By Eric D. Lehman
At the end of summer, just as leaves began to tinge with gold, fifty people gathered on the banks of the Farmington River to plant a native red maple in memory of David K. Leff. Wedged between Route 179, the Collinsville Walking Trail, and a water treatment plant, this small park was the perfect place to honor him, exemplifying what he called “terranexus,” the inevitable and sometimes untidy blend of nature and culture.
Leff’s words and deeds touched many lives. He contributed several articles to Estuary over the past few years, in addition to fifteen books and countless articles for other magazines, journals, and newspapers. He sat on the boards of directors of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Audubon Connecticut, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, and Great Mountain Forest. In Collinsville, he was a volunteer firefighter, moderator of town meetings, Town Historian, and Poet Laureate. Awards included New England Beat Poet Laureate, Poet-in-Residence for the New England National Scenic Trail, and a Special Recognition Award from the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetland Commissions. He gave his life to public service.
Everyone at the memorial spoke of his kindness, but those who knew him as Deputy Commissioner at the DEEP knew how zealous he could be to protect the natural world. Still, he was modest in his accomplishments, and many never knew about his tireless work to create and pass Connecticut’s 2018 ballot question, which amended the state constitution to protect state-controlled conservation, recreation, and agricultural land from legislative conveyance. Somewhat better known is his work negotiating on behalf of the state to complete the largest land conservation acquisition in our history, the 15,000 acres of the Centennial Watershed State Forest.
The crowd gathered around the young red maple tree and took turns shoveling dirt around it. Then, poets and friends read his poems and others in honor of him. A great blue heron swept above the cyclists, walkers, and kayakers who continued to pass by, undeterred by poetry and memory. Kids laughed and played with barking dogs, and the roar of trucks and motorcycles drowned the occasional word, something David would have appreciated. That bustle and noise is part of the terranexus of the human and natural world, and the best lives are those that find a way to flourish there.
He did that, and more, in the small river town of Collinsville, and taught many others to do the same. He wouldn’t have minded a red maple tree as a memorial, but he would have liked even better for us to continue his work.
Editor’s Note: David K. Leff unexpectedly passed away May 29, 2022, at the age of 67. He is survived by his beloved wife Mary C. Fletcher, daughter Tiki Leff Diliberto, son Joshua F. Leff, stepdaughter Ariel Prechtl, and sisters Elizabeth Leff and Suzanne Ordesky.