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In Our Own Backyard...Of life, death and 'The Fall of Freddie the Leaf'

Somehow, I can't seem to stop collecting leaves this year. Every autumn, I like to stop and pick up a few brightly colored leaves to bring home, press in a book and use as table decorations. But this year, I'm having a hard time resisting. Perhap...

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Somehow, I can't seem to stop collecting leaves this year. Every autumn, I like to stop and pick up a few brightly colored leaves to bring home, press in a book and use as table decorations. But this year, I'm having a hard time resisting. Perhaps it's because the meteorologists predicted it would be a dismal fall due to the stress the trees were under, but it seems that just the opposite came true. The progression of colored leaves seems to grow more vivid with each passing day. I guess it's the unexpected beauty of it all that has me under its spell.

When the leaves first started to turn, I came home from a walk in the woods clutching two hands full of colored leaves. That was only the beginning. Since then I've continued to collect leaves nearly every time I walk in the woods. Just when I've decided I've gathered enough of them, I come upon one particularly bright leaf that is nearly perfect in its shape and symmetry. And pretty soon, I have another entire handful of them and am carrying them home to add to the already generous collection I have pressing between the pages of our very large and heavy old Bible.

The beauty of autumn leaves is bittersweet, however. While they are at the very peak of their beauty, there's the overriding knowledge that they are nearing the end of their lives. Long ago, I used to teach a Bible School class of youngsters about the seasons of life, using a book by Leo Buscaglia called "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf." It tells a simple and moving tale in children's terms about a leaf named Freddie who spends the spring and summer together with his fellow leaves sharing a common tree. One leaf, Daniel, is wiser than the rest, and he tells all the other leaves about their reason for being - "to make things more pleasant for others...to make shade for old people...to provide a cool place for children to come and play...."

When October arrives the weather turns cold and the leaves turn many colors and Daniel tells the others the reason each of them is different. "We have all had different experiences," he explains. "We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently."

And when the cold winds of autumn arrive and begin tugging at the leaves, they are bewildered and ask Daniel what's happening. It is then that he tells them, "That's what happens to leaves in the fall. It's the time for leaves to change their home. Some people call it 'to die.' Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die."

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Freddie and the other leaves are frightened, and ask why they were put there at all if they have to fall and die.

"It's been about the happy times together," explains Daniel. "It's been about the shade and the old people and the children. It's been about colors in the fall. It's been about seasons. Isn't that enough?"

And then one golden afternoon, Daniel lets go and drifts to the ground. Eventually, Freddie finds he is the last leaf left on the tree and one snowy morning he, too, lets go and drifts to the ground. As he falls he sees the entire tree for the first time - and knows he has been an important part of its life and that makes him proud.

It's a gentle story that not only spoke to the children I read it to but to me as well - every time I read it.

This week has been a sad week in Carlton County, with the passing of the community's long-time friend, Herb Johnson, and the tragic deaths of two of its young men, Zachary Gamache and Mitchell Lingren. While Johnson was in the autumn of his life, the others were yet in the springtime of theirs.

I was thinking of all of them the other day as I rustled through my bookshelves until I found my old copy of "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf." And as I opened its pages, a thin, transparent envelope fell out. It was filled with colored leaves I had collected over 20 years ago - and they were still surprisingly bright, beautiful and filled with memories of the time they were alive...

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