This exercise can be done at any time when there are leaves, but is best when executed in autumn. It is also best to print this exercise out, and take it with you, reading it as you go along.
Autumn, with her sly sideways grin, smiles on memory and nostalgia like no other season.
Nostalgia seems to wrap itself around memory like a serpent around a tree. As we try to reach out, to hold memories for just a little bit longer as they decay and fade from us, we miss the moment we are breathing into. That’s why this experiment asks you to GO OUTSIDE. You should wear something warm, if it is cold. Plan ahead so you can optimize the time you have out of doors. Wear good walking shoes. Bring a delicious drink, if you can manage. (Cider is especially good in the fall.) Make sure that you have a box of some sort with you. The box could be small and usually used for jewelry, it could be your glasses’ case, it could be a locket or a cardboard moving box. It could be a refrigerator box if you don’t mind lugging that around.
Step One: Get your box or box-like object and your delicious drink and your warm coat or cloak and go outside. Make sure to walk for at least ten minutes. If you are short on time and want to use your back or front yard, at least walk around for a few minutes. Breathe deeply but not quickly.
Step Two: Find somewhere where many leaves have accumulated on the ground. Sit down. (If executing this exercise in spring or summer or in a warmer climate, find a place to sit under many leaves.) (If executing this during the winter or in a colder climate, sit somewhere leaves used to be, might have been, or could be again.)
Step Three: Notice what you have noticed. Were there birds? (Always a good question.) Was anyone wearing blue? Is the ground cold? Warm? Indifferent? How are the clouds shaped? How does the air smell? What colors are the leaves?
Step Four: Study the leaves. Sit on them, walk over them, put little pieces of their chopped up bodies in your mouth. Inhale them. Think about how every year we push them all into piles and then pack them into garbage cans or bags. How many leaves does it take to fill a garbage can or bag? Do leaves really kill grass if left on top of it all winter long? How many leaves are there in the world?
Step Five: Put some of the leaves into the box or box-like container that you brought with you. This will take an especially long time if you’ve lugged that refrigerator box. As you place the leaves into your container, think about how we measure things. How do you measure a leaf? How much does it weigh? How much do all the leaves you’re stuffing or placing carefully into your box weigh? Did you crush them or leave them whole? How do you measure your writing? By word count? By the weight of each word or the weight of a sentence or phrase? What is the weight of a question mark? By writing words down, are you packing them into boxes, strange containers where they don’t belong? Perhaps when we write we catch a memory and trap it, close the door on it. Maybe we are making room for new memories, or perhaps, even if we can close the door on the past, we are still wandering around a hotel of memories, all those moments inside rooms with different keys, different combinations and codes that allow us to transgress. We may never know the full weight of anything, unless we try to put it in a box.
Step Six: Write what you can of the leaves, of yourself as you are, inside the glorious moment which is all moments, the present. Perhaps try to build something out of the leaves. Take pictures if you want. Think about how we measure our time. Write newness, nowness, forget memory and the past and clinging- forget- and let be. If it is warm enough, take a nap in the sun, or at least let your belly or back feel the warmth generated by the earth.
Step Seven: Take your boxed leaves home and store them somewhere, along with the writing you’ve generated. If possible, weigh them. Weeks or months later, take out the leaves and see what is left. Weigh them again. Weigh your writing again. Remember to forget, to reinvent, to re-imagine. Remember to blur the edges, burn the edges, paint over the primer. Write again, and then again, and then again- keep writing until all of the leaves and remnants of the leaves are dissolved back into dust.
Provided by Kat Fossell