We’re collecting leaves for my son’s nursery – but then comes the crunch point | Séamas O’Reilly

While my son shows promising signs of being a naturalist, my Gaelic wife insists that autumn is over

‘Red!’ my son shouts, stuffing a large, wet leaf into my hand as if he’s trying to teach me something. It is, I must concede, extremely red and a fine specimen at that: firm, flat and bigger than his head. We’re collecting leaves for his nursery because… well I don’t know why. My best bet is they use them to make art, or dump them all on a table and talk about them. Maybe they load the leaves into an open brazier in the middle of the room. ‘Gather round, kids,’ they say, beckoning the waifs toward the heat with fingerless gloves, before improvising a spit so they can roast a squirrel over it around lunch time.

Whatever they do with the leaves, he takes to these endeavours with the glee of a dedicated naturalist, deriving the same joy from rummaging through piles of autumnal detritus that others might do from sports or cocaine. And it’s a chance to school me on leaves, a subject about which he clearly feels I’m ignorant. Certainly, I’ve never picked a leaf he’s chosen to bring in. ‘This one’s nice,’ I say, proffering one I’d describe as perfect. ‘See?’ I continue, now desperate for his approval, ‘It’s yellow!’ At this he flashes a patient, pitying smile, the kind a teacher might give a pupil who’s started avidly eating the pencil he’s just been handed, before resuming the search for a yellow leaf less pathetic and embarrassing than my own.

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