Every living thing on this beautiful old Earth will eventually die. Whether it be bunchgrass on the hillside, a towering Ponderosa or a flea - death is part of Life. In spite of that unalterable fact, we humans spend a lot of time trying to side step the issue, but when it happens instantly - as it did to our dear bird-loving pal, Dean Hale, in a head-on collision last month on Hwy. 20 between Bend and Sisters, we realize - wham! It's all over...at least for this life.
Dean was a birder who spent thousands of hours watching and helping birds. It is an understatement to say he was dedicated to his avian neighbors and loved by everyone with whom we share Life with on this beautiful planet.
I had the distinct pleasure of working with Dean Hale on a kestrel nesting box project our old friend Don McCartney started several years back. This sort of project has a way of taking over your life, so Dean helped to organize a team of (East Cascade Audobon Society) ECAS volunteers who went to work to help Don monitor, count and clean nesting boxes. When I banded the youngsters, Dean was right there to help.
The news of Dean's death and the injuries suffered by his wife, Patty, spread immediately on the Central Oregon Birders On Line (COBOL), website, where many, many people left their feelings for Dean. Among them was a posting by Jeff Gilligan in which he wrote, "There is little I can add, except to express my sorrow. I got to know Dean well in recent years, birding and clamming on the coast, and birding in Arizona. My sincerest condolences and best wishes to Patty and Dean's son and his family. Dean was a very nice guy."
A very nice guy indeed.
Don McCartney took the news of Dean's death pretty hard, so did Diane Kook; both of them worked with Dean on American Kestrel and Lewis' Woodpecker nesting box projects. Don said, "I feel Dean was the heart and soul of East Cascades Audubon Socitey (ECAS) and local birding. He devoted most of his free time to birding, bird conservation, or promoting the cause for ECAS. I like to think back to the time in 2009 that he was really elated upon returning from his visit to the boxes out near Sisters.
"Dean found that nine out of nine boxes were active and was he ever "pumped", as he would say. Or the time that he found the gate locked at a ranch we had permission to enter, but he checked the three boxes beyond the gate anyway, even though he had to carry a ladder almost a mile. What dedication! And it seems that he was always positive and cheerful. He was one of a kind," McCartney said.
Last Thursday evening - at the prompting of Tom Crabtree, Central Oregon's premier birder and Dean's good friend - a farewell party was held for Dean at the Bend Brewing Co.
"The front room of the [BBC] was filled with family and friends of Dean and Patty," said friend Diane Kook "Each member of their family was able to see and feel a fraction of the support and love we all feel for them both - and also the support we each give to one another.
"One main theme that kept being repeated as everyone spoke about Dean was how he was always there when anyone needed anything," Kook added. "How he had been involved in so many parts of the birding community and how he would just set himself to work at getting things accomplished. When one would feel overwhelmed with a task, I remember him often saying, 'Ah, no problem, we can do this!'"
Chuck Gates, a superb teacher over in Prineville and another of Oregon's premier birders, enjoyed a close association with Dean over the years. His thoughts express what everyone felt when we heard that our old birding pal had gone out among the stars:
"We lost our best man yesterday with the tragic death of Dean Hale. We in Central Oregon have a reputation of being friendly and helpful to visiting birders.That reputation was built by the hands of Dean Hale," Gates wrote.
"He loved nothing more than to show people birds and visiting with friends, minor acquaintances, or complete strangers.Everyone who met him came away with a smile on their face.His wit was legendary, but never biting or critical.He would charm everyone in the group and then turn and charm the birds out of the trees for all to see.Those who knew him will suffer an immeasurable loss.I can't imagine not getting to spend days in the field - or hours on the phone with Dean. We all mourn this loss of a great friend," Gates added.
And fellow birder and photographer Kevin Smith summed up what we all feel with this thought: "How can I say how much Dean Hale will be missed.I cannot."