I’ve recently begun sorting through the thirty years of accumulated stuff in my basement storage. Several boxes I “inherited” from my parents after they died in the 1990s, having become by default the family archivist while writing my memoir.
The other day while going through one of my father’s storage cartons, I found a letter-sized box labeled “leaves.” Even before lifting the lid, I knew what I would find. For several decades, my parents had lived in a condo in Pittsburgh a mile’s walk from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. They continued working long after the age most people retired.
Every day they walked to and from the medical center. In the autumn when fall foliage was at its peak, they would pick up the most beautiful of the fallen leaves and take them home to press, even though they had many leaves from previous years pressed between the leaves of a book or magazine. This autumnal ritual connected my father to the wonder of nature, even as he lived amidst the concrete towers of the surrounding city.
Opening the box, I saw many leaves nestled between layers of paper towel, all now faded to a dull dark red or a yellowish brown. I smiled at the paper towel, my father’s favorite way to store his treasures. There was also a Reader’s Digest, circa 1988, it too containing pressed leaves between its pages.
I recognized many of the leaves. The most numerous were the fan-shaped leaves from the gingko tree, special to my parents as the tree is native to China. Others were from red maples and sugar maples, red oaks, aspens, and beech.
I flashed back then on a childhood memory, of a warm and glorious autumn day walking in the West Virginia woods with Dad. He pointed out the colorful trees and named the birds he recognized—a robin, a blue jay, a phoebe. Before we turned for home, we picked up the most beautiful leaves we could find to take back to my mother.
I’m not sure who or what had nurtured in my father a sense of wonder and a perpetual curiosity about nature, but I know without a doubt who set me on the path to becoming the nature-loving woman I am today.