A man I once knew was prone to talking about snowdrops at this time of the year. He was a galanthophile — a collector of snowdrops — and from the beginning of February to the middle of March was in a state of animus not unlike that of a March hare or a manic depressive who has decided to leave off the medication for a few months to see how he gets on, you know, like.
If you weren’t careful, a salutation on the stairwell could be the stimulus for one of his disquisitions on Galanthus lagodechianus. As his eyes grew larger and larger with craziness, you, ever more desperately trying to think of a subtle and polite way to peel yourself away, felt your will to live being drained away by all the talk of whorls and vernation and planting in the green. You could easily lose fifteen minutes of your day to snowdrop-related talk.
Just like the old bachelor who lived up the road from us when I was a boy and was under the mistaken impression (for well over 20 years!) that my father was a meteorologist (my father was an air traffic controller — easy enough mistake to make), our dear old galanthophile sincerely believed that I was one of his card-carrying, snowdrop-loving brethren. I have nothing against snowdrops, but arranging my life around these curious bulbs’ esoteric seasonal needs is a bit too much for me. Howsoever: one day in early spring he came upon me as I was admiring a drift of the flowers near our building — and that was it. After answering in the affirmative as to whether I liked snowdrops, yer man had me pegged as one of his own and from there on in I became one of his go-to people when he needed to get something off his chest vis-à-vis snowdrops.
Fifteen minutes here, a quarter of an hour there are not inconsiderable spans of time when added up over the course of snowdrop season. I probably lost whole days during February and March to our inflorescence-frenzied friend. Not a great track record from the point of view of a time and motion study, but my patient listening perhaps kept yer man from indulging in the worst excessive of what for him was Christmas, Easter, St Patrick’s Day and Halloween all rolled into one. And one year he even gave me what for him was gold dust. Pressing a plastic bag of shooting bulbs into my hands, he urged me to plant them that very night. “This variety demands planting in the green,” he said. “They won’t flower this year, but, please God, the next.” He led me to believe that if I sold the few ounces of bulbs he had given me on the international snowdrop market I would get a nice wee few quid. I planted them in the dark that evening when I got home from work.
I never got to see these snowdrops bloom, but I hope the people living in our old house appreciate the virgin-white petals pushing up through their front lawn this month. They taught this author all about patience and virtues of listening.