Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 01, 2005


Well, the radar looks sobering. Supposed to be many inches of snow today and tonight. The flight to Minneapolis is scheduled to leave at 6:40 tonight. I am putting our chances of getting out of Fargo at less than 50%! Oh, well. I have no reason to be in a hurry. I was going to write up this week's column ahead of time, but something tells me that the struggle to get to Tucson might provide some material. I can write about packed airports, or something.

December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve party

Brother Joe and I sang at the Fair Meadow nursing home New Year's Eve party today. It was nice to have the benefit of Joe's sound system; everybody seemed to hear better. We did a couple of Patsy Cline numbers, three Willie Nelson tunes, and Joe did Amazing Grace on the guitar. It ended up being about a half-an-hour.

Two more locals turned up in the home who don't seem old enough. One who is old enough is Alma, the last of the old neighbors. Alma is 92. She worked for the nursery for 40 years or so. She managed the greenhouse for Mom and Dad for several years.

Farther back, Alma was my Dad's school teacher in the one-room schoolhouse which now is our gift shop at the nursery. Even when Dad was Alma's boss, he still regarded her as his school teacher. She could still freeze him with a disapproving frown, as she did when he spun out in the yard with the pickup once on his way out to the field.

Alma's husband Art died at age 97 two years ago. Alma was still driving up to this fall. Although she has now lost a little of her memory, she has lost none of her dignity. She showed up at the party this afternoon done up good and proper, with a nice suit of clothes, impeccable hair, lipstick, the usual Alma. A treasure.

I SPENT THE day trying to catch up and get ready for my trip to Tucson. Thanks to the house project, I have never felt busier. I was trying to get enough wood up for the week when I am gone, but I don't know if I succeeded. All kinds of necessary, fun and interesting interruptions.

Tonight, Dad took brother Joe, Aunt Lois and I out to dinner at Moran's in Winger. We drove about 35 mph to get there on the glare ice. Of course the place was packed. We forgot that it was New Year's Eve. The food was great. The salad bar at Moran's is the best in the world. They chop the lettuce finer than other places, making it so much less clumsy to eat.

THE CARPENTERS were insulating the ceiling of the house today. Because the ceilings are cathedral, they will have to have the blanket type instead of the blown in insulation. I go over in the evenings to spend time in the house and get ideas. For some reason, the halogen lights the carpenters use make the place look better than it probably will look when it is finished.

Tomorrow, it is off to Tucson. If the plane gets of the ground. I'll try to report from Arizona, depending upon the internet connection at the hotel.

Hope you all are in bed by 11 pm tonight. People who read this weblog aren't the type to stay out and party all night, I don't think. But: more power to you if you do!

December 30, 2004

Glazed in MN, dazed in Asia

Rain fell throughout the day today, glazing the snow with a coat of ice. No pictures. It wasn't pretty.

I am concentrating upon getting things ready before I leave for Tucson for a week. I see that the weather in Tucson is cool, which means sixties during the day. Not bad, but what you really expect out of Tucson is sunshine and 75 degrees in January.

The carpenters adjusted strategy and turned their attention indoors, where it appears they will stay for a few days. Next week, temperatures plunge below zero again, so putting on siding wouldn't be pleasant.

Speaking of pleasant, the floor heat inside makes things pretty cozy there. As they add insulation, it will just get cozier. The wood stove caught up today. I sawed up one pickup load of oak which was felled to make room for the house only last July. Even with such limited seasoning, the ice-glazed wood seemed to take off pretty well.

The stove emits a huge puff of smoke when you open the door. So, I smell like smoke all the time. With practice, I think I can stoke the thing without a baptism in smoke, but right now I have on woodsman cologne.

My mother leaves for Thailand in the morning on a trip scheduled long before the tsunami. Even though Bangkok was not affected, I suspect she will soon enounter evidence of the disaster, if only in airports as people from around the world scurry to help.

There is a report online that Indonesia alone suspects its death toll will eventually top 400,000. I suspect this is true. They report one city of 150,000 which is simply missing. Now there is word that some of the islands which disappeared may have been inhabited. Remember, they are only counting the bodies, not the missing. There are places where there is nobody left to report the bodies, much less the missing.

One flight reported that they went over 250 miles of once-populated coastline without finding evidence of life. How do you estimate the dead when all local records are gone, when an entire village disappears? None of these missing villages has as yet been counted.

A newspaper in India makes the point that the accurate counting of the dead will be important as it will likely dictate the level of aid received by each country. They are making the case that India has thus far vastly underestimated its own dead.

A bureaucrat responded that they are simply following a procedure which requires that they count actual bodies.

I CANNOT SAY THAT I have solved the ethical problem of how I can justify building a house much bigger than I need, as well as my other consumer habits, when the world is utterly full of suffering. What about eating at restaurants? Isn't it a horrible waste when you could make your own meals and send the difference to the unfortunate?

I am not going to duck behind the excuse that the donations usually never make it to the afflicted. There are good charities. But neither am I likely to alter my typical American lifestyle anytime soon.

My Uncle John lives in Texas. He is a former missionary to Ecuador. He speaks Spanish fluently. He has decided to spend his retirement years building simple homes for poor Mexican families. He has set up the whole process. He collects money from friends, the supplies (many of which are donated--such as paint which has been mixed wrong at Home Depot), and makes the difficult decision as to which family in the area where he visits will get a home with a concrete floor and a couple of windows. He also coordinates whatever volunteers might wish to go along.

I think Uncle John is doing a wonderful and noble thing. When I think of what he accomplishes to make the world a better place, it is impossible to not think my own life is a bit on the blissfully irresponsible side.

December 29, 2004

Wood stove learning curve

Just got off the phone with Uncle Rolly. He has two wood stoves of the same sort I have, so he is a good source of advice. He advised me to stuff the thing full of wood--which, when you have a four foot by three foot firebox, is a lot of wood.

The boiler water hasn't heated up past 90 degrees, and it is supposed to run at 170 degrees. The water is probably cool because slab is still cold--the main part of it began to be heated only last night--and there is no insulation in the house yet.

However, if the water falls below 120, the damper shuts down and the fire goes out. The stove assumes you are going away for the weekend. So, I have been running the stove in start-up mode today, and it simply has never gotten above 120, so the stove has thought it was just heating up all day today.

Got it?

I am starting to get it. I think. In any case, I just ran over to the house and stuffed a bunch of wood in the stove. Kind of sobering. I just sawed and hauled that wood today and now the whole load is virtually gone. This will, no doubt, get better when a) the house is insulated and b) the slab has heated up.

Ah, fun. I stained some more boards today. The days go quickly when you have a lot to do. I would have had plenty to do without going to Tucson next week, but that will be fun, too.

Cousin Tom stopped by today. He has built several houses, and he immediately attested to the quality of the work on the house. He said you couldn't get carpenters like this down in the cities.

As he was talking, Dean and Jeff were using a chainsaw to whittle the openings for the big windows on the prow down by one-eighth of an inch. The factory made a mistake. The openings were 1/8th inch too small for the windows they sent. So, the guys fired up the chain saw and fixed six six-foot-tall window openings in a couple of hours.

It makes me proud when people from elsewhere see the nice work done by the craftsmen around here. I don't know enough about building to know the difference, but I respect the opinions of people such as Tom, and it is nice to hear their approval!

TONIGHT, a post-Christmas gathering at Mom and Dad's. Aunt Lois, Aunt Beth and Aunt Ede (Dad's sisters) were over, as were Uncle Orv and Uncle Dale. Sister is still home, as is brother, so Mom cooked up a huge meal which set new records for number of varieties of vegetables. Homegrown corn, homegrown carrots, peas, parsnips, potatoes, broccoli, plus a salad with cabbage, tomotoes and lettuce--as well as saurkraut and pork chops, and kuchen! I do love case kuchen (German coffeecake). And honey cookies.

Mom and Dad leave early in the morning for Minneapolis, and Mom will take off for Hong Kong from there on Friday.

St. John's church

Here is St. John's, the church I drive past several times each day. Today provided natural flocking on the spruce trees.

December 28, 2004

Swamp Castle's wood heat kicks in

Brian the electrician/plumber got the wood boiler going today. At 3 p.m., without fanfare, I lit a fire in the firebox which immediately fizzled. Brian relit it a few minutes later, and that one fizzled.

At that point, we decided to read the directions. We figured out that the damper was off unless you pushed a certain button, at which point, not only did the damper open, but a blower went on which shot smoke out of the chimney as if it were one of those steamers at Rollag.

Then we were off. The 120 gallons of water around the firebox started heating up in no time. Tonight, I added a log--about fifteen minutes ago--but over the past six hours, the wood hadn't burnt much, and the water temperature maintained a steady 167 degrees.

The water is flowing into two of the three floor heating zones. The slab of the third zone, the living room, is still frozen but should thaw out with a little heating by the Nepco heater.

So, the electric meter, which spun busy circles all weekend, has not ground to a halt, and the task of heating the still uninsulated house will fall to the wood stove.

I decided to cut wood. Dad showed my how to sharpen the blade on my saw. I cranked it up and sawed up about two pickup loads full of fallen stuff. Some of it is rotten, but it all will burn, especially with that blower fan sending air into the firebox.

So, it was a fun day even though my main task for the day--staining more boards--went uncompleted. There was just too much going on out at the house.

A couple of you have asked for some more pictures of the Swamp Castle. I don't have any right off, but I do have a picture of our family Christmas choir.

Sister's on the left, then Mom and Dad, brother Joe on the bass fiddle, and myself. Lance took the photo. If you want evidence that we sounded good, take note of the full tip jar in the foreground.

December 27, 2004


It took a while for me to come up with the word for what I did today. At first, I picked "lathering," but that seemed to apply more to a bath. Finally I decided upon "slathering," which sounds like a good term for applying massive amounts of stain to very rough cut boards which are going to form the corner posts on my house.

The project has taken on a little more urgency now that the weather promises to be nice for a few days. The carpenters are keen to get the siding on the house when the weather is tolerable and while we still have the lift.

My mother has already stained 95 percent of the boards which will make up the siding on the house. However, she is getting ready for her trip to Thailand, which starts Friday, and I am no longer teaching, so I am now staining.

There is something to be said for working at a repetitive job far from the phone--which doesn't really ring that much, anyway.

It occurred to me today that there was an unusual amount of activity at the nursery for the end of December. Dad was in the bare root building sorting trees. Joe was in the quonset bagging peat. I was in another greenhouse painting. Cindy was in the office doing end-of-the-year bookwork, and the carpenters were out at the house building the porch.

AS I MENTIONED ABOVE, Mom is headed to Thailand at the end of the week. There is no apparent change of plans due to the earthquake and tidal waves, but I am sure that the complexion of her trip will have changed.

Say what you will about our weather in northwestern Minnesota, we'll never have a tidal wave. I can't imagine anything so frightening. I remember reading about a tidal wave in elementary school, and it made a lasting impression.

Last winter, when I was traveling along the coast of California, I loved walking out on the beach to get as close as possible to the huge waves which were pounding the coast that week. I didn't know about "sleeper" waves--the occasional wave which is double the size of the other waves and which frequently sweeps away the unwary. In fact, a week after I came through Ft. Bragg area, some hikers were swept off a cliff by a sleeper wave.

A tsunami would be truly terrifying.

When compared to the tumult in much of the world, the north woods in winter seems like a true retreat.