Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

August 06, 2004

Quick trip

STARTED in Fargo with a 2 hour delay due to a storm at O'Hare. Nice flight from Fargo to Denver--only one and a half hours. Met my friend Lance at the airport, and we went right up to Estes Park where I hadn't been for 30 years. What a beautiful spot. But packed with tourists.

The next day, yesterday, drove through Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road is quite the drive. Last drove that road in 1972 when I was in second grade. Funny how much of it I remember. Got off at the same wayside view that we did back then. I remember getting very winded--it was at 11,000 feet. Got winded this time, too. Just from walking, and quite slowly. I was puffing up a storm.

And what a horde on the mountain! Cars lined up along the entire highway. Every stop was crowded. Of course, this is national vacation month. What should a person expect.

The mountains were spectacular. Much more grand than I had remembered. Went on from Rocky Mountain National Park to Steamboat Springs, CO. I wanted to see Steamboat in the summer, since I had skiied there once in 1986. It was quaint, but overpriced.

Since I have to be back by Tuesday at the latest, we started heading northeast today, ending up in Douglas, WY, which isn't quite as overpriced.

But, trying to get a room in Rapid City is turning out to be quite an adventure. Every winter, I stay at the Alex Johnson hotel in downtown Rapid City. You get a room for about $65 in a historic old hotel. Well, I called the Alex today for a room tomorrow and all they have is--the presidential suite for $495. Ugh. I passed. Then called the Comfort Inn. $170. Too much. They sure jack it up for peak tourist season. Everybody's going up to see the heads, I suppose.

August 04, 2004

What do we need to know?

Spent much of the day yesterday plowing through the textbooks of the classes I am teaching this fall, dividing up the reading into daily chunks. As I go through the texts, I recall vividly how much I hated these classes when I took them, how lazy I was, how contemptuous I was of the material, and how difficult it was to care.

I still think that. When I prepare lectures, I am preparing them for myself, a lazy student. I am giving daily quizzes because I know I would never appear in class or do the reading unless there was some motivating factor. I am boiling it down to essentials because I know how enraged I would get at needless detail.

Of course, this can lead to despair: What, really, do we need to know? What use is it to force kids to read history? I mean, why should they care about Alexander Hamilton? Shouldn't history classes be a luxury rather than a joyless requirement? Doesn't making history a requirement and making the classes cover way too much material in too short a time just turn students off the topic for good?

This despair is enhanced by my knowledge of what I remember from my education: Very, very little. I remember the character of the teachers. I remember their eccentricities, their opinions, their habits. I remember what they said to me. I remember almost nothing of the topic matter.

And, I remember how to get by. How to look at the class, size up the teacher and figure out how to do the bare minimum to get the A. The goal was not learning, it was getting the A with the absolute least effort.

I lose a lot with that approach to life, seeing the final goal and cutting the corners to get there soon. It is usually more efficient, but I woke up this morning in a panic that I had not done due diligence on this house I am building--I basically did none. Get it done, boys. Looks good to me, go ahead. I see no joy in process, only in results. Having an unfinished remodeling project--ugh, that would do me in. Decisions? Present me with the options and I'll chose one and be done with it. Maybe I'll think it over till morning, but probably not.

I guess I'd rather run an army than weed a garden any day.


I am taking a brief trip west--and I am not taking my laptop, so my entries here will be sporadic, dependent upon hotels with internet connections and computers. I have a hankering to see some mountains, so am going to fly west, meet up with a friend who's out there already, and drive back through some of the sights.

First stop is tonight in Estes Park, CO. Haven't been there for about 32 years. Have pleasant memories of the place, particularly of the tame chipmunks at the top of the mountain near there, a place reachable by tram only.

Twins roll continues

Last night, I just sat in the recliner for an entire nine innings and relished the Twins winning 10-0 over the Angels. I was half asleep part of the time, but always somewhat aware. Carlos Silva pitched the complete game shutout. Six double plays for the Twins took care of all the Angel baserunners quite nicely.

The Minnesota media is so decorous. Turns out Mientkiewitcz was causing troubles in the clubhouse. In fact, there had been a couple of fights in the past couple of weeks between Doug and, of all people, Lew Ford, the eccentric outfielder, and Justin Morneau, Mientkiewitcz's replacement.

Apparently, this new crowd is quiet. Mientkiewitcz talked all the time and it got him in trouble. He loved the media, and in return, they kept mum about the resentment his big mouth created around the clubhouse.

Morneau and three other young teamates are all staying at Joe Mauer's house. None of them know how long they'll last up here, of course, so no use getting an apartment. Morneau is here for good, but Bartlett and Crain could be up and down.

Anyway, the purge of the old Twins continues, and I am all for it. I always wondered why Meintkiewitcz was never called a "team leader" despite his talking all the time. It was because his talking was resented. I liked him a lot, but I think he wore out his welcome.

Of course, this professionalism thing can be taken too far: After he got his first career complete game and first shutout in one fell swoop last night, Silva threw the ball high into the stands. Mistake. Ron Gardenhire said it was "unprofessional," and that he would apologize to the Angels. Oh, come on. I always get peeved when these managers try to tame the Latino exuberance.

Remember Juan Berenguer in 1987? How he pumped his fists after getting those important strikeouts in the playoffs? How joyless Tom Kelly made him apologize to Sparky Anderson? I was always with Berenguer on that one. It's entertainment, folks.

August 02, 2004

The weather we dream of in January

The past few days have been just perfect summer weather. A little heat, but that's good. Some humidity, but not unbearable. The grain fields are golden. The ditches are still green. The corn is growing fast. And not much wind.

It seems like every year at this time I get the notion to run. For the past week, I have been running in the evenings. A couple of miles at a time. When winter comes, running in August is always one of my best memories of summer.

Yesterday, I decided to run 3 miles instead of 2 and I ran out of gas. Must have been the heat. Had to walk a half-mile in the middle. Tonight, I waited until later and ran just two miles and had plenty of gas left in the tank at the end.

Running is such a psychological game. The mind drifts. Then you realize you have slowed to a crawl because you are running over some conflict from the day in your brain and it sort of sucks the energy right out of you. So, you get back to step after step, stride after stride, concentrate upon breathing, listen to the birds, and then the body relaxes again and things flow along until the next mental traffic jam slows things up.

The trick is to be able to concentrate upon running and not allow the brain to drift to business or interpersonal squabbles and such. Just run. It is good practice.

In any case, the sense of physical exhaustion that comes from running leaves a wonderful, calm feeling, even if during your run your mind was whirling. I guess exercise makes the endorphines flow.

I exercised regularly for two years but then fell off a year-and-a-half ago when I got back from Tucson. Just couldn't get going again. I hope I can keep this up now, as it feels so good and makes life seem smoother.

I AM READING THROUGH the textbooks for the classes I am teaching this fall. The American History text is really good, the best I have read. It should maintain the students' interest. Plenty of gossip in with the facts, lots of humor. Hope some of them catch it.

The World Civilization text is pretty good, too. It should keep their interest. There's too much information to cover, of course, so it is my task to winnow it down to what a student can reasonably absorb, but the text helps more than it hurts.

The American Government text, however, is an absolute disaster. It assumes that students already know the nuts and bolts of government, so it doesn't even cover how things work. Instead, it goes off on debates about whether federalism in the modern era represents an abandonment of the principles of the Founding Fathers, blah, blah, blah.

The first thing I want to do is have the students learn the electoral college. It had a big effect on the last election. But in this 400 page textbook on American government, there is not one place where it explains the electoral college! There is one paragraph where it mentions the college, but nowhere does it explain how it effects present day presidential campaign tactics.

As far as I can tell, the rest of the text is equally irrelevant. So, I will have to improvise.

The students at UMC all bring their laptops to class. It is a laptop campus. Whoopdee do is my first thought, but on second thought I think I am going to have them look up things in class--statistics, etc., on the internet. Of course, most of the internet information is trash, but we will then have to learn how to winnow out what is legitimate and what is not. That in itself should be an education.

August 01, 2004

Kerry's speech

I watched a little of Kerry's speech in a hotel room in Morris, MN. Couldn't take it. He was rushing, for one thing. Plus, this trotting out of all of his Vietnam accomplishments struck me as maudlin. The whole thing was as corny as any pageant. Contrived. Defensive. (Yes, we are patriotic!)

I am going to teach government this fall at University of Minnesota, Crookston. I do love the nuts and bolts of our government system, and I am going to try to get that across to the students. It is the system created by the Constitution which is a marvel, not the people who fill the positions.

Therefore, I reserve the right to dislike every candidate. They are so eminently dislikable. And our country will survive them all in fine style.

Mientkiewicz traded

Tuned into the Twins game last night to hear Luis Rivas ground out to--Doug Mientkiewitcz. Right away, I knew the Twins traded him to the Red Sox. I was glad for Doug--he was miserable on the bench behind Morneau at first base--and I think he looks at home in a Red Sox uniform.

Announcer Dan Gladden said as much an inning later. "You know, Doug looks like a typical Red Sock!" adding, "Whatever that looks like."

Mientkiewitcz had to go. Morneau is ready to be in the lineup everyday. Mientkiewitcz's bat has been a popgun and Morneau's is a cannon. Mientkiewitcz plays wonderful defense at first, of course, but I don't think he is as good as he was three years ago when his spectacular plays dominated several games. However, it has been a true pleasure to watch him play the field. I don't think I've ever seen a better first baseman, Hrbek included.

Morneau has a lot to learn at first. But his 450 foot home runs will make up for it.

BASEBALL is odd. Teams battle themselves as much as they battle the other team. They go on losing streaks and drop 14 in a row to the worst teams. Then the same team can turn around and win 10 of 12 against the very best teams. Group psychology plays a huge role. They call it chemistry. Chemistry is how the low-budget Florida Marlins beat the mighty New York Yankees in the World Series last fall.

The Yanks don't believe in chemistry. They simply believe that they deserve to own all the best players. If you get enough great players in one place, you're going to win--but it isn't nearly as much fun to watch as a team that has been built from the bottom up.