Author: Janet M. Conner, Historian Laureate, Avon Land Trust
I met David Leff several years ago when he and his wife attended a presentation I was giving. I had previously asked him if I could use some quotations from his writing in my talk. He was very kind to say yes, and I was honored he took time from his busy life to attend. Busy life is an understatement as David’s resume is nothing short of impressive. He resided in Collinsville, Connecticut and wore many hats for that community including volunteer fireman, and member and former chairman of the Collinsville Historic District Commission. He also served as deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. For the town of Canton, he served as deputy town historian and poet laureate, just to note some highlights. Albeit his life was not as long as some, he certainly packed a lot of living and contributions into his time on this planet.
I knew David more through his written words, than personally. And it is through his words, that so many knew him as well. Others also had the good fortune of knowing the man behind the words. There have been articles recounting David’s multifaceted life achievements, and his contributions to the community and State. I wish to take a different thread of his life for my discourse.
David saw his natural surroundings, and built environment, in a more intimate way than most; he had the unique ability to examine something mundane, and give it importance. He noticed everything! David spent many, many hours hiking the backroads and wilderness of our state. He intentionally sought the road less traveled as this held allure for him not only as foodstuff for his writing, but for his spirit. I say this because I can identify with the way he communed with the environment, as evidenced in his books. Not only did David see the most minute details in the world around him, he made us his readers see those details and have a new appreciation for places and things we ordinarily dismissed.
Fortunately, David’s words both in his books and his poetry, will have immortality. His works had a wide reach, but also spoke to a niche audience. I conducted an informal visual survey of those attending David’s memorial service in Collinsville on May 31st. I concluded the average age of these folks was about 55 with some, like myself, of the silver-haired variety. This demographic lived through the Vietnam War era, through Greenpeace protests, through the 1970s gasoline shortages, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the debut of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, and the cusp of environmental awareness. These generations were the children of the Earth and David’s words resonated with them. I would venture David’s influence, by virtue of his pen, had the ripple effect of creating an intrinsic love of Nature in his readers that I expect manifested into understanding the value of conservation of natural resources. David didn’t have to raise his voice to be heard; his writings were his voice. He didn’t need a bull horn; he led by example of what one man could do to affect local public policy on environmental and preservation issues, and to preserve land. Albeit a quiet man, he certainly touched our lives with his brilliant command of verbiage and intuitiveness.
As I left the public memorial for David, I looked around the small center of town where he both lived and worked. I looked at the mountains, and thought, these were David’s mountains to gaze upon each morning. I looked at the Farmington River basin on River Road, and thought this is the view David had. I looked at the old buildings and residences, and thought this was David’s home turf. All these surroundings and others inspired his life and his work enabling him to communicate the intricacies of an artwork, or a building, or a landscape. He was a good man. And that was evidenced by the at least 150 people who felt his loss and came out to pay respects to David and his family. And I thought, how awesome it was to have so many people commemorate this man.
David made a deep impression on many folks and our respective communities are all the better to have known him. And that, my friends, is the true mark of a life well lived…to be respected and remembered.