Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

November 26, 2004

Getting Away

I haven't spent time away from home for quite some time, so today I am hanging out in Grand Forks. It's a bad day to be out retailing, but I did it anyway. I think the Black Friday crowds were reduced somewhat by the icy roads.

Went to Barnes and Noble and read What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank. It is a liberal's view of how the Republicans have snookered the red states into voting for them, even though it is against their best interest. The book is more nuanced than most of the genre. Frank is from Kansas and leavens his criticism of the Far Right in Kansas (a real loony bunch, to be sure) with criticisms of the Urban Left.

I read halfway through before looking at the back flap where the author photo was. I recognized the author as a guy I knew at Cambridge University in the summer of 1986. I didn't know him that can't know anybody that well in a six weeks summer course...but we did hang out some.

He was quite reclusive at the time, very soft-spoken, hardy a person you would expect to be dubbed "one of our best social critics" by the New York Times Magazine." After recognizing him, I couldn't read the book in the same way. I remember his peculiar form of gentle sarcasm--he seems more harsh in print than I think he could ever be in person.

THEN I went retailing, climbing in and out of my pickup at various high-acreage iced-over parking lots, walking the aisles until my head swam from the overpowering lights overhead. Best Buy. Wal-mart. Slumberland. Supertarget. Columbia Mall. I haven't spent a day walking around retail stores for a long time, and it was good to get it out of my system.

How can you not buy a shirt that you think looks comfortable when you find out the price is $7.34? That's how Wal-mart gets you. Shockingly low prices.

Looked at furniture at Slumberland. Nothing caught my eye at all. Sat in a couple of recliners and couches--they were just awful. If I don't find any furniture I like by the time I move into my house, I am going to just leave it bare until I do.

November 25, 2004

The first Thanksgiving

Here is an extremely interesting article in the New York Times about depictions of the first Thanksgiving in the history books. This is history at its most interesting.

November 23, 2004

Crossing things off the list

Today was a good day. Cold but clear. Plenty to do. I made a list in the morning and spent the day crossing things off the list. I did what one is supposed to do but seldom does: attack the least desirable task first and the next least desirable task after that. Boy, does that make one feel good.

The least desirable task is always running to the bank to borrow money. That went well. The next least desirable task is always spending money. I had to do that because it was necessary to purchase the wood stove for the new house today. So, I drove to Red Lake Falls to the Wood Master factory.

Three years ago, I hauled a Wood Master stove 1,000 miles down to Uncle Rolly and Aunt Jean's in southern Indiana. I assumed that the stove I purchased today would also fit in my Ford Ranger, as the last one had, but it turns out I have a bigger model.

So, I came home and sent Ken north to RLF with the old 1987 Chevy. He came back with the little house-like stove in the back, looking very much like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Then it was to get the legal papers in order for a mortgage. It is made complicated by the fact that the house is in the middle of a quarter section of land. I had to have the house plot surveyed, and then it is to get the abstract updated and all that.

That meant a trip to the safety deposit box--my second trip to the bank today. It was fruitless--the abstract was actually at home in the safe--but interesting nonetheless. I looked through the many mortgages that had been taken out on the land in the past century.

There was my great-grandfather and great grandmother's signature, many times over. Then the familiar handwriting of my grandmother. I found that my great-grandparents had purchased the farm from "Paul Schopp, a single man."

I love the smell of old paper. Paper from before WW II keeps so well. It had a lower acid content. Some of the documents from before WW II were in far better shape than those from the 1970s.

I am allergic to the mold in old paper, but my historic interest more than makes up for the sneezes. I could look at that stuff all day. Documents back then had such style.

Then it was to the lawyer's office across the street from the bank to get the abstract process started.

THEN, the day's major victory. We placed the woodstove. For a foundation, Ken and I found some nice old sections of sidewalk which had been removed to the woods. Ken cleared of some of the frozen chunks of ground away, laid down a bed of fresh sand, put down the two slabs of sidewalk and leveled them off with the help of Jeff Kronschnabel. Dean Kronschnabel cranked up the big crane, capacity 8,000 lbs, to unload the big stove, 2,100 lbs. We hung it from a chain, guided it into place, sat it on the slabs--just as the sun set.

What a satisfying day! Hard work, perfect cold weather--and then Dad said he had some soup up at the house. That warmed me up before I took off home to work on history.

Nothing better than a fun, full day.

November 22, 2004

More pictures

I find myself nostalgic for Arizona, especially knowing I probably won't get there this winter. Here is a picture of a pottery store in Tubac, AZ. I believe Tubac is at about 5,000 feet elevation. The colors are more vivid at that elevation, it seems.

Here is a picture of a tree root near Lucerne, Switzerland. And here is a picture of a meadow I came across while walking in the woods above Lucerne.

Two years ago, an October snow created this subdued scene in the gardens.

Winter's slow arrival

It gets a little colder each day, yet it is still surprisingly bearable. We can't complain--no snowfall yet, and we're nearly to Thanksgiving. Some is predicted for tonight, but I am betting against it.

I sure like my gas fireplace this time of year. It toastens the room up real nice when the wind howls outside.

The Kronsch boys finished shingling the loft of the house today. Tomorrow, they are going to frame up the prow, the final piece in the framing puzzle. We're getting closer and closer to having the thing sealed up, although we're still about two weeks away.

I WAS given warning by the Crookston Times editor today that they are publishing a letter tomorrow from, as he put it, "an angry urban liberal," angry, apparently, over a recent column I wrote. I look forward to that.

THE STUDENTS were pretty sleepy today. Wow. Groggy, bored, asleep. Even World Civilization class took a long time to get going. It finally broke loose when we discussed the new movie about Alexander the Great by Oliver Stone. The movie has stirred up some controversy because Alexander is depicted as having affairs with a couple of male lovers. I added that one of the males was a eunuch. That was too much for one student, who said in exasperation, "What was the point of THAT?"

Well, that cracked everybody up for some reason.

IN AMERICAN history, we went over the Battle of Bull Run, the early disaster for the Union between Washington D. C. and Richmond, VA. The Union troops were so green that it took them three days to march 20 miles to Bull Run. The problem? Well, there were fresh berries in the woods and they wouldn't stick to marching.

They fought pretty well for a few hours--until Stonewall Jackson arrived with his troops and lured the Union troops into charging a hill, just over which his troops laid in wait. Jackson told his rebel boys to wait until they saw the whites of the Union boys eyes before attacking, and then "scream like the furies" and charge them with bayonettes.

Boy, did that work like a charm. The Union lines broke--and 22,000 soldiers ran pell mell 21 miles back to Washington D. C., arriving throughout the night and sleeping on lawns and in doorways across the city.

Because the Union was expecting a big victory that day, spectators came along as well, dressed for a Sunday picnic. They, too, chased back to Washington. One congressman was captured by the rebels. About five hundred soldiers were killed. And Lincoln knew right then that the war wasn't going to be over with one quick strike.

In World Civilization, we discussed the Safavid dynasty in Persia c. 1500. Their leaders were called Shahs. Of course, there was a shah in Iran as recently as 1979, put there in 1953 by the United States CIA.