March 30th, 2015

If's and but's: The 2015 Twins

I won't predict the Twins season, except to say what needs to happen for them to have a good season:

•Right now, the team's strength appears to be its infield offense. Mauer at first must return to old form, which is more likely than not. Dozier at second must simply do what he did last year. Same for Santana at short. Plouffe has to rediscover his power at third. The team is strong up the middle: Suzuki is an excellent catcher, and can hit. Molitor has less tolerance for mental laxity than Gardenhire, so he is giving up on Aaron Hicks, the highly-talented but day-dreaming long-time prospect. They'll fill the hole with a rotating set of replacements until June 1 when they can bring up super-prospect Byron Buxton. 

•By June 1, the team's strength had better be starting pitching or they aren't going anywhere. The present rotation is slightly above average on paper, but has the potential to put in a good year. If one or two starters falter, there is likely help available from the minors, and it might be somebody we've never heard of. The Twins have been slowly stockpiling pitchers, and the system is chock full of good arms. 

•Molitor's approach could pay off. Changing managers gives a team the benefit of the former manager's wisdom, which they have probably thoroughly learned, and the new manager's approach, which should improve them. Molitor is of the Rick Pitino school of coaching, it appears. That is, you prepare, prepare, prepare in every facet of the game, especially those areas in which you are weak. Molitor has a theory that batting practice, which power hitters use to show off, actually harms the swing of sluggers. He is jumping on the talented young Latin ballplayers (Arcia, Vargas, Sano) in particular to discipline their practice time. He used the term "perfecting your craft," which is music to my ears.

Most Hall of Fame players turned manager aren't any good. However, Molitor got into the hall by constantly scrapping, constantly expanding on his considerable natural talent. In other words, he approached the game like most scrappy, good managers did when they played. 

•Molitor wants good defense. Defense slipped under Gardenhire even as the media continued to prattle on about the "Twins' way," which was basically Tom Kelly's insistence on fundamentals. Molitor is going to employ drastic shifts (moving players to where each batter usually hits the ball), which should make the games more interesting, if nothing else. 

•Molitor has put limits on cell phone use by players before games! Gotta admire that. 



March 29th

G. M. Hopkins poem of the day

Watched a redtail hawk float in the high winds from the crow's nest this morning, and was reminded of this poem by the Catholic mystic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:



To Christ our Lord 


I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding 

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding 

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing 

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, 


As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding 

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding 

Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! 


Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here 

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion 

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! 


No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion 

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, 

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion. 

Nietzsche for the day

An excerpt from Daybreak, one of Nietzsche's most accessible books: 

Learning solitude: O you poor devils in the great cities of world politics, you gifted young men tormented by ambition who consider it your duty to pass some comment on everything that happens––and there is always something happening! Who, when they raise the dust in this way, think they are the chariot of history! Who, because they are always on the alert, always on the lookout for the moment when they can put their word in, lose all genuine productivity! However much they may desire to do great work, the profound speechlessness of pregnancy never comes to them. The event of the day drives them before it like chaff, while they think they are driving the event––poor devils! If one wants to represent a hero on stage, one must not think of being one of the chorus; indeed, one must not even know how to sing in the chorus. 

Worn out daily: These young men lack neither character, nor talent, nor industry––but they have never been allowed to to choose a course for themselves. On the contrary, they have been accustomed from childhood onwards to being given a course by someone else. When they were mature enough to be "sent off into the desert," something else was done: they were employed, they were purloined from themselves, they were trained to being worn out daily and taught to regard this as a matter of duty. Now, they cannot do without it and would not have it otherwise. Except: these beasts of burden must not be denied their "vacations," as they call the ideal idleness of an overworked century in which one is for once allowed to laze about and be idiotic and childish to one's content. 


March 20th

Rez Reporter

This guy has produced some videos which are hilarious. The video accompanying the article is not his best, but it is safe for work. 

Last week, I taught three classes at a Young Author's conference in Thief River Falls. In one class were three Native boys who were full of vinegar, giggling the whole time. Like the Rez Reporter, they were from Cass Lake. 

We did writing exercises. The three guys kept including phrases which contained the word "tract." Tract dog. Tract kid. They had a character, whom I won't name, who they said was the ultimate in "tract." I thought this was some kid thing that I didn't get, like most of the pop references I heard that day, but finally my curiosity got the best of me and I asked them to explain. 

Turns out there is an area in town called "the tracts" which is apparently the butt of jokes. 

The kids had only a little bit of the "rezzy accent" described in the article. 

When I was in fourth grade, I attended Oak Hills Bible Camp. That year somebody decided to bus in kids from the reservation. It was half Native kids from the Red Lake Band and half Caucasian kids from small towns in the area. The social experiment did not work. Lots of fighting. But I made a native friend, James Downwind, who had a delightful sense of humor, a great accent which he used to make subtle jokes. Tanya Tucker's "Delta Dawn" was popular at the time ("Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?"), and I think James milked every phrase in the song for puns and jokes, most of which probably flew over my head. 

Fast forward thirty years. I went up to the Red Lake Reservation to plant trees. I was assisted by no fewer than fifteen teen kids who were in some sort of work program. I didn't have enough spades for them all, so most of them stood off to the side to wait their turn and gently mocked those of us who were trying to get some trees in the ground. What really got them going was when I tried to use a Bobcat. The controls were counter-intuitive to what I had learned on the Mitey Macs. I bounced the machine all over. When I finally gave up, oh the comments. And it brought back memories of James Downwind and his sense of humor. The humor takes the form of a slightly naive observer who slices the victim up in a story which starts in reality and graduates quickly to the absurd. I wish I had an example. 

While I was on the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, I had many chances to visit Red Lake and meet the people and visit. Each time, I was transported to a different culture, one which exists in relative isolation only a few miles from home. And I think I had a smile on my face most of the time as the "rez humor" is a constant. 

Red-bellied woodpecker


Taken at a distance from the crow's nest. 

March 16th

NFL no more?

If this keeps happening, football was we know it may be on the way out. The evidence, long ignored, is piling up. Concussions have long-term consequences. As far as I am concerned, there is simply no defending high school football any more. It is not worth it. 

March non-madness

Some of you have written wondering where I have been lately. Thanks for your interest!

Running for office last summer and fall has changed the way I look at things. I am far less prone to fire off opinions on politics, or anything else, for that matter. I have no interest in restarting my newspaper column, and would be plenty happy never to see my name in the paper again. 

The public mood is malignant. To engage in debate seems a waste of time, particularly about any issue of perceived national importance. Although my opinions are as strong as ever, my ire has subsided with my realization that people are not going to change their fundamental views just because I demonstrate clearly on paper (or on this blog) that their views are insane, destructive and hateful. 

Even a mere reporting of daily activity seems fatuous. If you are on Facebook, you understand that everybody is reporting everything, and it is exhausting! 

Aunt Olive's passing was a significant event. She is the last of her generation with whom I had close rapport. As I sorted through the mountains of her mementos, keeping those which my particular filter decided were of historic importance, I thought of the essays I could write around some of the pictures. That might happen at some later point, but some gestation is needed. 

The Twins! I have ordered cable TV so I can watch. I missed them last summer when I was campaigning and didn't have cable. We'll see if they keep our interest. In the spring, we can always hope!

Meanwhile, I am enjoying the quiet of late winter in the woods. The swans are back, but there isn't enough water in the swamp for them to nest there. So, I hope for rain. 


March 4th



Aunt Olla never looked happier than when she was visited by Bunny, right, here accompanied by Michele, his helper. Bunny was one of the pall bearers for Aunt Olive's service at the Hilton.

"Who's that guy out at the lake?" Olive asked me about a month ago. 

"Bunny?" I said. 

"Bunny! Yes!" she replied as her face lit up. "I'd marry that guy in a minute."

Bunny did as much as anybody to make Olive's final years in the nursing home some of the best in her life. 

Regular readers will remember the story of when Olive was found unresponsive on the floor of her room at the Hilton several years ago. A nurse administered CPR. The paramedics arrived. After being strapped to the gurney, Olive came to and announced, "I am going nowhere without my eyebrow pencil!"

Last night I went through the box of her funeral plans. She had filled out one book with all the basics (she outlived most of the people she had designated for roles in her funeral at that time), and one one page in all capital letters she wrote: "USE EYEBROW PENCIL!" Alas, it was too late for us to take those instructions. 

It took so long for Olive's body to give out, probably because her spirit was so strong. 

We held one service at the Hilton and another in Twin Valley. Both were well-attended. Thanks to Cousin Tina for flying up from Phoenix to officiate. She can cook up a funeral sermon in no time––but only because she has thought it out months, perhaps years, ahead of time. 

I am going through the thousands of letters and cards Olive kept. Some have historic value, and those I keep. I don't throw pictures. The process brings me back to graduate school when I dug through letters as I researched my thesis. However, I have the same problem I had then: I am allergic to the old, musty paper. So, I have to quit when the misery of sneezing overwhelms the quest to find some historic nugget. 

Last night's nugget: A letter from Olive's older brother Roy. Because all of the principles are gone, I feel okay sharing it here. Roy is writing from Minnesota to Olive, who is in Las Vegas. 

Thursday I drove to Twin Valley to pick up the Lady of the Lake to take her to Canistota. I have been aware for some time that Twin Valley is not competing for even the second place paradise prize, but never have I heard the "Meloncholy Blues" or "It's Over the Hills to the Poor House" sung with such heartfelt gusto as this trip. No need to bore you with the prevalent economic pinch and its crucifying nervous repercussions.

The number one concern is your welfare and well-being, so it was a great relief when your letter arrived before we left and we knew you were still alive and kicking. I was scared stiff that some movie scout had kidnapped you and dragged you off to Hollywood to star with Marilyn Monroe.

You could do more for Ma with a quick letter in care of the Ortmann Hotel in Canistota than all the doctors in China, provided you assure her that you are on the mend, the skies are clearing, etc., etc.

Lance immediately recognized the "Lady of the Lake" reference was to an Arthurian legend. Apparently, that was the code word for their mother, or Mama as Olive called her lately. This letter conflicts with Olive's recent claims that "Mama never complained!" 

Canistota, SD is home to a chiropractic retreat center which is still in operation today. It was the favored way for the Bergesons to deal with their various disorders, most of them having to do with nerves. My grandmother Olga spent at least one week there for nervous exhaustion and called it "the best week of my life." 

One of the themes in the older letters is the constant battle against attacks of "nerves." In other words, depression. Pretty much the entire family was afflicted, including a few in-laws, and there weren't the remedies we have today. 

Olive was fond of "nerve pills," which I later figured out were valium. 

She and her sister once tried to go off them, Olive said, but after one night of suffering, her sister called.

"Are you thinking what I am thinking?" she said. 

"Yes," Olive said. 

Sister came over, they each took a nerve pill, and "we looked through photo albums and laughed all morning!"

Olive would get a year's supply of nerve pills and distribute them freely to her friends. 

"If they had a funeral or something, I'd give them a nerve pill and whoosh, they'd sail right through!" 

"Now if you ask for a year's supply, they look at you like you're some sort of criminal!" 

I think the nerve pills stopped in the 1980s. 

However, letters from Olive's friends are replete with references to long down periods. "It's been three weeks since I have felt like living!" wrote one friend, cheerfully, in 1947. You could interpret her claim as an exaggeration, but the details indicate people would just plain take to bed for long stretches. One spent two weeks in a "rest home" in order to get over a spell of nerves, and this person was in their fifties at the time. 

The language was different, but the struggles were the same. 

March 1st


New Twins' manager Paul Molitor is off to a good start. Former manager Ron Gardenhire didn't enforce much discipline. Lets hope Molitor cracks the whip (figuratively speaking, of course). Billy Martin won through fear, but nobody that I know of has tried that managerial style lately. 


February 25th


An hour before Aunt Olive would pass, I received word that my friend Andrea passed away in Fargo. She was a grand dame of a different sort than Olive. Andrea called me two weeks ago to say good bye. She was in hospice. "I have to ask you not to call," she said, "and don't, whatever, you do, send flowers!" 

That was Andrea. The article, which I suspect she wrote, at least in part, gives a picture of her. For the past 10 or so years, she has brought a fabulous meal to the nursery employees once per spring. Before that, I had many chances to eat at her table. Invitations to eat Andrea's food were rare and coveted in Fargo, and she so meticulously planned each meal that if somebody canceled, she would have to have somebody take their place. At least twice, I filled in at the last minute and met some fascinating people of eminence in some field or another.