Edging my way lazily along the canal towpath the Hawthorn hedge ushers me toward the final bend before the locks. My mind and eyes have been on the water since I left the main road fifteen or so minutes ago as I scan the reeds for Moorhens, Waterfowl and the illusive Kingfisher. Every now and then Redwings scuttle from lone, twisted-finger Hawthorn trees on the opposite bank and ‘seeeep’ away the silence. Despite my intense focus, apart from the Redwings there isn’t much to focus on. The waters like the wind are still and quiet. The odd rise of bubbles signals the only sign of life beneath the surface. It’s not until my eyes are drawn away from the water’s edge by the sudden bend in the path that I notice it. There is a fire in the hedgerow.
Like an oil-on-canvas landscape deranged by modern art with bold flecks of vibrant paint flicked manically from brush to board I see entwined amongst the balding Hawthorn flashes of warm magenta, hot pink and flaming orange.
The Spindle tree is, for a month at least, a plant of unbridled beauty in an otherwise brown and decaying hedgerow. It is fair to say that beyond this month Spindle spends the rest of the year unnoticed and unremarkable. Lacklustre green leaves and small white flowers in May are inevitably crowded out by its often bedfellow, the Hawthorn. Come November though and this alien-like plant finds a new place in the pecking order. Rose coloured lobed fruits literally burst at the seams exposing pumpkin-orange seeds inside. These chandelier jewels hang gently decorating the hedgerow, out-of-place and unseasonably bold the fruits would not look out-of-place in the tropics though they are a curious but very British native.
The Spindle fruits, tempting though they look are actually poisonous to us. Thankfully Birds, mice, voles and foxes are unaffected by the toxins and so this tropical glut is another welcome food source with Winter around the corner. Spindle wood is tough stuff and it’s this hardness that earned its name, used widely across Europe to make skewers and spindles. In days gone by the charcoal made from spindle wood was and is considered the finest available to artists, its smooth consistency and the ease in which it can be erased ticks all those boxes and just as the fruit is fire in the hedge the charcoal is the fire for the gun, a key ingredient in the composition of quality gunpowder.
I try to capture the colours in pictures on my mobile phone but the shading of the hedge and the low sun is making it nigh on impossible to focus in. I feel the fruits between my finger tips and force the branches to sway. The dainty fruits dance and remind me of the bells I couldn’t resist jingling on the Christmas tree as a child. I take a moment to stand and appreciate this pocket of summer colour, the contrast of the showy Spindle against the bare wood of the hedge, the barren, slowly browning fields and later the greying sky. With rain and wind forecast, by next week the fruit will have fallen and Winter will be in our midst.