Autumn. A season of transition. Warm gives way to cool and then sharp cold, like a snapping twig. Blustery weather drags on the trees, swaying them. A glorious profusion of oranges and reds, yellows and tans emerges - perhaps one of nature’s most widespread spectacles, as these tall, woody sentinels bunker down for the winter and shed their summer coats.
I spend some time meandering back and forth across the square, looking for the “right leaf”, before realising that each member of this countless multitude has a character of its own. Unique, like arboreal snowflakes. I reach down, selecting an individual, and lift it up. Cradled in my hands, I retreat to the warmth of the office.
It looks wrong, laying there on the veneer of my desk, surrounded by cables, scraps of paper, discarded post-its. A leaf in situ is a collective thing, a gatherer-of-drips, a shaking-in-the-wind, a light-collecting-wonder. When dropped together, they take on an altogether different character, becoming a rustling golden floor covering to be kicked through and swept up. But here, isolated, it takes on a different character - almost sculptural.
When first collected, the leaf was soft and supple - a fresh fall, perhaps. It’s almost exactly hand sized, with five major fingers. Each finger is lined by deep brown veins, running like branching rivers and tributaries back to the source, the stem. The chocolate brown fades to ochre, almost yellow in places, and isolated patches of green. I look closer, and can see the edges of the cells, darker outlines, like hedgerows and tiny fields. An aerial photograph of an autumn landscape, repeated in miniature.
My phone rings. Emails to write. The day passes.
I come back to the leaf the following day, now gently baked in the artificial warmth. It’s curled upwards, a hand slowly closing. As it dries, it becomes brittle, fragile. Handling starts to knock the edges off and crack the veins. It feels papery, like aged skin. The colours have faded, now - greens are less verdant and more olive, and the brown has lost its lustre. Outside, its fallen companions are rain-softened and boot-trodden, reduced to mulch and smelling richly of earth. In here, it has little aroma - just a gentle woodiness. This particular leaf is taking a drier route to decomposition.
My mind drifts back to a past Christmas, where I gathered plane tree leaves and used them as stencils to create wrapping paper. I have them in my garage, still - except these crisp leaves are bright white and gold, preserved forever by spray paint and the fortune of being picked up. The natural cycle halted by festive, and now literary intervention. The leaf becomes sculpture in its own right, a shiny reminder of the cycle of bud to soil.