Abbie held the leaf in one hand and rubbed it gently; her thumb skating over the smooth glossy surface, whilst her other fingers became nestled in the softer, fluffy underside. Just like me, she thought to herself. As she lent back against the trunk she steadied herself by pressing her palms on the bark. Furrowed with the wisdom of timeless maturity, just like him; she smiled.
Tipping her head skywards, her eyes scanned the mosaic of leaves, tracing the veins back to the petioles, flowing into the branches and finally back to the main tree trunk. She could remember, distinctly, the first time she had sat under this tree.
'Why does the tree have so many leaves?' a six-year-old Abbie had asked her father.
'So it can be big and strong,' he replied.
'But why not just one big leaf, why so many small ones, that's silly,' she snapped back.
'No darling, not silly, actually very sensible.'
Abbie lay on her back as her father's soft voice continued, 'Look, look up at all the leaves, what do you notice?'
She lay quite still for a moment, only her eyebrows moving as she searched desperately for an answer.
'There are lots of holes between the leaves,' she replied, triumphantly.
'Yes, and if you look above each hole what do you see?'
She sighed as she turned her attention back towards the canopy.
It was a minute or so before she answered him, 'Just a leaf higher up.'
'Yes, and if you look below each hole?' his tone was gentle and encouraging.
'A leaf lower down.'
'Yes ... so, do you see there are lots of different levels of leaves, high up ones, middle ones and lower ones?'
Abbie did not feel her father had answered her initial question.
'Yes, but there would be no holes with one big leaf.'
Abbie's father smiled as he looked into his daughter's saucer like sky blue eyes.
'What is it that leaves need to look so green and alive, Abbie?'
'Well done. So if we had one BIG leaf, could a leaf grow above it?'
'Well it could, but then sunlight couldn't reach our big leaf.'
'Okay, and could a leaf grow below it?'
'I don't think so, because there wouldn't be sunlight getting past our big leaf.'
'Okay. So ... if we had a really big leaf on the tree it could probably only grow on it's own?'
Abbie looked up at the leaves and twitched a few times before sighing, 'I still don't see why one big leaf isn't better than lots of little ones.'
Her father pointed up towards the canopy, 'All those holes allow leaves to grow at lots of different levels. Light can get through the holes and spaces between the levels. So ... lots and lots of leaves can grow and enjoy the sunlight that lands on this tree.'
He turned to look at Abbie, allowing her to see his grey eyes sparkling in the sunlight, 'If we stuck all the little leaves together side by side, we could see it would make up a much bigger shape than your one big leaf could ever be.'
Abbie imagined pulling all the leaves off the tree and gluing them together into one big shape on the lawn.
'Okay, I think I can see that, so lots of little leaves are bigger than one big leaf,' she admitted, reluctantly.
'What else do you notice about the leaves?' her father pressed.
Abbie scanned the canopy again.
'Some of the leaves have been eaten by caterpillars.'
'What has that done to the leaves?'
'Left big holes in them.'
'And why might that not be a bad thing for the tree?'
Abbie tipped her head to one side as she looked at the holey leaves.
'Oh,' she squeaked with excitement, 'sunlight gets through the holes and leaves underneath can catch it!'
'Well spotted Abbie.'
'And if our one big leaf had a hole in it the sunlight would just get through and no leaf would get it, the tree couldn't use that sunlight to get bigger.'
'You are such a clever girl, my love.'
Abbie's father squeezed her hand.
'So you see, it's good that there are lots of different leaves, all with a job to do, older leaves, younger leaves. As some leaves become holey and can't work properly other leaves can help out, all the time the tree gets bigger and stronger.'
'Abby, darling,' a woman's voice called from the back porch, 'I'm off now, are you coming?'
'Coming!' Abbie shouted back as she pushed herself up from the base of the tree and ran towards the car in the driveway.
'Okay?' the woman asked as she sat down in the driver's seat.
Abbie took a breath, 'Yep,' she smiled, 'Yes, actually I'm great, mum.'
Her mother squeezed her leg affectionately.
'And work?' her mum asked.
'I'm upset, of course,' Abbie sighed, 'I didn't expect them to split the promotion three ways, and when they said I didn't have Ed's killer instinct, I was ready to quit ... but three heads'll be better than one, hey?'
Her mother turned the key in the ignition.
'Have you got the peonies?'
'Your father's favourite,' her mother sighed, ' all those petals crammed into one flower. I never quite understood it.'
Abby smiled, 'You need to spend some time under the tree, mum.'
Her mother looked at her quizzically as they turned right out of the driveway and headed for the cemetery.