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Scott Rall: Remembering a great outdoorsman, and a great guy

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

It was back in 2003 when I was in the very early months of trying to act like an outdoor writer that I met a person that had a great impact on my life.  

I have always said that I am an outdoor guy who writes and not really a well-schooled writer.  My typing skills have not improved much over the past decade and a half, but my knowledge about lots of outdoor subjects certainly has. I still need a good editor to break my paragraphs at the proper spots and use “than” instead of “then” every once in a while.

It was in the spring of 2003 that I was asked by a reader to write about purple martins. I knew what they were but not much more. I asked around a little and was given the name of guy by the name of Dale Aden. I was 45 at the time and Dale was in his early 60s. I looked him up in the phone book, with an Okabena address, and called the man.

I explained that I needed help with a column about purple martins. A few days later he wandered into my financial securities office on Lake Street in Worthington and we made an introduction.

It did not take me long to see that this gentleman spoke my language. He knew everything about everything, including purple martins.  We worked together and put out that column.

We talked for hours. He shared that he was also one of the very first farmers in the area to enroll much of his farm into the Re-invest In Minnesota Conservation Easement Program.  That is a program where you take production acres out of the operation and plant them to grass to protect sensitive areas and water resources.

He took me on a tour of his property, and I knew then that this was the way conservation acres were supposed to look. It was planned out with several restored wetlands and a few extra berms to hold the water on the land, which reduced flooding and minimized soil erosion.

He had some man-made wood duck boxes on the site. He helped me build some and we spent the next 15 years telling stories about the boxes we maintained.  

Dale, at his very unexpected passing just a few weeks ago, was caring for almost 400 individual wood duck boxes across much of Jackson and Nobles County. He kept records of each box and if it had a successful or unsuccessful nest attempt each year by sticking different colored stick pins in the side of the box.  

If the box went three years without any activity he would take it down and move it to a new spot.

He kept all of these records in writing, as well. I asked Dale about a year ago for a list of where all of those boxes were located.  I explained that if anything ever happened to him that I would make it my mission to find caretakers for each and every one.

Shortly after my request he was in my office with a typewritten list.  This was the old IBM typewriter list. No computer word documents for Dale. Little did I know that Dale would suffer a heart attack and die just a few short months later.

I got a college education about bluebirds and bluebird houses from Dale. He explained that tree swallows are pretty cool birds, but they are low on the totem pole compared to bluebirds.

Each bird house was checked regularly for feathers.  If there was feather in the nest, it was removed because every tree swallow nest had at least one feather in it.  Bluebirds did not have even one.

He also said that wood duck boxes were for wood ducks and that mergansers would take advantage if they could. They were treated like a tree swallow if they tried to nest in one of Dale’s duck boxes.

My conservation professor also taught me about house wrens and duck boxes.  House wrens don’t like any kind of bird nesting in any near proximity to them. If a wood duck tried to nest closely, a house wren would start to fill the nest box with very small sticks.

I have seen this.  He once took a box down that was full of sticks. Dale was retired and had some time on his hands, so he decided to count them. When he was done, the house wren had put 1,597 sticks in one wood duck box.  That was one determined house wren.

Dale later sold much of his wildlife property to a gentleman by the name of Brent Staples.  I know Brent and there is no better caretaker of conservation lands than him. He was a perfect fit for this buyer/seller equation.

The time I spent with Dale in the tall grass following him around as he drove his pristine 70s vintage John Deere tractor was like that of a student and a teacher.

With Dale’s passing goes all of the conservation knowledge he carried around in his head. He was in great physical condition and played tennis and pickleball a few times every week. I would have bet part of my IRA that he would have outlived me.

Dale, my great friend, I take comfort in knowing you are where God wants you to be. If I can do 10 percent as good a job as you in carrying on the conservation legacy, I will consider that a complete success. I miss you now and I will miss you later but I will never forget the outdoor memories of our time wandering around in the tall grass that are etched my permanent memory bank. Godspeed to you, my friend.