Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

April 17, 2004

Big day of tree selling

A very unusual day in April--we were so busy selling trees today that nobody had a chance to eat noon lunch until after 4 pm. People are hungry to plant! That is a good thing, but tonight I am utterly exhausted, as I am sure everybody else is who worked. It is sure good to see the customers return--more satisfying than the first robin, that is for sure. After a long winter of no business, you always wonder.

Chilling News

A customer reported that they had found the body of Dru Sjodin this afternoon in a ravine northwest of Grand Forks. Of course, there was no hope that she would be found alive. However, the news is still jarring.

It must be a terrible day for the family. The psychobabble catchphrases "closure" and "healing" likely provide little comfort. Because the whole area was involved with the search last winter, it must be a difficult day for a lot of people.

Now, of course, murder charges will be filed against Alfonso Rodriguez. They have the evidence now, which, when added to the blood found in his car, should be enough to convict. Small consolation there. What sort of sicko would do such a thing in the first place?

April 16, 2004

Mice #12, 13 and 14

Cat continues the onslaught on area mice. The entryway is the preferred site for placing the trophies. I toss them right away, of course, but the next morning when cat goes out, it looks all over the entry for the missing mouse corpse.

First Seminar

The unofficial start of the spring season at the nursery comes when we have our first seminar, which was last night. We run the seminars Thursday evenings and Saturdays for four weeks before things really get crazy in May.

Seminars are always fun. There is a mix of neighbors, familiar customers and a few new people. There is one carload which comes every year from south of Fargo. Thursday night seminars have become a tradition for them. This year, the two women who usually head up that group managed to get their husbands to come along.

I try to make the seminars informative and fun. One goal is to win over the reluctant husbands, the ones who walk in the door like they are going to their execution. If I offer a good mix of humor and practical information, however, they eventually warm up. Their unstated belief is that their wives' trips to the nursery are a black hole of needless spending. Anything we can do to warm them up will be good for business.

We have more trees than ever before stocked in the cold storage building. It makes me nervous, and it is good to see a few big bundles walk out the door. We have only about 50 days to empty that place, and right now that looks like an impossible task.

Dozens of trays of little seedlings are at the point where they need transplanting. We have five or six ladies working on that project. My mother's job is at its toughest right now--she has to figure out where the finished trays go in the greenhouse, as well as a dozen other things. And two days ago, her back went out.

So, Mom was actually using a walker for a while yesterday. We have one on hand for customers. She promised to go home and lie down for a while, but she was back in a few minutes giving orders. Then she got to work seeding more trays. Right now, we are seeding mostly vegetables and other fast-growing items. The bulk of the seeding is done.

Mom and Dad have worked as hard during their alleged retirement as they ever have in their life. I pretty much just stay out of their way and let them go to it. The business would wander without their decades of experience. Dad is organizing the trees in the cold building, and he watches the furnaces in the greenhouse. Mom manages the greenhouses.

I am mostly done going out and giving speeches for the spring. Now, I sit in the office and answer the phone as well as wait on customers. It is useless for me to try to go do any work because just when I get started, the phone rings or somebody walks in wanting landscape advice. Sometimes I miss getting lost in a task like cultivating or mowing or trimming trees. For a couple of years after I took over the nursery, I felt guilty not doing much actual work.

Now, I realize that a manager's job is to float around and make sure things are going smoothly and to jump in for a few minutes when help is needed somewhere. I can't get lost in some task on the back forty. It would be negligent.

April 14, 2004

Villa St. Vincent

Drove to Crookston this afternoon to speak at the Villa St. Vincent nursing home and assisted living center. Brought some plants along, as I was supposed to talk about gardening, but they were more interested in hearing some music, so I played piano for as long as I could.

Beforehand, I was talking to some of the residents. One lady sat over in the corner with oxygen looking kind of asleep. I said, hi, how are you, and she said quietly, "I am just so happy."

Well, I couldn't let that go by. I asked her if there was any particular reason she was so happy. The woman, who is named Rena Moon, told me a story.

About sixty years ago, she said, she bore twins, a boy and a girl, and had to give them up for adoption. They were adopted by a professor and his wife. She always remembered watching the adoptive mother play with the twins on the floor--she looked like she would be a good mother, and that was the last time Rena saw her twins.

Well, her subsequent children started researching on the internet this past year and found those twins. This past Sunday, Rena got a call from her long lost son. She said it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. The son lived in New York and the daughter in New Mexico. Both had good lives and were very happy.

They whole family plans to get together this summer. Rena is going to call the newspaper, so I can only assume she wouldn't mind me mentioning her story here.

WHAT A SURPRISE to look across the audience at the nursing home to find many women who only ten years ago were some of our best customers at the nursery. Olga from Beltrami. Vicki, Crookston's answer to Dame Edna. Phyllis. Others. Lots of gardening experience. Now they're all in the home. They seem to be in pretty good spirits. I brought a box full of plants, and most of them sold to residents.

April 13, 2004

An irritable day

Must not have slept right last night. All day I was irritable. I controlled it, I think, once I realized that none of my thoughts towards the world were fair or even realistic.

One customer arrived. A very goodhearted and friendly man. However, he just irritated me to no end. I realized very quickly that I was just waiting for him to say something stupid so I could pounce. I met his attempts at humor with barely muted cold stares.

Luckily, he told of something stupid some bureaucrat had done and I pounced on that, which deflected my irritation away from a paying customer to somebody who wasn't present. I said that bureaucrat should be shot, along with anybody who looks remotely like him, and other words to that effect.

A generic sense of irritation. The only thing to do is to sit down and write down all of the possible irritators. Then I go down the list and see what I can do about any one of them. It is usually not much. That helps me get over it and realize that its just a mood and nothing specific. If I were having a better day, all of that stuff would easily slide off.

A philosopher once said that there is no greater gift than to be able to control the quality of one's day. Very true. Lincoln once said that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. Also very true. The world will always provide irritators--it is our task to deal with them in a way which doesn't ruin our day.

Cell phone disorientation

Tonight, I was slated to speak in Clearbrook, about 55 miles northeast of home. This was a make-up date since I got mixed up last week and missed the class which was scheduled.

Well, just out of Fosston I turned on my cell phone and had a message from Mark, my friend in Jersey, so I decided to return the call. I got ahold of his wife Teresa, and we were chatting away when I suddenly discovered that I was heading in the wrong direction. I had been on this road many times before, and I recognized nothing. I decided that I had missed some turn while I was chatting.

So, I turned around. But that didn't feel right either, so I decided to turn east on gravel until I ran into the main road into Clearbrook.

Trouble was, I was heading in the right direction in the first place and now I was heading in exactly the wrong direction. After about 5 miles of gravel, I hit a tar road and turned left. Now, I thought, I am going in the right direction.

What beautiful country! Birch, native spruce, lakes, hills. But very confusing. The roads don't run straight in lake country like they do out here in the prairie.

Then the road hit a T and I had no clue which way to turn. At a loss and running late, I pulled into a farmyard and ran up to the house and knocked. A cute little girl in a bonnet answered. Another girl in a bonnet peered out from the staircase.

It was clearly an Amish family. A wood stove blazed in the kitchen. The house was dark, not because nobody was home, but because they don't use electric lights.

The mother came to the door and very clearly explained how to get to Clearbrook. I roared on at eighty miles-per-hour.

I knew the new school in Clearbrook was north of town, but I had no idea what north was, so I stopped at what turned out to be the teeny-bopper hangout and asked.

Walked into my class only three minutes late to a little razzing from the students--who were mostly senior citizens who I know very well. I gave them each a coupon for a free willow tree to compensate for last week's mixup and tried to explain where I had been wandering for the past half-an-hour.

Much mirth at my expense. It was a fun class. The presence of ace gardener Erma Carlson made it even better. Whenever Erma is in the audience, I often turn it over to her to get her opinions on various perennials. She is a wonderful storehouse of knowledge.

After it was over, I was given explicit directions on how to get out of town, and all went well. I am home safe.

April 12, 2004

Hotel Donaldson

The old Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo has been renovated. It still functions as a hotel, but it is now quite upscale. Downstairs is a restaurant which has been getting rave reviews as well as a bar which draws a cosmopolitan crowd.

Ate at the Restaurant on Saturday night. What a meal. Lambchops, best I have ever eaten. Had an appetizer which included caviar, the first I have ever tasted of that delicacy. Oh wow. Now I know what the fuss is about. Not something for the unadventurous, but really quite the taste and texture sensation. Little fish eggs that pop in your mouth releasing a fishy goo. Doesn't sound good, but it sure is good.

The food was good, but my dinner companion and I agreed that the restaurant is trying to be too foofy for its own good. The decor was pretentious. Little tiny lights hanging from long wires everywhere. Lots of brushed stainless steel. Looks like something which will seem silly in a few years when the fashions change. The bathroom was done in forest green (the fixtures), lilac (the walls) and stop sign red (big spots on the walls), three colors I never hope to see together again. Some interior designer went nuts with that project, or more likely was nuts already.

A nice old building like that should be done up in rich textures like they had in the 1920s. Wood, fabric, warm lights. Instead, they tried to make it look like some space station. Metal. Minature lights. Black tables and booths. And uncomfortable chairs. I felt like I should have worn a spandex unisuit like they do on Star Trek. Luckily, the food was fantastic.

Fargo Rotary

Spoke about trees to the Rotary Club in Fargo this noon. Rotary Clubs are always fun--good camaraderie. They seem to be one of the more lively service clubs in an age when clubs of any sort have sort of gone by the wayside.

Another free meal. I am spoiled. This one was meatballs, ham, mashed potatoes, good salad, and a custard pie for dessert at the Holiday Inn by West Acres. Not a bad encore to Easter Dinner.

Tonight, the Fertile 4-H Club came to the nursery. I gave them a tour before they held their meeting in the schoolhouse. A nice bunch of kids. I got carried away and the tour lasted pretty long, but the kids were good about it.


My friend Mark writes about the dignity displayed by the older generation around here: "I sometimes wonder if the capacity the older generation has for dignity is disappearing," adding that he hopes such dignity is "a stance toward the world that comes with age." He imagined, correctly, the utterly stoic and stately appearance of the bereaved older generation at some of the recent funerals I have attended, funerals of people he knows as well.

He compared it to the attitude of the Baby Boomers and the younger generation, who still seem to think death is unfair.

I am afraid that dignity is not necessarily something which comes with age. I have noticed before that the old timers who spent their lives toiling on small farms would show up for church and carry themselves like aristocrats. Rural aristocrats.

Many of the older generation in our neighborhood worked for my Grandfather to make ends meet. I knew them well, but I didn't know their children, Baby Boomers who went to the suburbs. Well, as the old-timers got old and died, their young returned for the funerals. I was always struck by how common the next generation seemed in comparison with their parents.

Of course the parents doted on their children and told about their big jobs in the suburbs and their successes, but in person, I found that this second generation lacked the aristocratic air of their parents who spent their life on the farm.

At funerals especially, this comes out. The older generation sits stoically, with dignity, with perhaps a tear. The younger generation seems angry at the notion of death. They don't have the dignity which acceptance of the inevitable bestows.

April 11, 2004

Easter dinner

As always, it is a privilege to eat dinner at Aunt Ede's house. She prepares a true feast, and the conversation at the table is full of laughs.

Last year at this time, Uncle Orv was fighting a big tumor in his nasal passages with radiation and chemo. This year he was able to eat Easter dinner. Although a water bottle is his constant companion due to the fact that the radiation fried his saliva glands, you hear no complaints from Orv. He's here and he's healthy.

Others at the table: Aunt Olla, Uncle Orv's sister Thorine, Mom, Dad, Brother Joe and Cousin Ryan.

Ryan is a pharmacist and the rest of the family are hypochondriacs, so naturally the conversation turned to medical matters. Soon everybody was listing their medications and eventually it got into herbs and quack remedies. Out came the bottles.

Ryan is sort of expected to pass judgement one way or the other on all this, but he just sits there with a smirk and listens to everybody's claims about acidolphilous, alfalfa pills, yeast and what not.

Olla stole the show with her stories about Valium and how it used to be so easy to get and now they look at you like you're a criminal when you want to get some at the pharmacy.

Olla's perscriptions usually lasted well over a year, and she didn't even use it all herself. No, she was generous with her Valium, giving it to friends who might be faced with a funeral or whatever, and boy, "they would sail right through!"

Uncle Orv, a cynic on medical matters, has a great time making fun of the chiropractors Aunt Ede patronizes. Sometimes Orv consents to go to one himself, but it never works out very well. The worst time was the one who decided Orv needed to be tested for allergies. To perform the test, the chiropractor held hands with his attractive nurse, rubbed something on Orv's belly and decided that Orv was allergic to milk, potatoes and bread. That was the last trip to that chiropractor.

After dinner, there was music. Olla decided we had better rehearse the hymns for her funeral again, which we did, although the women had to sit silent because she just wants a male chorus at her funeral. We sang "The Eastern Gate," which is a real rouser. Ede played the piano.

Then it was to settle down to eat leftover turkey sandwiches, salad and coffee, a full meal which Aunt Ede dubbed "coffee," probably because it was served at the ambiguous hour of 4:30 pm.

On the TV was the Master's golf tournament. Ryan is a big fan of golf (as well as an excellent golfer), and I am dimly aware of what goes on, but there was a lot of explaining to do to the womenfolks as Phil Mickelson prepared to win his first major tournament.

By the time Mickelson sunk the birdie putt on the 18th hole to win, everybody in the room was aware enough of what was going on to appreciate the drama. Aunt Thorine declared Mickelson to be very cute. Aunt Olla said she had never seen people carry on like that after a golf tournament before.

Normally on Easter Sunday we have to be at the greenhouses to make sure they don't overheat when the sun pops out. However, today was so miserable cold that we stayed on over at Ede and Orv's all afternoon. Mom, whose responsibilities for the greenhouse are at their peak this time of year, relaxed and put her feet up for the afternoon, a rarity for her.

Finally, at five o'clock, brother Joe announced that it was getting cold enough so that we had better get back and turn the heat on the greenhouses.

A happy day, all in all.