Here in Kampot, Cambodia, Adam and I met a Canadian bicyclist. We had a normal conversation together, but only later I realized I was holding a bouquet of leaves. He probably thought I was weird.
It was then that I began to analyze why I liked leaves. Adam captured the moment on video. So here is the post.
It is kind of known among my friends that I have an affinity for leaves. Yeah, the plant food factories that wave hello to us on a windy day, that fall like feathers down to the ground when the weather cools, that make us feel satisfied when we hear the crunching sound under our boots. My love for chlorophyll-laden tree organs became part of my character. Oh, Lianne, the girl who likes leaves.
Well, it’s not just a random odd trait about me (although I have plenty of those. Who doesn’t?). There are reasons behind this fondness. I want to share the background story and why you might grow to appreciate them, too.
I didn’t always realize I loved leaves; Adam helped me recognize it. The first few months of our relationship were spent in Autumn 2013. We often took weekend trips with my goal being to see the Autumn leaves. We went to Seoul in November, peak foliage season, and I seemed to comment on every beautiful tree and leaf pile.
You really like leaves, you know, Adam pointed out.
Why yes… yes, I do, don’t I?
It evolved to the point that he started bending down and picking up beautiful leaves for me. Sometimes, he came home after school with a bag of leaves or sent me a photo of a particularly unique one. Big leaves adorned our walls. I get more giddy about receiving a bouquet of leaves than I ever did about flowers. Leaves are beautiful both dead and alive whereas flowers lose their beauty when they wilt. Well, most of the time.
“Cheap date,” as we taught Phuoc, our CouchSurfing host in Ho Chi Minh City. He wanted to learn some more slang.
Growing up in suburbia, New Jersey, I lived for the summertime. It meant ice cream, pools, fireflies, and of course, no school. So, I didn’t quite look forward to fall. Fall meant back to school. Fall meant winter was coming. Fall meant my brother and I were put to work to rake the continual falling leaves in our yard.
So, like most kids, we made it into a game. It was called “Around the World”. We’d rake leaves into various piles around the backyard. Using our bicycles like an airplane, we “flew” from “country” to country”,which were represented with a pile of leaves. Antarctica had the biggest leaf pile, obviously. Suppose I loved leaves and traveling as a seven-year-old. And of course, I’d jump in piles, regardless the number of bugs infesting them. It’s a universal joy of life.
When was 18, I left all of my friends, great pizza & bagels, and Wawa to move down to Florida for university. I ended up staying in Jacksonville for six years, all of which flew by too quickly. I felt a purpose in college. I knew what I was doing, excelled in my studies, and was preparing for a future in academia. Yet I still felt stagnant. I thought I was getting burnt out while holding five jobs, working with two research teams, finishing up my thesis, and taking classes. After graduation, my best friend and I took a much-deserved break to travel in Asia for two months. The trip opened my eyes to the possibilities abroad. It was the change I needed.
In September 2010, I returned back to Florida and started a job in psychometry at a rehabilitation center (which I loved). Still in the mood for explorations, I decided to go on a solo trip to Boston for Halloween to visit grad schools, attend a Korean adoptee film event, and see some old friends.
Well, most of that time was spent in the park among the Autumn leaves. I forgot how breathtaking fall is. The brisk yet refreshing weather had me bundle up in a coat that I rarely used in Florida. Then it hit me.
I felt stagnant all of those years in Florida because of the lack of season change, not getting burnt out. The weather was always either hot, rainy, or cool enough to wear a light jacket. The palm trees were forever palmy. There wasn’t a gradual change in weather patterns every few months like the north. Those changes signified progress and time. An absence of the change made life seem almost timeless. My desire for a seasonal change sparked then. It was timely because I had been planning on teaching in South Korea ever since I first set foot in the country.
In August 2012, I found myself living in Gwangju, South Korea as an English teacher. During my first fall season, I visited mountains and attended festivals around the country in search of the best leaf-watching opportunities. It was in Korea that I had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon Korean maples and brilliant yellow ginkgo leaves for the first time.
The winner of the Fall 2013 Lianne Leaf Region Competition (I just made this contest up now) goes to Daedunsan. My birth parents captured me on weekend to hike in the peak season. While my omma had a weak knee from hiking too much in her youth (eek, I ought to be careful), she stayed behind while appa and I climbed rocks and ladders up to reach a blissful view of crimson and gold. We carefully climbed down after some pajeon and makgeolli only to wait an hour for the next cable car down. Omma, Appa and I laid on the boardwalk observing the sky turn from dusk to dark. At this point in my life, I didn’t know much Korean, so our communication was limited. But I still have fond memories of that day.
All three of my Korean Autumns were spent chasing the best foliage spots. To say the least, they were well spent.
There are other non-personal reasons why I love leaves and you might, too.
- They last several seasons. In April, the cherry blossoms bloom for a week. While they’re undeniable beautiful, they only last for that one week. However, leaf piles last through several seasons. After enduring the winter show, leaf piles can be sighted on the sides of the roads.
- Leaves are beautiful dead or alive. Sounds morbid, but it’s true. Who doesn’t love the sight of vibrant green leaves lining your street after winter is long gone? And when they lose oxygen, morph into brilliant colors, and float to the ground, they’re still beautiful in a different way. Just take a look on Instagram in Fall and you’ll see all of the basic girls posting photos of their boots crunching fallen leaves.
- Leaves make food for trees and plants by capturing sunlight and transforming the energy for the trees we need and love. So thank you.
- Leaves provide shade. When it’s unbearably hot and sunny, there’s nothing like a leaf-full tree under which to take a respite.
- Leaves are delicious and nutritious. No, I’m not to the point where I feast on pine needles and crunchy leaves on the ground, but there are healthy leaves out there that take care of us. Thank you, leaves, for letting me eat you. In particular: cabbage, lettuce, spinach, perilla leaves, tea leaves, and morning glory. And I’ll say thanks on behalf of the insects that feed on your flesh. Gracious that you provide energy to allow the world to go ‘round.
So, did I explain my liking for leaves enough?
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