RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails February 17

A girl walking through these woods this morning knelt before the snowdrops, brushed them gently with her fingers, photographed them with her mobile, and said: “Spring. The first I’ve seen.”

Her smile showed how the vast energy of the pendulum return had lifted her bodily back into the air.

She was the February Fairmaid of the ancients, the time of symbols so needed by the desperate age.

A friend telephoned from Tasmania.

“Are the snowdrops out?” he asked. “I miss them. We’ve had drought and flood”.

“And we’ve had ice and snow,” I said.

“But the snowdrops live up to their name of Snow-piercer.”

During frosts in the new year the snowdrops showed embryonic tightness and purpose.

The buds waited with curled heads drawn down barely visible in the dead leaves and icy soil.

Surely they would crack open and burst.

But their fire burns white hot in the woods like searing ice.

They have won that fight for millennia.

But for my poor old father, shocked almost out of his mind by two world wars, that white spring fire of the snowdrops stretching on all sides as he walked through the woods at Donhead in Dorset could bring only one thought.

“Dresden burning,” he said. “And the London docks.”

For the Benedictine nuns of nearby Shaftesbury Abbey, founded by Alfred the Great and run by his daughter Lady Aethelgiva, the snowdrops spread on that grand scale into the thickets by the nuns was their symbol of purity.

They had seen the effects of war.

People grasp for the panacea of nature, the only true renewable.

That was in the mind of the man who used to live here in this house at West Dean when he planted the mass of snowdrops you can see in the background of my rather poor photograph.

That was the spot where his son, losing some personal battle raging in his mind, finally took his own life.

He was 21, and would have been an artist of some considerable merit judging by the few works he left behind, and thinking too of his family history of artists.

The girl passing in the woods this morning knelt, and touched his cheek, all unknowing.

And the Candlemass bells, as snowdrops were once called in ancient times, rang out with joy.