Hope springs eternal

Recent reading took me back to the days of the pillory. I confess my knowledge before had been strictly based on novels about early New England.

Head and arms were secured as a punishment, usually for a too-adventurous young woman, where she had to remain publicly exposed to the derision of her fellow villagers. Not a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, to be sure, but the pain involved was only to one’s ego.


Hardly, it turns out.

It may have been a fairly benign treatment in the New World but it was a pretty serious punishment in Merrie Olde England.

Similar to the crowds who enjoyed a public burning or beheading, those who came to witness a pilloried one came armed with rotten food, mud, offal or even the excrement from animals if not the carcasses themselves. On rare occasions (one hopes) the crowd might include some with sticks or rocks which could prove fatal. One definitely had more worries than mere damage to his reputation.

Nothing that serious was in store for the flowers that wished they bloomed in the spring tra la! though I imagine their thoughts would as easily turn to the fragility of one’s existence.

I think now specifically of the lovely snowdrop.

Arriving (there really are days when the snow doesn’t fall) as early as January, its flowers appear even before the coltsfoot can push more than a few inches above the sod. It is not a wildflower but, once its bulbs are planted, it seems happy to spread and important to me can survive all the neglect I am likely to give it. I do not skimp on attention and appreciation however.

A small delicate white flower that bends over, thus appearing more bell-like than cupped, each bud extends up from a single stem. The leaves, wiser perhaps, pop out close to the ground and stay there. It’s small. It’s dainty. It’s positively lovely and so appreciated when winter still seems in full force. It is thus once again buried deep beneath the snow.

My hero was spared the punishment anticipated when pilloried for his loyal friends and shipmates big burly bruisers surrounded and protected him from any harm for the two hours he had to remain in the stocks.

Like the punishment which may well have originated in England, the snowdrop is often believed to have come from an English wildflower. This may or may not be true for it is now as common throughout Europe as it is here.

What amazes me at this time is that it is never deterred by the crushing weight of the heaviest snowfall. I can’t see it and am obviously not prepared to dig though I suspect it prefers its insulation to an unseasonal peek at me but know that it remains in bloom down there and will be as good as new once its current blanket has melted away. And it will. For now though it remains as good as pilloried for it can’t move at all.

Then again, who am I to intuit what those flowers are doing in the privacy of their dark?

CORRECTION. I am extremely grateful to Roger Higgs who for many years had the Cassadaga Greenhouse. Roger was kind enough to call just before Christmas to tell me my advice on forcing bulbs was wrong. All wrong. Placing them in the freezer will . . . well, freeze them. And that’ll turn them into mush. It works in nature because they are planted 6 to 8 inches deep (one hopes) and so protected by all that nice dirt around them. To sprout indoors, bulbs need to be kept cool for a predetermined number of hours (which, he assured me, was very difficult to determine). Try the refrigerator or an outside wall of a cool garage. GOOD LUCK!

Better yet perhaps, rely on the pros and enjoy perfect posies every time.

Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com