Thinking Citizen Blog — Preserving Autumn Leaves, Flowers, Books, Bodies, Paintings, Cities

John Muresianu
6 min readNov 17, 2022


Thinking Citizen Blog — Wednesday is Climate Change, the Environment, and Sustainability Day

Today’s Topic: Preserving Autumn Leaves, Flowers, Books, Bodies, Paintings, Cities

Life is ephemeral. Beauty ephemeral. Or eternal. If somehow preserved. Think bog bodies. Think mummies. Think flowers between the pages of a book. Think ancient manuscripts in a temperature-controlled vault. Think the piles holding up Venetian palazzos. Or think the immortality of poetry and song. Today, a few related notes: the first on autumn leaves, the second on bog bodies, and the third on embalming and “plastination.” Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

AUTUMN LEAVES IN THE PAGES OF A BOOK — ever tried decoupage, glycerin, a microwave?

1. In my front yard, the yellow sugar maple leaves on the lawn quickly turn brown and shrivel.

2. Between the pages of a book, the color and shape are preserved. That is if you pluck them off the tree before they have fallen or pick them up just after.

3. Otherwise, you might need some “decoupage” that is a “a white, gluey substance that turns clear when it dries. You can find it at your local craft store. Use a foam brush to carefully apply a liberal coat of decoupage to one side of each leaf. Set them to dry on a piece of newspaper.”

NB: For other ideas, include paraffin wax, a glycerin bath, and a microwave see links 1 through 6 below. Which have you tried? Which would you recommend?

SPAGNUM WAS THE KEY TO THE PRESERVATION OF “TOLLUND MAN” (350–450 BC). He was found in 1950, near Silkeborg in the Jutland peninsula of Denmark

1. “The Tollund Man’s preservation is awe-inspiring, but it wasn’t deliberate. Unlike Egyptian mummies, the bog bodies owe their state to an accident of chemistry. The bogs in which they were buried contain little oxygen, which helps to inhibit bacterial growth. The most important ingredient for the bog bodies’ survival though comes from a plant called sphagnum. When sphagnum dies, it releases polysaccharides which block bacterial metabolisms. This helps keep organic matter like skin, wood, fur, and textiles from succumbing to decay.”

2. “Bogs cure bodies in a process akin to tanning, but while they are wonderful at preserving skin, they eat away at bones, leaving the bodies’ skeletons shrunken and sometimes, completely absent. At the same time, acids in bog water destroy DNA, making genetic studies impossible. Most bog bodies have been discovered in the process of excavating peat for use as fuel, and as a result, many have been hacked apart by spades and shovels, and more recently, by mechanical peat excavators.”

3. “Since the 18th century, hundreds of bodies like his have been pulled out of the marshes of Northern Europe. Their ages span thousands of years, from the Stone Age to the Second World War. Most, though, come from a relatively narrow band of time, from about 700 B.C. to 200 A.D. Many show signs of terrible trauma, including torture, mutilation, and dismemberment. Together, they are the coldest of cold cases, and the reasons for their demise constitute one of the enduring mysteries of European archaeology.”

NB: “Sometime around 60 A.D., a man was led into a marsh outside Cheshire, England to be killed. He was in his mid-twenties, stood about 5’ 7’’ tall, and had a trimmed beard, mustache, and brown hair. Except for an armband made out of fox fur, he was naked. It’s likely that he was accompanied, and restrained, by two or more individuals. The details of his death make for grisly reading. First, he received a blow from a blunt object to the top of his head, probably while he was seated, which fractured his skull. Then a cord was thrown around his neck. While he was being throttled, his throat was cut. Combined with the pressure from the noose, this would have caused a geyser of blood to erupt from the wound. Finally, he received a sharp kick to the small of his back, propelling him face-first into the waters of the bog, where, nearly two thousand years later, he was found by workers digging for peat in the Lindow Moss.” (See links 7 and 8 below)


1. I always planned to be cremated, but then I saw Jeremy Bentham’s “Auto Icon” and head. The Auto Icon is his entire body dressed and in a seated position in a wheeled chair that could be wheeled in by friends who missed him. How thoughtful. How cute. Depending on your perspective, I guess.

2. Gustav Van Hagen “is a German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination. He has organized numerous Body Worlds public exhibitions and occasional live demonstrations of his and his colleagues’ work, and has traveled worldwide to promote its educational value. The sourcing of biological specimens for his exhibits has been controversial, but he insists that informed consent was given before the death of donors, and extensive documentation of this has been made available.”

3. In its first twenty years, plastination was used to preserve small specimens of tissue for medical study. It was not until the early 1990s that equipment was developed to make it possible to plastinate whole body specimens, each specimen taking up to 1,500 hours of work to prepare.The first exhibition of whole plastinated bodies took place in Japan in 1995. Over the next two years, Hagens developed his first Body Worlds exhibition, showing whole bodies plastinated in lifelike poses and dissected to show various structures and systems of human anatomy, and these have since met with public interest and controversy in more than fifty cities around the world. The exhibition, and Hagens’ subsequent exhibitions Body Worlds 2, 3 and 4, had received more than 26 million visitors all over the world as of 2008.”

NB: Were you one of the tens of millions of visitors to one of Van Hagen’s exhibits? A fan of wax museums? Of Jeremy Bentham? Creepy? Spooky? Intriguing?

How to Preserve Fall Leaves

How to Preserve Leaves: 5 Easy DIY Methods

6 Ways to Preserve Fall Leaves — wikiHow

Flower preservation — Wikipedia

How to Preserve Flowers in a Book: 10 Steps (with Pictures)

Flower Preservation: Here’s The Science | Fora Nature

Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets

Bog body — Wikipedia

Tollund Man — Wikipedia

Engineering Venice

Conservation vs Preservation: The Differences

What Is Jeremy Bentham’s “Auto-Icon”?

Plastination — Wikipedia

Why philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s severed, stolen, and poorly preserved head is back on display | CBC Radio

Viewing (funeral) — Wikipedia


“Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

- Horace (65–8 BC)


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to climate change or the environment. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to climate change that the rest of us may have missed. Your favorite chart or table perhaps…

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.