Nonfiction | July 17, 2011

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As a tenth-grade biology student in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, I was required to assemble a leaf collection. Aside from the catalpa, gingko, oak, maple and maybe buckeye, I can’t recall any of the other specimens that I ironed between two sheets of wax paper, identified by kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species, then handed over in an awkward three-ring binder with embarrassing sloppiness and bare-minimum ambition, to our teacher, Mr. Matthews. I squirm today to think of how my dunderheaded, adolescent indifference then was an insult to whatever Adam first named the hickory and the larch, the locust, the hornbeam and the leatherwood, and to all those later poets who tuned the language of the flora even further, with names like frosty lacebark elm, Warren’s red possumhaw, mountain silverbell, common rose mallow, weeping purple European beech, prariefire crabapple and sparkleberry winter holly.

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