Big Dave

Just two weeks ago, which seems like forever when you’re on quarantine time, I wrote about memories of an environmental education conference I attended several years ago.  The story I wrote was mostly about bird calls, woodpecker drumming, and a bunch of environmental wackos, many of whom make me happy to now call friends.  Those memories make me smile, and probably always will.

That story started, though, by me recognizing the bark of a persimmon tree on a trail near my home in north Alabama.  I wasn’t able to recall the leaves when I saw them on a young tree, but when I saw them on a mature tree I instantly recognized the bark.  “Alligator hide” was what I learned to think of when I saw it, because that’s what Big Dave called it.  He’s not the first, and won’t be the last, person to call it that I’ve since learned, but he’s who taught it to me.

That’s one of the guys who was leading that naturalist hike that day, “Big Dave.”  It was a while before I learned his last name is Hollaway, because everyone just called him Big Dave.  He was indeed a pretty big guy at the time, and when he later lost a bunch of weight it felt kind of strange calling him that, but not really.  His personality carried on where his size left off.

I’ll be honest: When I lead kids hikes or other environmental experiences, I have, since that very day some nine years ago, tried to put a little bit of Big Dave into my presentations and dialog.  His gift of showing the natural world in a way that made sense just spoke to me.  I watched him do all the “identify it stuff” as well as or better than most folks, but he also communicated how everything fit together.  This tree, that bird, those deer: They were all there for a reason, and I’m not the only person who found myself richer after he shared the natural world with me.

The eastern towhee singing, “Drink your tea,” and the barred owl calling, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” is old hat for me now, but back then when I learned it from Big Dave it was magical.  In a lot of ways, it still is.

Dave had a way of seeing the spiritual–not the religious, and not the new age stuff–side of nature.  As he walked you through the world, it was the foundation of everything he saw.  He especially, as I remember, found a kinship with the birds of prey he worked with.  The great horned owl, the red-tailed hawk, and even the diminutive screech owl: He had a kinship with all of them.  If you’ve ever been eye-to-eye with one of those birds, you might understand where he was coming from.  He saw a bigger picture than most.

I found out recently that Dave left this world a few days ago, and it hurts.  I hadn’t spoken with him in over a year, but the towhees behind my back yard remind me of him often.  And then, of course, there are the persimmon trees.  They won’t let me forget.

Thanks, Big Dave.

Where am I going, I don’t know. I’m not sure? I know this though…I don’t get lost anymore.  -From Dave’s Facebook page.

6 Comments

  1. Tim, Thank you for sharing this post. I read your story of a few weeks ago and I immediately connected with that story. So sorry for your loss. May Big Dave continue to teach you each time you hear those birds calling to you, or the trees bend down towards your hands.

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  2. Oh, this is beautiful.I am especially moved by the line,”His personality carried on where his size left off.” The idea that size is really a feature of influence, and it is clear from this heartfelt tribute that Dave’s significance for you is truly BIG in the most sincere and authentic way. I also am so sorry for your loss. I am sure you are not alone in feeling this way after knowing Dave, small consolation, I know.

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  3. I am moved by your tribute, and I hope you will share it with Big Dave’s family somehow. I love how you relate Dave to those majestic birds of prey and your line “he saw a bigger picture than most.”
    Finally, you end with Dave’s FB quote, which I find so beautiful, and it makes me wonder if he was thinking about death. “I don’t get lost anymore.” I’ll be thinking about your friend.

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  4. Sorry for the loss of your friend. There’s a line from a Counting Crows song that goes: “There’s a piece of Maria in every song that I sing.” I thought of that while reading your post. Some people are like that – they become a part of every day of our lives and everything we do.

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  5. Tim, I am sorry for your loss. Big Dave sounds like a great environmental educator, one that we (in the field) could all strive to be. I like how you’ll be reminded of him through bird calls and tree bark, but mostly for the laughter that he seemed to inspire in you. We all need that in our lives, now more than ever. Thanks for sharing the memory of Big Dave and why he was important to you!

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