What is a Leaf?

The botanical definition of a leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, while the word foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of whole plants. In either case, the function of the leaf in nature is to perform photosynthesis, whereby said leaf absorbs light and carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen to our atmosphere.

Many things from Mother Nature are a double edged sword. Anyone will tell you rain is an essential need of our environment but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow, we haven’t had a good flood in a long while, and I sure do miss that knee-deep water in my basement!”

My yard is dotted with oak trees and its one of those things when you buy a house that doesn’t come off as a downside. Farther to the north, yards get blanketed with snow, but at my place every autumn brings a full-on foliage bombing. After we’ve been pelted with acorns, dusted with pollen, and set upon by seedlings that resemble some breed of furry worm, the oaks attempt to cover all their previous sins with a thick carpet of leaves.

I have since thinned the heard, but not wanting the place to look as though I was harvesting lumber, I left three or four trees as scenic decoration, and each year I rue the day I made that decision.

To the car guy, a leaf is an annoying little piece of cast-off tree that is neither adhesive or has legs, but acts as if it has both. I never cease to be amazed how a dried, crusty leaf can float on the gentle breeze and manage to guide itself so accurately into the blades of my windshield wipers or between the window and weather strip seal.

I would dare a Vegas-like, million dollar wager that I could not stand on my deck (which is next to my driveway) on a slightly breezy day and sail a deck of playing cards, one by one, toward my car and have a single one of them lodge so firmly in either location.

I’ve often been told, “Oh, don’t let it bother you so much. When you drive the car again they will just blow off.”

Oh, will they now?

I’m curious how many other people have driven away with such notions, only to get on the highway and find a leaf clinging to a windshield wiper or hood hinge with such tenacity that you suspect it was glued there as a joke.

Seventy mile-per-hour speeds aren’t sufficient to dislodge (or even dismember) said leaf, but instead it rattles madly against the windshield creating a buzzing sound capable of inducing temporary insanity. The only thing more insane is how easily it is loosed from its location when you stop to remove it before you bite something in two. You want to be able to yank it free with a furious jerk, but if you do, you’ll only pull a muscle or wind up on your backside, almost as if it lets go on purpose knowing its been caught in the act.

I have often wondered why Mother Nature made trees so they live hundreds of years yet they manage to scatter so much trash like acres of messy toddlers. I’ve been told that some types of fruit trees can go years before they produce, so would losing leaves every five or six years really have been such a stretch?

The yearly fiasco of raking and blowing leaves, all the while being taunted by the wind gusting inevitably in the opposite direction, and the trees laughing as they hold their last reserve of leaves until you give up for the day, is a pure exercise in futility. Logic suggests even the Borg Collective would agree.

I am also astounded at how something so crunchy and sticky can “just add water” and instantly transform into a slimy lubricant capable of felling an elephant. The slippery quality of leaves on a wet surface are not to be underestimated, and any motorcycle enthusiast of the knee-dragging variety can probably tell you a story, show you a scar, or both.

Wet leaves also take their last breath of life to do a little artwork in the form of ugly, brown stains they leave behind. It might have a quality of beauty to some, but on the paint of a white or other light colored car, it’s an acid-stained mess. There is a certain wry humor when a random pattern of stains  that resemble duck feet tracks all over the hood, roof and trunk are left from wet leaves. I can almost hear the tree nearby snickering, “It wasn’t me, honestly, it was a flock of geese!”

At least the evergreen trees have the unapologetic gall to scatter their needles with no effort to disguise them in any way. They are the ultimate wise-cracker of trees, as if to say, “You said you didn’t like leaves, so you get needles, now shut up before I fall on your house.”

Now I’m sure some environmental types might feel I’m being narrow-minded or stupid. As a gear-head, I realize I fall into the category of the evil-doers who burn gasoline and enjoy it. Maybe they feel my desire for a five-year leaf cycle is ridiculous or un-natural, but to those people I ask the following questions.

Tires were originally made from rubber, which came from trees, and today we still use rubber, but we make much better tires. Things falling off of trees in massive quantity are natural, I admit, but if a set of natural tires fell off your Toyota Prius every few months, wouldn’t you get tired of replacing them? Imagine tires turning a lovely shade of yellow, orange or red, and then promptly falling off on the ground. Good for the environment? Sure. Annoying? I think so.

However, there is one great redeeming quality to leaves, and in this case, a picture speaks a thousand words.

– T. August Green



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