Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 20, 2004


They don't put the room numbers on room keys anymore, so sometimes I get confused. Either I go to room 218 and try to open the door when I am checked into 318, or I use the "first door on the left" method only to find out that I got turned around and am at the wrong end of the hall. You'd think that for all the hotels I stay in, I would figure this out, but just now, ladened down with two bowls of cereal and a cup of coffee, I spent a some time fumbling around trying to get into 205. That's not my room. The newspaper on the floor might have been a clue. I picked up mine an hour ago, and there was a nice new one on the floor outside of 205. I just thought they were particularly persistent about the newspaper thing to make up for the clashing room colors.

I hope the people inside 205 didn't think they were about to be robbed. I didn't see a camera anywhere, so perhaps I got by with it.

Hotel in GF

Okay, I am not all that fussy about interior decorating. One look at my living room makes that obvious. But this hotel room is the single worst decorated room I have ever seen.

The carpet is dark green with square patterns. Fine. But then the bed spread is a sickly green, the sort of green that you associate with a very, very bad cold. And it has a busy vine pattern with dark green vines, but a different dark green than the carpet. When I opened my eyes this morning, all hope of falling back to sleep was dashed by the sight of that luminescent bedspread. It made my hair stand on end.

Then, they came up with an even different color of green for the desk chair. Just sitting here typing, I can hear the colors clashing behind me.

For good measure, they threw in an orange easy chair with a leaf pattern, along with a prissy European ottoman type thing which, if my cat were here, would have hair all over it. The hair would be an improvement. As far as I can tell, the only thing the orange ties into is one spot on the art-print on the wall.

I can live with this for two nights, but I am sure the Queer Eye guys would scream and pull out the dynamite if they ever darkened the door here. Word to the Fab Five: Fairfield Inn, Grand Forks, ND. They need you.

March 19, 2004

Weekend at the Alerus

I will spend the weekend manning a booth at the Grand Forks Home and Garden Show. I think they call it a Lifestyles Expo, or something like that.

Lifestyles Expo! Ha. You could take and run with that one. Here's a booth for the biker lifestyle, please take a pamphlet so you can read what we're all about. Sign up for a drawing for a free pair of leather chaps.

The show in Grand Forks is more laid back than the one in Fargo. Shorter hours. It is a perfect excuse to rent a hotel up there for the weekend, but I haven't yet. Might go on to see if I can snag a room at the Hyatt for a greatly reduced rate.

Otherwise I will drive back and forth and fulfill my cat-owner functions with a greater level of responsibility. It is a win-win situation.

Don't hide the punchline

Lots of nice people at the Farm Management Banquet in Detroit Lakes. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, and milk in carafes on the table.

I tried to find out just what this group was about and was told it was something of a cult. A dairy farmer cult. Nobody wants to get in, but once you do, its tough to get out.

I had some notes for my speech, which was a basic rah-rah small town speech, but it is funny how when you get amongst the crowd of people to whom you are going to speak, suddenly half the points you were going to make seem inappropriate.

So, you improvise on the fly, in the end. I always try to prepare about triple the material that I will use so that I can just run down and select the points which seem to make sense and go with the flow of the speech. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't.

Afterward, this big farmer came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You have one very annoying habit." Oh no. What might that be? I thought. I hope it is nothing real embarrassing.

"Whenever you get to the punchline, you look down and lower your voice. I am hard of hearing and my wife had to give me every punchline."

I thanked the man for telling me that--I can see why that would be annoying. I was happy that he was interested enough to care if he heard what I said.

So, I came back to the nursery and reported this to Dad, who does a lot of pulpit supply in local churches--and sure enough he has gotten the same criticism. He looks down and lowers his voice for the punch line.

Something to work on.

March 18, 2004

Trip to Detroit Lakes

Today at noon, I am slated to speak to a group of dairy farmers at a Farm Management banquet. I received the literature promoting the banquet a couple of weeks ago. In the bio of the speaker, it says I am a Humorist. Capital H. That means I had better try to be funny.

It is more difficult to try to be funny than it is to give a speech which just happens to be funny. I enjoy giving speeches about trees and plants because nobody expects much humor and it is a bonus when they get it.

I have found out the hard way that even when you give a speech which is supposed to be funny, you had better organize your funniness around a serious point or the whole thing will fall apart and people will wonder why you showed up at all. A friend who teaches speech classes pointed this out to me: Every speech, no matter how lighthearted, has to present a problem and then has to solve the problem. When you fail to present and solve a problem merely present loosely-tied anecdotes, people feel cheated.

So, I have drummed up a problem--thriving in the small town when so much around us is in decline--and will attempt to solve it by showing people some of the value I see small-town life beyond the obvious benefits of low crime and helpful people.

The person who asked me to speak said I could speak about whatever I wanted--a free reign which might seem welcome, but which actually makes the speaker's task more difficult. It is easier to be given a topic, even if it is something I know nothing about like "improving your 9-iron play." You at least have something to work with.

However, I always enjoy the challenge of an open topic. One day, I hope to succeed at meeting that challenge with a good speech. The most difficult part is convincing yourself that you have something to say on whatever topic you chose. I know when I talk about trees that I have something to say. I am not so sure once I get beyond that.

Cat kills third mouse

I knew something was amiss when I walked in the door last night and instead of being greeted by the cat right away at the door as usual, I heard howling from the living room. There was Cat hovering over a dead mouse, this time an adult brown field mouse.

I disposed of the mouse, and immediately Cat began acting like it had killed a 12-point buck. It took several victory laps around the house, including one across the kitchen counter. The hyperactivity continued well past bedtime.

This morning at 5:30, I was awakened by meowing by my bed. Cat had discovered a long-lost Christmas ornament downstairs and had somehow brought it up to the bedroom and wanted acknowledgement for further hunting success.

After such a busy night, Cat is now sleeping in. I suppose that is justified.

March 16, 2004

Hello, Paris!

Recieved an email from Paris today commenting on this weblog! It was from a man named Yves, whom my brother met while he was in France and who later came over here and worked in our greenhouse (illegally) for a few weeks one spring.

He was a delight. He fit right in, despite his halting English, and everybody loved him.

Great to hear from Yves! He is now a filmmaker in Paris. I can't imagine a world more different from Fertile. In fact, I was hoping to see Yves when I went to Paris for a week last year, but we had lost track of him. Perhaps now I had better go back to Paris and get the tour from a native--it was a bit of an intimidating city for me when I went there alone.

Trip to Fair Meadow

Every six months or so I go play piano and sing at the nursing home in town. I always enjoy it. Today a few of the locals stopped by to listen and livened things up a bit in the crowd.

Of course, it is always a shock to see who's had to go into the nursing home since I was last there. This time it was Florence, 95 years old, who only last fall was walking on Main Street Fertile every day. I can only assume she fell this winter--I never want to ask people why they had to go in the home. She looked and sounded good, but she's 95 for pete's sake! I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise.

When I play, I always have gotten such nice comments from man named Lloyd who always says he could listen to me all day. He wasn't there today, so I asked, and they said he was in bed. I went down to his room, and he's in pretty rough shape, on oxygen, and could barely talk. I had to bend down to make any sense of what he was saying--and even then I could only get the gist. But I did hear him say, "Come again, come again." So I think I will stop by there soon to see how he's doing.

Two locals passed away in the past two days. Gene, one of the quietest and nicest people you could ever meet, died after a battle with cancer. The doctors had it under control for a while with a new treatment, but that eventually lost its effectiveness. Marlys, his wife, has worked for us for years, and so Gene was a regular at the company Christmas parties. Gene was a bachelor into his fifties before he met Marlys, and they made a great pair. Marlys took Gene's old farm house and turned it into a showplace. The thoughts of all of us at the nursery are with Marlys.

And Evie, who was the town librarian for years. Evie was always a lively person, always willing to see the other side, always having fun. Her husband Reynold was one of the town fathers, a very dignified sort. I admit that we put a bunch of pigeons in his Lincoln once back in high school. I don't know how much I had to do with the actual execution of the scheme, as I can't imagine catching a pigeon myself, but I know that I thought it was just the funniest thing. I think he knew who it was, and took it in good humor despite the fact that I am sure the birds crapped all over the upholstery. Reynold died about ten years ago. Evie has had many struggles with her health since then, but always remained upbeat and delightfully original in her conversation.

Trip to Felton Cafe canceled a fourth time

Today a little snowstorm made the roads awfully icy. Thinking they won't melt off by the time of tomorrow's scheduled trip to Felton with Aunt Olla, I gave her a call and wondered if we couldn't postpone it another week.

Well, that was fine. Olla never misses a chance to look at the bright side, and this time the bright side was that next week is the new moon, and she always feels much better during the new moon anyway--so we'd just as well go then.

Olla tells the story of when my grandfather (her brother) Melvin converted from the Lutheran Church to the Baptist Church and got baptized by full immersion in the Wild Rice River. The event was recorded in the local paper, and of course caused a little commotion amongst the Lutherans.

One old Lutheran lady just couldn't stand it any longer and called up great-grandma Lena, Olla and Grandpa's mother. The lady didn't come out and say what was on everybody's mind. No, in somber tones she just said, "I've been reading the Times."

Grandma Bergeson knew just what was on the woman's mind from the tone of her voice.

Well, it became a family joke back then. Anytime somebody did something that got them a little attention, Great Grandma Bergeson, who was a great mimic, would lower her voice and say in a put-on Scandanavian accent: "I've been REEEDING the TIMES."

The joke has been passed down, so when Olla hears about something I've done, or if something about the nursery gets in the paper, I get a call and she says, "I've been REEEDING the TIMES."

So, I got her today. I called and opened up by saying that I had been REEEDING the TIMES--as a way of saying I've been watching the weather, and right away she demanded to know who in the world this was.

One week from today. We're going to Felton Cafe. Unless it gets postponed.

Reasons to close the garage door

If the weather is decent, my garage door is open. It is not automatic, so closing it is a pain. I like to just pull in and out of the garage without having to get out of the pickup.

This has caused some scandal with the neighbors. When I see them at the cafe, the first thing they say is, "I saw your garage door open again." The implication is that I am a bit sloppy with my things. And that is a fair implication.

I get a bit defensive and try to explain, but that's useless. I should really shut the garage door.

Last night, another reason for shutting the garage door became apparent. I walked outside, only to hear rustling in the garage. The faint smell of skunk told me right away who was under the step. I used the other door to get back in so as not to inspire a spray.

However, now the garage door has fallen out of its track due to a loose bolt on one of the rollers, so it is broken. I have an excuse to leave it open. I suppose if I were a good Scandanavian, I would go fix it right away, but that would mean I would no longer have a good reason to leave the garage door open.

March 15, 2004

New Planetoid

Astronomers announced the discovery of a new large object in the solar system which has been named Sedna. It is not a planet, they stress, but it still is the largest solar system object discovered since the existence of Pluto was proven in 1930.

Sedna is not in the same orbit as the other planets and travels very slowly, taking 10,000 years to orbit the sun. Its orbit is very eliptical, more like a comet's than a planet's.

In fact, Sedna is at times barely within the sun's gravitational field. At times it is 900 times farther from the sun than the earth. On Sedna, the sun would look like a large star, perhaps the brightest star in the sky, but not by a whole lot.

High temperatures on Sedna reach about -400 degrees F.

Astronomer Ron Fevig of the University of Arizona alerted me to this find yesterday, and it has been on the news today. Ron is a planetary scientist, and says this is a huge discovery in his discipline.

Playing Piano

Brother Joe and I are going to play some music at a Fertile Area Arts Council concert at Concordia Church on March 28. I don't perform that often, so I am practicing hard.

Getting ready for a piano performance is scary. You can practice and practice but when you get up there in front, sometimes you look at your hands like they aren't even attached. I don't read music well enough for it to be of any help.

So, I am going to play pieces with which I am very familiar. I think I have known all of them for more than ten years.

Joe told me I should try practicing real slow with a metronome. He supplied the metronome, and I gave it a try and couldn't even get through the first measures. Seems like it's fast or nothing.

But once I got going, the benefits of playing very slow became obvious. You can't fudge over parts which you don't know real well. You are forced to find every note. And you are forced to figure out where the note happens in the measure.

Today, I stopped by the church and ran through the pieces. Concordia is a beautiful church, and they have a new grand piano. Once it gets tuned, it should sound real sweet.

Oddly, whenever I have dreamt of giving a piano concert, I have always pictured it happening in Concordia Church. Never expected it to happen.

March 14, 2004

Cat catches first two mice

I returned home last night to find a dead baby mouse on the rug near the front door. Later, I found another placed nicely on the foot of my bed.

Cat was in a tizzy, apparently psyched up by a successful hunt. He ran in circles, howling an awful howl when he stopped. He got up a head of steam and skidded on the rug by the door over and over until it was in a pile against the wall. He jumped onto the kitchen counter for the first time.

Finally, he managed to crawl under the crumpled rug and hide.

Since I know that cats live to hunt, I guess it should have been no surprise that a successful hunt caused such celebration. Even so, it was a bit much, and the second trip onto the kitchen counter caused me to yell and swipe the cat off.

Well, that spoiled all the fun. Cat laid on his side and watched me work on the computer with a most baleful look. I felt bad. Had I overdone the discipline thing? Would the cat ever forgive me?

It did, apparently. Although it didn't join me right at bedtime, by morning it was fast asleep in the crook of my arm.

Around the Horn

Yesterday, I went to Grand Forks for a 10 am talk to the Horticulture Society, then on to Moorhead for a 2 pm talk at the Hjemkomst Museum to a Moorhead Community Ed group.

Eighty people in each audience. Both audiences were lively.

I speak to enough groups that some patterns have started to become clear to me. It is obvious that things don't change very much from elementary school.

First, there is usually a person in the front row who has all the answers even if you never ask them. Their appearance it this function fulfills one function for their psyche: Getting attention. They scour your speech for ways they can differ with you loudly. When they can prove you wrong, a look of sweet victory spreads across their face.

These people are a challenge to deal with, as they are prone to long statements of questionable relevance like, "well, all you have to do is take some coffee grounds and mix it with urine and spread it around your garden and you'll never have deer there again!"

All you can do is congratulate them and move on to the next topic.

Then there are the cynics. They float to the back. They are the last to enjoy themselves. They don't even bother to fold their arms in defiance. They are prepared to be bored and actually prefer it. I suspect their inner dialogue is more entertaining to them than anything a speaker might say up front.

Other people at the back: Professionals in the field who want to appear above the fray. I keep an eye on the back as I speak, because it usually contains people with a lot of experience and some Phds. You want those people nodding solemnly over their folded arms. If they fall asleep, it's time for a sudden jolt to a serious new topic. If they wrinkle their brow and look at you like they think you're crazy, call on them right away--"Dr. Chewinski, you look like you're in pain."

Frequently, other nursery owners show up in the audience. This is difficult because I sometimes am harshly critical of the prevalent practices in the trade. So, I have to change my phrasing from "Tree spading large trees in just plain nuts, and those who do it should be prosecuted" to a more diplomatic "We aren't big fans of tree spading large trees."

Then you have the goofy ex-hippies who ask about things like growing gardens in pyramids, apple trees with fifty varieties grafted on, composting human waste, and so on. The only answer to their questions is to say you haven't the foggiest clue whether ferret manure grows good tomatoes or not.

Four rows behind the needy front-row inquisitor is a row of serious wealthy women whose purpose in coming to the meeting is to find out the right way of doing things so they can get this yard thing out of the way and not have to worry about it. Ambiguity troubles them. They can sit the whole speech scribbling in their notebooks, only to burst out in frustration at the end, "You seem to be telling us two different things." Much to my horror, they have been taking every one of my statements at face value, entering them in their notebooks as holy writ.

In between all these types, of course, are the real gardeners who understand that one must have some humor about one's garden or it will drive you nuts.