Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 06, 2004

Cats and Candy

Last week I wrote a column about my new cat, Nemo. Since then I have gotten several responses from cat owners--simply telling stories about their own cat. A nice letter came in the mail from an elderly woman who has a new cat--somebody had dumped a kitten in the cistern, and they rescued it. She figured since she was well over eighty that she shouldn't take on a cat only to have it orphaned when she passed away, but her young grandson assured her that he would take care of it "when you're dead." So they named the cat Moses.

The last time I remember this sort of response to a column was few years ago around Christmas time when I wrote a column about Christmas goodies. I got several letters which merely told about favorite Christmas goodies. One listed thirty different Christmas goodies a woman had made that year. I had taken a cynical approach to all the sweets, and she didn't appreciate it. But her response wasn't to excoriate me, it was to simply submit me to a list of her accomplishments that year in the Christmas goodie realm.

My cat column told of my disillusion when I found out in some cat book that the cat's affection for me is likely based on animal instincts.

I think both columns attacked some precious unspoken tenets: 1) that cats are nearly human and really do love us and 2) that the baking of endless Christmas goodies will probably earn you jewels in your crown in heaven. Rather than defend these irrational beliefs, the writers chose to tell their own stories and by implication challenge me to tell them that these weren't good things, these goodies and these cats.

Yes, they are both good things. Of course, my job as a columnist is to be as cranky as possible and knock holes in some of our silliness. I think it is always good to see how silly we are. It's when we take our silliness seriously that we start losing it.

March 05, 2004

Vivaldi et al

I am exploring my new computer. It plays CDs. Very nice. I just put in a Vivaldi violin concerto. Vivaldi's most famous work is the Four Seasons. However, all of his work is distinctive.

The mark of a composer's genius, I think, is if you can hear a new piece and say, "Ah, Vivaldi," without knowing beforehand. Mozart and Bach do that for me. They left the fingerprints of their singular genius over every note they wrote.

Vivaldi doesn't rank up there with Mozart, Bach, Beethoven or Chopin to most people. However, I think his music has a special twist which nobody has duplicated. It makes me picture a perfect sunshiney autumn afternoon in an old Italian coastal city, sitting on a rock wall overlooking the ocean, basking in the sun with a glass of white wine. Not that I spend much time doing just that, but such a scene is what Vivaldi's music evokes to me. Utter graciousness. Perfect sunshine. Blue skies. Even his attempts at tempestuousness fall marvelously flat, as in the alleged thunderstorms in the Four Seasons.

When I hear a piece on public radio which sounds a little like Mozart but which lacks that spark of genius, I know it's Franz Josef Haydn. For all he wrote, not a single piece of Haydn's comes up to Mozart. I wonder if any computer could quantify the difference between the music of the two composers. I know I can't put it into words, but I know it when I hear it.

If I keep sitting by my computer listening to music, I have a feeling you are going to get a lot of reviews of my favorite recordings on this weblog.

Smack dab in the middle of nowhere

One of the perils of running a business in the countryside is that big trucks get lost trying to find the place. Yesterday, a semi full of trees was due, and the driver called from somewhere--he couldn't really tell where--to say he was lost.

So we sent out a search party of one, me. Luckily, there was fresh snow. I went two miles east and saw the tracks of a semi turning around and heading another direction. I went that way, and eventually saw a big truck sitting still on a gravel road west of Rindal.

I said follow me, and then realized that we would have to make a turn from one gravel road onto another, a corner which has eaten trucks alive in the past. The snowplow creates the impression that there is a road where in fact there is a ditch. One time a tanker went in, spilling the entire load and requiring a lot of work by the EPA, or whoever, to clean it up. When I got to the corner, I saw that one truck had gone in and left tracks since the last storm.

So, I stopped the driver and warned him, and he chose to do a little maneuver which avoided the problem. I admire people who can back semi-trailers up at great distances. Getting those things to go in the right direction is a feat.

Then he got stuck in the yard. Not as bad as last year's load of trees, which ended up in a snowbank several hundred feet from its intended destination. This time, the truck got hung up on a little patch of ice which it created by spinning. Dad brought out ashes from the fireplace for traction and Ken cleared a little snow with the loader and we got him moving again.

It is always a big day when we get the load of trees from Bailey Nursery. It made an imposing pile on the floor of the semi. The driver had worked for years in the nursery business, and he and I shared an odd talent: We can look at a bundle of sticks and tell the variety of tree without looking at the label.

The driver was Latino, with a heavy accent. He looked at a bundle and said, "mockorange!" But with Spanish pronounciation, it comes out very different--"mock-o-dunge." Accent on the last syllable, although Spanish really doesn't accent any syllable. Much more elegant than the grinding "r" in our pronounciation. Just roll the "r," turn it into a "d," and you can sound like a romantic Latino.

I suspect that will be my new pronounciation of mockorange. Nobody will know what I am talking about, but I will persist in using the Spanish pronounciation for the next 40 years and think its funny every time. It will get worse when I go to the nursing home and start telling the whole story over and over to the nurses.

Beware. When customers come to the nursery and pronounce something funny, we remember and use that pronounciation for years as an inside joke.

Lots of trees and shrubs in the truck. Three pages worth single spaced on the packing list. I can't imagine selling them all. They all need to be trimmed and labeled, and Dad got started on that formidable job right away.

March 04, 2004

Sundal Township to perform gay marriages

A sparsely populated township in northwestern Minnesota has decided to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesspian couples--or pretty much whoever, according to a press release issued by Mervin Olson, town clerk.

"We feel strongly that this will help bring us increased tourist dollars," Olson said. "There's really nothing here to see but for the town hall. We look forward to thousands of gay and lesspian couples lining the road between Sundal Church and the Town Hall."

"Somebody will have feed these people," he said, adding that perhaps Sundal Church could revive its meatball dinner for the occasion.

Olson doesn't anticipate many locals taking advantage of the decision. The township hasn't issued a marriage license since shortly before the last war. Many of the seventy residents are well into their eighties.

"Of course, we've always wondered about Ole Bjorglinger," Olson said, adding that he doubted if Ole would take the plunge now that he's nearly 90. Bjorglinger refused comment as of late Wednesday, and his longtime "housemate" Elmer Severson was out chopping wood.

"No, what were really after here," Olson said, "is the tourist dollar." Economists estimate that an influx of gay and lesspian couples could pump well over two thousand dollars into Sundal Township's sagging economy.

"Right now, all we have are two farmers who don't even live here, one who does, three tupperware ladies, and one scrapbooking consultant," Olson said. "We need to look to increase our economic base."

"If we could sell meatballs to the gays and lesspians as they stand in line outside the townhall, I think we could see the dawn of a new era of prosperity in Sundal Township," Olson added. "We'll have Einar Sjorvig write out the licenses. He's slower than molasses in January," Olson quipped, adding that the slower the line, the more meatballs they'll sell.

National civil rights experts say it is unusual for a rural township to take such a progressive step. "It is really unprecedented," according to Dr. Berwin Eiseldorffer, Chairman of the Department of Enlightenment at Yale University. "We really do suspect that this move springs from economic rather than philosophical motivations."

Olson doesn't deny that money is his only motive.

"Demographics don't lie," Olson said. "These similar-sex couples have money."

If things go as planned, some of that money will end up bolstering one struggling rural community. "We're really hopeful that this here is a way out of our fiscal mess," Olson said in closing.

March 03, 2004

DFL Caucus

Last night, I went to my caucus. This year, they just had the caucuses at the same time as the county convention. I attended my caucus--I was the only one from my township there--and then left before the county convention began so as to avoid all the rigamaroll.

I attend caucus so that I can say I have attended a caucus. Now I have a right to complain. Never mind that I introduced no resolutions and didn't stay for any actual debate. I can say I attended my caucus, and that will give whatever I say about the state of the country in the next two years an unassailable legitimacy.

I went with the Democrats 12 years ago at my first caucus because they held their caucus at the Bear Park Store, and Caroline always made carrot cake for the occasion. If you went to the Republican caucus, you had to drive all the way to Gary. And no carrot cake. I liked the people at the DFL, and have continued to go ever since. In fact, I hosted a couple of caucuses--maybe three, if I remember right. No carrot cake, though. No wonder attendance declined.

As for the presidential race, I voted for Al Sharpton. He's the only minister in the race. I think we need better oratory in the White House. Al is the one who can provide it. Go Al! I don't care if he doesn't know what a cow looks like.

I would have been happier with Carol Mosely-Braun, but she dropped out. I repeat: I hope I live long enough to see a black woman elected President of the United States. Any black woman who could make it through all the barriers to get to the presidency would kick some serious butt on the world stage.

March is being March

Snow today. Sticky stuff. Slippery roads. Slush. Then it freezes and becomes crunchy. March is the crunchy month. Lots of fog in the evenings. I also suspect there are more broken hips in March than any other month. I know I have nearly fallen hard several times in the past few days on frozen puddles.

The greenhouses are perking up. Today, 8 boxes of plants arrived in Grand Forks. Yesterday, a few thousand geraniums came to the Fargo airport. Tomorrow, a semi load of bare root trees and shrubs arrives from Minneapolis. And yesterday, most of the fertilizers, garden seed and other hard goods arrived. Suddenly, we have gone from having nothing to do to being overwhelmed--in the space of a week. It is a good feeling.

New Computer

I finally broke down and bought a computer with a larger screen. I am tired of looking at the tiny laptop. Wow, is this nice. Of course, now I have to get used to all kinds of new things. And, I have to "customize my computer environment," which means finding all my favorite webpages and linking to them again. I always forget a few, and my life seems no worse for it.

I get most of my news off the internet. I enjoy reading commentary in the newspapers. However, sometimes I think it agitates one more than it calms one to be actively interested in the issues of the day. There really isn't all that much going on, when one thinks of it. You could go two months without the news and be completely caught up in a day--so, it probably is one vast waste of time.

I despair about how little I remember from reading, be it books or on the internet. I tend to remember details which others might find trivial. I like gossip about historical figures more than the broad, sweeping generalizations about how their rule changed the world. So, I remember the gossip and forget the more historically significant stuff.

Most of the weblogs on the internet--the ones which get the most readers--are devoted to debating the issues of the day. The commentary comes lightning fast. You can get commentary on a debate, for example, during the debate itself.

The people who write these weblogs share one trait: They are all histrionic. They all over-emphasize the significance of darn near every event. Everything is earthshaking. You don't hear anybody saying this doesn't matter. I guess you aren't going to build a web audience that way.

When I watch the news, that is my overwhelming response. Who cares. Who cares about Micheal Jackson. Who cares about Mel Gibson. I turn it on for stimulation, but it is a most dubious form of stimulation. Sort of like candy as opposed to food. Mind candy.

Fertile writer makes good

Kent Erdahl, son of Larry and Elaine Erdahl of Fertile, is writing for the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota's student newspaper. The Daily is one of the finest student papers in the nation. Kent is covering several sports. Today's article by Kent is an interesting feature on the long-time women's swim coach at the U of M.

March 02, 2004

We're really excited about this opportunity

That phrase perks my ears up. I was accosted today while out in public about an "real exciting opportunity." No details, just an invitation to a meeting at somebody's house real soon. Come on over, no obligation, don't even bring your checkbook, just come and listen, its really, really an awesome opportunity.

I won't be going.

These seemed to be nice people at first. Then it was clear that all they really want is to spread their marketing scheme. As soon as they said, "It's not like Amway," I knew it was just like Amway.

These marketing schemes are pernicious. People who fall into them become convinced that it is in everybody else's best interest to join them in the scheme. The logic becomes: If you know what's best for somebody else, you shouldn't be ashamed to be persistent in getting them to come around to your view.

For some reason, such schemes fit neatly with some types of religion which argue that since you are going to hell if you don't come around to their position, they are justified in using whatever method necessary to wake you up to their truth (including giving young kids tickets to the most violent film ever made). These people can seem so friendly until it becomes apparent that their only goal is to convert you to their belief. All else bores them.

These fanatics stretch my tolerance to the limit. They are rude because they put you in a position of having to seem rude in order to get them to lay off.

March 01, 2004

Steve Carlton

I seldom plan to watch television, but I did anticipate tonight's biography of pitching great Steve Carlton on ESPN Classic. Carlton ended his career with a little stint with the Twins in 1987, but is best known for his 1972 season when he won 27 games for the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

I have always admired Carlton for his refusal to speak to the press. I knew he was intelligent. I didn't know that, like most lefthanded pitchers, he was a little strange. As Joe Torre said on the show tonight, "It is generally known that the world turns a different direction for lefthanders."

It did for Carlton. He was a student of meditation from the age of 12. To most of his friends, he seemed in another world from a young age. During his career, he meditated in the clubhouse. His closest confidant was a security guard he met in Arizona who would send him clippings from the writings of Neitszche and Shopenhauer.

Unfortunately, Carlton also subscribed to various conspiracy theories about black helicopters and low frequency radio waves and so on. It is no wonder he didn't speak to the press. Whenever he did, they painted him as a whacko.

But you can be whacko as long as you have a good slider. That's the lesson here. As long as he got batters out, Carlton's teamates and managers regarded his off-the-field behavior with good humor. They didn't mind that he was so zoned out, or zoned in, whatever the case may be, that at times he didn't even know the names of his most famous teammates.

Sadly, the money Carlton earned, in the millions, during the prime of his career, was embezzled by his agent. Carlton ended up quite poor, and tried to extend his playing career far beyond what he should have in order to earn some money for retirement. Thus, his unsuccessful final stint with the Twins, during which time he pitched at about a batting-practice level. The home runs flew, and Carlton was finally released in 1988.

Now he lives alone in an underground home in the mountains of Colorado. His marriage didn't survive the end of his baseball career. He gave one interview after his retirement, the first in nearly 25 years, and it turned out badly. The reporter played up quotes about Carlton's somewhat eccentric views on the world and painted him as a whacko.

Whatever his views, Carlton managed to win the mind game that is baseball long enough to sustain 24 years in the big leagues. And he is a fellow lefty. Yes, the world turns differently for us!

Manning a booth

I sat at my little booth at the Fargodome for three days this past weekend. I have a $30 display, sort of like a high school science project. I cut holes in poster board, glued pictures over the holes and back lit the pictures with lamps. I improved the patent this year so the light bulbs don't burn brown craters in the plastic tables.

Everybody who runs a booth has some scam. Mine is this: I have the people sign up for a drawing for a $50 gift certificate at the nursery. On the little form is a spot where they check if they've been to the nursery before, and another where they mark if they would like us to send a catalog.

If I get a chance, I jot a little note on their form after they leave to remind me of what we talked about. Then, I can write them a note in a couple of weeks and perhaps include a little bribe. The whole goal is to get new people to drive lots of miles to a nursery in the middle of nowhere.

I ALSO GAVE a couple of seminars, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. What a difference a day makes! I have noticed that Saturday seminar crowds are racous, while the Sunday ones are asleep. It is as if they are afraid to laugh out loud on a Sunday.

Some snowstorm!

All weekend, I listened to people at the Fargo Home and Garden show warn of impending weather doom. Up to twelve inches of snow. Colder temperatures. Tough driving Sunday and Monday.

Awoke this Monday morning to almost April-like conditions--above freezing, a little drizzle. If I hadn't heard the forecast, I wouldn't know how lucky we are.

Lest I speak too soon, the drizzle has been replaced by pellets hitting the window in the last half-hour.

March: Whether it comes in like a lion or a lamb, it is the most miserable month of the year. It teases you. Then it lambasts you.

I have a theory that more people die in March than any other month. I asked a funeral director about this, and he said that March and December are the two busiest months for the funeral industry.

I just know that most of the funerals I have attended in my lifetime have occurred in either February or March.

So, it'll be a good month if we make it through it.