Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

April 03, 2004

Long Day

Put 300 miles on the pickup today. Went to Roseau via Grand Forks to speak. Didn't realize that some of the roads back across the Red River are closed due to flooding, so I had to drive nearly to the Canadian border to get back into MN.

Saw some new country across the northern tier of counties. Kittson, Roseau. Lots of scrub oak, a few lakes. Wandered into Lake Bronson State Park by mistake. I was attempting a shortcut suggested by an old-timer at the Hallock Cenex, and had a little trouble finding it.

Spoke to a convention of garden clubs in Roseau. Delightful bunch. They had a French theme, something you wouldn't find down in these parts. The menu was in French, as was the program. I was le speaker.

Then I had to run out the door and drive 125 miles to Aunt Norma's birthday party in Twin Valley. A beautiful day for driving. Arrived to find a full house of people eating escalloped potatoes and other goodies. Joe and I sang three songs as Norma had requested, but it was plain that people were having much more fun visiting than listening to music!

Then Aunt Olla had Dad, Mom and I, as well as Aunt Ede and Uncle Orv over for some more goodies. A day of gluttony, in the end.

Sights on the road today: Went through Drayton, the "Catfish Capital of the North." Also drove through a town--I think it was Badger--which proclaimed itself the Mallard Capital of the World. And up by Hallock, I saw a non-descript tin building which was billed as "The Minnesota Sheep Palace."

An awful lot of stimulation for one day.

April 02, 2004

First Robin

Just stepped outside to a chorus of birds. The blackbirds are back in the swamp east of my house. And I saw the first robin, although I am not going to call the local paper about it. I am sure somebody more vigilant spotted the very first one many days ago.

Only patches of snow remain in the shadows of the groves. There still is a chunk of ice in front of my garage, but that should wither this weekend.

The phone rings steadily at the nursery. Yesterday, some tree orders came in from south of here. People in Omaha can plant. People in Minneapolis are close.

More reports of mouse damage filter in. Yesterday, a man called from Fosston. All his apple trees are dead. He wondered about grafting to save them. This is possible--it is called bridge grafting, and it is a bit like bypass surgery. However, it is so difficult that I don't like to publicize the possibility. Grandpa saved a Mt. Ash once which was a one of a kind by taking six upper branches and grafting them across the gap created by the nibbling mice.

With a little dark humor, the man mentioned that he had been badly burned last winter and had spent many weeks getting skin grafts on his legs. That wasn't easy, either, he said. As with all accidents, he said it was "so dumb." He was wearing old polyester pants and when the fire hit them they burned like gasoline.

The man talked slowly. During the spring, when things are running wild at the nursery, I have to dig deep for patience when somebody calls with a long story which they spin at a stately pace. I have gotten better. Take a deep breath. Listen. And the whole conversation might turn out to be fascinating, as it was yesterday.

More than once, I have rolled my eyes when I first heard a slow-talker on the phone, knowing I am in for it now. However, it is best to treat it like a long wait in the waiting room at the clinic. There is simply nothing you can do about it, so you had just as well enjoy it. By the end, I am extending the conversation myself by asking about matters irrelevant to plants. Such as the skin grafts. What an awful ordeal.

The man's friend Myron had the same thing happen to his trees. He had called Sunday. So, as we were mixing talk of skin grafts and tree grafts, I made the statement, "That's exactly what happened to Myron's ash!" Cindy, my bookkeeper, busted up, and I had to put my hand over the phone.

April 01, 2004

Birthday Party Saturday

My Great Aunt Norma's children are planning an 85th birthday party for her this Saturday. Norma asked brother Joe and I to sing for it, and of course we are glad to do that. I will be in Roseau speaking that afternoon. It is a long drive back to Twin Valley, but I should make it in time.

Last evening, Aunt Olla called. Norma's birthday party has her in a bit of a tizzy. Olla can't resist planning programs. Her favorite memories of old days involve programs at the old one-room schoolhouse. She performed in them as a child, and put many on as a teacher.

Well, Olla has some ideas about how Norma's birthday party should go, and she won't be denied.

First, she wants her friend Sybil to come. Sybil lives in the Cities. Turns out, Sybil committed to play at church on Palm Sunday. Plus she's just had knee surgery. But Olla isn't one to accept excuses. She called Sybil and said, "You mean to tell me that there isn't anybody else in the whole metropolitan area who can play piano at church on Palm Sunday?" Sybil promised to try to find somebody.

As last night's conversation went on, it became apparent one reason Olla wants Sybil to come is so she can bring up her electric piano. That will clear the way so 1) I can play piano for Norma's birthday as well, since there is no piano at the birthday venue, and 2) so Sybil can accompany Joe and I when we sing. Sybil's a great player, so that would work out fine, but goodness, I don't know if Norma had all this in mind or not, to say nothing of Sybil.

Olla also wants a family picture, which she has already entitled "The Last of the Mohicans" of the Bergeson clan. One picture of the in-laws and one of the outlaws. She was trying to enlist my support in this venture last night, but of course I refused to commit. I know I am trouble when Olla says she wants a party to be "historic!" There is simply no way to argue against something so profound as the creation of history.

I like to let parties be spontaneous. What happens happens. Whoever comes comes. Let the spirit lead. I can tell that my attitude frustrates Olla. She wants things programmed out, and she wants the entire cast to show up.

As she put it last night, "Let the chips fall where they may, but they had better fall right!"

So much like Grandpa. He loved programs. He would put one on at a moment's notice. I wonder if it was the memory of the programs back in the one-room school. I didn't know until last week that he used to do monologues at the programs when he was a kid. He never got over the impluse.

Grandpa held meetings at the nursery all the time. White Earth Mission Board. Gideons. Garden Clubs. Tent Men. Or, if an evangelist were coming through, Grandpa would call all the neighbors over and have an impromptu revival meeting. Bring a hotdish. The benches were 2x12s set on pickle tins.

Grandpa would lead the singing and give a little sermon. That was the main event for him. Once the evangelist got up to speak, Grandpa would sit off to the side, above it all, scratch his head and yawn. Grandpa was bored by sermons other than his own, a fact he never bothered in the least to conceal.

Of course Grandma had to pick strawberries and raspberries to feed the 5000.

Oh, how we used to dread those meetings. Grandpa would enlist us all to clean up the yard and set up the pickle tins. Sometimes we would have to have an alternate site ready in the greenhouse in case of rain.

Olla's stage managing of Norma's birthday party is pretty minor compared to Grandpa's meetings, but it sure brings back old memories and emotions.

March 31, 2004

Cat unleashes carnage; four mice dead

Left Cat outside when I went to work today. I returned to find four dead rodents on the apron of the garage. This doubles Cat's previous one-day record of two, and brings the total mouse catch in the past month to ten.

The Winter of the Mice

I wondered below where all the mice came from that Cat is catching. Well, apparently it was a good winter for mice. The phone rings every day with people who have discovered, as the snow receded, that mice (more probably, voles, a critter halfway between a mole and a mouse) have chewed off the bark of the young trees.

A man called from south Fargo who said all of south Fargo's young trees have been chewed. Another man called from Winger to report that his six beautiful Flowering Crabs--each fifteen years old--have been chewed down to the white wood. That is very disheartening. The trees are likely dead. I tell people to leave them until June just to see--of course by then it is too late to replace them if they are dead, so they might be better off just replacing the trees ahead of time.
There is nothing one can do to repair the damage to the tree trunk. The Winger man said, "So, what is one to do, just go over to Bergeson Nursery and buy new trees?" I hated to agree with him, but had to. It is uncomfortable delivering bad news to customers from which we stand to financially benefit. That sort of business makes me wince.

Plus, the beautiful flowering crab that I have been nursing along outside my bedroom window is dead from mice this spring. I put up a fence to protect it from the deer, but neglected to put that tubing around the base which would have fended off the mice. Ugh.

Sunshine and moderate warmth

The spring is proceeding nicely. We have almost escaped March, a month which is apparently designed to build character. The sun gets up early and sets after supper. It is a different world from the past six months.

Roseau had a flood scare yesterday, and parts of NW North Dakota had troubles as well. These problems were unanticipated. The forecasters said the snow didn't have enough moisture to cause much trouble.

Yesterday, I drove to Grand Forks. I picked up a couple of cabinets for the nursery--we got a new fancy coffee maker, and needed something to set it on. So, its off to Menard's.

Loaded the cabinets in my pickup sort of without thinking and tore into traffic. Heard a bang and saw one of the drawers shatter on the highway in the review mirror. Typical. I pulled over and stopped traffic as I picked up the pieces.

The rest of the trip home wasn't much better. I just couldn't get the countertop section to sit in one place. It would always shift and then threaten to fall out, so I would stop and jam it back in place and go a few more miles before it would start shifting again.

A couple of bungee cords would have made life easier at that point. I am getting better at doing things properly as I learn lessons like these, but it takes a while each spring to get into gear. I always get a kick out of these old-timers who tie things down with about 50 yards of twine and then drive 20 mph to their destination. Good grief. Well, they do so because of a lifetime of experiences of things falling out, I suspect. I will be doing the same in a few years, and I will be better off for it.

I am settling into an errand boy role at the nursery. Everybody else is too busy doing actual work, so the so-called "boss" runs to GF and Fargo for supplies. It is off to Fargo today.

Golden Gophers

While visiting friends last night, we were directed down to the big screen TV where the Gophers women's basketball team was playing the #1 ranked Duke team.

What a fun game! Lindsay Whalen is something else. She plays like a bulldog. The whole team was fun to watch. I love their fast-break style of play--you always feel as if the wheels are about to fall off the machine, but then they score and it is all okay. The Duke team was very tall and very strong--the Gophers were more short and compact. But the Gophers led the whole game.

They showed a statistic on the screen. Gopher star Lindsay Whalen first played four years ago. Average attendance that year? One thousand per game. Average attendance this year? Over 9,000. They should pay her. It is not often that a women's sports team raises revenue for a university.

Now the Gophers are in the Final Four. I hope I can find the time to watch the games! They could win a national title, and it would be every bit as grand an accomplishment as a men's basketball title, although I suppose the hype will be a lot less.

March 29, 2004

Spring Mania

Although the weather was winter-like today, I had a good burst of spring-time energy. Lots to do at the nursery. Today, I worked on the advertising campaign for the season. The first ads go in the papers this week.

You have to figure out what to advertise. You don't want to promote something you don't have and can't get ahold of. You don't want to promote something that's no good, no matter how much of it you have. And you don't want to promote something nobody wants.

So I sat down with brother Joe and we went over what we have and how we can promote it. It is much the same every year. Joe quickly set to work filling in the old advertisements with fresh text.

Other years, we heavily promoted the Red Wing raspberry because it did so well for us and people can just mow it down instead of having to prune out the dead canes. The headline "Work Less, Eat More," sold thousands of Red Wing. However, we have no plants this year, so the Red Wing will disappear from our ads no matter how good it is.

We do, however, have an abundance of Flame Willow. The Flame is a wonderful tree which is easy to grow. They have a wonderful orange branch color in the winter. Everybody who has them likes them. I feel justified in doing whatever I have to do to get people to plant them. The headline: "A Willow to Warm the Winter."

We will also promote hardy roses under the headline "A Rose is Not a Rose is Not a Rose." They are so good. More people should plant them. And Bergeson Dogwood. "A Dependable Shrub for Four Seasons." Another popular plant which lives up to whatever hype we have surrounded it with.

A question arose with the Bali Cherry, a relatively new cherry from Canada which is hardy to -54 degrees. We promoted them heavily the past two years and sold many. However, last year they didn't bear very well. So, do we promote them this year because of one bad year?

Well, we have 300 of the trees sitting in storage. The answer is yes, we are going to promote them and hope that last year was an aberration. They make a nice ornamental tree even if they don't bear, so I don't think anybody will be too disappointed.

For an ad to be successful, I have found that it can only focus on one item. Listing a whole bunch of things diffuses the effect, no matter how good each of them may be. Such ads might sell things to existing customers, but they do nothing to bring in new traffic.

To bring in new traffic, you have to give the impression that you have something unique and special and that the reader had better get off his or her duff and run out to this nursery in the sticks that they've never heard of and pick one up before there aren't any left.

Thus, the phrase "limited supply." Now, that phrase means absolutely nothing. Supplies of all things are limited. There is a limited supply of sand on the beach, but that doesn't mean we'll run out of it anytime soon.

I have stopped using the term "limited supply" unless I am actually certain that we don't have enough to meet demand. But believe me, it is tempting to stick that phrase in there just to trigger the "I am going to get mine" impulse in people. It works.

I sometimes feel a bit sheepish promoting things with hype, but it seems people actually expect it and enjoy taking part in a fad. When I read my Grandpa's catalogs from the 1950s, full of references to "special secret formula Bergeson fertilizer," (likely something he bought at the elevator and repackaged) I realize I have a ways to go before I go over the bounds. He was a pro. You don't build a business in the middle of nowhere without some shameless promotion.

I can't find an excuse to use my favorite ad headline: "Seeking Alyssum?" The issue of political asylum hasn't been in the news much lately, and the popularity of the little white alyssum flower has leveled off. The pun would be lost on most people, I suspect.

Our most effective ad headline ever came as a surprise to me. We happened upon an heirloom tomato called the Pruden's Purple which just tasted fantastic. Its fruit was a bit strange looking, but the flavor was unbeatable.

So, I put an ad in which said "The Ugly Tomato That Tastes the Best."

Good grief. New customers drove from Fargo, Valley City, Bemidji, all over, clutching the ad in their hands. We sold out in two days. We had a list of over 100 people waiting for the next crop little seedlings to be ready. Other nurseries called wondering what this tomato was that everybody wanted.

That was fun.

March 28, 2004

Concert goes just fine

Brother Joe and I played piano today at Concordia church. Several high school ensembles also entertained. The concert went just fine.

Of course, while I was watching Joe play, I sat there not able to imagine hitting a correct note.

But when I sat down at the keyboard, it all came back. I had a couple of goofs, but actually it went better than it ever had in practice.

Part of it was the friendly audience. Mostly locals, but at least one party from a ways a way who reads this weblog! I hadn't thought to include the time of the concert here, so they got there at 2 pm and had to kill two hours in Fertile on a Sunday afternoon, no mean feat if you don't have a home there. Thanks for coming!

Anyways, the cardinal rule in giving a piano concert is to ignore your own mistakes and realize that most people won't notice them, and even if they do, if you recover from them quickly enough, they won't remember.

Joe did a good job in this regard. He played a beautiful Bach piece, but, because I know the piece very well from having heard him play it so often, I knew that he was having a problem getting out of one passage. He kept repeating it, which sounded just fine, but it was making me nervous wondering how he was going to find his way onto the next passage.

Eventually he did, and it was clear that as soon as he escaped from the nightmare measures, he put the whole thing behind him and finished the piece as if it had gone perfectly. Admirable job. Nobody knew the difference.

I managed to miss the final chord on two pieces, so desperate was I to slam the point home--but whatever. I made it that far without crashing and burning, anyway.

Before a performance, you wonder why you do something like that to yourself, putting yourself through all the torment. I said something to that effect to the local band director in the lobby, and he said, that's what we do it for--the rush!

There is nothing so exhilirating as realizing that you are in the final notes of a performance and that it went well. It is like reaching the other end of the tightrope and jumping to the other side. Never done that, I guess, but I can say that I can imagine what it would be like.

Cat catches, torments, kills chipmunk #1

With the yard now nearly clear of snow, the cat ventured farther afield today in its hunting expedition. I looked out the window mid-morning to see Nemo blithely watching a half-dead chipmunk trying to escape.

The cat was arrogantly confident that the animal wasn't going to get away and took a sort of perverse pleasure in letting it get its hopes up before cruelly dashing them with a flying paw.

Sickened by the spectacle, but realizing the importance of the exercise to the cat's self-esteem, I went on to do other things. Two hours later, I opened the front door. There was a dead chipmunk, but no cat.

I called for the cat, and saw a ball of fur across the yard turn my way. It was a woodchuck. Right away I wondered if the cat and the woodchuck had tangled, with the cat coming out on the wrong end.

All day long I checked outside. No cat. I walked the yard. I drove around my grove. No cat.

As determined as I was not to let this bother me, it did. I glanced at the cat's brush, wondering if I ever would use it again. I gazed longingly at the litter box, wondering if it had spawned its last clump.

I went into town and played a piano concert. In the middle of the Moonlight Sonata, all I could think about was the dumb cat.

Well, at 7 this evening, I heard meowing under the bedroom window, and it was Cat, back from its hunt.

With a day like that, it is no wonder it went right to sleep on the ottoman, paws in the air, mouth agape.