Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

November 29, 2003

Abduction attempt coverage

Several far-away relatives and friends called today. It is not often Fertile is in the national news, so they wondered what was up. Or, in the case of my friends in Jersey who originally hailed from here, they knew more than I did due to their connections in town.

The story fleshes out slowly. Early on, it sounded as if the girl had jumped right out of the car after her abduction. But the house she went to for help was on the other end of town, on the main highway to Winger. Right away we speculated that the car had not taken the main road but had taken the side streets and was turning onto the Winger road. That would be the only reason for the car to slow down at that point enough to allow her to escape.

Now the news reports are saying that the car had slowed for an intersection, which means it was in fact turning onto the Winger road from the side street that runs by the maintainance shed. Now, a person would have to know the town quite well to be able to make it from the grocery store to that intersection the back way without getting confused. Makes you think it might be somebody from around here.

Also tonight--news that the girl was hit over the head and knocked out. Such an injury should be easily confirmed by the hospital, which should lay to rest any speculation the girl's story is just a story, which some people are bound to suspect.

However, it is strange that the sheriff's office released a statement very early in the day which tersely announced, without giving reason, that the attempted abduction in Fertile was completely unrelated to the abduction of Dru Sjodin in Grand Forks. How were they so sure? They must have had reasons.

Quotes from neighbors are showing up on the ABC News website, and the KSTP TV website. You have to be leery when the press shows up in your little town, for they have their own agenda--getting more viewers--and, no matter the story, they often come into small towns looking for people who confirm their stereotypes and prejudices. Somebody who is well-spoken will be edited out in favor of somebody with a little "local color," i.e. somebody with a heavy Scandanavian accent who stammers in the gaze of the camera and makes the viewers in the city relieved that they live somewhere with running water and electricity. Everybody quoted today sounded together and sensible, however.

Also, the national media often get the facts wrong. The first text about the Fertile incident which scrolled across the screen on Headline News was completely inaccurate: It quoted authorities as saying Dru Sjodin escaped the car of her abductor. It was, of course, the girl from Fertile who escaped the car. Dru disappeared a week ago and hasn't been found yet.

The Fertile part of the story will likely disappear from the national stage soon, unless something new comes up. The Dru Sjodin case seems to have that pizzazz which attracts disproportionate national media attention. We can only hope the Fertile case does not.

Foiled abduction in Fertile

Heard this morning that a girl was abducted outside of Al and Laura's grocery store last night at 7:30 pm. It sounds like it is related to the disappearance of Dru Sjodin in Grand Forks, but nobody knows yet. The girl jumped out of the car on the Winger road and ran to a house near the nursing home. She was injured. They called 911.

Just got back from town. Everything appeared normal, although there was a WCCO cameraman in the gas station buying Mt. Dew. A crowd of cars at Al and Laura's, but no law enforcement vehicles.

This is likely going to focus attention of law enforcement on the Fertile area. Last fall there was a stalker in Fertile looking in windows. I am sure that will be brought up soon.

November 27, 2003

Turkey caper

I was originally supposed to go down to Twin Valley this morning to pick up Great Aunt Olla and bring her to Aunt Ede's for Thanksgiving dinner, but Olla had a bad cold so she backed out last night. However, she wondered if I wouldn't bring a little dinner down to her after we were done with festivities at Ede's.

While I was visiting with cousins as the celebration wound down, Ede fixed up Olla's meal. I got ready to go, picked up a plateful of pie--a little of each kind, pecan-pumpkin, blueberry-lemon and pumpkin, and asked Ede where she had put the rest of the meal. Oh, its on the porch.

I went out on the porch with the pie plate and saw a box which contained two Cool Whip containers. I put the pie in the box and left, a little puzzled that Ede had managed to get a sampling of her complete meal--which included about two dozen dishes--in two Cool Whip containers.

Got down to Olla's at about six p.m., and she was hungry. Olla dug into the Cool Whip containers. But there was no turkey! There was no dressing, either. Just potatoes and green beans.

Something was fishy. I called Ede. She said she had put five Cool Whip containers in the box. Three were missing.

We decided it was dogs. There are three stray dogs in the neighborhood, and they must have taken the containers with the dressing, turkey, some pheasant, and the gravy. So no turkey this Thanksgiving for Aunt Olla!

Well, that was fine. Olla sees the best in every situation, and she wasn't that hungry anyway. Ede assured her she would freeze some and bring it down soon.

But the missing turkey wasn't the only disappointment. Turns out Olla was hoping that we cousins, who once had formed a quartet, would practice the songs for her funeral since we were together anyway. In fact, she had wanted it recorded--shades of when Grandpa used to tell us which verses of the table grace to sing when he couldn't be there himself.

There were so many kids running around, it was just chaos. Ede didn't bring up that we were supposed to sing. I hadn't been informed. I did see the hymnal opened up to Olla's favorite songs on the piano, so I wondered what was up, but we never did get around to singing.

Olla quickly recovered from that disappointment, and it was on to future visions. Olla and I have been planning to go to the Felton cafe before I leave for Arizona. We figured next week sometime would work.

I said I will pick you up at 11:30 Tuesday and we'll go from there. Disappointment crossed Olla's face. I knew that wouldn't do. Turns out she was envisioning us having breakfast at the Felton Cafe, not noon lunch. Okay, I'll come earlier, I said. We can leave at 10:00, and then when we get to the Felton Cafe, we can have either lunch or breakfast, whatever you want to order.

More look of disappoinment. No, we must have breakfast. Both of us, she said. I doubled over laughing. Now I knew the full extent of the Felton Vision. It was that both of us eat breakfast at the Felton Cafe. Olla could stand moving the time, but only if I agreed to order breakfast.

So, next Tuesday it is. We will go to the Felton Cafe for breakfast. Then on to Fargo to pick up a music box the Hallmark store. And then whatever else pops up!

Over the river and through the woods, to Ede's house we go

Its a pretty Thanksgiving morning! Upper teens. A little frost on the swamp willows. Am going to head over to Lee's for a dinner by Aunt Ede. No danger of going hungry there. Mom and Dad are in Arizona, sister isn't coming up until tomorrow, so brother and I will head over to Lee's, where the hospitality is always warm and the food delicious. A house full of cousins and their kids, always a good thing.

November 26, 2003

Rewind to 1991

Pulled out the old video of the 7th game of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and the Atlanta Braves tonight and watched the last five innings.

The 1991 World Series was very dramatic--possibly the most dramatic seven game World Series ever played. Every game was tight. Game Seven went ten innings with no score. Yet, the Series has been largely forgotten now just 12 years later. When people talk about great World Series, 1975 is still the one they mention first.

Why? Fenway Park vs. the Metrodome. You just can't have a legendary World Series in a plastic bubble no matter what happens between the lines. The 1975 World Series had Carlton Fisk's legendary home run off the left field foul pole on the Green Monster at Fenway. The 1991 World Series had Kirby Puckett's legendary home run--over a plexiglass barrier. It just ain't the same! Green grass and history and tradition matter, at least to the collective memory of baseball fans. We in Minnesota will never forget 1991, but most everybody else has.

Another missing person case

The disappearance of UND student Dru Sjodin is dominating local news. We always say things like that don't happen around here, but the fact is they often do. A girl in Hallock disappeared a few years ago. Her body was found in a gravel pit. Jacob Wetterling disappeared a few miles to the south. He was never found. A woman disappeared from Twin Valley two years ago. Her body was discovered north of Fertile. Her husband was finally convicted of killing her this fall. A little girl disappeared in Underwood, MN, not so far from here, about 15 years ago. Her father had killed her. Jeanna North disappeared in Fargo. A released sex offender finally admitted to killing her. For as little population as we have up here, we have had more than our share of bizarre missing person cases. Or does this go on all over the country?

November 25, 2003

Contemplating servitude

Went out skiing today. The big swamp behind the main building site at the nursery is unaccessible until it freezes over, so thick are the woods around it. So, today I skied on the swamp and found the perfect place to build a little house! I would make a little drive through the woods, clear a little spot next to an oak grove, and build with a view towards the open water where a couple of trumpeter swans have spent some time the past couple of springs. This would, of course, require me to abandon the philosophy I smugly outlined below of not hustling myself deeper into debt. Yeah, whenever one makes some big sweeping statement, you are doomed to contradict yourself soon. Usually not within a couple of hours, though. I should have stayed in the office and stared out the window.

I wasn't going to talk about Michael Jackson!

But good grief. I turned on the tube tonight, and there it was, the Michael Jackson story splashed all over cable. Legal experts pontificating. The hosts of news shows, furs borrowed, digging into the minutia. The stream of text running on the bottom...Jackson was injected with a sedative to get him on the plane...Jackson demanded that the plane go to South America...Jackson was quoted as saying "It's not fair!"...Jackson was forced to his seat by his bodyguards...blah, blah, blah.

Sickening? Yes! Irresistible? Yes! Just like all tabloid stuff. You get nauseated by it, and then watch more of it. Talk about somebody who has been chewed up by the American Media Fame Machine since he was about three years old. Now he looks as grotesque as a doll head that survived a house fire. Of course he's a victim, and of course he's probably guilty. And so are the stupid parents who were dazzled by his fame and let their kids stay over with Whacko Jacko. If the school janitor had a sleep over for 8-year-old boys--whoa! But Jacko's famous! Maybe we'll be famous, too! Now Johnny, it's just about time to go to Michael's!

I make more money on this weblog than United Airlines made all last year

This weblog is just like having my own daily newspaper, but without the start-up costs! In fact, it is a break-even venture--no income, no expenses--making it more profitable than most daily newspapers. And yesterday, according to the statistics, which aren't entirely accurate, about 100 people visited the site. I am getting to old to say this, but I will anyway: Cool! Thanks.

The profit/loss statement of this weblog venture--no income, no expenses--illustrates a philosophy I have come to like: Better to do nothing and accumulate no debt than to busily build and spend your way into long-term servitude. It amazes me that people are so eternally busy; it amazes me even more that most of them seem to be going backwards.

So on a day like today when it is snowing and cold and there really is nothing important to do, at least I can comfort myself knowing that by sitting in my chair and staring out the window I am not doing something stupid that costs a lot of money. Took a while to learn that one, I'll tell you. The lesson was costly, but worth it.

A view from the moon...

Astronauts aren't introspective sorts. In fact, most of them were hard-driving, hard-drinking hyper-achievers. But even that bunch returned from space with broad observations about earth and its inhabitants, inspired by their view of our blue globe from an unprecedented distance. Many of them said their first reaction was: there are no borders!

Perspective. It is the key. It is everything. Back away, view things from a distance, view yourself from a distance, view your problems from a distance, back away from the daily newspaper dramas; humility and calm are often the result.

We innately fight off larger perspectives, anything which distracts from our worries, however much we are aware of the beneficial effect of a broader view. Can't get away for a vacation, too much to do, but when we do--boy, does it feel good to be going south on I-29. What were we so worried about? We were worried that getting away might rob us of our delusion that we are the center of it all.

From the moon, how would it all look? A big blue globe with no sign of human habitation. Oh, you would know in your head that there are a couple of billion human ants crawling around down there, making nests, reproducing, fighting, carrying on, basking in the delusion that the whole blooming universe was created for them alone. But from the moon all that busyness would likely look a little silly.


I was introduced to the poem below in Mr. Hasler's English class in high school. The first two lines stuck.

Wordsworth was an English eccentric. No surprise there; England breeds them. But he was really the first English poet to observe nature for nature's sake, something the Asians had been doing for many centuries. We have him to thank or to blame for our present tendency to equate poets with flowery descriptions of nature. "The flowers in the field, blooming in profusion..."

Wordsworth viewed nature as an end in itself, not as a superfluous luxury provided for the all-important humans, or as a flannel-board display of the diety's genius and power. He sought to study nature with open eyes, and his only larger conclusion seems to have been that such a study has spiritual benefits, benefits which are made no less valuable because they are difficult to articulate.

November 24, 2003

The World is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

William Wordsworth

Just enough snow to ski

Yesterday's dusting of snow gathered together in sufficient drifts at the edges of the field and in the yard to allow me to cross country ski this afternoon. It is quite still, a little breeze from the west, and perfectly clear. Quite beautiful! Stopped still for a while in the woods. A plane droned overhead. A tractor growled on a nearby farmstead. Sounds travel so far on quiet winter days.

So many logs down in the woods from windstorms over the past two decades. Much of it is rotting, although some trees, particularly ash, that didn't fall all the way to the ground would still be good. Dad has sawed enough firewood to supply both our houses for a long time, but there's more to be had. All those downed trees make me tempted to put up one of those external wood stoves outside the office building so we could make use of the BTUs. I bounced this idea off Dad, and it bounced right back at me. He immediately recognized that this was one of those deals where I have the idea and he does the work.

Second entrepreneurial idea (if you can call it that) of the ski jaunt: Why not plant 100 acres of fast-growing ash for eventual use as firewood? You could start harvesting in 8 years, and could continue to heat your house from the stand of trees for decades.

Answer: Its too much work!

Pounding on the door

I have spent this morning trying to get a real person at two large companies. No luck. Once I got a real operator, but she gleefully sent me down the road of another phone menu. I went down the whole "please press one" road until I hit a dead end. To expedite your phone call, the message said, you will have to use our email line. Huh? Then it listed an email address. This is expediting? Hardly. For them, not me, anyway. And then the computer voice said "bye!" and hung up. Message: You will reach no human. You won't be wasting any of our time with your stupid questions. We won. We gave the appearance of caring (not really) without wasting more than 10 seconds of any live person's time.

This phone menu thing is moving everywhere. Event the local drugstore has it, now that it has been purchased by a chain. Do businesses realize how much people hate phone menus? I mean hate.

I sell trees to a couple of Hutterite colonies. Last spring, I called one to let them know their trees were in. What did I get? A recording of a voice with a heavy German accent: "If you would like to talk to Gunther, press 1. If you would like to talk to Helmutt, press 2." Good grief. That's has to be to be a violation of their devotion to the old ways!

November 23, 2003

This week's newspaper column

As a kid, I was bored by the notion of Thanksgiving. The Elders sometimes made us list the things we were thankful for before they let us dig into the turkey. I viewed the exercise as punishment. Let’s get it over with and dish up.

Perhaps I sensed there was some guilt involved. What I thought they were saying was, “You really should be more thankful, you ungrateful little brat. Do you know how good you have it? Don’t you appreciate everything we’ve done for you?”

Yeah whatever, Mom. Pass the dressing. Oh for gross! Why do you put celery in the dressing? You know I don’t like celery! Now I have to pick it all out. Yuck. Thanks a lot. I can’t believe you ruined the dressing again.

Not all adolescents are ungrateful, but the ones who are provide a vivid example of the misery caused by a lack of gratitude. I have come to believe that the misery is worse for the person who isn’t thankful than it is for the one who isn’t thanked.

It just kills some people to be thankful. When in the course of daily affairs common courtesy requires them to mumble “thanks,” they seem to resent the humiliation. Now they owe you, they think, and they don’t want to owe anybody.

Ungrateful people are miserable. In fact, all of us are made miserable to the extent that we can’t be thankful, particularly if we are unable to be grateful for just being alive.

Have you ever noticed how peaceful people can be who have survived cancer, or came through a head-on crash with minor injuries, or nearly got shot? Their close call made them thankful just to be alive, and that thankfulness spreads calm throughout their whole being.

Very little can bother a person who is thankful to be alive. Pull a miner from a cave where he’s been trapped for ten days, and is he worried about his hair? Is he mad at his wife? Is he angry at his foreman? Does he complain about his broken toe?

No, he’s exhausted but full of smiles. He kisses the same wife he complained bitterly about on the way to work that morning ten days ago. What a nag she was. Now she’s the most beautiful thing on earth.

He hugs the foreman he always cursed at the bar after work. He laughs off his broken toe. He loves being in the hospital. He charms the nurses. He makes quips to the doctors. He’s a joy to be around.

Some rescued miners maintain their fresh outlook on life. They patch things up with their relatives. They notice that they don’t worry so much. They enjoy the little things more. A friendly neighbor kid who used to annoy them. Their lazy old cat. A cold beer.

Other rescued miners lose their sense of gratitude. The lawyers come in and say, cut the happy stuff, you really should have $5 million for your suffering. Instead of being all thankful to be alive, you should be angry.

Thus, a person who was forced by a miserable situation to realize a great truth--that a grateful outlook is the key to peace and happiness--is made miserable again.

Those of us with boring lives can learn a lesson from those who have suffered. Being thankful for just being alive can cast a glow over everything you do, and can shrink even the largest problems into insignificance.

So, I have come to think the Elders at the Thanksgiving table were right, but for different reasons than I imagined back then. We shouldn’t give thanks just because it is what nice churchgoing people do. No, we should maintain a grateful attitude because doing so will make us better, happier people.

A night at the symphony

About six last night I discovered that the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony had a concert at 8 o'clock featuring a 21-year-old pianist doing the Brahms piano concerto in D minor. So, I jumped in the pickup and went down.

Got a good seat at the Reineke Fine Arts Center at NDSU, a fine little concert hall. The concert started with a Mozart symphony. I wasn't in the mood for forty minutes of Mozart. Found out afterwards that the conductor could have cut the time in half simply by not taking all the repeats.

Mozart sounds simple, but it requires perfection to be convincing. That perfection is rarely found in orchestras in smaller cities, although the F-M symphony made a noble attempt.

But the highlight of the evening was the Brahms. The pianist, Orion Weiss, had a 9-foot Steinway at his disposal and made good use of it. You could hear every note, even the quietest. Such is the charm of a Steinway. Even the softest sounds carry well.

Weiss was a charmer with a wild head of curls and a big smile. He played with passion, more than I've ever seen in a pianist. He swung his left leg back and forth as ballast for his other wild movements. At times he leaned back as far as you could imagine possible, at other times his nose neared the keys and his mop of hair draped down.

He received a long standing ovation at the end but seemed too shy to do an encore. He should have. They brought him in from New York and the 9-foot Steinway up from Minneapolis, the least he could have done was play a couple extra!

The crowd was polite and attentive. Those who were bored simply fell asleep. Nobody had pneumonia. No audible sniffling. Only two sneezes. No candy wrappers crinkling. One little girl insisted on playing with the velcro straps on her jacket throughout the quiet parts. Such behavior can make me homocidal. Not the little girls fault, however. Her mother didn't seem to care one hoot.

I am a fascist when it comes to concert behavior. If people talk during the performance, I turn around and stare at them until they shut up. I stared at the little girl with the velcro but it made no difference.

Talked to a lot of people I knew in the lobby. Customers, my former boss at Schmitt Music, acquaintances. This whole area, including Fargo and Grand Forks, is just one big small town.

The concert provided a warm ending to an otherwise cold and dreary day.