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Only he who sees, takes off his shoes…

By Laurel Pattenden

I was about eight when I was tested by J.C. It was when I was being tested for my Brownie collector’s badge and the testers initials were J.C. Really.

My collection consisted of about 10 tree leaves, each being sealed between pieces of wax paper by a hot iron and then hastily thrown into a binder of some sort. The idea, for me, was not to actually collect anything but to get the badge. The badge was a brown triangular shape edged in yellow gold with an embroidered yellow gold magnifying glass in the middle. Very simple in design but definitely would look awesome on my uniform sleeve.

So there I was at the tester’s, dressed in my Brownie brown outfit, totally nervous with this meager collection of the usual suspects – maple, oak, elm, apple etc. leaves found in the neighbourhood. To earn this badge I was to correctly identify the leaves. Naming them one by one.

Looking out on the autumn leaves, I think the criteria for the collector’s badge was met, but I think “the leaves” had much more to say than just their name. The badge left out my relationship with them.

Eight year olds have relationships with leaves. Any of us who had access to treed back yards could wake to the weather forecast with the wind in the leaves or the sound of rain upon them. Telling time with the changing of their colour by Thanksgiving. And watching them slowly tumble to the ground counting the days to Halloween when most trees would be bare. All the leaves blowing around the yard, colourful and crisp, piling them up into mounds and then throwing them overhead into the air was great fun. The leaves were like manna from heaven.

And then we grew older. Leaves are to be raked and bundled in clear plastic with the goal of making our yards look like a tidy mid summer day. Erasing time and season from our view. Amazingly, each year in spring we await the first signs of their green-gold to show and give us relief from winter. The lush summer shade provides a refreshing place for needed relaxation. And then the colours! The fireworks at the end of the leaf’s life.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Do you think Elizabeth is telling us to “stop and smell the leaves”? Do you think she is telling us to take some dried leaves and crinkle them with our bare toes? Maybe build a hill of leaves and toss them into the air? Ponder the glory of each individual leaf for it’s own beauty? Enjoy the leaves once again as a child and rejoice as if they truly were manna from heaven?

I think she wants us to feel, smell, touch and see all God’s glory this season. It truly is a harvest of God’s beauty.

This year I have decided to pay more attention to the leaves covering our yard. Before we bundle the leaves this season maybe we could ask this question of the poet George Herbert: “Lord! who hath praise enough?” Then take a few leaves out of the bag and place them gently back on the lawn. Manna of creation. Manna of God’s glory. For those of you who will find this tough to do, don’t worry, a wind will soon share them with your neighbour.

I didn’t pass the Collector’s badge because I didn’t recall all the names. But I certainly knew about leaves. The tester J.C. was kind and sent me away to just review them again. J.C. never made me feel like I had failed. The sign of an excellent Brownie tester. I did get my badge on my second visit.