Lyndel leaf

U.S. Customs frowns on bringing back vegetation from foreign countries, so I sketch unknown plants in a little book in hopes of finding someone who can identify them. I never learned what this one was, but the leaves wouldn’t have fit in the sketchbook anyway -- I’d guess they were 10 or more inches long.

A friend just sent me some exquisite photos of fall leaves. Printed out and hung on the wall they would be a wonderful reminder of the season which is just ending.

I didn’t print them, though. I had more pressing things to do -- pressing leaves, that is.

It’s surprising how many leaves, flowers and small incomprehensible notes fall out of my family’s books.

Sometimes a note is relevant to the book in question -- some fact that someone thought worth noting.

A few are reminders to do something that was undoubtedly forgotten because the note remained in the book. Most often the papers are torn off the margins of magazines and newspapers to use as temporary bookmarks. Only the most exigent circumstances make it acceptable to lay a book face down.

The leaves and flowers are another matter. When I’m out hiking and can’t identify a plant, I’m likely to place a stem of it in the wildflower book in my pack, in hopes that someone or some other book will solve the mystery.

A friend and I once stuffed our packs with wildflower books and took a hike, vowing to stop to identify every plant we encountered, no matter how small. We barely made four miles. We didn’t torture ourselves memorizing scientific names, but Speedwell, Blue-eyed Mary, Meadow Rue and others became -- well, “friends” isn’t exactly the right word; maybe “nodding acquaintances” will do.

I’m not alone in this habit: I’ve bought used plant books and found pressed flowers in them, desiccated and faded past recognition. One of my favorites, “The Western Flower Guide” is just 100 years old this year. Inside is a quote from a book called “Little Rivers” by Henry Van Dyke. He wrote, “To be able to call the plants by name makes them a hundredfold more sweet and intimate. Naming things is one of the oldest and simplest of human pastimes.”

One thing leads to another and I found myself curious about Van Dyke so I looked him up -- and found another quote I liked: “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

So, singing, (slightly off key as usual) I ventured out to see what leaves a recent windstorm had left me.

My biggest aspen seemed to have turned completely yellow while the leaves were on the tree, but it seems they continue changing on the ground. They looked faded and unremarkable on the back side, but when I turned them over they were a mosaic of red and orange, rimmed with green, gold and brown and veined with bright yellow. When I held them up to the sunlight even more colors and tiny veins showed through, as well as what I suspect were traces of former insect presence.

Aspens and maples are very cooperative to leaf pressers. I’ve never tried to press a blue spruce twig, but suspect it would do little but warp the bindings of my books.

My favorite leaf presses are dictionaries, encyclopedias and the ludicrously named “War on Waste” -- a 591-page book published in 1984. Subtitled “President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control” and generally called, “The Grace Report,” 17 copies were issued at my workplace, which worked out to roughly two copies per employee. I treasure my copy for the irony of it.

When someone adopts a theory or practice from another, it’s often called “taking a leaf from his book.” I’ve often taken a leaf from the Grace Report.

Lyndel Meikle lives in the Deer Lodge area. 


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