Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

April 29, 2004

Half winter, half spring

After reaching about 88 degrees yesterday afternoon, the temperature plunged down to below freezing over night. By morning, we were back in March, although the promised snow didn't arrive.

Cloudy and foul this morning. Gray, dark, a perfect morning for a nap. So, I planned a nap, since the past few days have been quite busy--but I never got to take one--the customers kept coming all day. Every time I went in my office to sit down, another one needed help.

Of course that is a good situation, but after a while I felt besieged. Later in the afternoon, however, things calmed down, the wind stopped for a bit, and my attitude improved.

Five people came today with pictures of their house looking for advice. I enjoy the challenge. I don't often come up with any profound ideas, but it is fun to translate people's visions of their home into some semblance of reality, even if I usually have to disavow them of some notions first, like the idea that they can plant roses on the north side, or the idea that the picture in Better Homes and Gardens can be replicated in their northern Minnesota garden.

The transplanting crew has caught up, so now they are concentrating upon creating nice planters. This allows them some creativity. A couple of transplanters will move to till duty, and they need to learn the prices, etc., before the rush hits.

YESTERDAY, a dear couple, long-time customers Orlin and Charlotte from Buxton arrived. It is always good to see them again. They are well into their nineties, but are still on the farm and still are gardening.

It is a ritual. Each year they show up with a photo album of last year's gardens. Before they leave, each of us have viewed the album. Charlotte's roses are something else. She grows them like nobody else around here.

Orlin and Charlotte have a great sense of humor and aren't about to admit to any slowing down. Charlotte's garden is getting smaller--but that's not because she's getting older, it is due to the ever increasing size of that darn spruce tree which is just taking over things.

They are a little more frail, but their smiles still shine.

HEARD from my baseball buddy in Oakland today. While in the Bay Area, I wrote about the parking ticket for $383 he got when we went to eat at a Thai restaurant. Well, Rene reports that he wrote a nasty letter to the owners of the parking lot (which was empty when we parked there--no need to tow us), and they refunded the entire amount. Wow, that doesn't sound like California.

CAT caught mouse #17 two nights ago--this one looked like a gerbil and was still alive when Cat brought it into the house. It is now 10:30, and cat is out on a late evening hunt. If it starts howling, I will know it was successful.

ASTRONOMER Ron from Tucson sent me an aerial photo of the nursery today, and asked me to figure out which year it was taken. As far as I can tell it is 1985 or thereabouts, judging from the buildings and the trees in the picture. I am waiting for him to tell me how he found the picture and who took it. It looks a little like those U-2 photos Kennedy used to prove the Soviets had missiles in Cuba. We have no missiles or other weapons of mass destruction at the nursery, so I don't know what the U-2s were doing watching us in 1985. We've always been very good about disclosing our armaments to the international community.

MANY CUSTOMERS at the nursery have interesting stories. A lady yesterday said she wouldn't be around in June because--well, its a long story, but: her husband built a sailboat which he sailed across the Atlantic to Norway a couple of years ago. (!) Now that the boat is over there, they are going to fly over and sail it down to Portugal. They plan to do this sort of thing each summer. The man is a welder in Roseau. I wonder if this story has hit the papers, for I find it extraordinary.

WOODTICKS are out. Somebody reported finding one of those tiny ones yesterday--could have been a deer tick, the carrier of Lyme's disease. Makes me thing twice about walking out in the woods for a break from the bustle up at the office.

TWINS had a big win last night, 9-5. They are now tied for the best record in baseball despite their many injuries and despite the mediocre performance of their starting pitching. Once again, the bullpen has bailed them out. This year they have also been bailed out by strong performances by no-name substitutes. I think this team is stronger than the teams which won the Central Division the past two years.

April 28, 2004


I had an interesting discussion the other night with somebody about half my age. We discussed endings. Endings of life, endings of fun stages of life, endings of friendships, endings in general.

In the young, such endings seem to bring on rage. There is a quest for permanence, for living happily ever after. The promise of such permanence is not just sometimes false, it is always false.

With the realization that nothing lasts forever comes great sadness. At first. But then, one realizes that the thing which makes life bearable is that ends. The potential of endings is what makes us put up with the imperfections of others. The looming end of our own lives is what motivates us to live well while we are here.

In fact, the inevitability that all things must come to an end is what makes us realize that life is precious. If things didn't end, it wouldn't be very precious and we would probably get exhausted of it all in hurry.

Depressed people sometimes turn the corner after they realize that they have the power to end their lives, but have opted not to. Having chosen to live, one might as well live well. This is the point where depressed people take control over matters and take steps to improve their condition.

I suppose the same process happens, although more slowly, when people grow up. Some never grow up. But growing up seems to be the process of taking power over your life and not waiting for good things to happen to you as if you deserve them. Taking control is always good for mental health.

One thing I would like to study more: What is the effect of one's religious beliefs concerning death on one's psychological health at present? I am not convinced that a belief in a blissful eternity always reduces the panic caused by imminent death. And, I am not convinced that a lack of certainty about the beyond is always deleterious to present peace of mind. I think certainty is overrated, sometimes damaging, and often counterfeit.

Of course, such metaphysical philosphical ruminations make some people nervous. I am all in favor of open discussion about such matters. I don't believe in getting all bent out of shape over things one can't research. The notion that there are consequences for how we think beyond how it affects our daily life strikes me as absurd and stultifying.

The 19th century was kinder to free thinkers than the the subsequent years. Jered Ingersoll was a well-known agnostic who toured the country giving lectures. He played to a full house most places he went. People loved to hear his arguments, and they loved to hear them countered by ministers and others. It was fun for all. And it should be.

My great-grandfather Bergeson was a fan of Ingersoll's and had volumes of his works on his shelf. Of course he was struck dead at age 42, so I never met him.

Don't know what to make of that.

Occasions for planting trees

Of the many reasons people plant trees, one of the most poignant, at least for one in the business of selling trees, is when people plant trees to commemorate a death.

This happens quite frequently. You hear of a tragic death, and soon you see the relatives of the deceased walking up to the buildings here at the nursery, sometimes before the funeral. A gentleman last weekend who had never been to the nursery before wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of his father who had passed away just that week.

I used to get nervous in such situations, not knowing what to say. However, after a few years, I have discovered that the situation is really not that difficult. The death should be acknowledged with sympathy, but after that, it seems that there is nothing the survivors want more than to be treated normally and to do business as usual. As long as you are talking about trees, they don't even seem to mind a little gentle humor.

I think planting a tree is a great way to honor somebody who has died. However, it better be a good tree, one that lives over winter, or else there could be some bad symbolism going on when the tree itself dies. So, sometimes one has to gently steer people away from the favorite tree of the deceased, which could well be a magnolia or something else which doesn't work here.

However, these transactions give me a good feeling. It feels good to be of some comfort to people who are sad. In fact, it is one of the most satisfying aspects of the nursery business.

April 27, 2004

Open evenings

The nursery is now open until 8 pm until the first week of June. That means staying at work later. However, the evenings are kind of relaxing. The crew goes home at 5, and the customers who dribble in after then tend to be relaxed and interesting to talk to. A couple tonight, who used to be dairy farmers, told about their three trips to China to see their son in the past three years.

I asked if they still had cows, because I knew they were big dairy farmers. Turns out they sold out ten years ago. "Haven't been in the barn since," the man said.

I have heard this so many times--farmers who sell their dairy herd not looking back, not missing a thing.

One former dairy farmer I talked to last week said the only thing he misses is seeing the calves frolicking around in the sunshine on March afternoons. "I'd rather watch those calves than dancing girls in Las Vegas any day," he said.

The dairy farmer tonight said 40 years was enough. "People start to think you're wierd," he said, working 7 days per week, having to be home for chores, never going anywhere.

The family dairy farm is disappearing in favor of corporate dairy farms with thousands of head of cattle and staff on hourly wage and round-the-clock schedules. Perhaps this is lamentable. I don't think many of the former family dairy farmers are mourning, however.

Jones homers, Twins win

Although I slept through the entire game, I followed the last inning on the internet. Haven't yet gotten used to listening on the radio in the absence of televised games.

The Twins were down 4-1 in the eighth, yet came back to win 7-4 in the ninth on a three-run homer by Jacque Jones.

Comeback wins are a good sign. Last year, the Twins didn't seem to get as many wins when they were behind in the late innings. This year, they have had at least four.

This team is showing more character than the Twins teams of the past two years. They don't let injuries get them down. They also don't complain as much about management. Basically, the players are growing up and doing their jobs instead of complaining all the time.

Ron Gardenhire told an interviewer last week that he was having anxiety attacks at night--symptoms similar to heart pains in the middle of the night. I thought it interesting that a baseball manager would talk about anxiety as a mere medical condition--as an annoyance rather than as a weakness in character, which is how it would have been seen only a few years ago. Gardenhire was working with his doctor to get the right meds to control the situation.

Reader BW wrote to remind me that the Timberwolves are also doing well. It would be too late for me to jump on that bandwagon without pangs of conscience, however.

April 26, 2004

Getting the grain in

Farmers are starting to report that they've planted all of their grain. Grain is the first thing the farmers plant, row crops are next.

I catch snippets of farming from customers. People who plant their soybeans early risk having them rot in the ground, but of course everybody wants to get done.

The problem is, many farmers are using Round-up ready soybeans which cost over twenty dollars per bushel. If you plant them and they rot in the ground, it won't be cheap to reseed. In fact, you probably won't be able to find additional seed.

Farmers make so many huge decisions. Farming is gambling on a large scale. I can't imagine having to live through the winter knowing I sold 30,000 bushels of soybeans one week only to have them go up two dollars per bushel the next.

I am thankful to be in a business where we set the price of petunias at $2.09 per six-pack. If you want a pack of our petunias, that's what you'll pay.

In the greenhouse business, the gambling is minimal. Of course, we don't always hit it right. Some years the red petunias sell out while we have 5,000 blue petunias left on the shelf. But if you run enough people through the greenhouse, those blue petunias will sell, too.

Of course, if the furnace goes out and the petunias freeze, there aren't any government insurance programs to bail you out. One time an enterprising crop insurance salesman came through and tried to sell me a policy for our greenhouse crop. I bought on the spot, only to have the policy canceled immediately when the man's superiors found out about it.

They must have thought petunias were a gamble not worth taking.

April 25, 2004

Bird #1

Cat was howling outside about an hour ago, so I opened the door and in it rushed with a bird in its mouth. Trouble is, the bird wasn't dead and started flopping around on the floor. I let the cat pick it up again, then threw the both of them outside again.

Cat apparently tried to eat the bird, for when it came in again, it immediately threw up on the linoleum.

Very dramatic night for Cat. Now it is stretched out on its ottoman, deep in sleep.


I neglected to hire watering help for today--I always hate to ask people to work Sundays, so then the family ends up doing the Sunday work. When this morning dawned sunny, I ended up on the end of a water hose for the first time this year, as did Joe and Mom.

Watering is difficult for me. You can't do it in a hurry. The water only comes out of the hose at a certain rate, and you have to be patient. Not my strength.

I did manage to water one greenhouse, anyway, before the customers started arriving. Then, mercifully, the sky clouded up. Things will make it until tomorrow when Ken returns to work. Watering is a skill, and Ken has mastered it.