Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 11, 2004

December scenes

Here is what it looks like in northern Minnesota at 4 p.m. December. I think the oak look particularly haunting this time of year.



Here is the sunlight on one of the beams of the Swamp Castle a couple of days back.


December 09, 2004

A bearable existence

Sometimes The Onion comes up with something painfully hilarious. Oh, and some bad news for workers here. And for kids here.


Sawing firewood

I haven't sawed a lot of firewood in my life. The little I have burned, I have filched from Dad's supply. But the Swamp Castle is going to use a lot more, so I have started sawing.

The lengths can be almost four feet long. I enjoy that. It is easier to stack firewood which has some length to it. I am working on some of the wood felled this summer to make space for the house.

BRIAN THE electrician came today. We're getting ready to wire, and the fact is I have to make some decisions about how to light up this barn I am building. In particular, I have to figure out how to get light onto the knotty pine ceiling.

One idea is to have track lighting on top of the beams. That was suggested to another local homeowner by a "lighting consultant." Well, Al, who works for Brian, said it would look like a bunch of pigeons sitting there. With that apt metaphor in my head, I don't think track lighting is any longer an option. Once again, one pithy comment from somebody with experience cuts through the nonsense offered by a "consultant."

We'll figure it out. But it becomes clear that, although some ideas from others can be good, there isn't much out there. You're pretty much on your own to figure it out.

THIS MORNING, I ordered the garage doors. That involved choosing a color and some windows. That took about five minutes. It will be earthtone, and the windows will be square and unembellished by curlicues and bevels and other such stuff.

I find that I loathe imitation things, stuff which purports to be something other than it is. For instance, linoleum. It wouldn't be so bad if most of it didn't pretend to be tile. When it pretends, it becomes repulsive.

I also loathe all beveling. I don't want beveled depressions in my garage doors and I don't want beveled depressions in my cabinets. And I don't want beveled glass anywhere. Beveling amounts to gratuitous cuteness. It isn't functional, and therefore it is a lie.

I can enjoy gratuitous embellishments from another era, but when I have any say in the building of something, it is going to be basic. I like things elegant--by that, I mean that they fulfill their function in a graceful and efficient manner, without superfluity.

A columnist just wrote that George Bush is "elegantly ruthless." Look, the man has just caused over half his Cabinet to disappear without having to fire a one! Say what you will about W, that's getting what he wants done in an elegant but efficient manner.

Back to the house. There won't be a curtain in the entire place. I despise curtains and shades and sheers and drapes and valances and all that fluff. When you live in the middle of nowhere, why have any of it? Curtains just make a home look like a Victorian whorehouse. They block out valuable light.

Most of the windows which went in today have screens. That's another thing I don't like--looking through screens. I suspect I will take them all off but about three. I will use those three windows to let in--not fresh air, but the sounds of the outdoors. With allergies, the outside air isn't that fresh until it freezes in the fall.

Ah, the joys of doing it my way!


Swamp Castle at the Tyvek stage

Two milestones in one day: first, we have reached the Tyvek stage. That is when the house is shrouded in the materiel called Tyvek, which keeps wind out while allowing moisture to escape.

Second, the first dozen or so windows went in. Ken and Joe hauled the windows out to the building site in several loads. By the end of the day, light was coming in where light hadn't come in before.

We also cleaned up the garbage which had accumulated during the shingling. Dean K. said that cleaning up the entire building site after shingling is a tradition. I don't think he used the word "tradition." I think he said something like: "That's when it gets to the point that you can't stand it anymore."

Jeff and Dean's father, Tom, came out to help today. He's always full of interesting historical perspective stated in colorful terms.

I showed Tom the tile I planned to use. He said it was "nice stuff," especially compared to the "crap we had to put up with when I was building houses." He said that walking around Home Depot just makes him sick. None of that nice stuff was available way back when.

Tom was stuffing insulation into the gaps in the windows and said, "Back when fuel oil was 15 cents per gallon, we didn't have to use any of this insulation crap."

Also, Tyvek. They used to use tar paper. It would hold the moisture in. Tom said when they would tear apart houses to remodel, the wood would be rotton underneath from the moisture.

So, some things have gotten better, and when you talk to old timers like Tom, I don't think they'd go back to the good old days if they were paid.


December 08, 2004

Twins keep Radke

After taking things down to the wire in negotiations--if the Twins wouldn't have signed Radke or offered him arbitration by last night at 11 p.m., he would have been gone--they two sides agreed to a two-year $9 million deal.

I haven't always been a fan of Radke. He is so laid back sometimes you wonder if he cares. But this past year, he pitched like a machine. His won-loss record wasn't that good, but that wasn't his fault. His ERA was amongst the best in the American League, and he pitched a lot of innings.

With both Radke and Santana, the Twins have a good one-two punch. If Joe Mays comes back after is year-and-a-half on the shelf with an arm injury, the starting pitching could be in pretty good shape.

NOW, the Twins have to sign Cory Koskie. He gets injured often, but he's gritty, and he hits for power, just like a third baseman should. He's great on defense. The Twins aren't quite ready to replace him. Losing him wouldn't be as bad as losing Radke, but you hope it doesn't happen.



December 07, 2004

Teeth, etc.

Went in for the six-month checkup and tooth cleaning today. That's exhausting, no matter how well it goes. My shoulders get all tense. Those instruments hit the sensitive spots and make 'em scream. I had x-rays, so I gagged on the cardboard thing which the farthest back.

They have an ultra-sound tooth cleaner now which apparently loosens the plaque. Then there is the jet scrubber which shoots baking soda mixed with cold water at the tooth. Wow, does that cause a howl.

Well, my banker came in after me and he had an abcess, so that was worse. I shouldn't complain. No cavities. That's a good thing.

After running errands, I came back to the nursery and cut some firewood out by the Swamp Castle. I cut a couple real long logs--almost four feet--and brought them to my new, as yet unconnected, stove. They disappeared into the firebox with no problem. So, the only limitation on the size of the logs I throw in there will be what I can lift.

I walked around on the ice of the swamp in front of the Swamp Castle. Lots of firewood. The water rose a few years ago, drowning out many green ash. Ash makes the best firewood. I am going to keep the water high by maintaining the beaver dam which blocks the drainage ditch. I think it is illegal, but as far as I am concerned, I could not do otherwise. Draining the swamp will mean that the swans won't come back!

I have run out of steam on teaching. I have nothing left to tell the students--I have reached the end of the material. I think I will cancel Friday's class. No use holding class when there's nothing to cover.

An email arrived this afternoon which seemed to indicate that I have a new boss at the college as of 3:30 p.m. today. That was confirmed when the new boss called an hour later to apologize that my office mate and I had been removed from our office and we would be shown to a new one tomorrow. I was told that my belongings are in a box in the office of the department "administrative specialist." The thought of somebody shuffling through my papers and putting them in a box without me knowing is momentarily disturbing--however, I left nothing there of consequence. I will pass on the new office. I am just glad I didn't put up pictures!

I am teaching for fun and I have no long-term stake in the institution, so it is possible for me take whatever upheavals go on up there with a grain of salt. It makes me all the more glad that I am in business on my own and not in the academic world on a full-time basis. I have no confidence that I would come out ahead in any sort of political squabble, especially the sort of stuff that goes on in academia.






December 06, 2004

Winding down

The semester is coming to an end. In American History, we are finishing up the Civil War, touching a little bit on the sobering era of Reconstruction. In World Civilization, we managed to get Columbus to the New World and we'll stop at that. In American government, we are spending a little time on "America's place in the world."

State representative Bernie Lieder agreed to come to my government class on Wednesday, so the students are looking forward to that. They have questions about issues that concern them, and I told them not to be shy.

Snow today. A nice blanket, I have to admit. The roads were a little icy in the morning. They melted off in mid-day, but I suspect they are freezing up again tonight. I don't know. I stayed in tonight and had a long, blissful nap in my recliner.

THE struggle to shingle the Swamp Castle continues--there are only a few rows of shingles left to put on the garage and that task will be complete. Then it will be to put in the windows.

I spent some time up on the scaffolding today in the prow--roughly where the crow's nest will be. What a view of the swamp below and the nursery buildings across. It will be a beautiful and dramatic view in any weather, I think. I am looking forward to it.

I HAVE THIS notion that I am unconnected to the day-to-day bustle of world affairs simply because I never turn on the television. That is false. I find I get up early and spend time an hour reading the newspapers online before I actually start doing classwork. Later in the day, I will idly page through various websites. The net effect is that I am more aware of what is going on than at any time in my life, and I am not sure that is a good thing.

I was reminded of this by a passage in Neitszche's Daybreak I ran across this evening:
Learning solitude: Oh you poor devils in the great cities of world politics, you gifted young men tormented by ambition who consider it your duty to pass some comment on everything that happens--and there is always something happening! Who, when they raise the dust in this way, think they are the chariot of history! Who, because they are always on the alert, always on the lookout for the moment when they can put their word in, lose all genuine productivity! However much they might desire to do great work, the profound speechlessness of pregnancy never comes to them. The event of the day drives them before it like chaff, while they think they are driving the event--poor devils!

Thanks to the internet, you don't have to live in one of the "great cities of world politics" to be involved with events in the manner Nietszche describes.

Nietszche's next paragraph is worth tacking on:
Worn out daily: These young men lack neither character nor talent nor industry: but they have never been allowed time to choose a course for themselves; on the contrary, they have been accustomed from childhood onwards to being given a course by someone else. When they were mature enough to be 'sent off into the desert,' something else was done: they were employed, they were purloined from themselves, they were trained to being worn out daily and taught to regard this as a matter of duty--and now they cannot do without it and would not have it otherwise.

Nietszche's every paragraph bristles with such pithy observations. But because he allegedly did away with God, I suppose people are a little scared to read him.


December 05, 2004

Company Christmas Party

Yesterday's party went well. We had about 35 people participate. We met at the nursery at 2 p.m., and loaded up in various vans to head for Bemidji. We arrived at the sparkling new high school in plenty of time.

(Okay, state and local governments are supposedly strapped for money, but every small town and even the big towns like Bemidji have brand new schools. I don't object, but I just wonder where the money is coming from?)

Bemidji High School has a wonderful auditorium for the performing arts. Very good acoustics, very nice seating.

The Canadian Brass did their thing--charmed the crowd with top notch music and good showmanship. Despite their world class reputation, the five musicians have a humility to them. Their musicianship is perfect; their act in between songs is more homespun. Delightful.

Of course, one always wonders how people (my employees, as well as their spouses and significant others) are going to react to a type of music they haven't heard before. It made my day when after the concert, before we even went out to eat, neighbor Ken, a man of very few words who mows the lawns in the gardens all summer, said "Thank you, that was really, really, fun. I know it is unlikely that he has heard a brass quintet before or ever will again.

The high school boys made it through the concert in good form with a couple of naps. Naps during a concert don't offend me at all--it means one is enjoying the music, in some sense. Better than being restless.

Then we headed to Moran's in Winger for supper. It was great fun. Great food, great atmosphere in the side room, good visiting.

All in all, a pretty darn good day, with the sort of people who restore your faith in the human species.

I was initially confused and eventually touched by the gift the employees gave me. It was a very old book of Polish and Russian history, published in 1890. I confess to wondering if it was a joke until I heard the story:

Cindy, the bookkeeper, had heard a speaker at a seminar or retreat who, in an aside, recommended this old book about Slavic history. Because she knew I had traveled to Poland and had an interest in history, she determined to get it for me.

Of course, it was out of print. So, she jumped on the internet to find it. There was a used book exchange sort of thing on the web (this is the sketch of the story--Cindy left the party at Bemidji, so I haven't gotten her side of it yet) and she decided to purchase one particular copy which was in good condition.

An exchange of emails with the owner of the book produced the coincidence that he lived in Grand Forks. He agreed to meet Cindy in Crookston with the book. They exchanged a package and some cash in a parking lot, making Cindy feel very much like a drug dealer.

So now my employees have informed me that my book report on the book they gave me for Christmas is due in March, when they start coming back to transplant.

In addition, they gave me a large gift certificate to an unfinished wood furniture store. I had happened to visit there last week, and will have no trouble spending that!