The snowdrops have come through all the dead leaves that usually I rake off but which this year I didn't. There they are in their minor glory, six inches tall and purest white. It may be cold, they may have to fight their way through five inches of leaves but no matter. This is their time and there they are.

I know, of course, that the snowdrops do not think, as we do or as dogs do, and I know they are utterly indifferent to me and my hopes of their beauty.

I am not indifferent to them, and I salute their triumph, up through the outrageous dead leaves, as I would salute a fireman who did his difficult work.

A good man came to dig up our gas line and I was much afraid he would have to go right through Viburnum setigerum and a hybrid witch hazel I have coddled along for five years and much else.

"I know what it's like," he said. "We'll try to do no damage. I once dug through a woman's yard and she had fits, said she had $20,000 worth of flowers there, and I thought she was crazy, but I went back out of curiosity and sure enough she did have what must have been at least that much in flowers."

"Well," I said, "with me it's not that my bushes and stuff are worth anything in the way of money. But I bought this plant in a pot and I've nursed it along and now it's beginning to look like something. The money never was much, because I never spent much, but these things -- "

"I got the picture," he said, and the crew put in the new gas line with what I thought was wonderful care and I was grateful.

Except, of course, at the back of the house where they brought the gas meter out of the basement and set it on an outer wall. There they dug a foot deep, chopped out a magnificent (if I do say so) trumpet vine, 'Mme. Galen.' Its two-story branches are now cut off from roots, they will all die. I brought it from my former garden in Tennessee, and it doesn't like the coolish summers of Washington much. It sat there for five years before it began to bloom, but now at last it has grown up to the roof. It is a mass of flowers for most of the summer, full of bumblebees and hummingbirds. Or it was.

I was proud of it, not because I did anything much for it except give it some manure every February, but because it was so beautiful. And now it is dead in a way nothing is dead from the winter -- after a bad winter you can at least hope, and even if the plant never recovers you can comfort yourself that this was Nature's Way. But to have a glorious hybrid of the Chinese trumpet vine simply slaughtered, merely for a damned gas meter, is hard to take.

The trouble was, it never occurred to me to say, "Please watch out for Mme. Galen and don't dig it up and chop it down." The vine had a stalk thick as your forearm and it covered the house for two stories.

But to the guys who did the digging, it was just a brown dead-looking thing, and I can readily see it never occurred to them this was an important joy in a guy's life. If they had known -- if I had simply told them -- they would have knocked themselves out to go a foot away from it. It just never occurred to them, as it never occurred to me.

One way or another I shall replace that vine. If it takes it five years, if it takes it 100 years, makes no difference. In that place that vine will grow again.

There are disappointments in gardening, as there always are if you persist in dealing with living creatures. You will hurt if you garden or if you have dogs or if you have a family with wives (one, I suppose) and kids. The alternative is to have a television set and live in a bare apartment. Then there is nothing alive, nothing wonderful, and nothing painful.

Gardeners are meant to know pain, as they are meant to know triumph and exultation. It is what is called life, as opposed to what is called death. There are days, when you see the great vine dug up and chopped out, that you wish you were not a gardener. There are days, when the snowdrops forgive your sloth and come through all those dead leaves, against heavy odds, you think your lines have been laid in pleasant places and, except for the neighbors and your arthritis, would jump up in the air and click your heels smart.