Archive - Jul 2013


July 30th


Andrew Sullivan has an excellent take on the FOX news interview. He patiently dissects the disturbing mindset that leads to such idiocy as that displayed by the FOX news host, a malignant ignorance shared by a shockingly large segment of our population. 

July 28th

Reason collides with FOX news

FOX news, which makes billions by tickling the prejudices of bigots of every stripe, fails in its attempt to smear a scholar of religion who wrote a book on Jesus. Oh, he happens to be a Muslim himself. So what. But that's beyond the comprehension of the bigot-baiters at Fox. 


Sorry about the sparse posts lately. I have been preoccupied with getting a book published. I have hired a very good editor, and she gives me assignments which eat up all of my writing energy. 

Yesterday, I decided I needed a change of scenery to get anything done. So, I booked a room in downtown Minneapolis, a suite with an office area. It was a perfect work space, and reasonably priced, at least last night. The whole hotel was pretty outdated and the room I was in was sort of beat up, but it was clean and spacious. So, I thought I might rent it for a few days and work. 

Well, the price doubled for subsequent days. So I got on the web and randomly chose a lodge in Siren, WI for my next stop.

It is ideal. Siren is a town of 800 people, just like Fertile, and this is a lodge like what we could use in Fertile. Everything is rustic timber. The rooms are large. There are a lot of little side rooms where I will be able to sit and work in silence. And the price is great. So, I might stay a few days. 

The task sounds large, but is not. Last winter, I wrote a manuscript of 70,000 words. Upon review by several trusted advisors, and then a professional editor, it became clear that some parts of the book are much stronger than others. The editor broke it to me gently, but large swaths of the book need to be cut. I just cut 15,000 words two days ago. That amounts to fifteen days of work last winter, but I don't think about that. It doesn't hurt because I now recognize that what is being cut is simply bad writing. I am relieved to have the bad writing eliminated before the book goes to publication. 

I also am going to try to add some stories and see if they fit into the book as it stands after the cuts. 

And, the most difficult task of all: Finding a title that will sell. 

What is most enjoyable is that the editor has succeeded in pointing out to me what writing of mine works and why. I now see what doesn't works and I know why. 

Learning is never painless. You must let go of things. Like 15,000 words you thought were good but were not. That can be depressing. And then you wake up relieved to know you will never make that particular mistake again, which is a good feeling. And you press onward, which is the single most crucial element in the entire endeavor. 


July 21st

An incident

Went in yesterday to see Aunt Olla at the Hilton. She was in fine form, and told some stories I had not heard before. Namely, she recalled an incident which happened in Ulen in the mid-1920s where a Negro boy was accused of assaulting a local woman. The mob chased him across fields until they caught him right by the Bergeson farm. Aunt Olla figured the woman was probably making up the story and that the poor kid--he was just a kid--didn't know what hit him when the sheriff's posse arrived from town with chains and guns galore. "He looked so frightened in the back of the car," she said. "I told him I felt sorry for him." 

Another story: A neighbor lady named Geneva would come over to bathe the two youngest boys in the family on Sunday afternoon. They didn't like it, but she was assertive and made sure they got a good shampooing. One wonders what led to that ritual. 

When Aunt Gertrude was a young mother, she needed surgery over in Ada. They had no money, so the neighbors threw a party and raised the necessary amount. My grandfather Melvin drove Mama and Olla over to the party. He was all of sixteen. They had a Model T with the top down. Well, Melvin (they called him Mike) wanted to go home but Mama was visiting...and visiting...and visiting. She was particularly fond of Mrs. Dunham, and the two just wouldn't shut up. When finally Olla and Mama got in the car, Mike drove so fast home that Mama and Olla thought they were going to get thrown from the car. He was furious. 

Eldest Brother Roy made a hammock out of a bedspring which the kids thought was great fun. Olla didn't dare sleep in the hammock, but she did sleep on the porch one night. She took the spot right near the door as she wanted to be able to get inside in case Gypsies came. Roy also poured a sidewalk from the drive up to the house, an unheard of luxury at the time. He was a forward thinker, even at age 18. But Roy always had to lay down the law with Olla, as she would rather play than work, even into her 20s. 

Olla figures it was probably for the best that their Dad died at age 42 or the kids wouldn't have had nearly the fun they did. "He would have put a stop to it," she said, while Mama was a gentle soul who never minded if the kids stayed up until dawn playing cards. 

Mama once ventured to Grand Forks for a gathering of Stavanger Norwegians. Her only instructions to Olla, who was hopeless with chorse, were to feed her chicken who had a brood of chicks. Of course Olla completely forgot and there the chickens were stone dead when Mama got back. But she didn't say anything. 


July 19th


Vladimir Horowitz, here in his 80s, demonstrates an impossible command over his instrument of choice, the piano. The impish ending to this piece infuriated his fellow concert pianists. The ever-childish Horowitz was shoving his prowess in their face: Nah, nah, nah, I can do this and you can't!

And he was right. 

UPDATE: Here's an even better version, and quite different. With romantics like Horowitz, every performance had to be unique. 

July 17th

Over the hump

Ah, the annual rhythms. After the county fair winds down, summer starts its languid, downhill swing. The air is heavy with smell of crops. Mosquitoes by the million roar as the sun goes down. The days aren't aren't in a hurry to get shorter. That doesn't happen until after September 21, when the bottom falls out of the summer and the sun bolts south. 

The gardens at the nursery really look good. They were planted later than ever, but they are turning into something to see sooner than ever, or so it seems. Not sure why. Hot weather is a good thing, and Dad is out there with the sprinklers all day, every day. 

A local farmer said it took a mere six days for the corn to go from knee-high to over our heads. That is multiple inches per day. If you listened, you probably could hear the corn grow.

There simply aren't many small grain fields this year, and unlike many years, I don't see the small grains turning tan quite yet. I drove around today and everything was green. Almost every field is planted in corn or soybeans. I don't quite understand it. Corn prices are going down due to the massive acerage devoted to the crop, yet few farmers tried to pull a fast one and plant what nobody else was planting. I am not sure how that process works, but I would think it would pay to be where everybody else is not. 

With corn prices down, making ethanol is once more profitable. Some ethanol plants which were mothballed are now back in action. 

This is the time of year we long for all winter. At least I do. I am determined to relish it. 



July 15th

French toccatas

I sometimes get so caught up in a piece of music that I listen to is several times per day for weeks. My most recent obsession is a toccata by the French composer Maurice Durufle. I have a Virgil Fox recording to play in the car but really prefer it played here on Youtube by a young, new organist named Nathan Laube. 

The strange thing about this recording is that it is not made in a cathedral, as it seems. Instead, it is an organ that has been outfitted with the sounds of a great French pipe organ and is here a living room. Note the feet of the people on the right.

And yet the sound is mighty. 

This piece ("songs" are ditties people sing, works like this are "pieces") is angry, cacophonous and emphatic. I could listen to it all day for its sheer raw power. 

The sounds here are stolen from one of the Cavaille-Coll organs in France. Cavaille-Coll organs were so excellent, so revolutionary, that they actually shaped organ composition rather than the other way around. The above tocatta would not have been composed if the Cavaille-Coll instruments had not been built, just as Chopin's works would not have been written if he hadn't the luxury of the modern piano (a luxury not afforded Beethoven, Bach, and even Mozart).

Here, perhaps for the second time on this blog, is a more popular piece, also a French tocatta, this one by Charles Marie Vidor. It, too, was written in response to the instrument Cavaille-Coll made available to the composer, a master work that produces a growling sound which, unless called into being by Mr. Cavaille-Coll, would never have entered the human experience.

I hope the organ manual (keyboard) on this organ has electronic assist to help pull the key down. Otherwise, the sheer strength it would take to open up to twenty or more pipes with each finger stroke would prevent most people from ever hoping to play this piece at full volume. There is an organ in St. Paul, MN which sounds great, but which has no electronic assist in a stupid attempt to keep it historically authentic. The organist is a slight female of great accomplishment, but she lacks the bulk to play the Vidor tocatta with all the stops pulled without lifting herself off the bench. 

OR, if you want to indulge in even more emphatic, angry modernity than the Durufle toccata, here is Messaien's legendary Dieu Parme Nous played on the same organ. I can't resist posting this piece again in case it snags just one person. Modern classical music can be eye- and ear-opening. But you've got to be patient with it. 

Free Stage

free stage.jpg 

Here is a picture of our family doing the final number, joined by Mom, in our performance at the free stage at the fair last night. We were singing "In the Sweet By and By." 

Photo by a friend and gentleman in the front row, Jamie Armstrong of Maple Lake during the summers, Kentucky the rest of the time. 


July 11th

Polk County Fair

It is sort of like a car accident: You can't help but to be drawn in by the spectacle and then go gawk. And the great food at the Concordia Church food stand is a draw. So I went in last night to the fair for a plate of meatballs and gravy. And custard pie! It took me over an hour. Visit, visit, visit. 

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped to visit Aunt Olla at the Hilton. She was in good spirits and good form. I should really come prepared with questions, as new questions can beget new stories. This time, only due to a request from Aunt Beth, I asked Olla if she remembered how my grandfather learned to play piano. Olla pondered, her wheels turning, and remembered that her father had hired a traveling piano teacher to instruct their eldest sister Gertrude back in about 1915. They had a pump organ. But after their father died, there was no money for such luxuries as lessons, so Gertrude passed on what she knew to Grandpa and Olla. 

As he raised a family, Grandpa bought a piano. He apparently loved to play hymns late in the evenings after the kids had gone upstairs to bed. My memory of his playing style was that it was utterly minimal, and that the rhythm heaved, rested, then heaved again. Sort of like a pump organ. Heave and rest. 

Olla then went of on another story about how her eldest brother Roy promised Olla and her sister Millie that if they cleaned the cream separator, he would take them to the movie Ben Hur at the theater in Ulen. This was after their father died. Roy, at age 15, was the man of the house and was looking for ways to motivate the troops. Well, Olla and Millie got so excited about going to the movie that they forgot all about the cream separator and started to play the pump organ. One would play while the other danced. 

Roy was none to happy, but took them to Ulen anyway. 

Aunt Olla keeps battling nightly strokes. "I suppose I'll just linger," she said forlornly, as if she's in some sort of vegetative state, which she most certainly is not. I gave her no sympathy. 

As I left, the nurse told me that the doctor had visited Olla yesterday morning. Nothing was said about the strokes. The only complaint Olla had was she needed a perm. She wondered if he could prescribe a perm. He said he would do what he could. 

July 9th

Midsummer night

It is perverse to stay up late in the summer and then sleep in until 8 a.m., thus missing out on two hours of sunshine and quiet, but that is what I do. I love the long summer evenings, and I love the quiet after dark. But then I have to sleep through some sunshine to get my eight hours. 

And even so, an hour-long siesta in the afternoon happens more afternoons than not. 

Today I luxuriated in mowing with the zero-turning-radius mower. Dad repaired it this morning after a bent blade made a track in the lawn about a foot wide. There is nothing I enjoy like mowing. It is an atavistic pleasure. I did a lot of the mowing around the nursery for many years in elementary school, at least if my memory serves. Mowing is really a complete waste of time and fuel, but it is a morale booster. Therefore, we do it. Immoderately. 

At least we aren't conquering acres of ditch with the mower. In fact, the sweet clover, which grows opportunistically on ground that has been recently disturbed, dominates right up to the drive. 

Now there are laws governing if and when people can mow the road ditches. The idea is to protect the birds which nest in the road ditches. So, some road ditches you can't mow until July 1, others until August 1, and so on. I guess that makes sense. Back when tax dollars were easier to come by, keeping the road ditches neatly mowed was a matter pride. No more. Now, it is purely practicality.

Why do we mow road ditches? 

1) I suspect it is good to mow the ditches before noxious weeds, such as thistle, produce viable seed that can float for miles. 

2) Mowing the ditches late will prevent the growth from causing snowdrifts across the road all winter, which will have a deleterious effect on the snow-plowing budget. Spend money now, save it later. 

However, the growth is so tick (Norwegian for "thick") that deer can jump right out of it onto the road leaving you almost no time to react. 

As always, it is best to take it slow.