The gales of November have come early. Yes, Jack Frost has long since gone by with his magic paintbrush, and soon it will be time to don knitted caps and light the Yule goat. But before we resign ourselves to another four months of darkness, why not pack a little of the fall season away for a while? Come the long, cold nights of winter, you may well be glad you’ve got some friendly autumn color secreted away to remind you that all winters must end, and that the dream of spring quarter is just around the bend. So, as the incomparable Robin Williams famously advised, let’s gather our rosebuds while we may. Or in this case, let’s gather our leaves.
At this point, the sidewalks around campus are pleasantly slippery with fallen leaves, but the quads are still a great front-loading washing machine of gorgeous fall foliage. The maples by the administration building are displaying a particularly lovely shade of red. Of course, variety is just as important as hue, so we must be sure to incorporate the full range of aspens, elders, and oaks that currently dot the campus. Don’t neglect pines either; a few choice needles will spruce up your leaf catalog, and they can also be used to brew an invigorating tea—never get caught unprepared when Bear Grylls comes over for a cuppa.
Once you’ve successfully identified your tree (or just picked one that looks nice), it’s time to begin the collection process. Not so fast, eager beaver—those leaves on the ground are no good. You want only the freshest and most pristine specimens for your collection. For that, you’ll need to pick them directly off the branch. Of course, each tree has its own temperament, running the gamut from cordial to malevolent, depending on type, age, and season. For beginners, I would recommend starting with a good, friendly maple. Oaks tend to be surlier and should be approached with due caution. Making sure that the tree’s back is turned, pluck the leaf by pinching the stem, then run quickly in the opposite direction.
Now that you’ve got your colorful catch, it’s time to press your leaves. First, place each leaf between two paper towels, being careful not to stack or overlap leaves, and iron each side for about five minutes, or until the leaf is sufficiently dry. Some leaves might not survive this process, but don’t worry, there are literally dozens more outside.
Place your dried leaf between two sheets of wax paper. Covering the sheets with a paper bag, iron each side again for two to five minutes, just enough to seal the wax together. Once the sheets have cooled, cut around your leaf, making sure to leave enough wax at the edges to create a seal. Voilà—fresh-pressed leaves that will retain their color and sheen for months. Put these in your scrapbook, send them along in Christmas cards, or post them up on a corkboard to admire throughout the season.
Although Frisbee weather has passed, leaf collection remains a great excuse to get outside, breathe crisp air, and generally feel like Henry David Thoreau. Keeping an up-to-date leaf log will not only help you to hone your clearly burgeoning creative sensibilities; it will also help to ward off Cabin Fever, by which I mean the terrible Eli Roth film from 2002 (you’ll be too busy pressing leaves to watch it). Happy hunting to all!