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“A Life Under Leaves”

Place Essay by Mac Zhou ’22 | Back to Table of Contents

 


My grandmother’s neighborhood — a housing complex in Xi’an, China, where my parents raised me — has a very apt and homey name, Maple Leaf Garden. The name, as one can suspect, derives from the hundreds of maple trees encompassing the 13 pollution-stained yellow buildings, like many loyal soldiers surrounding their generals. To me, an eternal beauty holds this place. But, I must admit that autumn brings the beauty of the community into full bloom. When seen from a distance in this season, it looks much like an oil painting come to life. The painter seemingly dipped the leaves in the unique red pigments produced by the fall season, which glow like red velvet under the rays of the sun, endlessly layered one on top of the other. The security guards stood erect at the gate, like pillars in a temple. The enticing smell of food often filled the air, and you could hear vendors hawking fruits outside the wall. Furry and smooth, lush and rich, juicy and sweet, the peaches sold by vendors tasted like honey, making me salivate.

As seen from the windows of her small, ninth-floor apartment, the whole community resembles a rolling ocean of burgundy. Under that sea, still visible in tantalizing glimpses through the gaps between the leaf coverage, the narrow, red, square-shaped brick pedestrian paths spool out in all directions. They wind through the trees and garden like a mass of brick sea snakes, connecting the entrances of the apartment buildings to the parking lot. Countless times Grandma held me with her warm and rough hands while we walked along those twisting paths. She taught me to sing with her gentle and deep voice; we chased birds and watched them fly to the high treetops. She also raced with me and took me to look at the moon and stars in the many small clearings. The changing seasons of the Maple Leaf Garden marked my life. The maple trees have grown thicker and taller, resembling a young, frail boy who gradually grows into a strong man. The exterior walls of the buildings in the community started to manifest traces of the passing years; however, I still relished walking with Grandma on a night with stars and listening to her stories of the past. From a stumbling toddler to a gawky adolescent boy riding a bicycle, I spent the first half of my life with my grandma in Maple Leaf Garden.

… The times Grandma spent with me in Maple Leaf Garden during my first 13 years count as the warmest memories in my heart, and that could never change. Maple Leaf Garden, a wine-hued sea of exhilaration that turned sweet then bitter and lingered in my mind recurrently, appears in my dreams — as if I heard Grandma’s gentle singing again and smelled the familiar scent of lavender soap on her body. All of my memories of Grandma and me are stored in treasure chests bordered with golden frames that rest on the floor of that red ocean. Her words on those balmy afternoons remain engraved in my mind: eternally, they remind me to face all of life’s arduousness. The strong vitality and resilience of the maple trees have blended into the blood of a cowardly boy and turned his weak, tepid blood into a raging crimson. The perseverance symbolized by the maple leaves has flowed into my body, heating my passion for the future. I wish that all children might have a forest of memories buried inside their hearts, a refuge of their own, with a source of strength hidden deep in that secret woodland.

About Mac Zhou ’22

I am currently a junior at Ravenscroft. I like literature and writing because they teach me to think creatively and provide me with the most direct way to express my emotions, including my nostalgia.

I was born in Xi'an, China, and have been in the United States for three years. Sometimes, when I look at my loved ones on the computer screen, I can't help but miss my hometown far away on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Maple Leaf Garden is a place of great significance to me and a symbol of my childhood life; the beautiful memories it brings will accompany me throughout my life.

In the end, if my composition can help you remember the important place that brings you happiness, it will be my honor and pleasure.

Mac Zhou ’22

The Place Essay

As part of the required 11th-grade Composition course, the Place Essay challenges students to craft a well-organized and cohesive reflection that explores their memories, evokes a strong sense of place and employs imagery, metaphor and other literary techniques to draw in and transport the reader. Mac Zhou ’22 wrote his place essay while enrolled in Shelley Torres’ Fall 2020 class.

At top, photographer Eriksson Luo’s scenic photograph shows the beauty and grandeur of Tang Paradise, a large park in Xian built near the site of the earlier Furong Garden complex in the capital city of the imperial Tang Dynasty (618-907).