ne bright and sunny spring day, Leonard came into the world. He wasn’t a baby robin, or a baby mouse, or a baby cricket. Leonard was a baby leaf, growing on the big oak tree on Mr. Johnson’s farm.
The tree had been there since Mr. Johnson’s great-grandfather had planted it with his father, when he was still a boy. The tree had seen many years as it grew between the big red barn and the white clapboard house.
All the ‘Mr. Johnsons’ through the years have said “Good morning” to the tree, as they walked to the barn each morning, and “Good evening” to the tree, as they walked back to the house each night. The tree grew-up hearing this and even tried a “Good morning” or “Good evening” of it’s own, on many occasions, with a wave of it’s branches or a creak from it’s trunk, but none of the ‘Mr. Johnsons’ ever really understood. Leonard, as I said, was a leaf who growing on the big oak tree.
He was a bright spring-green and had strong veins starting at his base, and shooting up to his edges. He lived about half-way up the big oak tree, neither at the top, nor at the bottom, but at a very good height for a leaf. He felt the strong spring sun on his face and thought there can not be anything greater than being a leaf.
A few days after Leonard was born, a pair of birds came swooping in, through the other leaves of the big oak tree and settled on a branch not far from Leonard. He watched them all the while, wondering what they were. They looked very different than all the other leaves on the tree. They were large and very dark, but when the sun hit them they seemed to glow like the sky after a rainstorm.
“Those are starlings, Leonard”, a deep, old voice said.
“What are starlings, and who are you?” Leonard asked, shivering in the brief gust of wind that came with the voice.
“Starlings are birds”, replied the voice. “They are looking for a new place to make their nest this year. As for who I am, Leonard, I am your Mother, the tree.”
The starlings flew off, through the branches, and disappeared from Leonard’s sight. Leonard sadly watched them go.
“Will they ever come back?” Leonard asked Mother Tree.
“If not them, then another pair.” Mother Tree replied. “There are usually two or three nests in my branches, or trunk, every year.”
“What are nests?” Leonard asked of Mother Tree.
“Nests”, replied Mother Tree, “are what adult birds make to raise their children in. Some types of nests are out on my branches, some types of nests are made in holes in my trunk. Both kinds are usually made with sticks and twigs, and bits of string and spider’s webs. If you look below you, and a little to the right, you may just be able to see a nest that was made last year, by a pair of robins.”
Leonard looked down and saw a bunch of twigs and stems stuck in a crook of one of the branches. They were shaped into a bowl and even now looked very strong.
“But why do they build their nests here?
Why don’t they build them on the ground or in the barn?” Leonard asked.
“Many birds do nest in the barn”, replied Mother Tree, “But they are mostly pigeons, who have gotten used to man’s ways. Most wild birds nest up in trees for protection from the dogs, cats, and other animals on the ground. My leaves offer them security both from being seen and from the wind and rain.”
“Oh”, said Leonard and with that, Mother Tree fell silent.
Leonard continued to watch as the male birds danced and pranced for the females to be their wives. Eventually, the pair of starlings came back to start a nest in a hole near Leonard’s branch. They collected straw from the barn, spider webs from the bushes, and mud from the yard just after a morning rain shower. They also took some bright ribbons and thick, soft yarn to their nest from Mr. Johnson’s granddaughter. She had put them around the yard in the hopes that she could help some of the birds with their nest building.
Eventually the nest was finished and the mother starling disappeared into the hole in Mother Tree’s trunk. Leonard couldn’t quite understand this, so he asked the smartest person he knew.
“Yes Leonard?” Mother Tree replied with a breezy wave of her branches.
“What’s wrong with the mother starling?” Leonard asked. “She hasn’t come out of the hole for days now. She didn’t even come out during the big storm Father Wind blew up the other night that had you dancing so much.”
“She’s sitting on her eggs”, said Mother Tree. “Keeping her babies warm and out of danger. In a few more days, she should have a whole nest of young birds to feed, THEN you will see her leave the nest! But only for the few minutes it takes to find food. The father starling will also be helping, then. He will be rushing about, almost as much as the mother starling, trying to feed their young family.”
“You mean that she’s sitting on her babies right now?!” asked Leonard, worried for the baby birds. “Doesn’t it hurt them to be sat on like that, all day?”
“No Leonard,” said Mother Tree, “she is very careful with them, and also the babies are protected from being hurt by being inside their shells. All baby birds come from eggs. Eggs are round, protective houses for the baby birds to grow in until they are big enough to survive outside. The only thing they need while they are in them is warmth, and that is exactly what the mother bird is giving to them while she sits on them like that.”
“Oh”, said Leonard, and with that, Mother Tree fell silent.
Leonard watched the nest closely over the next few days. He watched as the father starling brought food to the mother, on the nest. He watched as the mother starling came out of her nest, for the first time in weeks. Then both the mother and the father starlings started to bring food to the young birds, who seemed to swallow the food down as fast as their parents could bring it. The young birds grew fast and it wasn’t long before their feathers grew out, and they started to wander around the opening to the nest. Leonard watched the baby birds all through the summer, as they grew bigger and bolder, and more energetic in their wanderings.
One day, one of the babies wandered too far, and fell out of the nest. He spread his wings to slow his fall and, all of a sudden, glided to a nearby branch. The father starling scolded him severely but continued to feed him on the branch, farther down the tree. It didn’t take the other baby birds long to follow in their brother’s wake. Soon none of the baby birds were left in the nest, and the mother and the father starlings stopped coming to the nest hole.
“Mother Tree!” Leonard cried out, “I want to fly, Mother Tree! Why can’t I fly around the farm like the starlings? Why do I have to be stuck here my whole life? I want to be a starling and fly where Father Wind blows!”
“You will, Leonard. Soon, you will have your chance to fly.” Mother Tree replied.
“But when Mother Tree? When?”
“Soon, Leonard. Soon.” Mother Tree’s replied and, with that, she was silent.
As the days went by, and the young starlings learned to fly around the farm, a strange thing began to happen. Some of the other leaves, on a branch above Leonard’s, began to turn bright orange. They were no longer the same deep, shiny green as Leonard.
“Why are those leaves changing color like that, Mother Tree?” asked Leonard.
“Winter is coming, Leonard”, Mother Tree replied, “You will all soon turn the colors of the sunset, and fly away.”
“Will even I turn bright orange?” asked Leonard. “And will even I fly?”
“Even you will fly away from me, Leonard. Even you”, replied Mother Tree.
As the other leaves continued to change color, Leonard started to change with them: he started to turn orange along his edges. As the days went by, the orange color became brighter and continued to fill up more and more of his face until he really was as bright as the sunset. A breeze blew by one day, as Leonard was looking around at how pretty the other leaves were, and some of the leaves blew away. They flew around in circles and loops, before they finally came to rest on the ground.
“Me next!” shouted Leonard. “Take me!” he cried to Father Wind but Father Wind wasn’t listening, and left him with Mother Tree.
A few days later, Father Wind was blowing very hard at Mother Tree. So hard that her strong trunk was swaying. Leonard felt his hold on Mother Tree growing looser and looser, until finally, it gave way entirely, and he was swooping and swaying in Father Wind’s grasp. Leonard was screaming with delight as he did loop-the-loops throughout the farm. Eventually, the breeze that knocked him off slowed down and released him to the ground. He came to rest in the yard, not too far from Mother Tree and looked back up at her now, half-bare branches. He felt sad to have left her in such a condition.
He yelled to her. “I’m sorry that I wanted to leave you, Mother Tree!”
“I’m sorry too, Leonard,” she replied, as if from far away, “You were one of my favorites, this year. I will miss you deeply, but you had to go, so that new leaves can grow next year.”
“But you will be so bare and cold through the winter, Mother Tree!
“Watch as long as you can, Leonard. I will be clothed this winter, don’t worry.”
With that, Mother Tree went to sleep for the long winter to come.
Leonard watched as long as he could. Father Wind played with him a little, blowing him across the yard and back, but when Father Wind was finished playing with him, Leonard would always end up close to Mother Tree.
Soon, the air got cold. Cold enough that Mr. Johnson’s breath went white as he went to the barn every morning. Leonard was getting sleepy himself, it was hard watching Mother Tree for so long. He was thinking of finally going to sleep, when suddenly, there was a great flock of starlings flying right by him. They were flying so fast that they caught him up with them, and, for a few minutes, he was flying with them.
As he settled back on the ground, he watched the starlings land on Mother Tree’s bare branches. The starling flock was joined by another flock, and then another, until all of Mother Tree’s branches were covered in cawing, singing, starlings. The starlings became the winter leaves for Mother Tree! They would stay all winter too, as Mr. Johnson’s granddaughter set out birdseed for them during the winter.
Leonard was happy that he got to see Mother Tree’s winter leaves come to rest, and with that, he went to sleep.
LEONARD THE LEAF by Arlene F. Gunn
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