In my sophomore biology class we were assigned the task of collecting 40 different varieties of leaves, identifying them as to to type and genus, organizing them, preserving them, and arranging them in a collection suitable for display. It was the perfect way for this slightly science-phobic student to embark on the study of biology, because leaf-collecting was always one of my favorite past-times. It was tradition for me to wander the neighborhood each fall, paper grocery bag in hand, looking for the reds, the sharpest golds, the warmest orange. I would come home with my bounty and lay it out on my bedroom floor in a kaleidocscopr of color. I could spend a long time shifting the leaves around into various patterns, looking at them from different angles, sometimes trying to draw them in a sketch book and color them in with crayon or colored pencil.
I admit that the specifics of our class assignment stole some of the enjoyment from the task. It was difficult to find 40 different varieties of leaves, even in Michigan where there are a lot of trees. I enlisted out of state family members who sent me leaves from palm trees, smoky ash. When I finally met my quota, I had to figure out how to arrange the in some sort of logical order, and then how to display and preserve them so they would remain viable for display during our school’s open house two weeks later.
With painstaking effort, I carefully encased each leaf in wax paper, created a typewritten label with all the identifying information, mounted each leaf onto (coordinating) colored paper, and fitted each page into a three-ring binder. I don’t recall the grade I received, but I do recall a heady sense of pride at having successfully completed a project like this one – something that was very different from the language arts and musical projects I usually attacked with confidence and creativity
For a few weeks now, I’ve had a new writing project wandering around inside my brain. As I think about it and ponder the characters and situations involved in it, I feel a bit like that leaf-gathering girl – the one who wandered the neighborhood with a paper sack and picked up whichever brightly colored leaf struck her fancy, giving little thought to type or size or classification. I’m having fun looking at all the pieces of my kaleidoscope, twisting them and turning them into endless striking combinations.
Writers do that, don’t we? We wander through life picking up bits and pieces of ideas and imagery. All of life is like a huge forest in the midst of autumn, filled with a banquet of brightly colored ideas splayed out for the taking like a vibrant carpet beneath our feet. That’s certainly the fun part for me, the way I can pass endless hours of time – re-reading my favorite authors, writing down sentences that move me, inspire me.
At some point, though, we have to become the scientist, and put it all together in a way that makes sense.
But worth it.