By Tim Porteus

FINALLY we have reached the time of year when people finishing work at 5pm can go home in daylight. But spring still feels like a long way off.

I crave it, not just because it makes the evening walks in the woods possible once more, but because of the beauty it returns to the landscape.

The land is still dormant, with nature seemingly sleeping. It’s at this time of year that the ugly results of people’s disregard for the land can be most clearly seen. Litter of all kinds ‘decorates’ the roadsides. In summer it is partly hidden as hedges, roadside bushes and grasses grow. But in winter nature retreats and exposes the extent of people’s uncaring behaviour.

I can’t understand it, I really can’t. Our country is so beautiful, yet so many people just throw rubbish from their car window. Do they not see the results and feel a sense of shame and horror? In a country where we have the facilities to dispose of our rubbish, there is simply no excuse to trash our landscape like this.

And in a time when there are cuts to vital services, councils having to pay money to pick up people’s rubbish from the sides of roads is just another unseen effect. It’s not just that it’s ugly to look at, it’s polluting our environment, killing wildlife and leaving an appalling legacy for our children.

And so as we set off last Sunday for a walk, the sight of litter strewn everywhere along the roadside was quite depressing. And my children noticed its ugliness too. “Why do people litter like this?” I was asked by my five-year-old Skye, and to be honest I struggled for an answer.

“I really don’t know, but it must be because they don’t care.”

My daughter seemed forlorn at this reply as we drove past a mass of discarded fast food remains, plastic bottles, beer bottles, plastic bags and yet more fast food rubbish.

But I wanted to lift her spirits and so told her we were going on a hunt for something beautiful. We were on a snowdrop hunt! And so as we drove to our destination, I reminded them of my version of the old story:

‘Many years ago, Snow had no colour. It felt ashamed and left out to be colourless, especially when the land was so beautifully covered in flowers of all different colours.

And so Snow asked the flowers if they would be willing to share just a little of their colour. First Snow asked the daffodils, who were a beautiful yellow. But they said no, they needed all their colour for themselves.

Then Snow asked the bluebells, who were a wonderful blue. But they said they were too small to share any of their colour.

Then Snow asked the whin bushes if they could share some of their vivid yellow, and they said no because they needed the colour.

Snow even asked the roses of summer, but got the same answer: no.

Then Snow heard a small voice and looked down. It was a small white flower. We can share some of our colour, with you it said.

“But you are so small and you need your colour for yourself,” said Snow. “Yes,” the flower replied, “we are small and we need our colour, but there are many of us and if each one of us gives a little then we can give you enough colour.”

“That is very kind of you but I don’t want to ruin your beautiful appearance,” said Snow.

“Don’t worry,” said the wee white flower, “we can all take a little colour from the inside of our petals, so it will not be noticed that any white is missing.”’

And so that is how Snow became white. And because of the kindness shown by this little flower, Snow agreed to share its name with it, and so they became known as snowdrops.

Snow also shared its space with the wee flower, so snowdrops and snow are often seen on the ground together. And if you look carefully inside the snowdrop, you will see the hidden part where the white has been scraped off to give to Snow.

With the story’s end we arrived at Smeaton Lake, near East Linton, our destination for the snowdrop hunt. It’s such a beautiful place where a planted wood stands guard by a lake created 200 years ago. The woodland here is possibly unsurpassed in East Lothian for the canopy of snowdrops it displays.

Excited screams at small patches of the flower soon gave way to “wow, look” as we reached the end of the waterside and a wood carpeted by the wee flowers.

My spirits were lifted as I watched my daughter carefully examine flowers for evidence they had shared their colour. She showed her wee brother the green strips inside, explaining that is where the white was shared from. Both were careful not to damage or pick the flowers, despite their desire to do so.

“We’ll find some growing in a less happy place and take those ones home,” I assured them.

And so we eventually headed back, a delicious bowl of ice cream at The Goth in Prestonpans, accompanied by traditional music, the reward for a good day’s hunting.

That night my daughter was reflective. “I wish people wouldn’t spoil nature,” she said. I felt guilty; she’s only five, I thought to myself, and shouldn’t have to be concerned about such things at that age. Perhaps I should have kept my thoughts to myself.

“But I won’t, and I’ll tell my friends not to as well. Can you tell me the snowdrop story again?” So I told her the story once more.

She had one wee snowdrop in a bowl by her bed. We had found it growing precariously at the verge of the road, surrounded by litter, and she wanted to ‘save’ it. So we did, hopefully with roots intact.

“Well we will plant the snowdrop in the garden and perhaps we will have our own snowdrops next year!” I said to her, and she was happy at this.

I went downstairs as she slept. My thoughts and emotions flooded me. My anger and depression at the ignorant mess we are making of our planet was superseded by my daughter’s determination to make a small difference, just like the snowdrop in the story.

And perhaps therein lies the true message of that old tale: a difference can be made, if we all do a little, but do it together.

The children are the future, but let’s not leave all our ugly mess and destruction to our children to deal with. Let us all do something small, as many already are, to change the way we behave and how we appreciate what we have been gifted.

For our children’s sake, I really hope it’s not too late.