March 11, 2005
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The above-titled book by Bill Bryson has been sitting beside my recliner for the past weeks. I pick it up and read a chapter or two every now and then, and it is utterly rich. A Short History
is essentially a summation of what we know, written for the layperson by a writer with an unusual talent for translating the esoteric into the vernacular.
Tonight's reading covered taxonomy--the science of classifying animals and plants. Bryson's prose is rich in gossip about the eccentrics who take an interest in obscure branches of science, and about the battles between scientists, one of which ended up with two competing teams of archeologists throwing fossils at each other out in the wilderness.
The book is filled with astonishing numbers and facts. There are millions of dust mites in every bed. In fact, ten percent of the weight of a six-year old pillow will be mites!
Each cell of our body contains DNA which contains enough information to fill 800 volumes of average-size encyclopedia. Scientists estimate that 97% of life forms on this planet remain unnamed and undiscovered. There are 7,000 kinds of moss thus far, and those have been named and discovered only because there was once a fad in England of collecting and identifying moss. There are likely thousands and thousands of more moss species alive.
Well, that was just tonight's reading, which was one chapter out of twenty-some. Every chapter is a prize, and as a whole, the book is a major achievement. Read more reviews of Bryson's book
March 10, 2005
As I recall St. Patrick's Days past, I can't remember a one which was pleasant. It has to do more with the time of year than with the holiday, although drinking green beer in excess on a Tuesday doesn't appeal to me one bit.
Aunt Olla suggested that a more fitting title for this time of year would be the Ides of March, since this is a time of winter which is tough for everybody.
This morning turned ugly in a hurry. Visibility was almost nil when I went to the nursery, so I called a couple of the employees and said they should wait for things to calm down.
Eventually the weather did clear a bit. My main accomplishment was to get my Dell computer repaired. I called Customer Service somewhere in India and a nice gentleman led me through a magical process whereby they restored the computer to what it had been at a date and time in the past my chosing. I chose the day before the computer stopped working, and zap, when I pressed the button, everything worked again.
The button is called "system restore." So, naturally I spent the rest of the day humming the Lutheran liturgical hymn "Restore Unto Me..the Joy of Thy Salvation and Renew a Right Spirit Within Me."
I will forever associate that hymn with St. John's Church, the Lutheran church just down the road. I have been thinking about St. John's a lot recently. After I sat with Mernice and Alma, both long-time members of St John's, at coffee at the nursing home, I got thinking about St. John's. Then I had a roasted sub sandwich at Quizno's which had a smell identical
to the food smell in the basement at St. John's when they used to have Ladies Aid suppers.
So, it was natural that after my Dell was restored that I would start humming a tune which not only was appropriate for a "system restore" event, but for thoughts about St. John's.
Yes, it all comes together.
Aunt Olla called this evening. She saw in the newspaper that I mentioned her in the column, so she called to say that she had been "reeeeeeding the Times," and that the article came out okay. It'll take her a while to get used to that, but in the end she'll be proud.
Olla is still mulling the nursing home idea. The wheels are turning. I am trying to encourage her not to worry about her stuff. We'll find a place for it, and I won't throw anything valuable. The nursing homes around here have so many open beds that I don't think finding one will be a problem.
Otherwise, it was a groggy day. I get that way when it storms. I got up early, but then had to have a massive mid-day nap. After said nap, I went over to the house to find the carpenters and three electricians and plumbers busy. Things are moving. Jeff and Dean are doing sheetrock now, and tomorrow they will frame in the bathtub.
Brother Joe has taken it upon himself to write the nursery catalog this year. I have read over his initial drafts, and he has given the thing a much-needed facelift. The text is fresh. It will be much-improved. Writing the catalog is my least favorite task, so I am very grateful.
So what is it that I do at the nursery? Mmmmm. Today I dreamt up a jingle for an ad. It is sung in the style of Hank Williams to the tune of "Cold, Cold Heart."
I tried grow petunias
but they all died on me
I bought them at the discount store
where they were darn near free
but when they died, I realized
I wasn't very smaaaaaaaaart--
Next time I'll go to Bergeson's
and do it right from the start.
That should make about a 30-second ad, I would think. We could produce it ourselves.
That's my job, promotion. It takes a creative sort, the sort who likes to stare out at a swamp from a crow's nest.
March 09, 2005
And finally, I have been waiting to post this picture for two months. This was taken from the hotel balcony in Tucson. When this stunning sunset
appeared on the horizon, we ran up to the third floor balcony and started shooting. Well, I shot about 25 pictures before realizing that I had forgotten to put in the memory chip. So, this is a shot from Lance's Nikon digital.
It seemed that many Mexicans carried books with them for times when they weren't doing anything else. Our guide, who was usually pretty busy, had a book in his hand for reading while we were being entertained by others. Here, a young man reads while he waits for business at what appears to be a street side shoe repair business.
Here's what happens when you don't clean your gutters! This colonial church, like several we saw, had weeds growing from its steeple. This isn't entirely a Mexican phenomenon--I have seen grass growing from the tops of old English cathedrals as well.
And finally, yet another picture of Los Remedios, the eighteenth century church atop the Aztec pyramid in Cholula. This picture was taken atop the roof after a climb through a tiny staircase in the steeple towards the front of the church.
I picked up Aunt Olla from her apartment in Twin Valley late this morning, and we went to Flom to meet Cousin Ilene for dinner. Dinner today at the Flom Cafe was a pork chop dinner, and it was very good. Real mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. Apple crisp for dessert. Good, solid food.
Olla seemed a little slower. She has been toying with going back into the nursing home, and I think that would be good, whenever she decides she's ready. She would get more stimulation there--and be watched more carefully. There is no sign that she is confused at all; it is just that she is a little slower getting through her sentences. She does get through them, however, and always completes her thought. It just takes a little more effort.
She told me today about her husband Doc. They were married 22 years. "We had a great time," she said, although she has added that 22 years was about just right. He passed away of cancer in the late 1960s.
Olla used to get embarrassed because he liked risque humor, and didn't hesitate to tell off-color jokes. Olla's oldest sister used to laugh like crazy at Doc's humor, but Olla didn't find it so funny. In fact, she was mortified.
Doc liked to have a beer every now and then, which endeared him to Olla's mother Lena. She also liked to have a beer, even though some of her grandkids would be mortified to find that out, and probably wouldn't believe it. But Doc and Grandma Lena got along famously during the short time Olla and Doc were together.
Doc had two kids before Olla and he were married, and they have still kept in touch with Olla. One of them has always told Olla to let him know if she ever needed any help. Well, Olla got to thinking, she had a credit card balance of $800, why didn't she just take him up on his offer and ask for money to pay it off?
She discussed this with her advisors (which didn't include me), who suggested she round it up to $1000. No, she thought that wouldn't do--but when she called and asked for the $800, her stepson not only sent the money, but rounded it up to $1000 on his own.
These are things you can get by with when you are ninety-three years old.
Her next wish is to have a lobster dinner before she dies. She went on about this for quite a while until I figured out that I was part of this plan. She wants to take her reflexologist (foot rubber) to Red Lobster in Fargo, and she wants me to drive. She assured me that she would pay for gas.
This is to happen when the ice goes off the roads.
Of course, you really have no choice. Every argument that one is busy sort of shrinks in comparison to the "just one last wish before I die" argument.
Before I left Olla's apartment, we sat and visited. It is clear that she is ready for the nursing home, but she wants to hold out until September. But she paused and said, "there's a pall over this place, don't you think?" I said I hadn't noticed--but asked her how long she had felt that. She said about one week.
I said she's probably already detached herself from her apartment--sort of like I've already detached from my old house, even though I still live in it. There are days when I dread going back there because it is--doomed, as my house. I have emotionally divorced it, sad to say, but I still have to stay there a couple more months.
Perhaps Olla has detached from apartment, too. Thus the pall.
March 08, 2005
That's what it was today. After the mild weekend, I hated to drag on the winter coat again today. I finally relented when I saw it was only 10 degrees at noon. Ugh. No real warm-up in sight, either. It would have been a beautiful day--in January.
Well, it was a beautiful day anyway. There was a bunch of busyness, but after the busyness was over, I drove out to the Swamp Castle and climbed up into the crow's nest and just sat. I must have sat there for twenty minutes when two deer ambled into view. They were grazing dogwood twigs on the near edge of the swamp. I had the binocs, and I watched them for a long time. Time flies when you're watching wildlife that doesn't know you're there.
After that, I scanned the horizon to the east with the binocs. The sun was setting behind me, illuminating the woods. I could see much more than I had imagined through the woods, including the glint of a yield sign fully one-and-a-half miles to the east. That is a winter-only view.
There is something eerie about spying on a space that far away. The yield sign was a familiar place, but one I had never seen from that perspective, and never from my living room.
I have already spent some hours in the crow's nest enjoying nature--and this has been in the dead of winter. It occurs to me where that phrase came from. It is so deathly quiet in winter. There are only a few birds singing now in the morning. There is no noise at night. Compare that to the symphony of frogs come May!
I can't wait to have the windows open on the Swamp Castle to hear the frogs. I think I will record it in stereo so I can play it back in the winter time, hours at a time, for I do miss the sounds of summer.
Tonight, I drove over to check the stove. As soon as I stepped out of my pickup, I was struck by how bright the stars are out there. Having no yardlight helps, of course. And there are no lights shining from the inside to muck up the view either. So I ran up to the crow's nest, got the binocs, shut all the lights off, and looked at some stars.
What surprised me tonight was that I could see very well--yet there was no moon. I could see the white of the snow, I could see the trees, I could see the house--once my eyes adjusted, I had quite a good view of things. What was providing the light? The stars? The yardlights of the nursery 1/4 of a mile away?
Another astronomy issue today: I have observed that the moon rises right on the prow of the house. So, if you stand way to the back of the house and look down the main hall towards the front windows, you would see the moon. However, is the moon going to rise there in every season? In the house at the time were two ministers and one electrician, and none of them had any idea.
My inclination is to think that the moon arises at precisely the same place on the horizon all year round. However, I have been wrong on the moon before, as recently as last weekend, when I pooh-poohed Lance when he said there might ice on the south pole of the moon. Turns out that there probably is ice on the south polar regions of the moon.
Ah, thinking about astronomy and watching the outdoors is so much preferable to any other stuff that goes on during a day.
A reporter and photographer from AgWeek
magazine, published by the Grand Forks Herald, were at the nursery today doing a story. They stayed for well over an hour, and of course I was happy to give them a full tour. The reporter was quite interested in the process of seeding and had many questions for Mom, who had a big seeding to complete today. It will be interesting to see how the article comes out. Mom didn't think it would be easy to translate all of the detailed questions and answers into a readable article.
When I get talking to a friendly reporter, I get lulled into gushing honest answers that can come out looking stupid in the paper. So we'll see what she does with it.
March 07, 2005
Joe and I went in to sing at Fair Meadow today. That's always fun. It's getting pretty regular now--I used to do it alone without a sound system, but now Joe comes along and brings his sound system. I think it helps the people hear.
Neighbor Alma is in the home now. She's 92. She is one of the last of the old neighbors living. Alma is rural aristocracy, and she hasn't lost one bit of her dignity now that she's in the home.
Another neighbor Mernice is only 70, but has just gotten out of six months of hospitalization for a disasterous stomach ailment which just led from one thing to another. I hadn't seen her while she was sick. She's looks pretty good now, but she has to learn to walk again after six months in bed, some of it spent in a coma.
But Mernice wasn't down at all. She said--you look around at people--one of whom she mentioned has had to have his tongue taken out due to cancer--and she says you feel lucky.
One thing that was tough, according to Mernice, was having a tracheotomy. She couldn't speak. That didn't bother her so much during the day. But at night you wake up and panic. The worst, she said, was when she dreamt she won $350,000 at the casino and she was trying to scream and couldn't!
Knute was in the front row. That's not his real name, but that's what everybody calls him. Joe and I sang at New Year's Eve at the nursing home and Knute was there then, too.
At the end of our singing, I said, now Knute, I don't want to see your wheelchair uptown tonight at the Powerhouse in this cold weather. Knute didn't miss a beat. "I tell you there Bergeson," he said, "if you see my wheelchair uptown tonight, you pop right in and will have a liver lifter!"
Well, I caught it today. Knute said he rolled his wheelchair all over uptown on New Year's Eve and couldn't find me anywhere. Where were ya?
Of course, if Knute were to actually go up town on New Year's Eve, they'd pull him into the first joint and not let him go until closing. He's a legend.
Knute had a stroke and he is wheelchair bound, but he still has a snort when he can. "I've never turned down a beer in my life!" he told me with pride last fall, in the same tone of voice some people use to say they've never set foot in the casino.
Also in the home: Lillian, who sold me candy at Rexall when I was in junior high. When I hear her voice, I still smell the bubble gum. She must be well into her 90s.
Kordula passed away in the past month. She owned the Variety Store for many years. She seemed so old at the time, but lived on and on. She was 98.
And Gustav's funeral was today. He never had to go to the home. He was 83, a dignified, soft-spoken man with always a kind word. He was of the World War II generation. He wasn't in the military, but he worked the shipyards in San Diego during the war.
I guess he used to love to go dance the big bands that came to entertain the troops. I'll bet he was quite the lady's man in his day. He carried himself in a dignified manner to the end, always well-dressed and kempt.
Gustav's sister Mabel died only two years ago--she played organ and piano at Norman Church for years and years. She enjoyed good music--Chopin and the like.
I guess I am getting nostalgic for the classy, dignified old-timers who are so fast disappearing around here. I fear they are not being replaced with people of the same ilk.