Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 18, 2005

Swamp Castle

Sister Tracie was home over the weekend and went out on the ice with the expressed purpose of showing why my new house has been dubbed the Swamp Castle.

Grand Forks Home Show

Stood at the booth from three until eight today. It went pretty fast. The GF Home Show is more relaxed than the one at the Fargodome. For the first hour, almost nobody came by. Then it got a little rushed, but never unmanageable. Most people were distracted by the UND Sioux hockey game on the big screen TV.

Earlier in the day, I attended the monthly meeting of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. This was my second meeting. It is plain that I still have an awful lot to learn before I understand the workings of that fairly large organization. What I learned today is that if the foundation doesn't submit withholding taxes for its employees, the board members are personally liable! The staff assured us that they have been submitting the payments in a timely manner.

The NMF is involved in many philanthropic activities, from funding early childhood programs to making loans and grants to new and existing businesses. I will have to learn the nuts and bolts of lending money, investing money, raising money, all of it, if I am to really understand what is going on. I look forward to the education.

For example, what is an acceptable loan failure rate? For a commercial bank? For a public foundation? How much must a lender hold in reserve to cover possible bad loans? Who is responsible if a foundation squanders its endowment on questionable investments? How much of an endowment should be handed out each year and how much should be held in reserve? For each of these questions, there are "industry standards." I find these questions, and their answers, fascinating.

The meeting was held in McIntosh. I drove directly from there to Grand Forks. It was a beautiful day as long as I was in the warm pickup. Outside, it was chilly.

But not as miserable as it would have been if that big storm had not veered south. My Aunt Beth emailed mid-day and reported that they had 10 inches of snow in Rochester. What a reprieve to have been spared that here! Such a dumping is appropriate for November. When it comes in March, it is an insult.

March 17, 2005

A day of bustle

March is a busy time at the nursery. This morning, a semi drove in with our annual load of trees. We buy in the trees we don't raise ourselves. They all come at once, and today was that day.

The trucker usually helps, and they are usually good to work with. But today's trucker was a complete idiot, and we didn't object when he went into the cab and sat while we spent two hours unloading. I mean, backing up was something new to him, and any suggestion we made was immediately countered by a tirade about "well you try backing up a 54-foot trailer!" and on and on.

Once the trucker was safely in the cab, it was kind of fun unloading all the stuff. I am always eager to see what the quality is--it tends to get better every year. The trees come from Bailey Nursery (the obnoxious truck driver had nothing to do with Bailey's) a nursery in St. Paul which is celebrating their 100th anniversary this season.

I think of Bailey's as a model company. They have always treated us very well. Their nursery is impeccably neat. They are professional in every way. They actively try to improve their stock. I think they treat their employees pretty well, although I do know that they don't put up with sloth. You do the job well or you're gone.

Now we have plenty to do sorting it all out, trimming and labeling, preparing the trees and shrubs for sale. Dad and neighbor Gary will be working on that during the next month.

We have made three trips to the Fed Ex terminal in Grand Forks this week. Boxes of plants come in. We don't dare let them bring them to the nursery on an unheated truck, so we run up to the terminal and get them.

Well, that's fine when there are twelve boxes. Today, one showed up. Ugh. That means one person has to take three hours out of their day to go get a couple of hundred plants. We could have waited and had them put it on the truck tomorrow, but the forecast said low of 7 degrees tonight, and that low usually happens in the morning, so we didn't dare. As a result, Joe decided to make a run to GF--since Dad already had been there twice this week getting plants.

Joe and I were supposed to sing at the Halstad Nursing Home this afternoon, but since Joe was going to GF, I did the show myself. Nice people. Many of them familiar faces from the nursery. One woman was 99. It went well, although doing 45 minutes on my own required me to dig deep into my repertoire. I thought it would be okay to end at five minutes to three, but the food staff absolutely will not serve coffee before three o'clock, which meant the people gathered in the activity room would have to just sit there until three--uff da--so they asked for another song.

One woman was perfectly energetic looking and was a friendly conversationalist, but clearly was losing it a bit. She asked my name. I told her. She said, "Oh! I am planning to become a Bergeson myself!" Well wonderful, I said. "But it's not as easy as it sounds!" she continued. "They just keep going up and up and up!"

Santana ready to go

Johan pitched four scoreless innings against the Blue Jays yesterday. They barely touched him. That is good news. I don't listen to spring training games because they are so very meaningless, but it is good to hear that the pitchers are throwing strikes.

Cory Koskie, meanwhile, who the Twins let go to the Blue Jays last winter, is on the shelf with a groin strain. One reason I thought the Twins were wise to let him go was the fragility of his body.

Oh, now Congress is going to get into the steroid act. What foolishness. They're going to drag a bunch of stars before their committee and humiliate them. It is grandstanding and nothing else. There's nothing Congress can or should do about steroids in baseball. It is the job of baseball to clean its act up on its own.

March 16, 2005

Pork roast

I haven't cooked more than two meals since I got back from Mexico. I don't know why. The Schwan man has been making a killing off me.

But today, friend Dale called and said if I'd make mashed potatoes, he'd bring over a pork roast for me to bake. That was fine. I cut three gashes in the roast and stuffed them with garlic, coarse ground pepper and some Italian seasoning. Then I poured a garlic and herb marinade over the whole works and baked it for two hours at 300 degrees.

Whoa, did the pork turn out good. So did the mashed potatoes. The pork drippings made good gravy. Lance showed up, too, and we finished off pretty much all of it. I think there's nothing more wholesome than a pork roast, but it has to be moist--and I think the key to that is cooking it at relatively low temperatures and not overly long.

So, there you have my culinary advice for the day. Oh, and we dug into the only booze in the house--a bottle of port. One third of a glass each. Pretty wild. Just enough to give the cheeks a little burn.

It was a day of spinning wheels at work. Two steps forward, one step back. Then in early afternoon I felt a wave of tiredness which I am sure was related to yesterday's wood hauling and I had to take a nap.

It was beautiful weather today. The roads steamed as the slush and snow melted off. Hard to believe that we're supposed to get socked starting tomorrow afternoon. I am hoping it is a bad dream.

My main consolation is that no matter what happens with the weather up here, the Twins start play in three weeks. Spring will come.

Mahnomen elevator

Here's a pic of the Mahnomen elevator last night. I got a kick out of the neon sign on the lower left which says "Piercing and Tattoos." I wonder how many piercing and tattoo parlors you could combine with a picture of a small town elevator.

March 15, 2005

March acting lionish

Tonight, I taught a community education class in Mahnomen. There were five students, so we sat around a table in the library and had a nice time.

A class in Mahnomen means an excuse to eat at the Red Apple. Had a pretty darn good burger with very nicely done fries and a salad with actual dark green lettuce, some peppers and some nice tomatoes--not the typical small-town salad.

The setting sun broke through the cloud cover, so I found some Flame Willow planted around Mahnomen and took pictures. I may post them tomorrow when I get to my other computer.

But after the class, when I started driving, it was a nightmare. The snow was coming down fast and furious and it was sticking to the road. I had to stop on Highway 200 a couple of times to get my bearings. It was very confusing. When I turned north, it was better, but it still took a while to get home.

Now comes word that we are getting a storm on Thursday. They have already issued a warning. It seems a little early to put out a warning. Maybe it will veer off just to prove the forecasters wrong. I never mind when they're wrong about bad weather.

But what a beautiful day today! Perfectly still. A dusting of fresh powder. I went right out on the swamp and cut some wood. I found a downed ash tree of some caliper and sawed it up.

It wasn't that easy--I put the chain on the saw in the shop, tightened it just right, drove out to the house, walked across the swamp, fired up the saw--and it wouldn't cut a thing. I had put the chain on backwards. So, walk back across the swamp, drive back to the shop, blah, blah, blah.

Eventually I hauled some ash wood up on the sled. The snow was real slippery today, and the trail was solid, so I was able to get a good run at the shore and get over the last hump and pull the sled right up to the woodpile with little trouble.

Of course then I started adding more logs and more logs until the load got a little heavy. I was harnassed up like a mule, pulling hard, and I had a good run at that last hump. I decided to give it one more heave-ho, but lost my traction and fell flat. The sled slid backwards down the slope.

No harm done until I look up to see Dean a few feet away with a big smile on his face. He thinks I am crazy for hauling wood like a mule in the first place, and now he got to see me fall flat on my face!

He said I looked like I needed a break--could I go up to the place and get them five gallons of water. They were texturing the garage. I was glad for the break.

Overall, it was a good wood-hauling day. I have a nice pile there of ash. And nothing burns like ash.

March 14, 2005

A crisp March day

Wow, it doesn't warm up very fast. It was downright crisp out this morning when I went out on the swamp to cut wood. Wading in knee-deep snow warmed me up in a hurry, however.

I sawed down two dead ash trees, cut them up, and hauled them to shore with my wood sled. I am learning how to distribute the weight on the sled so it isn't quite so hard to pull. Last week I remodeled the thing so it doesn't gather snow in the front. I also changed my harness from clotheline to thick rope so it doesn't dig so deeply into my shoulders.

Very satisfying, bringing in wood which will be inaccessible during the summer months due to the water. It makes me feel quite virtuous.

This evening, I taught a class entitled "Do It Yourself Landscaping" at the Fosston High School. There were about twenty people there, a good turnout. Fun bunch. They asked good questions. My voice was sore near the end, however.

Tonight I am tired and uninspired. I am reading The Last Full Measure, an account of the First Minnesota Volunteers during the Civil War by Richard Moe. It is very well written. It was recommended to me (and loaned to me) by a fellow Fertile-Beltrami grad who now teaches in Iowa and participates in Civil War re-enactments.

The Minnesota boys were avid correspondents--a good thing for historians. Their letters tell much which otherwise would have been lost.

When they finally were paid, months after enlisting, the soldiers spent much of their money on homecooked food. Because they were in Maryland at the time, local farm wives made a haul selling their meals to the soldiers. It didn't seem to matter that the locals were generally sympathetic to the South--when it came to making a buck, the loyalties blurred.

At the first Battle of Bull Run, a disaster for the Union, the Minnesotans acquitted themselves well. They didn't break and run like the rest of the Union troops, although they suffered high casualties because of their reluctance to turn tail.


Brother Joe and I went to Perham on Saturday to give classes at their Master Gardener Horticulture Day. I taught a class on trees and shrubs and Joe taught one on combining annuals with perennials.

People are hungry for gardening right now. About 350 people attended the event, many of them familiar faces. People in gardening are willing to drive a long ways for seminars and the like; I saw people from Fargo, Thief River Falls, Ada and other towns there.

The speaking engagements are coming fast and furious now. I go to Fosston tonight, Mahnomen tomorrow night, Halstad with Joe on Thursday, Grand Forks on Friday through Sunday for the Home Show, with a talk at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead sandwiched in between on Saturday afternoon.

With all the driving, I decided to dig out the Spanish discs I bought a couple of years ago but have never used and see if I can't pick up something useful while I am on the road. I listened to one disc twice over the weekend. Good grief. It confused me completely.

The temperatures stay low. Winter is hanging on. Spring is being its usual excruciating self. The sun is up longer, but it doesn't seem to do any good. And I am out of firewood.

So, that is the first task today. Fire up the saw and head out to the woodpile. It should be perfect weather for sawing today.