Snowdrops: Harbinger Of Spring Everywhere

Nothing proves so dramatically how exciting is the bicultural heritage Vita and Benedict inherit as those tender little white flowers and harbingers of spring: snowdrops.

Just back from England -- to sort out family affairs in Stratford-upon-Avon and snatch a spring break in Devon -- I was delighted to find that from the large garden of Miranda's childhood home, through the West Country and along the craggy Devonshire coastline, there were crowds and crowds of the whitest white drops catching your eye on the damp green grass and heralding the coming spring. No crocuses or daffodils yet, just snowdrops. "Everything's so late this year," the English kept complaining, but we didn't mind.

Thanks to these purest of little gems, Miranda and I discovered another of those delightful shared bonds which keep popping up to dispel the myth that our childhoods could not possibly have had anything in common. For Miranda snowdrops will always recall Atherstone Farm House, where the lawns, orchard, driveway, and even the place where her father used to burn the rubbish are truly carpeted in them at winter's end.

As for me, the appearance of babushkas with their posies of podsnezhniki -- snowdrops -- on the streets of Moscow invoked the same excitement about the burgeoning new year and life that lay ahead.

But the subtle difference lies in their name. In England snowdrops indeed look like droplets of snow on already green grass, a last reminder of what winter was all about, and the very word "snowdrop" implies that they are bounty which has fallen from the sky.

In Russia they are called podsnezhniki -- something that has pushed its way from underneath the snow, a life that has emerged triumphant through the hardships of our Russian climate.

This is an observation that led, naturally, to our now ritual argument about "what is spring?" According to Miranda it is when birds begin to sing, buds are in blossom and the tiniest leaves turn themselves to the warming sun.

My experience tells me that it is when snow melts, ice breaks up on the rivers and there are muddy streams everywhere. But whenever the snow melts on some sun-flooded forest opening, the snowdrops will be waiting for the person brave enough to crawl through the grime and ice to find them.

Browse again as you pass by your local babushkas and you may discover tiny bouquets of those sweetest of all flowers -- a reminder both of how different, and how close, our cultures really are.The question is, will Vita and Benedict see them as bountiful snowDROPS or triumphant PODsnezhniki -- a choice of interpretation that will reach far beyond the purely linguistic.