Several weeks ago, I came across a fallen leaf in my driveway whose shriveled shape reminded me of either a small animal or very large bug. All it needed was some stick-on eyes to imbue it with some personality. When I showed my pet leaf to a group of women with dementia and Alzheimer’s, we decided it was definitely a male whose diet consisted mainly of M&M’s.

(Click on all images to enlarge.)


Harold was the inspiration for an extended ElderSparks session celebrating fall and its imaginary creatures. In preparation, I had gathered a large collection of leaves in various shapes and sizes, fluffy seed plumes, delicate thorny spines, scary-looking fruit heads, cornhusks, pods, and even empty wasp nests. The full assortment was displayed on tables that greeted the participants upon arrival.

Due to illness and the recent demise of one of our regulars, our group consisted only of J~, the food writer, S~, the quilter, and myself. We began by observing a moment of silence in memory of L~ who, I think, would have especially enjoyed this class. Afterwards, I passed some of the more interesting specimens around so we could admire their beautiful patterns, textures, shapes, and subtly colored surfaces.

I also couldn’t resist brushing the faces and heads of J~ and S~ with the feathery seed heads of ornamental grasses. Even a twig with dried pine needles proved surprisingly soft against the skin.

S~ kept asking when I had done my collecting, and urged me to keep track of the dates from year to year. Apparently that was very important to her, and may be related to an earlier time in her life when she saved red leaves for pressing. She was much better than I was at identifying specific plant genera, and became very animated talking about the artistic inspiration that nature provided. Clearly, she was in her element.

J~ was attracted to the hedge-apple when making his first fantasy animal. Once it acquired eyes, he added a receding hairline, longish snout, and leafy butt. He named it Max after his son, and explained that Max liked steak.


Below, the multi-orbed animal with bushy tail that was another of J~’s creations. Named after his daughter Zooey, it too preferred steak. (This made me wonder just whose dietary preferences J~ was talking about.)



S~’s aesthetic at work: Less is more.


A group effort.

Near the end of the session, I noticed that just beyond the window which S~ had her back to, was a tree whose leaves were turning red. I asked if she would like me to turn her around so she could view it. Once she was in position, I went outside to cut some leaves for her. I presented it to her as a bouquet which she clutched happily to her chest as she left the room.