May 12, 2005
This miserable, cold day was a good day for me to be away from the nursery. I traveled to Bemidji for a series of meetings with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, culminated with their annual celebration banquet this evening.
I was supposed to be in Bemidji at one o’clock. Naturally, I lingered too long at the nursery and got behind. I pulled into Bemidji about twenty before the hour and went to Burger King and promptly dropped my Whopper on my pants--actually, it bounced on my shirt first, leaving a grease stain.
Then, while eating the Whopper, I missed the turn off to the foundation headquarters and had to drive two miles out of my way. By the time I walked into the meeting, it was two past one. I was the last one there.
There sat a bunch of suits. I had a sport coat on--I put in on only to cover the grease stain on the shirt, but I was glad I did--but no tie. Oh well. It was a meeting of the investment committee.
Our guests were the fund managers--the people who decide how the $31 million dollars the foundation has in its endowment is invested. Two of them traveled in from Minneapolis, and a third from California for the meeting. Apparently, the foundation is regarded as a customer worth keeping.
I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about most of the time. I have practiced my grave nodding act for years, so I did that for three hours--creasing my brow just enough to show interest, but not for them to think I had a question.
It was quite interesting. These guys have a lot riding on how their stock picks do. If their performance starts sinking below average, we might just fire them. They also have to answer for the fees that they are paid.
The most interesting man was the California guy. He is a partner in a firm which manages billions of dollars worth of real estate holdings. They buy property--commercial, residential, industrial, whatever--manage it, sometimes down to the hiring of the janitors--and sell it when they think they’ve milked it for what it is worth.
This man is on a high, for real estate has been booming, and our account with him has jumped quite nicely.
At the banquet, I spoke with him briefly. He runs a vineyard near Sacramento in his spare time. Of all things, he asked me about what he should plant along his driveway. Again, I really didn’t have a clue.
After the meeting, I went to Home Depot for some nails in strips for the carpenters. I went in the bathroom there and scrubbed on the grease spot on my shirt for a while, and dried it by rubbing. There was no air dryer. When the spot dried, the grease spot still glared out.
It was at that point I hit upon the brilliant idea of covering the spot for the entire evening with my name tag! Why hadn’t I thought of that before?
It worked like a charm, and I went into the “social hour” at the banquet without any grease spot anxiety. (Irene, I forgot to bring the spot remover you gave me last summer. Should have left it in the glove compartment.)
The banquet was a four-and-a-half-hour long affair. There were hundreds of people there, many with organizations who were receiving awards. Many, many interesting community success stories.
I handed out an award to the Fosston Library, which was a big community project which turned out well. They have a nice library and a little arts theater--all in a former Pentacostal Church. I said this marked the first time a transition from Pentacostal Church to library had ever been attempted. The crowd understood that I was being facetious. Thank goodness.
May 11, 2005
Today was cold and brisk. The thermometer is going to skim near freezing the next couple of nights. Yet, people were still in a buying mood. We were busy for much of the day.
Got a call from Lynn Hummel, a lawyer and fellow columnist in the Detroit Lakes paper. We alternate on the opinion page in the bi-weekly publication.
Hummel said he enjoyed my column about cutting down old trees. It has gotten to be an annual column, I am finding--something I write about every May.
As a lawyer, Hummel has dealt with many people who have lost trees. He finds the value accorded old trees by the courts to be absurd.
Well, at a meeting the other day Lynn overheard somebody denigrate “tree huggers” It made him mad, so, he went up to them and said “Just what is a tree hugger, and what is so bad about them?”
He then arranged for the next meeting of the organization to be on trees, and he was hoping to have me speak. I don’t like to take speeches during our busy time, but I couldn’t turn this one down, so next Tuesday I will be heading to Detroit Lakes to not-so-subtly make the point for keeping old trees.
LAST NIGHT, I had what I thought was going to be the final speaking engagement of the spring, a class in Plummer. There were ten people there. Cassio asked if he could go along because he wondered what I do on all of these speaking engagements. I’ll bet that’s that last time he’ll do that!
After the class, we went to the Third Base in Brooks for a late night steak. We were one of two tables, the other being a group of construction workers. The Third Base is an institution around here, a place where people used to go from Fertile if they wanted to have a drink with their meal without starting rounds of gossip.
The restaurant recently changed hands. They fixed up the inside. I don’t think the salad bar had as much pizzazz as it used to--in fact, I know they used to bring you the dinner salad along with a plate of vegetables with liverworst. They also used to serve garlic bread with the meal. Neither were present last night. I didn’t miss them until I thought about it just now.
Then home in the late dusk of early summer. Twins on the radio. Tired out, but a good tired. Cassio and I discussed English words all the way home. He has a quick mind for picking up the subtle differences between words.
Last night, we spent some time establishing the difference between the words “able” and “achieve.” Why, for instance, he asked, do we say “I am able to roll down the window,” and not, “I have achieved rolling down the window.” I had to think about it, but came up with the notion that the word “achieve” always connotates a long effort. It is never used to describe something you accomplish in five minutes.
We also discussed the Portuguese pronounciation of the letter “r.” It comes across as an “h.” They sometimes roll the “r” as well.
Cassio was curious why the word “lady” and the word “letter” are so similar in pronounciation even though one has a “d” in the middle and the other has two “t’s”.
I WENT OUT TO the swamp castle to watch the birds from the crow’s nest this evening. There are swarms of tree swallows skimming the swamp for insects. Also some wood thrushes. And then, when I turned my back for a little bit, a swan landed. Within a few minutes, it was up on the muskrat house preening itself. Man, I hope they nest there.
May 10, 2005
Things are greening up nicely after the recent rain. Nice to have some cooler weather after the sultry day on Sunday.
The cool weather didn't slow business down at all; yesterday was busy for a Monday despite the drear. I am still a little shell shocked from the weekend. It takes until Tuesday to get one's bearings again. And it takes a while to get the place back into shape after being trampled by an army of customers.
The constant contact with the public brings on some philosophical thoughts. I admire the older people who keep going year after year despite disability and disease. I despair at the humorless 40-50 year old women (and they aren't all that way) who are struggling to keep up with the Joneses and are only interested in whether what they buy will be fashionable without any reference to their own tastes. My favorite question from them, and it is one I find absolutely pitiful: "Are a lot of people buying these?"
Most of the children this spring have been adorable. Only one or two parents have seemed nasty and naggy. People who plant flowers are generally responsible, good people.
Sunday morning types remain the most interesting; I take them with humor now, but in the past they have made my blood boil. Consider the type of person who will drive past a "SUNDAY HOURS: NOON to SIX" sign, boldly walk into the greenhouses at 10 a.m., and start complaining to the first person they see. These are rare birds, and thank goodness for that.
Many fun customers, old friends, come every day. We get snapshots of them, and they of us, as we all age--because we only see them once per year. I think that has given me a perspective on aging and death I wouldn't have otherwise. Sometimes we will briefly discuss the health problems of the past year--then you move on to business.
The other day, I was in the cafe and said, "I had better get back to work," and a retired farmer shot back--"Be thankful you have work!"
I am also grateful for business as a way of getting to know people. Business gives you an excuse to help people you otherwise wouldn't have any chance to deal with. It makes a connection. You help people with choosing a shrub for their yard and you have that connection with them for years, no matter how you might tussle or disagree with them otherwise.
When people who have just lost a loved one come to the nursery, it is wonderful to get the formalities out of the way and get down to business--they are hungering for normality--and going over the details of choosing a tree, for example, creates a window for humor and frank discussion that they have been missing for the previous days.
The nursery business is a good business because people are usually here as a result of some of their more noble impulses.
May 08, 2005
It was good to meet some of you weblog regulars this weekend at the nursery. Thanks for identifying yourselves!
This was the first decent weather on a Mother's Day in quite a while. It really brought out the people. And yesterday, despite the gloomy weather, people came in droves. The weekend turned out to be the best we've ever had at the nursery. So, I am tired--but pretty content.
I enjoyed people all weekend, for the most part. I didn't feel the blood rise to my face when a couple's big dog started barking at people in the cold storage building, creating a tremendous racket, and causing the man to explain, "We're trying to get him used to people." I didn't get impatient when a woman refused to consider her decision between one $16.50 tree and another $16.50 tree to be anything less than the greatest moral question of our time. The more I tried to tell her that it just didn't matter, both trees would work just fine, the more she grimaced in pain.
But today, a woman showed up who got my goat. I had a sinking feeling when I saw her, but I know from the past not to trust those sinking feelings--they can be misleading. So, I talked with her, only to have her bring up her dead rose that I had said would live over winter but it didn't. It has been the same dead rose for years now, and it all came back in a flash. She has a self-righteous, pompous way of implying that I am a liar and thief that just throws me into a rage. I walked away from her, but it threw me off. I had to go to my office to cool off for a while. I wanted to escort her to her car and tell her never to come back. No, I am lying. I wanted to scream at her in front of all the other customers that she was a complete witch.
Otherwise, however, it was all fun. I don't want to dwell on the negative. It is amazing how the negative stuff can take you over. Ninety-five percent of all exchanges in a typical business day in the nursery business are a sheer delight. Four-percent are mildly difficult. One-percent are rage-inducing. At the end of the day, one has to work really hard to not have the one percent dominate one's thoughts.
We have such a great crew that a day like today can go quite smoothly. Ken and Orpha kept the stuff in the greenhouse from wilting. That is the most important job. You barely see them all day--they are out back at the end of a hose. Sharon and Marian worked on filling in the displays, a losing but necessary battle this time of year. Cassio and Danilo made carry-out boxes and helped customers load bags of peat and large evergreens. Gary, Joe, Dad and Aaron waited on people in the bare root building. Mom, Cindy and Dot worked the tills all afternoon with very few breaks.
Tomorrow, perhaps the cooler weather will allow us a chance to catch our breath and get things in order again.
THE TWINS swept mighty Tampa Bay Devil Rays this weekend. Actually, the Rays are no good at all, but they did take three of four from the Yanks this week--so it was satisfying to have the Twins sweep them. Radke, Mays and Santana did well.