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Opinion

Commentary: Immortalizing the last leaf

A single leaf clinging to a tree in the Angeles National Forest inspires morning hiker Reg Green to immortalize it.
A single leaf clinging to a tree in the Angeles National Forest inspires morning hiker Reg Green to immortalize it.
(Reg Green)

Do you remember the O. Henry story in which a young woman, dying of pneumonia, recovers her will to live when the last leaf on a tree next to her house holds on through a gale? (It was also part of a beautiful movie called “O. Henry’s Full House.”) I thought of her today when I hiked on the Mt. Lukens fire road past one of the few deciduous trees in the Angeles National Forest.

In summer the leaves, 4 or 5 inches wide, and moved by the slightest breeze, offer a pleasing contrast to the needle-sharp evergreen shrubs that dominate the landscape.

In fall the contrast becomes dramatic as the broad leaves turn brown, yellow and, in a few cases, a glowing red. It’s an annual surprise to remember the colorful display, so stimulating to an onlooker, is a preparation for death not life.

Winter comes, and the leafy tree becomes more and more bare, just as a full head of hair yields to chemotherapy. By now the branches have been swept clean by the elements and look like skeletons, while the hillside behind it seems to a casual observer unchanged from last September or May.

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Despite rains, high winds and cold nights, however, one brave leaf was still clinging on. As I took a photo, I couldn’t resist saying to it, “I can’t make you immortal as O. Henry did for one of your distant cousins, but I will try to get you onto the Los Angeles Times website.”

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