Modest, white flowers grow across the extensive village churchyard. Finally, the snowdrops are in bloom. In the Victorian language of flowers, snowdrops symbolised hope, appropriately enough at a thin time of year. The days are lengthening, but the shadows are still with us and it could snow up until Easter in April. The last frosts, hereabouts anyway, can happen until the end of May.
Still, we have hope.
The churchyard didn’t always look like this. It was an effort of collective will 23 years ago to mark the millennium with something more achievable than a dome or a wheel. Locals divided their snowdrop clumps at home and planted them here. They’ve spread, and whilst the grass isn’t completely carpeted in white, it’s beautifully punctuated with it.
I sit on a bench, listening to the rooks building nests, and remember the people who planted them. The snowdrops have outlasted many of them, including my mother, who brought her offering of snowdrops here.
She died nearly two years ago. Friday would have been her birthday. I sit in the chill wind and wish she were sitting next to me.
Then, I look at the yew tree, massive, ancient. A friend of my mother’s, a leading botanist, took cuttings from it to form a hedge at a well-known botanic garden. If and when this this tree should ever die, its offspring will probably live for many hundreds of years more. The trees and the snowdrops outlast us all. We who think we are permanent, are but a breath of air, compared with the solidity of the natural world.
Bereavement can leave you adrift, thinking ‘what’s next?’ and the answer seeming to be ‘nothing’. Yet, the snowdrops and the yew tree are signposts to what I can do, what we all can do: plant things, bulbs, trees, shrubs…they will all outlast us, and make the world a more beautiful place.
I have a yen to plant an orchard. I grew up in a village of orchards. Spring was all pink-and-white blossom and the sound of bees. In the little span of my life, more than 90 per cent of Britain’s orchards have been grubbed up and built on. It’s a quiet atrocity. So, I am on the hunt for land on which I can plant trees. If I start now, I may see them grow to maturity.