On the Trail

A leaf’s journey

With a whoosh, an “oomph” and a thud, a 20-foot-long branch unexpectedly sheared off the trunk of a sycamore growing on a slope above my rural Agoura backyard.

At the top of the slope is a walking path around our community’s little lake. Noticing the commotion, a passer-by peered from the path down into my backyard.

She was bent and tiny, with snowy tufts of hair poking beneath a floppy blue sun hat. With a vigorous swat of an arthritis-misshapen hand, she beat back the drooping brim to study the situation.

Mother Sycamore hadn’t fully surrendered hold of her errant limb. A daring dangler, it swayed pendulum-fashion, its fall to earth partially broken by the underlying canopy of scrub oaks.

“Maybe it was the weight of those leaves. Look at the size of them—those are county fair blueribbon specimens!” the whitehaired observer on the lake path said, with a soft Southern lilt to her voice. She tapped her walking stick in a gesture of exclamation.

Tree hugger that I am, all I could register was a pressing need to rake up then bag yet another flurry of backyard debris.

Annually, my sycamore dominated property is buried kneedeep in deciduous leaf fallout. No sooner do I complete an assault on the mounds than a gale blows in from the coast or raging Santa Ana winds come howling through to replenish the leaf larder.

By the time I found my noble rake and set to the task, there came someone clanging insistently on the cowbell affixed to my front gate.

At the moment the branch chose to sever its connection to Mother Sycamore with a loud crack—the sound a home-run king’s bat makes on an out-ofthe ballpark blast—I jumped to safety then ran to check on the cowbell-clanger.

And there she stood, the floppy-hatted lady from the lake.

I shook the small, gnarled hand she offered me. Her name was Francie. She was from Mississippi and said she was visiting her aged cousin in rural Agoura “for a spell. We’re 163 years old combined!”

Francie asked if she might obtain one of those grand champion leaves “as a souvenir.” I concurred instantly—one less leaf nuisance for me, the Sisyphus of Sycamore Purgatory, to contend with.

Francie was quite picky. Soon I was so caught up in a web of branchlets I had to disentangle myself by flailing with my rake.

“Oh no, you’ll damage those beauties. They do crinkle so, mind now and be careful. Thank you very kindly.”

Sycamore leaves are notorious for bearing a gritty film that triggers sneezing fits. I flailed and wheezed, but was more careful thereafter of preventing damage to Francie’s potential souvenir.

She yelped in delight and performed a crooked little jig when I plucked the exact leaf she was after. Francie’s prize leaf was the size of my doormat, fully intact, with a graceful, undulating form and jaunty curl to each tapering, tawny leaf tip.

Even to a cynical leaf bagger like me, it was undeniably “a beautiful and unique creation of nature,” as my Mississippi guest gushed.

“I’m going to preserve it with a lacquer then pack it inside a hat box, and when I’m home it’ll be tied by its stem to my bulletin board over my mantel, next to the reddest maple leaf ever to come out of New Hampshire,” Francie said. Then off she tottered, a rhapsodic Nature Girl for the ages, with fresh eyes perceiving marvel and merit in a fallen leaf collected in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Glasser is a writer fascinated by the flora and fauna surrounding her home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Reach her at ranchomulholla@gmail.com.

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