To name a leaf

Ed Rood
Ed Rood

With all the flies slipping into the house when someone opens a door it’s probably not earth-shattering news that colder weather is just around the corner.

I’ve also noticed the livestock are looking a little shaggy as they slowly grow their winter coats. Even the field mice are busy searching for a warmer place to spend the next several months. 

All these signs of autumn are nothing new in Iowa. Things haven’t changed much as the years pass by in the Midlands. Of course, it all reminds me of the days of my youth.

The change to fall would always stimulate a teacher to come up with an assignment requiring all of her charges to go out into the outside world to collect something or another. Often it would be insects or butterflies. Finding insects and butterflies wasn’t that difficult, however, identifying them often proved to be a challenge. 

Teacher would never be satisfied with just the easy ones. No A’s were ever doled out for a collection of flies or mosquitoes, she wanted something more exotic – like a praying mantis or a walking stick.

One particular fall a new teacher threw us a real curve. Instead of insects or butterflies, she wanted us to go out and collect tree leaves from at least a dozen different trees. Not only that, she also insisted that we identify each leaf. 

I used my usual technique for the assignment. I waited until the last minute to start. Time had ticked away until just a few days before the assignment was due. I frantically started looking under every tree in the neighborhood. I jammed all the leaves in a big gunnysack and hauled it back home. 

Dumping the sack on my bedroom floor, I started putting them in piles according to shape and size. My plan was to worry about identifying them later.

I was surprised to discover that all I ended up with were just a few stacks. Most of the trees in town were either maple, elm, walnut, hickory or oak. 

This put a definite crimp in my plans. I thought it would be easy to go out and find enough different kinds of trees to fill that scrapbook in just a night.

Luckily, I had a whole weekend to wrap up the assignment so, on Saturday, I started looking for “strange” trees. It wasn’t long until I discovered a buckeye tree. 

I found several other trees and grabbed a couple leaves off each of them. I was realizing that if you really looked close there were many different trees, it was just that I’d never paid much attention.

Back home in the privacy of my room I started trying to identify all the leaves I had found. Those first leaves had been easy to identify but some of the “strange” trees presented a problem. 

I had seen most of them many times but had never really thought about what they are called. It’s hard to look something up in an encyclopedia when you don’t know what to call it. Mom and Dad proved to be some help but even they had no idea what trees some of the leaves came from. 

I ended up putting a name to most of them, but there were a few I couldn’t identify. The more I looked at them the more they all looked the same.

Finally, I came up with an answer. It took a little creative imagination and I didn’t get the “A” I wanted, but I did identify all of them in a manner of speaking. 

In the required index at the front of the scrapbook I had listed: Elm, page 1; Oak, page 2; Horse Chestnut, page 3; and so on and so forth until we got down to the final category: Strange Leaves, pages 10-15. 

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.