CONWAY — A force of nature, for nature.
The valley lost an advocate for the environment this week with the passing on Monday of my oldest brother, the colorful and brilliant local naturalist David L. Eastman, 76, of Tamworth.
Dave had been hospitalized in Concord for nearly a week after being transported by ambulance from his home.
Dave was host of the always entertaining and informative “Country Ecology” newspaper column. It started in the Mountain Ear beginning in the 1990s, and for the past 12 years has run in The Conway Daily Sun’s Saturday edition. He also hosted a radio show of the same name on WMWV 93.5-FM over the same period of time.
My brother also was a decorated military helicopter pilot and author of the book, “Outlaws in Vietnam: The Story of the 175th Aviation Company (AML), 1966-1967” published by Peter Randall Publishing of Portsmouth in 2001 (and available through Amazon.com).
His military experience was dear to him, and he remained close with his Army buddies throughout his life.
Many of them called him every Easter Sunday to express their thanks for the lives they enjoyed after the war due to what he had courageously done to evacuate trapped personnel in a hot LZ (landing zone) in the Battle of Easter Sunday of March 26, 1967, and in other heavy fighting during the course of their flying together over the years, which Dave chronicled in his book.
It was always Dave’s wish that when he died, those comrades in arms would gather to have a barbecue and toast. That may happen once the weather warms up early next summer, if all goes according to plan.
Helicopter pilot veteran and naturalist? Those two seemingly incongruous currents of his life were part of what made him so compelling and unique. But, given that his nickname and email address tag were “cebirdman (C for Country and E for Ecology),” it makes sense.
My take? I just think that my oldest brother at his core was an adventurer, dating back to his days as a boy exploring nature and then carrying that on throughout his college years, his Army experiences and then his postwar years.
He was curious about everything, and as the oldest in our large Irish family of eight kids, where good storytelling was a natural trait that was almost expected if you wanted to be heard at the dinner table, Dave was a master raconteur with that self-deprecating Irish wit and keen awareness of the absurdities and ironies of this life.
He had a great sense of humor.
As you probably read in his obituary published in Wednesday’s paper, visiting hours were Thursday afternoon at Furber and White (thank you, Charlie Sutton), followed by a reception at Tuckerman’s Tavern (much appreciation to Adam Hooper and staff).
Following a Christian funeral Mass Friday morning at Our Lady of the Mountains, officiated by Father Steve Lepine and Deacon Jack Carey, and with old Army buddy Fred Stetson of Vermont delivering the eulogy, in keeping with Dave’s wishes, a Christian military burial was held at the N.H. Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen Friday afternoon, officiated by Deacon Jack, which made perfect sense, given that he was a helicopter crew chief veteran in Vietnam a year ahead of my brother in 1965-66.
Like many who commented on Dave’s passing on Facebook this week, we are all heavy of heart, of course, and I extend my sympathies to Dave’s equally adventurous and intelligent son, David C. Eastman, and his wife Serena and their daughter Emma, who live in London, England.
Despite the sadness, I think we are also comforted in believing that Dave’s adventurous spirit has left his riddled and worn-out body to fly unbridled to explore the beauties of the natural world that he explained so well in “Country Ecology.”
And, as anyone who knew him can attest, he could talk a blue streak on any number of topics. The headband-wearing, bearded intellectual dude with a propensity for discussing anything — from Erik Koeppel's latest White Mountain School of Art painting to National Forest history to the work being done to protect loons on New Hampshire’s lakes to global warming and the lack of understanding by naysayers about it.
I was heartened to hear in the days since his passing that I wasn’t alone in this perception of Dave’s kinetic thought process and gift for conversation.
The most poignant Facebook post was Andy Davis of the World Fellowship Center in Albany. Andy was a dear friend of Dave’s, as was its former director, the Rev. Christoph Schmauch. Dave did a lot of trail work there over the years before his body let him down. He spent his birthday there every year, where Andy and wife Andrea Walsh and daughter Fiona and staff would present him with a cake.
Wrote Andy on his FB post: “Over the last couple of years, as (Dave) became increasingly housebound, I had visited him with growing regularity. I would usually find him in his office. He had taken up painting again, so he would be working at a canvas, or revising one of his ‘Country Ecology’ columns on the computer while waiting for the sunlight to come through the window at the right angle and intensity. ‘I can only paint with natural light,’ he told me.
"Our conversations would caper wildly through space and time ...
"He'd tell me what his son and his family was up to, and at some point he’d always ask me about World Fellowship, about the international students he’d mentored in trail work, or about my daughter (‘Tell Fiona I’m very impressed with her generation,’ he’d say), and Andrea and my plans for building on our Tamworth land (‘Here, take this book on natural building techniques.’).
"He might talk about his days managing the football team at UNH, or his brief DJ career, or how he spiced up his teaching when he was in grad school at the University of Washington. Inevitably his lifelong, star-crossed love of women would weave in somewhere.
"Dave had some quirks of personality and speech that some people had to step around in order to be able to appreciate him. But it was worth the effort. He was gifted in his ability to convey an infectious love of this magical planet. He had a great, loving soul that was just a little bit hampered by circumstance and experience. He had passion and heart that couldn’t be properly contained in one human husk, and now it’s part of those terns, and the fisher cats, and the red-shouldered hawks, and throughout these rippling, jutting forested mountains.
Fly on, Birdman.”
I share Andy’s sentiments. Farewell, Brother. There never was and never will be another like you. In closing, I can only add, “Thank you for everything, from showing me how to throw a spiral football when I was 9, to sharing your incredible adventure and war stories and your love of nature and White Mountains history.”
That last part about White Mountain history and the mountains that we all so love is what I will continue to celebrate in these pages as a tribute to my brother’s legacy. Happy flying, and say hi to Brother Steve when you get to your destination.