Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 06, 2003

This week's newspaper column

We backwoods hicks are finally up there with the big boys now that we have street signs on every corner out here in the hinterlands. The signs just went up this fall. We finally know where we live.

The authorities should know that intersection of 480th Street and 320th Avenue sure could use a stop light. I came within a quarter mile of hitting a neighbor who was hauling a load of hay the other day.

Of course, if anything bad had happened we could have requested that the ambulance come to the intersection of 480th and 320th. That would have set things straight in a hurry.

The reason for implementing these crazy new addresses was, of course, to make it easier for the ambulance crews to find remote farmsteads. Never mind that ambulance crews are soon switching to global positioning systems which require no signs at all. The 911 address system will likely be obsolete before it is completely implemented.

Oh, the complaining we hear about the budget crisis facing counties. Yet somewhere they found the money to put up all of these street signs out in the middle of nowhere. The cost must run into the many millions statewide.

In addition to the fancy street signs at every corner, we have new signs at the top of every driveway. Mine has the number 3895 on it. It is green, which distinguishes it from the other two signs, a white one which reads SN10A1, and a red one which reads A7517.

Which number should I memorize for the ambulance crew? I don’t have room in my brain for all three. What if I am choking and can’t talk? Doesn’t the 911 computer tell them where I live anyway?

Somebody’s making a buck off this nuttiness. You know the sign companies are cleaning up. Also, I suspect somebody had to write the software that figured out that my place is 3895, not 3706. And we’re all paying for this boondoggle in the boonies!

One good thing to come of this bureaucratic lunacy: You finally can get faraway catalog companies to take your order. Used to be they needed a street address for delivery before they’d send you a box of cheese, but now they take the order without question.

However, judging by the number of times the FedEx man has stopped by asking where a this or that neighbor lives, the new street system is doing them no good. I wonder how many cheese boxes are molding in the ditch.

The post office people don’t seem to like the new addresses, even though they are forced to implement them. Those in business are forced to update their mailing lists, an expensive process which can take months.

I suspect there is some bureaucrat somewhere saying, “you just need to get used to it.” But I know I never will. The signs are ugly, they are everywhere, and they make absolutely no sense. One local road goes back and forth from a street to an avenue with every curve.

The French Revolution of 1789 had the French people on its side at the beginning, but then the new leaders made a huge mistake. They changed all the street names. They changed to the metric system. They even tried to change the calendar and the clock.

The French people got ticked. They cut the heads off the revolutionaries and put in people more sympathetic to the old ways.

We usually vote people out rather than cut off their heads.

In this case, however, we don’t even know who to vote out. Who started this new address system? Who said it was okay to spend the millions? Nobody seems to know, and nobody is stepping forward to take responsibility.

Blogging on the road

Am headed off to Tucson late this afternoon. Weblogging (that's what this form of journalism is called) will be dependent upon the quality of the hotel phone connections. Sometimes you just can't get online with a hotel line.

The weather is foul here. March-like. Cold, with a strong south wind. Despite the south wind, there is no indication that the temperatures will improve anytime soon.

December 05, 2003

Winding things up in cold country

It always takes some time to get off the ground to head to Arizona. The cold weather slows me down to a crawl, and then there is that nagging sense that there is still something I need to take care of but I am not sure what. Then I realize that I am just trying to make myself seem important--what will they do without me? Ha, they'll have more fun and get more done. I am referring to my employees. And probably the whole town. Equally absurd in each case.

Completed my last commitment until March--I spoke at the volunteer luncheon at Pioneer Memorial Home in Erskine. First I played some piano and sang, and then I read some out of my books, with an emphasis on writings which had to do with nursing homes and old-timers.

Well, every time I do one of those readings, I page through the book ahead of time and pick some essays out which seem relevant to the crowd at hand. However, I never read deeply enough into the text of the essays I pick, and sometimes as I get into it (too late to back out) I am a bit shocked at what I wrote a few years ago---sounds pretty harsh! So, I edit what I am reading as I read it, and the whole thing turns to mush.

That happened today. I started out on an essay from my first book which I knew had something to do with nursing homes, but as I got into it, the essay took a few viscious swipes at bad church music, which probably wasn't the best thing to do at a nursing home run by the Lutheran church. Oh well. I recovered and read some harmless nostalgic essays about old neighbors.

The Pioneer staff made a wonderful lunch. Great salad, pork roast, nice vegetables--not gray, but bright green, and a wonderful bread pudding for dessert. Enjoyed the company at my table, and then enjoyed visiting with the folks afterwards. One man told about his trip to Nepal. He hired a small plane and they flew around Mt. Everest. Everest goes up to 29,000 feet. They didn't go that high, but he said they had to spiral upwards for a half an hour. Now, there is a dream of mine--to see the Himalayas!

I left my lights on, so my battery was dead. As I said, it is always tough to get off the ground to go to Arizona. So, I went back into the nursing home and asked a couple of nice ladies if they would give me a jump. Well, they thought about it. In the end, the deal was, they would jump my car IF they could write a letter to the editor of the Erskine Echo making fun of me for leaving my lights on! I said okay, I don't get the Echo anyway.

BAD ROADS today, at least on the side roads. Packed snow. Talk about motivation to leave. Just about slid off Highway 41 on a curve, even with 4-wheel drive on.

December 04, 2003

The abduction saga continues

Last night, our company party bus passed through the main area of the search for Dru Sjodin. In Crookston, the Northland Lodge had "Our thoughts are with you Dru" on their sign. Yesterday, between 1300 and 1700 volunteers searched for Dru in the vast fields between Grand Forks and Crookston. Yesterday's search focused on the back road from Crookston to Grand Forks, a road many people from this area use to get to Columbia Mall.

Nothing was found.

As for the foiled abduction attempt in Fertile, I learned some things from a 17-year old boy who works at the nursery. He had driven past Al and Laura's grocery store and had seen the girl walking to her car. If he had driven by 10 seconds later, he figured, he could have seen the abduction. He remembered seeing a car pull out of the lot in his review mirror, but just assumed it was the girl's. He has been questioned several times by police, but could only provide information on the height of the car he saw in his mirror.

The girl suffered a two inch gash on her forehead where she was hit by her abductor. She also had a bad bruise on her arm. Both injuries apparently occurred when she was abducted, not when she jumped from the car.

Meanwhile, people want clues from the suspect, Alfonso Rodriguez, in the Sjodin case. What did he do with Dru? I suspect his attorney has advised him to keep his mouth shut, but I do not know this for a fact.

People will no doubt be infuriated with the slow grind of the justice system's wheels in this case, as in every case. Can't somebody squeeze the truth out of Rodriguez? Why not the death penalty for this monster?

In the old South, this would be a time for a lynching. A mob might break into the jail and do away with the suspect in a truly hideous fashion. The abduction of a white girl by a member of a racial minority touches off deep and explosive emotions. The presence of dozens of national media types in Grand Forks attests to the deep feelings stirred by this case.

Cases such as this test our civility. The desire for revenge is strong. I am of the belief, however, that the main interest of the law should be in keeping such monsters off the street, not in exacting vengeance. Yes, I dream of giving violent criminals a taste of their own medicine. But exacting vengeance is a barbaric pleasure we must deny ourselves in a civilized society. The Taliban filled stadiums for public executions. The Romans fed criminals to the lions as a form of public recreation. Let us never go down that road, even one step.

There's a lot of people who want what we've already got

Neighbor Jim, who rents my farmland, came over this morning for some papers to sign. A philospher-farmer, Jim always has a few good stories to tell.

One from this morning: Following a reunion with some high school classmates, Jim was a little blue, thinking he could have done a little more with his life, perhaps. The old "just a farmer" thoughts.

Then, he stopped for a burger in Winger, and overheard two couples talking about the wonderful, wonderful retirement home built by another couple. Oh, its just beautiful, they said, a quarter mile off the main road, in a nice grove of trees, with beautiful flower beds and a nice view over a little field, with a big room with lots of windows. Jim realized they were pretty much describing his situation as it was at present! He left the restaurant purged of any regrets.

ANOTHER NEIGHBOR and farmer philosopher named Paul called last night to vent about the dumb new address system that has turned every little dirt road into a street or avenue. Now they have put up signs at every corner! He made a good point that hadn't occurred to me: All of these street signs--thousands of them--have to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to make and put up--and this at a time when counties are strapped for money! Who pushed this through? Why? Everybody hates the system! Nobody out here wants to live on 380th Avenue! Nobody needs or wants to be told that the road by the Erickson place is 280th Street North! And yet, the signs went up, without any apparent discussion. I want to get to the bottom of this, but have thus far been foiled.

Company party

Last night was the annual Bergeson Nursery Christmas party. I decided we needed a little change of pace, so we went to Sander's restaurant in Grand Forks, my favorite. The Sander's crew did not disappoint. We had a grand time.

Started with calamari (squid) and goose pate as appetizers. Then they brought a copper container of clams to each table. We ran out, they brought some more. And some sauteed mushrooms. A Greek salad, then the main course. Prime rib was the big favorite. Some had salmon, others had chicken.

But the desserts at Sander's are always the highlight. Creme de carmel is their specialty, and it was fun to hear one of the high schoolers who works for me, a sober lad of 17, announce that the creme de carmel was, "by a long shot the best dessert I have ever had."

Another lady who helped us out last spring said, "This is the most fun I've had in eight years." I asked her, what happened eight years ago? "Oh, that's when I dumped my dead boyfriend." Well, was he dead when you dumped him, I asked? No, she replied, just the relationship was dead. He's still kicking. "Don't worry, I didn't dump him in the Wild Rice river."

The Sander's crew delays a long time between courses. When they announce the next course, with the full description of sauces and wines and spices and method of cooking-- everybody oohs and ahs. "Tonight, we have a real nice cut of prime rib, rubbed in white pepper, marinated in garlic, best served medium rare, with a side of horseradish sauce" and so on.

The owner and head chef of Sander's, the legendary Kim Holmes, circulates the restaurant in his loud Zuba pants and chef's top, making sure everything is going well. His voice is like a trombone. You can hear him coming from around the corner.

Somehow Sander's manages to serve fine food in a fun atmosphere. Baseball caps are just as at home there as tuxedos. Nobody seems to care. The wait crew is well trained in keeping things comfortable and fun. True professionals, many who have been there for at least 10 years.

They do keep your wine glass full, though. Didn't realize I was downing that much Chardonnay. Pretty rough headache this morning! Good thing we took a bus.

December 03, 2003

Turkey delivery completed, finally

The delivery of Aunt Ede's turkey to Great Aunt Olla went smoothly yesterday. She dug right in. Olla had some great-tasting custard pie she had made on hand (making the pie nearly killed her, she forgot the sugar, so mixed it in after the pie was hot in the oven), so I snarfed down a couple of pieces of that. A favorite. The trip to the Felton Cafe was canceled, as Olla's cold is proving to be quite stubborn. It it tougher when you are 92 yrs. old.

We had a training session on Olla's music machine, a combination CD player, old-time phonograph, and cassette player. The most difficult thing for myself and others with CDs is getting the stupid plastic case open. We perfected a method yesterday, which I had Olla repeat several times until it went smoothly. I remember Grandpa's frustration with CDs. He loved their sound, so bought a bunch of them, as well as a $1000 stereo system to play them on (I was surprised he had that much in his account), but he could never get the CD cases open, so the stereo wasn't used much. Finally, he scribbled the directions for opening the cases in Sharpie marker on the case. OPEN HERE, plus arrows for where the fingers should be for best results.

We skipped the Sharpie pen on the CD cases with Olla yesterday after our rehearsals of the procedure, but I did draw a diagram of the buttons on the machine, in Sharpie marker, so Olla can operate it in my absence. She has decided that once she gets her apartment in order all she is going to do is listen to music for the rest of her life. I doubt this will ever happen. The apartment, which looks fine to me, has not been "in order" for the past ten years. Order in the apartment is always postponed due to the constant road trips with Florence. The road trip itself only takes a day, but the recovery time can stretch into a week. (See the archives for the past history of Florence and Olla) In that time, no progress is made on the apartment. And then people stop by all the time, so its really difficult to get anything done. Oh well.

One more Twin hits the road

LaTroy Hawkins has signed with the Cubs. This is a loss. LaTroy has been with the Twins for 13 years. He turned his career around when pitching coach Rick Anderson changed his pitching motion. Suddenly he picked up a few miles-per-hour on his fastball and became nearly unhittable. I would rather they kept LaTroy and let Eddie Guardado go. I still don't trust Eddie, as much as I enjoy watching him.

Now, the Twins are trying to trade Eric Milton and Jacque Jones. You hate to see them part with a good starting pitcher (Milton), but Jones--he just could never lay off the low inside curveball. He hit .300, but how I don't know how. His attitude has been great. It was fun to watch his big smile as he stood on first base after a hit. But if they keep Shannon Stewart, they will have improved in left field.

The Twins are required to make some moves due to their payroll limit, a discipline imposed by owner Carl Pohlad. I like it. It is more fun to be a fan of a team with some financial discipline. It provides an excuse to cut out the dead wood.

I think they should trade Mientkewitz. He's great with the glove at first base, but his mouth moves faster than his brain. His hitting is sporadic, and so is his fielding. When he's hot, he can steal three runs a week--or in a single game--with his glove, but he hasn't been all that hot for two years. Next year is going to be a transition year anyway--they could afford to hand the position to Justin Morneau and let him learn on the job.

If they trade anybody, they should get pitching in return. Pitching, pitching, pitching. You can never have too much.

December 02, 2003

No news news conference

Grand Forks officials called a news conference for 11 am to discuss the latest developments in the Dru Sjodin case. As far as I can tell, they had absolutely nothing to say. We cannot comment on that at this time. That is part of our ongoing investigation. We remain committed to finding Dru. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

They also refused comment about any possible relation between the case in Grand Forks and the case in Fertile. I really didn't detect anything new at all, which calls into question why they bothered to hold a news conference.

A good law that didn't work this time...

Alfonso Rodriguez, arrested last night in connection with the Dru Sjodin abduction, was a convicted sex offender who was labeled "Level 3," which means he was likely to reoffend. He had been in prison for well over a decade before his release last May. At that time, law enforcement held meetings in Crookston, where he was to reside, to warn the locals of his presence amongst them.

The sex offender release notification program was the brainchild of now-retired Rep. Dave Bishop, a Republican from Rochester. I was working at the legislature when Bishop first attempted to get the bill through. He had almost no support for the legislation at the time, but true to form, a few years later Bishop saw his bill became law.

Bishop was a giant in the Minnesota legislature. Not only was he tall and intimidating, with a booming deep voice, but he was a creative lawmaker. A lawyer himself, he earned his millions by age 40 and retired to travel the world. He won a seat in the legislature when he was nearly 60 years old, and earned a master's degree from Harvard two years later.

Bishop attacked the problem of released sex offenders with his customary fervor. Hiring a staff of lawyers out of his own pocket, he traveled to other states which had attempted to write such a law. Any time you punish an offender beyond the terms of his sentence, you are skirting constitutional propriety, and Bishop wanted to write a law that not only had teeth, but would survive a constitutional challenge in the courts. New Jersey passed a law which failed in the courts, Washington passed a law which survived. Bishop traveled with his lawyers to both states, interviewing everyone from judges to lawyers to legislators to the policemen whose job it was to enforce the law.

I remember a committee hearing in the House when Bishop first introduced his law. Bishop was testifying. There was no question Bishop couldn't answer. The members started asking him impossibly detailed questions, with a smirk on their face, seeing if they could foil him. They could not. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, wily Wes Sjoklund, a DLFer, smiled wryly throughout, enjoying the spectacle. Bishop recounted visits in Washington state with neighbors of released sex offenders, with cops, with lawyers, with judges. He had it all down.

Even so, Bishop's sex offender release notification bill was not popular. In the Senate, Bishop couldn't find a single supporter, and oh how he could rail against those Senators. After I left the legislature, Bishop won them over, too.

Although the law did little to prevent the Dru Sjodin abduction by a repeat offender, Bishop's efforts made everybody aware of a thorny problem. His law has thus far not been challenged in the courts.

Bishop retired after the last legislative session. He never cared for publicity, so nobody really was aware of his work. If the DFL, or the sitting governor, wanted to take credit for laws he authored, he didn't mind. And so, the media really missed out on the importance of a real character on the Minnesota scene.

December 01, 2003


What a night for stargazing! Perfectly clear. The half-moon obscured some of the sky with its bright light, but the constellation Orion showed up clear half-way up the eastern sky when I went outside with the binoculars ten minutes ago.

Orion is very identifiable, at least its main five stars, which actually make up a small part of the entire constellation. Three bright stars in a perfect row form Orion's belt. On either side of the belt are two bright stars, directly opposite each other, in near perfect symmetry. One is red, the other blue. You can detect the colors with the naked eye.

Betelgeuse, the red star, is 450 light years away. It is huge, so huge that it would stretch out to the orbit of Jupiter if its center were at the sun. And it is about to explode. Every night, astronomers look up to see if Betelgeuse is still there. We would know if it exploded--the last supernova happened in 1054, and lit up the sky with a glow so bright that it was like daylight for about a week. Many cave paintings, legends, and myths record the event.

Of course, Betelgeuse could have already exploded--say, 449 years ago. We just wouldn't know it yet.

Opposite Betelgeuse is Rigel, a blue star, one of the brightest in the sky.

But the most interesting part of the Orion constellation is found below the belt, in the sword which hangs towards Rigel. To the naked eye, there appear to be three stars in the sword. They are quite dim. However, if you look at the middle star with binoculars, you find that it is more a blue-green blur. It is the Orion nebula, an enormous cloud of gas. Within in the cloud are thousands of stars.

Last winter I saw a close-up of the Orion nebula through a telescope, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Tonight, I saw the green glow through the binoculars for the first time since that night last winter. Binoculars give you a better view of the entire nebula, since it is actually about the size of the moon in our sky.

While Orion shown to the east, the constellation Pleiades showed dimly straight overhead. Pleiades looks like a mini Big Dipper, and is often mistakenly called the Little Dipper. The real Little Dipper is connected to the Big Dipper up north--Pleiades, however, is directly overhead, at least in the winter at about 10 pm. It is a mere blur to the naked eye when it is anywhere but directly overhead, where there is less atmosphere to interfere with our vision. It is the star cluster Tiffany spotted two nights ago as detailed in the entry below. At that time, it was halfway down the eastern sky, and more difficult to spot.

The naked eye can discern at most seven stars in Pleiades. But with a binoculars, the number grows to at least two dozen, and they are bright. In actuality, Pleiades is a cluster of more than 100 stars, all in close proximity to each other. Therefore, Pleiades is the rare constellation where the stars don't just appear to us here on earth to be near each other, but actually are in the same neighborhood of our galaxy.

Arrest in Crookston

Email correspondent BW alerted me just now that an Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., age 50, was arrested in Crookston tonight in connection with the Dru Sjodin case. He is a recently-released sex offender. Police had apparently been watching him for several days and were confident enough that they had their man to know that he had no connection to the case here in Fertile. Chuck Haga is on the case for the Star-Tribune.

A former Grand Forks Herald reporter and columnist, Haga has been the best source for news on the Sjodin case since the beginning. He has connections in Grand Forks, and is a good writer to boot. In this case, it has been interesting to see his very phrases adopted and copied by other newspapers in articles with the vague byline "compiled from wire service reports."

No more news on the whereabouts of Dru Sjodin. Police have scheduled a news conference for 11 am tomorrow, Tuesday.

Blaming the victim

In response to the two recent abduction attempts, one successful, the other not, I have heard more than a couple of mumblings about how young girl dress so skimpy these days, what do they expect? My response: Even if they walk around naked, that is no excuse for some neanderthal to club them over the head with a blunt object and haul them back to his cave.

Always, always, always, when females are sexually assaulted, there is somebody willing to suggest that "she was asking for it." This is completely ugly and offensive. I don't care how skimpy they dress, or even how suggestive their behavior, women have a right to accept or reject any physical advances. No type of clothing, or lack thereof, justifies males in making unwanted advances. Ever.

Now, skimpy clothing may or may not be tasteful. It usually isn't. But that is a separate matter from saying a person is inviting a possibly deadly sexual assault by a stranger by showing her belly-button.

Evidence found in turkey incident

The exchange of the replacement turkey went off without a hitch this morning. I parked behind Uncle Orv's van at the predetermined spot in town. He spotted me in the mirror and came back to my pickup to deliver a bag containing two Cool Whip containers. They are safely locked away until tomorrow's scheduled delivery to Aunt Olla.

Orv also reported that he had uncovered some evidence in the theft of the original Cool Whip containers containing turkey, dressing and gravy. One empty container was found behind his house, another in the front yard. He feels strongly that dogs were involved, and I am inclined to agree. But how the dogs selected the turkey, dressing and gravy containers and pulled them from the box without disrupting the containers of potatoes and green beans is beyond me.

Have you started packing yet?

No. I am planning to leave for Arizona at the end of the week, so I will start packing the morning of departure. I have not yet figured out how people can start packing for a trip a week, or even a day, in advance. Don't you need the things you are packing to function in the meantime?

Last year, I took too much stuff. Extra stuff. Stuff I didn't wear. Stuff I didn't use. Feels stupid to load all that stuff back into the pickup before you come home again. What was I thinking when I packed that?

The year before, I left on a whim and took only one suitcase and a satchel. Plus a box of books. That was more fun. When I got to my room in Tucson, it took two trips up the stairs for the whole works.

Part of the charm of leaving is leaving behind your stuff. It cleans out one's mind. It is part of the solitude of being gone not to drag one's stuff along. That said, I'll probably still pack way too much.

Turkey crisis resolved

Although the perpetrators of the turkey theft on Thanksgiving day have not been caught, the healing process has begun. Aunt Ede is bringing some turkey and dressing in Cool Whip containers to town today. She will be parking at an agreed-upon location, near where she has an appointment. I will come to town and take the turkey and dressing from her vehicle, and stow them away until tomorrow morning when I take them down to Aunt Olla's. We are taking every precaution to avoid a recurrence of the turkey theft.

November 30, 2003

This week's newspaper column

The attempted abduction of a teenaged girl in Fertile, MN, my hometown, one week after the disappearance of Dru Sjodin from the parking lot of Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, has people people around here on edge.

The world, even the small-town world, is a dangerous place, and always has been. Recently, I was shown an account in the local paper nearly one hundred years ago of a girl who was etherized and raped by a railroad crew which passed through town.

If such an event happened today, it would be national news for a month. At the time, however, the police didn’t even plan to pursue the perpetrators. They had left town, after all, and would be difficult to track down. Tough beans, little girl.

Now, at least, such offenses are taken seriously. Crimes with a sexual element are no longer swept under the rug. More of them are reported, but the notion that things are much worse now than they were in the good old days doesn’t necessarily hold up.

Should we start locking our doors? Probably. Will we? Probably not. I would describe small-town residents as militantly innocent. We aren’t going to give up our sense of safety without a fight. We want to trust. It is one reason we live out here.

But that trust must be leavened with good sense. It is clear that whackos are likely to target women. The numerous abductions in this corner of the world in the past decade have all involved young females.

Why not routinely train young women in self-defense? A vigorous self-defense program might scare of potential abductors, and would make everybody feel a little better. Self-defense training would give a greater sense of security to a group that has every right to be scared.

Last week, a friend of mine called from Miami, Florida. She was in a tizzy. She had gone on a date the night before. She and her date were flagged down by a woman whose car was stuck in the sand on the beach.

Why the tizzy? Well, her date had wanted to help pull out the car. My friend was afraid the stuck car was a ruse and that they might be robbed and killed. How could her date have been so stupid and naive as to offer help? No husband material there.

Well, I said with a self-righteous tone, up here we would have no problem helping a stuck motorist. That’s what we do. Wouldn’t you want help if you were stuck?

“This is Florida!” my friend replied. True, I thought. I recalled my sense when visiting Florida that there was no trust, no safety, no real protection. If you are stupid enough to help a stranger, they’ll scam you, they’ll rob you, they’ll kill you. The police are too overburdened to do much about it.

This past week, when a big city reporter asked a young woman in town whether she have ever before worried about being abducted, she responded with indignation, “This is Fertile!”

We should fight to preserve the difference between “This is Florida!” and “This is Fertile!” Yes, we should teach our young people how to protect themselves against the inevitable lunatics on the loose and take every logical step to protect ourselves.

At the same time, we should not let an occasional whacko rob us of our small-town way of life. We should trust even as we realize that our trust may not always be honored. We shouldn’t be robbed of our innocence without a fight.

Stargazing on a winter night

Sister came up to visit this weekend and brought her friend Tiffany, an inner-city girl, out to the farm. One goal: To show Tiffany the stars, since you don't see them in the city.

We decided to go to Winger for supper last night. I brought the binoculars along in case the sky cleared enough for some star-viewing.

Just as we left for Winger, a band of sky opened up straight above. We drove down the road aways to get away from the glare of the yardlight, and stepped outside. The stars were in full view, only slightly dimmed by the half-moon in the southern sky.

Tiffany had a sharp eye, and found a star cluster to the east. When we focused the binoculars on the cluster, it went from a dim blur to a beautiful group of perhaps a dozen or more sparkling stars.

The Milky Way is not as apparent in the winter months simply because the earth faces the outside rim of the galaxy in winter. There are fewer stars in that direction. However, it was still evident. We studied the constellation Pegasus, which was almost directly overhead, because it is the key to locating the faint blur of the Andromeda galaxy, which we did not find.

Mars is still close, and quite red. The moon was spectacular in the binoculars, with the mountains and craters near the edge of the light casting long, dark shadows.

I learned only last winter the utility of binoculars for stargazing. There are space objects you can see more clearly with binoculars than you can with a telescope. The Andromeda galaxy is one, the Orion nebula is another.

We passed the binoculars around until we got cold, and decided to move on to Winger. We had been standing on the road for 1/2 hour. As we drove to Winger, low bands of fog on the road made it appear as though we were traveling through space. I think Tiffany got the impression that such fog is common up here.

Moran's in Winger is a wonderful place for a Saturday night dinner. The salad bar is the best around. Tiffany was having as much trouble deciding as the rest of us, until she saw the Combo Meals section, under which was written: "For the city slicker who can't make up his dang mind." A good laugh. She had the chicken and ribs. Brother had the Torsk, Sister the Walleye, and I had chicken and ribs.

EARLIER in the day, I took the whole crew out to the spot where I would love to build a house. We walked out on the ice. It was so still. You could hear a hammer pounding in the distance, and tires howling on distant roads. It was a perfect winter day.