Flip: A Leaf’s Life Story

by Diane Steele


Green leaf of a maple on a branchI begin each time as dynamic and on-the-move atom teaming up with the air, water and dust of the earth. Once I was a thunder cloud, once a dust devil. This time I was drawn to another group and became an organism as a leaf bud then leaf. My name is Flip and with each new beginning, past experiences fade. Only wonders of the present become important for such a time as this.

I sit in the middle of a tree about to burst at the seams. I anticipate the joy of freedom from this enclosure of protecting scales. There is a warmth beyond where I am and wonder at the source. Then, at an appointed time, the scales drop away and a surge of energy pushes me up and out of my enclosure. I can see clearly now where the warmth comes from and the intensity of the sun’s care has won.

Like a cigar is rolled into a cylinder shape when made, I quickly unroll from a cylinder shape, nothing like I will be. I have no wood in me but my whole frame is made of cells. I am attached to a tree by a flexible leaf stalk which acts as a foot, helping me to stay attached to the tree. Through my middle is a main vein and others with focused direction. For nutrition and added structure tiny ones meander all over.

When I first emerged I was a very light green. I may look pale and simple, but deep inside me I am complex and refined. All day long I absorb light into stacks of cells made of green pigment, chlorophyll,  and process the light with pigments of orange-yellow called Carotene and perhaps some yellow to almost colorless pigments called xanthophyll. The whole process called photosynthesis — energy. Life surges from the earth through the tree through my veins and to the outermost tips of my body.

There are many like me and newbie buds still in protective custody. Though color and other shades of green surround us everywhere, our shade of green and size may make us likable to only a certain few. We may have the makings as a home for a bird. Sometimes shade to a needy passerby or protection from other elements. Then there are the dreamers who walk and sit beneath us and carry out conversations with all bringing a peace unspeakable. A lightweight fly, hummingbird, or bee may use me as a landing spot finding food or I may be used as a nursery for some critter to lay eggs on. I will be the vessel for hatching another generation of who knows what. As I reach out and up daily I am able to twist and turn in all directions. I dance on the music of the wind and follow a rhythm only the sun can provide. Together we are all wonderfully complex, each a part of a whole; a glorious structure.

Not all leaves survive. After a time they begin to lose their color and may grow pale – then there is a soft snap of their foot and they fall. The sound is like one of the dreamers below breaking a day-old fallen twig while in thought. In the dark while most of life rests there are still sounds of growth; the tree growing higher and wider from leftover energy. All these sounds can’t be heard in the busyness of the day. Sometimes there’s a whoosh or flitter-flutter around me. It could be a nighthawk, moth or bat after food. They move so fast I can only hear or feel their presence.

Ah, then rain, a gift of the sun’s heat. Many say the wind flips me upside down and I get cleaned top and bottom. If I stay strong I will be washed again and again.

All spring and summer, in the rhythm of time, tree grows and I add beauty to the whole with a lightheartedness to the world around us. Then — in that same rhythm — changes happen. The tree has to quit feeding us in order to survive. The sun continues giving light but seems to have lost some of its warmth as it changes position. Around me, some of the birds quit coming and at night there is less flutter.

Those around me are looking different and I feel the wind moves me more easily. As I am moved I notice my foot is getting drier and my veins are looking wrinkly, dry and brown. My beautiful color of green is fading and cells with the pigments mentioned, were underneath and now reveal a different coat of colors. These colorful cells were there all the time, behind-the-scene doing other processes in my life I never knew about.

My foot becomes more brittle and with a slight breeze I hear that same quiet snap I heard of others so long ago. I am floating downward like a bird’s feather in the wind. As I float I notice some leaves aren’t letting go, they just dangle. Perhaps they are defiant, optimistic or just foolish waiting for the food to start again. Why the hangers-on do so isn’t my concern, I am where I should be.

As we have returned to the floor of earth and lay, in what many say is a mess there are children who don’t seem to think so. They scoop us up into piles and jump on us or throw us at each other. We are as light as a feather as there is little substance to us now.

Once again as we lay with other forms of life we may be used as a soft bed for another life or a cover for a new form that can thrive with the change of the sun. All too soon, cell by cell in every part of my being I break down and finally rejoin the earth from where I began. Once I was on a high, a beauty above. Now with the air, dust and water I mingle, am one with here below.

In time, I may travel below earth in a highway system not to be believed. Or, with the wind at my back, a raindrop or part of a river to flow over jagged rocks so they will become smooth. No matter. Teaming up with the air, water and dust of the earth we are of a plan and purpose, all a part of a whole.autumn leaves and mossy log in sunlit forest


Diane Steele enjoys watching the simplicity of nature. If left alone nature will do what is needed when needed. To imagine what complexities  are involved in all of life is what makes Diane want to explore.

Photo of Green leaf by Sergey Minaev
Photo of Fallen Leaves by Sborisov

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