Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fallen leaves give rise to playfulness

Atom Fischler paying in the leaves.

Simply Living
December 17, 2012

The lawn between the house and the lake is brown.   Even though it hasn’t rained much, the brown color isn’t due to lack of precipitation.  
Brown leaves blanket the grass, specifically sycamore leaves. 

In 2006, we planted one sycamore tree in our front lawn about halfway between the lake and the house.  We must have picked a good spot because in the past six years that tiny sprig has grown into a towering behemoth.  My guess is that it is now about 45-feet tall and almost as broad. 

Sycamores have an attractive, symmetrical shape usually with a single trunk that sports evenly spaced branches extending parallel to the ground.  A full-grown sycamore looks like one of those crayoned drawings of trees children do in kindergarten – a triangular form, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top.   

In Florida, sycamores are one of the earliest trees to change color in autumn.  Beginning in late August the leaves go from green to amber to brown.  However, even after they’ve turned brown, they often stay attached to the limbs, falling down gradually over the next few months.  By the middle of December, only about half of our sycamore tree leaves have landed on the ground.  The ones that have fallen are as broad as a man’s hand with a tough, leathery texture. 

Because they are so large and heavy, sycamore leaves tend to stay in place instead of blowing around.  That’s also true for those that land in gutters instead of on the ground.  As our gutters so aptly prove, fallen sycamore leaves do a great job of creating clogs and preventing rainwater from flowing through downspouts.  If I knew six years ago what I know now about a sycamore tree’s characteristics, I wouldn’t have planted one where we did.

However, now that it’s here, it’s here to stay.  Ralph likes the shade it provides and as much as I dislike the way its leaves create chores, I have to agree.  Its broad canopy does an excellent job of filtering sunlight.  Its limbs provide perches for a wide range of birds as well as a source of food for hungry sapsuckers.  And when the leaves do fall to the ground, they are pretty in an autumnal, reminds-me-of-my-northern-roots kind of way. 

At some point, we’ll probably take the rake out of the garage and put some energy into creating leafy mounds.  Last year, our then 2-year-old grandson had great fun jumping into rounded piles of sycamore leaves.  Now that he’s three with a 1-year-old little sister, I expect it to be twice as much fun. 

Holiday season is just around the corner and the gifts many children receive will be in the form of electronic gadgets and plastic toys in bright primary colors.  When I think of such presents as I’m looking out the window at the muted tones of the brown, leaf-littered ground, I can’t help but contrast the fun that store-bought toys provide with the pleasures derived from one of nature’s own playthings – crisp, crunchy, brown leaves begging to be jumped in, tossed through the air and turned into forts.  Although I received many toys when I was a child, no board game, doll, building block or puzzle yielded the sensory-rich memories I still have of playing in the leaves.

Sycamore leaves might blanket the lawn, clog up gutters, drift into flowerpots and wedge themselves tightly into the corners of buildings but they also beseech me to cast off the armor of adulthood. 

“Be playful,” they beckon. 

“Go outside,” they implore. 

“Kick us in the air!  Crunch us beneath your feet!” 

They are a visual reminder of nature’s late-season message:  You’re never too old to be young and have fun. 

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