Wendy Woolfson

All Is Not Lost

I remember the first time I found the skeleton of a leaf. It was under a huge, low tree with long, spreading branches. I can’t remember what kind of tree it was but I was about eight years old, and I was hiding under there during a game of hide and seek. It was surprisingly dark with shapes of sunlight dropping through the close branches, creating interesting patches of light on the ground. I looked down, and there at my feet I saw something that I never knew existed. It looked impossible, and in the half light, I thought it was. I bent down to pick it up and then I could see it was the skeleton of a leaf. As it dawned on me what it was it just blew my mind. Firstly, I had no idea that leaves even had a skeleton that would survive after they rotted away, and secondly, I wondered what the skeleton was for, why was it even there? I marvelled at how long the leaf must have lain on the ground in all kinds of weather, for there to be nothing left but this thin, fragile frame.

I sat down in the musty scented humus, the soft, deep, carpet floor of years of fallen leaves, woven through the dust and detritus of small forest animals. If I dug deep enough into it, who knows what I might find. Carefully, I picked up and gently held this immensely fragile skeleton of a leaf in the small palm of my hand and tried to understand how long it had been there. To me, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and holding it in my hand felt like a privilege. I lifted my head and looked around me at the ground I was sitting on. I saw more skeleton leaves just like the one I held in my hand, and I wanted them all. I wanted to collect as many as I could and take them all home so I could look at them whenever I wanted to. I started to pick them up but as I placed them together in a small bundle in my little hand, which was beginning to sweat a little, they began to disintegrate. They started to become tangled with each other and clump and fall apart, I tried hard to salvage them but I only made it worse with the clumsiness of my child fingers. The ones I had put in my pocket had turned to dust. I was heartbroken. I looked around to find another one that was as good as the first one I found when I was distracted by the call of my friends and someone finding me.

I have never forgotten that day, and now, whenever I go for a walk in the woods I have a look for a skeleton leaf, and if I find one, I am eight years old again and sitting under that spreading tree on my own in the half light, marvelling at the impossible magic and fragility of what I hold in my hand.

With the detritus of those decades behind me, I am comforted by the belief that anything is possible and, over time, all that we are, will return to the warmth of the earth, but the beautiful, impossible bones of us will always remain to remind those left behind of the beauty that once existed.