Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

June 18, 2005

Railing on catwalk



The catwalk and crow's nest OSHA safety rating went up yesterday as Jeff, Dean and Tom finished off the railing on the crow's nest. This morning I spent a good deal of time out there watching the swans through my binoculars. It was nice not to have to worry about falling eighteen feet to my death.



Here are the steps which go up from the loft to the cat walk. There are many lighting possibilities here. Not sure how I am going to exploit them yet.


June 17, 2005

Summer

The past two days have been pristine. Today, I attended a meeting of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. After the conclusion of the regular business meeting, we toured the Nature Conservancy prairie restoration project north of Fertile. It is quite an amazing project; at least 25,000 acres are going to be restored into native prairie.

We went out into the field and heard some researchers describe their various projects involving frogs, birds and prairie plants. I learned a great deal. Although I am supposed to know plants, I know little or nothing about native plants, and there are a great deal of them.

According to the bird expert, my family of swans is unusually large with seven little ones surviving the hatch and infancy. So, I am proud of those bragging rights, even though I had nothing to do with any of it.

Prairie chickens are the big bird on the prairie restoration lands. They were near extinction but have now reached sufficient numbers to allow for a hunting season.

A humorous moment: The amphibian expert described finding a rare frog "in mating position." Our chairman Kip immediately said, "Carolyn here would like to know more details," referring to a woman on the board who would be the last to ask such a question.

The researcher went into detail about how the male frog attaches himself to the female frog for as long as it takes--which is sometimes two to three days. Problem is, sometimes the male frogs get confused and hang onto darn near anything for days on end. She cited cases where a male frog has mated with a dead squirrel and a pop can.

The moose population has been depleted in the past thirty years, according to another expert, thanks to a brain parasite, a liver parasite, reproductive problems and ticks. Rough times for the moose.


June 16, 2005

Carpenters



Carpenter Dean and his father Tom start work on the railing for the crow's nest. The ideas for the railing have evolved over the winter as we have tested various possiblities, wondering how far we should go to prevent children from falling off the catwalk. My real goal is to prevent children from even going on the catwalk by locking the gate.

The railing is going to hinder the view somewhat, but it has to happen. The catwalk started swaying last week and nearly threw me off. (Mind you, it sways because I wanted it to sway--it's still strong enough to hold a small pickup.) My balance isn't that good so--forget the children, I want a railing for me.

Tom has been retired for many years. He did several projects for Mom and Dad before Dean and Jeff took over the Kronschnabel tradition of solid, artistic craftsmanship. Last winter, Tom's visits were for a few minutes once per week. Then one day he came to help with the knotty pine. A little later, we were behind on staining boards, so he started coming a few hours to do that each day. "Tough work for an old coot," he'd say after a day of moving boards around.

Then Tom took on the job of sealing all the window frames. Now he's helping cut boards for the rest of the finish work, and he's putting in some pretty full days.

It is great to have Tom out working. He tells some great stories, not all of them repeatable. He enjoys birds, too, so he keeps up on the swans out front and gives me a daily report.


Visitors



One of our two Brazilian workers, Danilo, received two visitors yesterday afternoon. On the left is Dr. Lou Boren, Danilo's horticulture professor back in Brazil. On the right is Steve Jones of Fergus Falls who works with an organization called "Communicating for Agriculture" which places foreign trainees on farms and nurseries in the United States.

Danilo is looking particularly happy here: Minutes before, Dr. Boren hired him to work with the program when he returns to Brazil. This will help Danilo pay for his degree in Evironmental Engineering. Danilo will be deciding which trainees end up with which businesses here in the United States.

I told Lou that I would like to hire a Brazilian or two next year--would it be all right if I came to Brazil to interview candidates? He thought that was a great idea and immediately offered to set up meetings with the university chancellor and other dignitaries. So, it looks like a trip to Brazil is in the works.


Alchemilla



Alchemilla, or Lady's Mantle, are famous for the ability of their leaves to bead water. The beads are so large that even if they form from the morning dew, they can last all day. This picture was taken at 4 p.m. last evening.


June 15, 2005

Home schooling

Last evening, the cabinet-maker came to start installing cabinets. He brought along three of his children, two teenagers and one about eight-years old. They smiled so nicely, extended their hands and looked me right in the eye as they greeted me. My first thought: they must be home-schooled.

Now, I am all for public education--and my first thought when I hear about home schooling is that people are keeping their kids home so they can indoctrinate them into some religious sect. However, my experience has been that home-schooled kids are so different in temperament that I can spot them almost immediately.

I recall when a cousin and his wife came for a visit with their four kids. I was still living at home, and I dreaded the commotion. I was gone when they arrived, but when I came home, there was no commotion whatsoever. They were all four sitting reading. They were thrilled to have a new set of books to dig into. And they were all home schooled.

At the nursery, I can pick out home schooled kids by their calm friendship with their parents, their lack of hyperactivity, their trust for adults, their ease at dealing with people of other ages--and their intellectual curiousity about what they are seeing.

The difference is so drastic that I am tempted to say that our public schools, despite being staffed by people who have devoted their lives to caring for children and do the best they can under the circumstances, aren't the best way to train decent, caring adults. From my own memories, I would describe our present school system as more brutalizing than humanizing, even as I loved many of my teachers and have great memories of them to the present.

The problem is structural. Classes are too large. The age groups don't intermingle. Teachers are overworked. The buildings are sterile and lit with flourscent lights. Mediocrity is generally rewarded more than intelligence. The value of questioning is given a lot of lip service, but in my experience, there was no surer way to enrage a teacher than to start picking apart the stupidities of the textbooks--and believe me, 90% of them are horrible.

From a teacher's perspective, I understand what is going on--it is so difficult to manage a classroom with 30 energetic caged animals that any upsetting of the apple cart is not welcome.

When I student taught, it took me only three days to realize that I couldn't teach high school. I had to manage the class and keep order first and foremost. That required me to tell the rebels to shut up and sit still. Rebels included anybody who expressed the opinion that much of what we were studying and how we were studying it was completely stupid. I knew they were right. But how to come up with something better? I couldn't figure it out and I soon decided that the structure of it would prevent me from enjoying those kids--not just keeping them controlled and subdued.

I admire any teacher who takes on the challenge. They aren't the reason public schools brutalize. They give the often brutal system a human face.


Swans



This morning the swan family floated over to see what was going on at the house. This is a view from the crow's nest. The picture was taken without the benefit of a telephoto. I think I will end up getting one soon for scenes such as this. A tripod might also have helped.



Here is what the prow looks like from the outside now that the stained boards are in place.


June 14, 2005

Waiting for Santana

You know you have a special ballplayer on your hands when fans make a point of tuning into games where they appear--I have gotten a couple of emails from some of you who are looking forward to seeing Santana pitch tonight. I am too.

Despite not really getting entirely in gear yet this season, the Twins have the third best record in the major leagues. That isn't too shabby. They would be in first if the White Sox weren't absolutely playing out of their heads. I can't imagine Chicago keeping up the pace, but even if they do, the Twins will have a good shot at a wild card.

APOLOGY TO NON-BASEBALL FANS: I realize that some of you don't particularly like baseball. Pardon my going on at length about the Twins. If they start losing, I'll shut up. I am a fair weather fan.

The fact of the matter is, there isn't much else in the public domain which interests me right now. I don't care to comment on the Micheal Jackson verdict. Who cares. I am not particularly eager to make this a forum for debate over the war in Iraq. There's more than enough opinions on that right now.

Soon we will be treated to a new book by a man named Ed Klein, ripping Hillary Clinton to shreds and exposing alleged details of her allegedly violent marriage to Bill. Mr. Klein is a former editor of Newsweek, so the book will come with some built-in credibility (the sort of credibility Kitty Kelly lacks) whether it deserves it or not.

The Minnesota legislature continues on in a marathon special session, a product of the two houses of the legislature being controlled by different parties. They are quibbling over this and that. I am sure it all could have been settled in February if they would have had a mind to settle it.

Oh, the Pentagon is almost entirely shutting down the Air Force base in Grand Forks. Suddenly, civic leaders in Grand Forks are defense experts and are absolutely certain that our national security will be compromised if the base doesn't remain fully staffed.

The Pentagon is stupid to even hold local hearings on the matter. Having a military base nearby to prop up the local economy is not a constitutional right. Grand Forks enjoyed an artificial boost to its economy when Cold War strategy dictated that the North Dakota bristle with missiles aimed at Russia. Now that the Cold War is over, the reason for the base is clearly gone.

Rather than wallow in these depressing public affairs, over which I have absolutely no control, I choose to spend my limited media-time watching baseball!


June 13, 2005

Rain, rain

Another rainy day! It is getting frustrating. We have lots of work to do at the nursery, and lots of people to do it, but we are just stymied. The weeds are going to overcome us!

The carpenters are putting in wood flooring upstairs in the Swamp Castle. It is turning out beautifully. I found the flooring at the Fargodome Home and Garden Show, fell in love with it, and was surprised at how reasonable it was. It has seven different types of wood ranging from light to dark. So, yet more wood on display. My only regret is that you have to finish it--for I love the feel of unfinished wood and would leave it all that way if I could. But then if you spill coffee, and I spill a lot of coffee, the stains would be pretty difficult to remove.

BARN SWALLOWS have found the peak of the house and are nesting there. I suppose there is no stopping them. I have tried in the past, and there's just not much you can do.

On the bright side of bird matters, Mama Swan is cruising the swamp with all seven little ones today. They are scooping algae right along. The necks on the signets are already starting to stretch a little bit.


More good photos

Just a reminder to any new readers: Cousin Anne's weblog features consistently beautiful photos from Idaho. Page through the archives for many, many more.


Back to the farm

Wow, all it takes is one weekend in the Cities to make me glad I don't live there or anywhere near there. The pace is just too fast for me. More than other trips, it seemed that the people were palpably stressed.

The Twin Cities have never been my favorite city. I think downtown Minneapolis lacks warmth. We walked up and down the streets of downtown looking for a good ethnic restaurant, and there really weren't any. Turns out we missed one of the best, Sawatadee's, which serves Thai food. Eventually we found Buca's, a family style Italian restaurant, which was quite good.

On the way out of town yesterday morning, we drove up Central Avenue, something I haven't done for twenty years. There were nice neighborhoods along there and a proliferation of African and Mideastern restaurants. If it hadn't been Sunday morning, I would have loved to have eaten there.

Then you get out to the horrors of the newer suburbs. Strip mall after strip mall. I am referring specifically to that mess in Maple Grove, right where 94 splits into 494 and 694. Ugh. You can see the storefronts from the freeway, but actually getting to them is a nightmare. Right in the middle of the whole mess is a contrived little Main Street, build in the last few years, with all the charm of a movie set.

You might think that the masses of retail stores would provide one with some variety, but actually the products--the food in particular--are quite uniform. A lot of Irish Pubs. That means at least you can find a dark beer now in the suburbs if you want. But there isn't any real character or charm to any of it.

Now they build the surburban subdivisions to deliberately confound anybody who wants to drive through there on their way to somewhere else. That means finding a particular house is a nightmare. We had a map printed out from Yahoo with a big star on the roof of the house where we were headed, but we got lost in some courts and circles and trails and it took us 1/2 hour to find the right place.

It is these people, I suspect, who imposed this ridiculous street numbering system out here on the gravel roads. Somebody should stage a coup before they do more damage.