climate in Eden, snow and winter could come as a bit of a shock and the concept of seasonsand their cyclical nature might be puzzling. One wonders whether Adam would have been quite as thrilled with these small milk sop flowers (their name in Greek is in fact milk flower) after the showy spectacular vibrant colours of nature, I presume paradise had to offer. I sense that his conversation with the bruiser of an angel/bouncer at the gate was less than grateful, ‘Thanks for the puny white thing but now put down that flaming sword and let us come in, it’s bloody freezing out here. We’re on the guest list, in fact we are the only people on the guest list, have a word with the management if you don’t believe me’.

In flower language they apparently mean ‘The passing of sorrow’ but it is also seen as very bad luck to bring them into a house as it signifies death. All helps in their conservation, look don’t pick as you’re tempting fate,a rather nasty fate.

So I start February with nature notes from the Fens, next time I think I should work harder on my mean city street persona or at least mean Fen Drove persona that, ‘Watch out for the dykes they are deep, dark and dangerous round here. You run into one and you may never be seen again.

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