Here’s a picture of a common spindle tree with its fabulous and very oddly-shaped pink berries. They seem to be everywhere in the hedgerows I stomp along when I’m escaping from my desk. (You’ll find some much better pictures than the one I snapped with my phone here.) It’s a really beautiful plant and makes a fantastic contrast with the blue sky which made a brief appearance between rainstorms recently.
Spindle is a lovely character in Duncton Quest by William Horwood, one of my favourite books, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that until I read the book I had no idea that spindle was a tree. I knew it was a thing for spinning wool, and since I learnt of the existence of the bush (tree? shrub?) I’ve vaguely wondered if it was used to make spindles. Well, half a minute with Wikipedia tells me that, yes, it was. And this rather fascinating site says it also makes very good charcoal and can get rid of headlice and ticks! But it’s also poisonous to people, so don’t try this at home.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if I’d been gazing at my feet as I stomped along I would have missed this beauty and thought only of the muddy path beneath me. I wouldn’t have come home and gleaned new facts to squirrel away for future use or interest. I’d have spent my life believing that all berries are round. (Spindle berries are multi-faceted and strangely pointed in several directions.) I wouldn’t have been reminded of a book I read and loved years ago and I wouldn’t have started wondering whether a spindle branch laden with berries would make a good locally-sourced Christmas decoration instead of holly.
Looking up and noticing what’s around lets the brain make all kinds of connections, and opens our eyes to beauty – beauty that’s always there and beauty that’s seasonal.