Ok, I may be slightly
obsessed with flowers at the moment. I blame all the wonderful spring sunshine we've been having lately. Anyway, this Monday, I like... gorse.Image taken from Wikipedia. Photograph is copyright Andy Rogers
Although I know it better by the local name of "whin", so that's the term I'll use for the rest of this post. I prefer "whin" anyway; it sounds... well, windy and airy and fairy-like, where "gorse" sounds drab and harsh and earthbound.
Actually, both names suit it rather well. Whin grows on land that is otherwise pretty bleak: bog and rock and moor and peat moss, the kind of place where the predominant colours are shades of brown muddied with grey-green, and the soil is poor. Its leaves are replaced almost entirely by wicked green thorns, long and straight like needles. Exposed to the worst the weather can throw at it, it has remarkable resilience. For instance, there was a great hedge of whin growing along the upper end of our road. Then about five years ago, we had an extremely bad winter: snow, ice, the works. It looked like the whin had been killed completely. A few scattered skeletons of bushes remained but there wasn't a hint of green. And yet... those skeletons didn't break or rot away. They stayed. Two years later, some of them started to look green again. Two years after that, new bushes had grown. This year, all the bushes are out in bloom and it looks like we're getting our hedge back.
So yeah, it's tough and it's windswept and it looks awesome covered in cobwebs
. But let's talk about the flowers because they're my favourite part. It's not just their colour - that gorgeous rich yellow - or their shape - those pert little capsules like ladies' bonnets. It's their smell
. Whin smells liks coconut. Really, really
like coconut. Before that bad winter I talked about earlier, I loved being along the upper end of our road when the whin was in bloom because the perfume was so strong. It was like walking into a tropical paradise - apart from the fact that I was surrounded by rush-encrusted fields and scrubby brambles, not white sand beaches and palm trees.
I would later come across an interesting twist on this in The Mermaid's Child
by Jo Baker, where the protagonist encounters the scent of whin first and only years later smells a coconut, stating, "Coconuts, to me, will always smell of gorse." It startled me to realise that I
really ought to think that way too, but don't... So now when I breathe in that dry, soft, sweet scent, it kinda twists my thinking upside-down, makes me consider all the knowledge and experiences I have just because I happen to live at the right time in the right place.
Whin is a golden blaze of defiant sweetness in places where sweetness is the last thing you expect to find. Maybe in two more years' time, I can walk up the road and plunge into the full coconut experience again. I live in hope :)