Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 22, 2005

Confined to the recliner

Quite a little storm last night--several inches of snow being pushed around by 40 mph winds. The morning has dawned clear and cold. And there is a four foot drift in my driveway.

I have noticed over the years that my moods cycle throughout the week with two very predictable weekly swings: On Friday nights, I am restless, wanting to get away, get out. Thus, being confined by a storm is a little difficult, and it took a while to settle down enough to enjoy reading a book.

The other predictable mood swing happens at about 5 p.m. Sunday evenings. For some reason, I have my weekly despair session at that time. Now that I have identified that hour with a red flag, I make a point of being busy and ignoring my thoughts.

The world stinks? There's no hope for humanity or myself? Better check the date and time--sure enough, it is 5 o'clock Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, as the wind howled last night, I read A History of the American People by a Brit, Paul Johnson. It is a huge volume which takes a completely contrarian view of American history. Johnson is delightfully cranky. Is it any surprise that I would enjoy cranky writing?

Last night's reading covered the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Predictably, author Johnson is a fan of Nixon and a critic of Johnson and Kennedy. I prefer to see the three of them as birds of a feather--all three freely abused the powers of the presidency. Author Johnson glosses over Nixon's ethical gaps and emphasizes his foreign policy prowess, while highlighting the philandering of Kennedy and Johnson.

Oh, earlier on, Johnson rehabilitated the presidencies of U. S. Grant, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. You knew those much-maligned presidents weren't as bad as presented by historians, but pulling old Warren Harding off of the dust heap is quite a feat.

Good history writing is an argument. The argument pulls the narrative along and gives shape to the mass of facts. One arrives at historical truth, to the extent that there is such a thing, most efficiently by hearing various viewpoints well argued--just as, in theory, at least, the justice system arrives at truth by hearing both sides of a case vigorously presented.

In history, there are many sides to every case. The joy of reading history is hearing those various sides argued with great vigor by talented writers.

January 20, 2005

Bare root

While I am preoccupied with my house, Dad, Ken and Joe are busy sorting out the trees and shrubs we dug last fall and put in the bare root building. Each day they tackle another pile of brush, trimming, sorting the plants into sizes, determining prices, making labels, putting on the labels, and finally bundling the plants in bundles of five or ten so they don't take up so much room.

Joe has been attempting to determine which varieties we are short of so that we can order more in. He has kept good track of what we sold last year, which is a pretty solid indicator of what we will sell next year. The business is amazingly consistent.

It is always satisfying, particularly for Dad and Joe, to see that we are raising more of our own stuff each year. It saves us the money of buying things in, and it usually means that the plants are of superior quality, simply because we are able to give them plenty of room in the field. We have lots of land.

A part of the process we don't broadcast a lot is the matter of "stealing liners." Some shrubs have roots which go up the stems a ways. Clip off one stem, you have a single twig with a few root hairs. Plant that stem and in two years you have a saleable plant. In that way, you replenish your supply of that variety of shrub. We don't say much about that because it does mean that the customer gets one less stem on his or her potentilla. Say, twenty stems instead of twenty three.

Ah, the tricks of the trade. We are in a shady business indeed.

The bare root winter activity--sorting trees in a dimly lit, damp, cold room--brings back memories, for it has gone on as long as there has been a nursery. Grandpa used to spend much of his day in the old basement, sorting trees into categories.

Grandpa wasn't very disciplined about his categories. The market for tiny seedling trees, for example, typically divides up trees into 6-12", 12-18", 18-24", 2-3', 3-4', and so on.

Well, Grandpa would quickly start adding categories. 6-12" heavy. 12-15" branched. 8-10" well branched. 12-18" #1 grade. 15-22" #2 grade. 6-12" hedge grade. Each of these grades would have a different price. Soon, the inventory book became a nightmare.

When I see Dad trudging over to the bare root building on and off throughout the day, it brings back memories of Grandpa doing the same thing. It is and was necessary work, but it also gets one out the house in the winter. Dad's categories are much more disciplined than Grandpa's, and he built an above ground bare root building which has rescued us from Grandpa's collection of old cellars, but the rhythms are otherwise the same.

Also, there is the ritual of deciding size and price. If there are too many people in the bare root building, it gets to be a long process. I usually delegate the pricing authority out to one person--Joe, at present--and then back off.

But today I walked into the bare root building to ask Dad a question about sharpening the chainsaw, and landed in the middle of a dogwood pricing debate.

Ken had sorted the dogwood into what looked to be logical size categories. Our pricing for the past few years had been $5, $9.50, $16.50. Those three categories didn't seem to fit Ken's piles of dogwood, although the conservative instincts of Dad and I said to stay with the same prices.

However, Ken proposed $2.50, $7.50, $12.50 and a higher category which we decided would be $18.50. Ken's idea made sense, so I said he won the vote by 1 to 2. Must have been an electoral college in there somewhere. Anyway, I got out of there before I started getting more ideas and changing things again.

If you aren't careful, you end up with three or four people standing around a single dogwood hemming and hawing for quite some time. That, too, is a timeless nursery tradition. Grandpa loved to hold up a shrub, look at it from head to toe, swing his head side to side in indecision, change his mind about five times, put a label on, and then the next day go back through and change the labels again.

There are always ways to make a simple life complicated.

On the catwalk

Well, not quite yet, but the basic outline took shape today as Jeff and Dean hung the steel rods from the rafters, and build the framework for the catwalk and the crow's nest.

At the end of the day, Dean said, "You aren't going to try to climb around up here tonight, are you?" Oh, of course not. At least not after he said that. He added that he didn't want to come in the morning to find me dangling from the framework, unable to let go.

So, it's best that I stay away from the house tonight lest I do something stupid.

The pile of firewood got low again today, so I dug into the big pile of oak logs with the forklift, hauled some near the house and sawed them up this afternoon. Once I got done, the woodpile was the biggest it has been since I returned from AZ. That was satisfying.

It felt very warm out. I worked outside for a long time without getting cold feet or hands. Nearby, the wood stove wasn't working as hard as usual. So, I assumed it the temperature was at freezing, but when I got back up to the place I saw it was about 12 degrees above.

This is the first time in my life I have worked regularly outside during the winter. I am starting to get used to the temperatures. It makes winter bearable to get outside and work. It feels good to be physically tired at the end of the day, a winter rarity.

January 19, 2005

Flom Cafe with Aunt Olla

Today was the annual trip to the Flom Cafe for Great Aunt Olla and I. Cousin Ilene met us there for a noon meal of roast beef sandwiches followed by strawberry shortcake.

Aunt Olla had quite a time last week. She was busy, busy, busy, as always, and one day she actually had some time to herself, finally, so she locked both doors on her apartment and took a shower at a leisurely pace.

Well, it was quite luxurious until she heard a loud male voice hollering her name. Good grief, she thought, what is going on? Either she's hearing things, which means she's finally going goofy, at age 93, or somebody's in her apartment. She's seen the movie "Psycho," and she figured she might be finished.

Well, she shut off the water and sure enough it was the police, wondering if she was okay. Olla put two and two together and said, "Let me guess who called you...Florence?"

Yes, it was Aunt Olla's 89 year old friend Florence who seldom goes a week without some form of contact with the sheriff's department. She had tried calling Olla for an entire day with no result. Finally she called Olla's next door neighbor Lillie, who went and knocked on Olla's door. No answer. The door was locked. Unusual for Olla.

So, Florence called the cops.

Anyway, when they arrived, they knocked. No answer. Lillie was in the hall. Now, Olla and Lillie have a pact. They both have key's hidden outside their doors somewhere on the premises. They each know where the other's key is hidden, but neither is supposed to tell anybody because the powers that be don't approve of that sort of chinanigans.

Lillie was tormented. Should she tell the cops that she knew where there was a key? When they started making noises about "notifying next of kin" to get permission to break and enter, Lillie broke. I think I can help you, she whispered to the cops, and led them to the key.

Olla had sort of wondered how the police got in, but she didn't ask any questions. It was two days later that Lillie, her conscience tormented beyond what any 98-year-old can stand, knocked on Olla's door to confess that the secret of the key was no longer a secret.

Olla didn't mind. It was Florence who caught heck. Good grief, Olla said, would you quit worrying about me. As usual, the problem was that the phone was off the cradle slightly so it hadn't charged and thus it didn't ring when Florence called. Olla figured Florence should know by now that it was likely nothing serious.

So, that was a little tizzy.

Not to be outdone, Florence announced to Olla that she had been awakened by the police and hauled from her home at two in the morning a couple nights before. Olla got scared--what had Florence done now?

Well, it was a gas leak. They put Florence up in a motel for a night or two and she was treated like a queen. All was well that ended well, but Olla still was perturbed that Florence had dramatized the story by making it sound like she was a victim of one of Stalin's purges.

If they both make it to summer, no doubt Olla and Florence will go out driving east of Waubun on the winding gravel roads, driving until they get lost and end up in New York Mills or somewhere and get home way past midnight.

We had a good time at the Flom Cafe. We didn't get reservations, but got a good seat anyway. Olla brought some pictures she had recently dug out of her archives. I had a picture taken of the three of us, but it blurred too badly to put it up here.

As we were leaving, I loudly asked Olla if she wanted to go to Ulen for booze. That is a reference to the time she wanted wine to bake a ham in and, even though there is a liquor store in Twin Valley, she had me drive her to Ulen to buy wine so she wouldn't be seen in the local liquor store. Since then I seldom miss an opportunity to loudly ask her in public if she wants to go to Ulen for booze.

Of course, that required that she explain to the nearest table at the cafe the ham recipe which requires her to use wine, and how good it is, and how her grandmother, or somebody else of unquestionable virtue, made the best ham with that recipe.

It was a good day to be out. The drive to Flom is scenic. You get into some of those large hills that one doesn't see if one is oriented completely towards Grand Forks and Fargo.

THE HOUSE PROJECT is in remission. Carpenter Jeff is quite ill. The electricians are juggling some big projects, and our ball got dropped for a few days. The windows were delayed until next week, which likely won't be much of a problem.

Tomorrow, I think we'll start sealing the knotty pine for the ceiling. That will take a while. We'll do it in the schoolhouse and the sales area of the nursery.

MOM HAD SOME interesting stories from Thailand to tell this morning, despite a bad case of jet lag--I suspect she has many more. She is fixing up a slide show on the computer of her trip. She already has a picture of herself riding an elephant. All in all, I think she is glad to be home.

THE JAY BUCKLEY baseball tour 2005 schedule arrived today. Man, I am tempted to do the Phoenix tour--eight ballparks and twelve games in twelve days. From Phoenix to San Diego to Los Angeles and Anaheim, to San Francisco and Oakland, on to Seattle, with a minor league stop in Eugene, OR. Then back to Phoenix.

January 18, 2005


One day, when I am old enough, I would like to write a book of philosophy. The problem is, there is getting to be less to put in it all the time.

An ancient Buddhist sage was asked the meaning of life. He responded, "Cut wood, haul water."

That pretty much sums it up.

Ideologies, ideas, gadgets, notions, theories, grow up like weeds.

Weeding a garden amounts to a selective subtraction of most of the plants which germinate in the soil.

The same process, in the same proportion, might be applied to ideas which grow up in our head.

Subtract, subtract, subtract.

Cut wood, haul water.

Warm up, with wind

The predicted warm-up happened overnight. By morning, temperatures were in the teens. However, the wind from the south whipped up. I was due at the welding shop in Crookston to pick up some steel rods which will suspend the crow's nest, but I just about turned around after getting out the driveway.

The south wind funnels through the field west of me making visibility pretty bad, worse, in fact, than out in the valley--so my trip to Crookston wasn't too rough. The roads were dry. Visibility was never a problem.

Crookston Welding is a typical machine shop. Very dark. Greasy. Noisy. Lots of men in dark overalls. They had the steel rods ready. They were curious about what I was using them for.

The rods are about 10 feet long, and like anything that comes out of a machine shop, they were covered in grease. I loaded them in the box of the pickup and went to the Conoco for a cup of coffee. Pulling back onto Highway 75, I heard the rods shift in the box. I decided to pull over to see if they were okay, only to find that four of the ten were missing.

The missing rods were in the middle of the intersection, getting run over by semis. Three of them, anyway. The fourth was more elusive. I had to drive back and forth slowly a few times before I saw it sticking out of a snowbank.

So, I put up the endgate so the rods were angled up, and tied them up with a big bungee cord. Should have done that in the first place.

Dropped the steel plates and rods off at Dean's. He took them uptown to Keith to weld them all together and brought them out this afternoon so I could paint them.

Dean brought some brake cleaner along--which is apparently the way to get grease off metal--and I wiped the rods off with it. Nasty stuff. Had to open the garage door and let some wind in.

Then I primed the rods and plates. Tomorrow I will paint them black. I was pretty proud of my priming job. No drips or runs. See if I can keep up that record tomorrow.
With any luck, the catwalk should be up by the end of the week!

The wood stove moderated its consumption once the temperatures warmed. It had no problem keeping up today. Temperatures exceeded fifty degrees in the house, so I worked a bit on the beams.

Ken returned to work today after a month off to heal up some badly bruised ribs--a very painful and slow-healing injury.

Mom arrives back from Thailand tomorrow morning. After she settles in, she will begin the first seeding of greenhouse plants.

So, we're soon off on the road to spring.

YOU KNOW, I always was always put off by those gossip columns in the local paper which feature people telling who had coffee at their place this week. The notion of broadcasting one's personal life for the whole town seemed a bit gauche.

Now I put up details from my every day on the internet, available to the world. Is it really any different?

January 17, 2005

Cold spell over?

Tonight, there is a strong wind from the south. Perhaps that is an indication that the deep cold, which included a reading of thirty-six below last night, is over. That is fine. I have had enough.

I just went over and threw some more wood on the stove. The south wind, it turns out, blows the smoke right into you when you try to load it. So, now I smell like burnt bacon.

It was one of those three steps forward, two steps back days. I bought the tub I wanted at Lowe's. I bought some urethene for the knotty pine, and ran other errands in Fargo. But, the log home company backed the shipping of the remaining windows up another week. That could be a problem if the company from which we are leasing the lift decides to come and get it and we have no way of lifting those windows twenty feet up.

They had said they would ship them this week. When I called to confirm this morning, it was clear that it wasn't really the intention. How about next Monday? Well...we'd like them soon. That would be the soonest.

That is when Minnesota nice doesn't work. I didn't argue, I didn't press. I should have. I think there might have been some way they could have sent the windows today. He was worried about finding the least expensive option--which doesn't matter to me at all, since the company is paying for it and the windows are long overdue anyway.

IN FARGO, I went to the medical supply store to purchase the light box which I had rented for a month. It worked well enough to justify the purchase. If I get up and sit in front of the light for a half-an-hour, I feel much better all day. No energy problems whatsoever.

I suspect that the light isn't all that special, but I do know that it works better than a full spectrum type that you buy at Menard's. So I was faced with either doing my own research (unlikely) and construction (unliklier) of a light box, or buying one I suspect is way overpriced.

It is amazing what they can charge for convenience.

At the medical supply store, there was a poignant scene. A disabled woman, her sister and her elderly father were there to pick up a wheelchair they said they had ordered. The store had no record of it. Well, they said, you called us this morning to say it was in. I am sorry, but we couldn't have. The woman called every other wheelchair store in Fargo, but no luck. The folks got very angry, even though it was quite obvious they were at the wrong place.

Well, the old man was only semi-coherent, amiable, aloof from the whole affair. I suspect he was in the early stages of dementia, rambling on about 21 foot drifts and heating bricks for his feet and so on. While I was waiting for help, he got right in my face and said, "It is so hard to get things DONE!"

He was making more sense all the time. As the woman plodded along on her keyboard, tap, tap, tap, tap, pause.....tap, tap, tap, pause...for minute after minute, with no result, the man ambled around talking aloud, occasionally addressing me directly. Finally, he pointed in my face and said, "There's just no COMPETENCE anymore!"

My turn came and the relatively simple transaction turned into a fifteen minute affair of consulting supervisors, tapping, consulting another supervisor and tapping some more until they finally said they'd just have to send me a bill rather than let me pay--because the "system" wouldn't allow them to take my money until the end of the month, or something like that.

Good grief. If they would have had a handwritten slip and a till drawer, I would have been out of there in three minutes. No competence, indeed.

January 16, 2005


Cousin Anne continues her posting of spectacular photos from her home in Idaho. She enjoys spectacular surroundings, granted, but her photos of those surroundings show a consistent artistic flair. They can be viewed on her weblog. Page through the archives to see dozens of good shots.