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.