Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 14, 2005

MPR gig

If any of you want to listen to the MPR clip this morning, it appears here. Look under "Regional Highlights" to a headline about some man chopping wood to keep his house warm.

Ha, what a joke. Me as a woodsman.

Here's how stuff like this comes about: Dan Gunderson, MPR's reporter in Moorhead, reads my column in the Detroit Lakes paper. A few times now, he has passed my name along to a producer who has called me up to talk about something. I don't know if Dan tells them I write a column. I think they prefer to think I am a wood cuttin rube.

Which I am, I guess.

Anyway, Dan emailed me yesterday wondering if it would be okay if they called to ask me about burning wood in this cold weather. I emailed back that it would be fine, and the phone rang ten minutes later. The producer did a five minute interview. I assume he gave notes to the host, who used those notes to lead in with questions when she called a very groggy woodsman at 6:30 this morning.

You really have no control over what they do with the interview once it is given--they usually edit it to improve it vastly. Several times I have felt incoherent, only to have an editor clean it up and make it presentable. Good editors are a blessing from the gods.

I have not listened to the interview. I spent the day thinking of all the witty things I could have said.

Poor saps

For some reason, reading the news today has made me say over and over: Poor sap.

Another soldier convicted and hung out to dry for prisoner abuse. Poor sap. There are hundreds of confirmed incidents of torture and abuse, and tacit approval was given from the highest officials. There is no indication that the policy of using Algerian water torture to extract confessions or information from captured prisoners has changed.

So who should be punished? The stressed soldiers gloating over dead Iraqis, or the people in an office who gave their actions tacit and sometimes specific approval?

Another poor sap: Prince Harry. He wore a Nazi desert uniform to a costume party. Somebody got a picture. Now he has to repent and grovel to every human rights group in England. I thought the whole point of a costume party was poor taste. I guess if you're third in line for the throne, you have to watch yourself pretty carefully.

My favorite poor sap: Randy Moss. When asked about the controversy surrounding his mooning of Packer fans, a controversy which has extended into a fight between Viking owner Red McCombs and FOX Network, Moss said, "I have heard the reports and I have no comment." A statesman indeed.

Speaking of moons, there was a beautiful orange crescent moon setting to the west tonight as I drove back from filling the stove at the new house. It was right at the horizon, but clear as a bell. I watched it until the tip of the moon disappeared beneath the horizon. I was dressed well enough to spend five minutes up the road looking at stars throught the binoculars--although the focus dial on the binocs froze up. There is a beauty to these cold nights, and there are northern lights tonight.

It isn't so bad if you dress right

I spent some time outside sawing wood. The stove continues to gobble it up. However, despite the double digit below temps, I felt pretty comfortable. I put on snowpants, a parka, and a Russian fur cap which I bought for brother Joe for Christmas, really wanting one myself. I kept pretty warm.

Sharpened the chain saw. A lot of the logs I am sawing up must be pretty dirty. They were shoved around quite a bit as we tried to get them out of the clearing. Our priority was not maintaining clean logs, but on getting that place cleared.

So, I think every now and then I saw through a big mud patch or something and the saw become instantly dull. Today it got so dull that it wouldn't even move through a small log. So I quit, stacked what I had, and called it quits until tomorrow. In fact, I probably have enough until it warms up a bit on Monday.

Brian the electrician was here today after spending a few days knocked out by a bad back. Sounds utterly miserable. You could tell he was in pain, but he's a pretty determined sort. We walked through the entire house and decided which switches for which lights go where.

At the end, I said that we should really have recorded the entire conversation because you know full well that in two years I am going to be wondering what we were thinking when we put this outlet here and that switch there. In fact, we should have put the entire conversation on video so we could sit down and laugh at it later.

The crow's nest and cat walk continue to evolve. Looks the apparatus will go up next week. We had thought about cables hanging from the ceiling for support, but adjusting eight cables to exactly the same length didn't seem to be a task Dean relished--so he proposed using steel rod with threading at the end. That sounded good, so he went up to the welding shop today to have the proper brackets, etc., made up.

Brian the electrician/plumber and his wife built a log house two years ago, so we discussed the thought processes which go into building your dream house when you're young enough to enjoy it for a few decades. There is the matter of spending, which just seems nuts right now, but which doesn't seem to ever be a problem for people down the road. Do you ever hear people say ten years down the road that they shouldn't have spent so much to make it what they wanted?

There is the temptation to pull up short at the end of the project and not spend so much because things seem to be getting out of control. That happened when we remodeled the schoolhouse at the nursery. The cost was literally triple what I had originally thought, so I eliminated a couple of items which I probably should have kept. One was the bell tower on the schoolhouse. There isn't one now. The old one would have needed to have been completely rebuilt. It would have been a nice touch. I suppose we could still do it, would have been easier at the time.

In that vein, Dad called me out at the new house today and said that it seemed like it was an awful long ways from my hot water heater to the upstairs bathroom sink and that I am going to spend a lot of time in the next forty years waiting for hot water to come through so I can wash my hands unless I put a little hot water heater right under the sink.

Well, my first thought was let's skip it, this house is crazy enough already...but then I decided to do it. Brian agreed that it was a good idea, and it won't cost that much in the end. Heck, if you add up the time I would spend waiting for hot water over forty years...

Brian and I also discussed the difference between building out here and building in the suburbs. He said contractors down there do not allow the owners on the building site during construction. You make your plan, you stick to it. And they put it up quick and sloppy and cover their mistakes with plaster and paint.

Well, that would be no fun. Half the fun is working out ideas with Jeff and Dean. I try not to be a nuisance, but I sure to enjoy popping in a couple of times per day to nod my head and tell them to do what they would have done anyway.


It was about -30 degrees when I went over to fire the wood stove at the house this morning. The MPR person called at 6:30 to tape an interview of sorts on burning wood. I wasn't too coherent. I suppose they will edit it if they use it--but in all likelihood they won't use it, which would be a relief.

My Ford Ranger has no block heater. Strange, since I bought it at a dealership up here. You'd think a block heater would be standard. However, at -30, it started right up. It can't be good for an engine to start in that kind of cold, but at least I was able to get moving.

The glow of the sun coming up in the east is of a special color when it is this cold. I don't think the skies are ever clearer than when it is thirty below. You could see a couple of stars in the orange glow. Perhaps they were planets.

The cold radiates through the house even when the thermometer reads 70 degrees.

January 13, 2005

A cold front and a bold front

Since I am now heating two houses with wood and Dad is heating one, I am cutting wood each day. The wood boiler for the new house must eat an oak tree every three days. It is really gobbling up the cobs.

Mid-day, I got an email from an MPR reporter who somehow knew I heated with wood. He said they were wanting to find people up north who heat with wood to interview tomorrow morning for Morning Edition. I said I would be willing, although my credentials as a woodsman are hardly sterling.

Ten minutes later a producer from MPR called and asked me questions for a few minutes. He said they will be calling me at about 6:15 tomorrow morning for an on-air interview. Gosh, I hope I am coherent. I have no idea what I will say. I suspect it is my job to act like a wood cuttin rube.

I guess I do qualify as a woodsman if the last two days are any indication. I have been sawing and stacking. My woodpile is a chaotic affair since the cobs are of all lengths. But it still stands upright.

A while back, Aunt Olla showed me a letter her big brother Roy wrote to my Grandpa in the 1920s. Roy was at school in St. Paul, but still was the titular head of the family since their father had died when they were young. Amongst a whole list of items of the finest detail that Grandpa was supposed to look after on the farm, the oddest to me was that he stack the firewood along the row of evergreens in such a way as to present a "bold front."

This was in spring, so the firewood, I suspect, was meant to stay there stacked all summer as an unspoken testament to the family's virtue in preparing for the upcoming winter and putting up a bold front at the same time.

My woodpile does not present a bold front. However, it should have plenty of BTUs in it for the weekend.

I signed the papers on the kitchen cabinets today. They will be made of poplar. The countertop color came naturally when I set a sample of poplar next to a slab of the tile.

I also ground a ten foot beam. I have been spending about one hour per day grinding beams this week. That is, I take a wire brush on a hand-held grinder and take off the soiled and yellowed layer. The wire brush digs grooves in the soft part of the grain which makes the beams look quite aged and charming. I can't pound a nail, but I am a pretty good beam grinder.

January 12, 2005

More on Moss

Carpenter Jeff just reported that Paul Harvey said this noon that when President Bush heard about Randy Moss mooning the Packer fans, he immediately moved to have him appointed ambassador to France.

Swamp castle progress report

The house is moving along. I have spent a couple of hours the past couple of days grinding the big wood beams with a steel brush on a hand held grinder. If I do just a couple of sides per day, it will be done in no time.

More soffet work for Jeff and Dean today. We spent some time talking about the catwalk. The plan is taking shape. It will be suspended by cables, that much is now established. I will buy the cable in Fargo on Monday.

The wood boiler kept up all night. Jeff threw some wood in the morning. It is a pity to burn big oak chunks which might have made some pretty nice lumber, but they sure work. The boiler will be challenged tonight when the wind turns north and the temperature plunges.

The Kronsch boys are moving inside now and will be starting on the stairwell sometime soon. Joseph the cabinet man was out yesterday and the day before. The kitchen plans are solidifying.

Joseph is having a little difficulty finding the right type of poplar wood for the cabinets. It seems that people ask him right off, "why are you using poplar?" as if it is crazy. Poplar is used, but it is almost always painted. I knew I wanted poplar when I saw some cabinets last year which had the most beautiful wood imaginable, only to find out that they were going to be painted. I decided then and there that it was my duty to show the beauty of poplar somewhere in my house.

The kitchen countertop choice is down to "moss" and "silt." Try to imagine what those might look like. I must have a thing for moss--I saw some paint I liked the other day, and turns out it was called "moss." It isn't the color of the luminescent moss that grows on the north side of tree stumps around here, but the muted, pewter green of Spanish moss that hangs from trees in the south.

So, the fun continues.

January 11, 2005

Moss does it again

Ha. Randy Moss once again perturbed the stuffed shirts by pretending to moon Packer fans after a fourth quarter touchdown. Right away, the announcers and everybody else associated with the whole sordid production that is the NFL banded together to condemn Moss. Some suggested that he "needs counseling."

Yeah right. The NFL and FOX are shameless promoters of sex and violence and general tastelessness until somebody like Moss crosses an invisible line. Then they jump all over that person hoping that their indignance will give them some sort of moral standing.

The whole mass media machine is such a sordid mess that nobody who is a part of it has a right to act all prissy. They are at their worst when they slip into therapy mode, trying to get some hapless athlete to repent for the sin of being a hapless athlete.

Keep it up, Randy!

January 10, 2005

Return to the cold

The trip from Tucson home occupied the better part of a day. The flight from Minneapolis to Fargo was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency exit light which burnt out. As I left the plane, I said to the pilot--all that wait for an exit light, and we didn't even use it! He wasn't amused.

The woodpile I left behind to heat the new partially insulated house was down to about a half-a-dozen cobs of wood. I came home just in time. Between interruptions, my day was spent getting some wood together. I will saw again tomorrow, as we have quite a cold spell coming on.

Spent two hours with the cabinet man designing the kitchen layout. I think we have it under control. It is starting to take shape. Right now, there aren't even walls in the kitchen/dining room area. That will soon change.

The carpenters are taking advantage of the mild (?) weather to put up more soffets. When it sinks below -20 degrees for a high, I suspect they will come back inside.

It took roughly five minutes to process the mail from my week away. "Process" is a euphemism for dumping junk mail in the garbage.

THE WEEK IN TUCSON already seems like a distant dream. However, I did notice tonight that there was still light on the horizon at 5:40 p.m., so things are getting better in this part of the world.

I will post more pictures of Tucson at some future date. However, I managed to lose my memory chip on the trip, so I will have to transfer pictures from Lance's computer first. You all really need to see the shade of orange on the rental car we were given. You can taste the pumpkin.

When I opened my backpack this morning, I found a pamphlet in there from the Transportation Security Administration which explained that my luggage had been sorted through by the federal government as a part of a "necessary security check." They apologized for any inconvenience, of course, but did add that if they broke anything, including a lock, it by law not their problem.

I assume the baggage search without my knowledge or permission was permitted by the Homeland Security Act. I do not like it one bit. Sure, they're looking for bombs now, but what about some later time?

This terrorism thing is being used as a big excuse for the snoops to watch us ever more closely.