Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

July 09, 2005

Barn Again

Last night I spoke at the opening of the "Barn Again" exhibit, put on by the Smithsonian, at Thief River Falls. About 250 people showed up in the heat. Charlie Maguire, a musician who spent years on A Prairie Home Companion also entertained.

I didn't feel too sharp. Every situation presents its challenges, and this was a new speech. I talked about how not everybody who spent their childhood working in a barn has good feelings about the experience, and that many men now reaching retirement age have a lot of resentment--or at least an aversion--to a building which sort of symbolizes the Depression-era work ethic under which they were raised.

I had my thoughts written out and put in order on paper, but there was no podium, so I had to fumble with the paper the whole time. Plus there were about 20 kids on stage behind me, which I had said would be fine, but which in the end might have thrown me off a bit.

In a book he wrote on giving speeches, Dale Carnegie wrote that the one thing a speaker should insist upon is that when he or she speaks, the stage is utterly clear of other people. Do not allow somebody to sit up there no matter how well-behaved. If they pick their nose once during your speech, it can pull the crowd's attention away at a crucial moment.

Well, the speech didn't have any crucial moments--so that wasn't too much of a worry. The crowd was filled with friendly faces--I feel very at home in Thief River Falls--and I felt a warm welcome. In fact, I was going to rehearse the speech before hand but ended up visiting with people until the bell rung.

I drove home to catch a little of the fair. I walked on the midway, made it ten feet before ending up in a conversation. I parted, saying I was going to take a spin around the fair--made it ten feet--saw clusters of people who I couldn't very well ignore but whom I didn't have a particular desire to converse with--realized that would be a problem wherever I went--and went home to vacuum sawdust in the house.

Today, I am going to sit at the log cabin for a few hours. It is already sweltering outside. We have a good fan in at the log cabin, so it won't be too bad. Manning the cabin is my preferred way of spending time at the fair. If somebody wants to visit, they can come in the cabin and hang out for a while. Eventually, I will have some business to tend to, which will give them an opportunity to end the conversation without being rude. That is the central problem of the county fair--figuring out how to move on to the next cluster of people talking without seeming dismissive.

Heat takes it out of me. I would much prefer to sit in my house all day and clean. One day, I suspect, all sawdust will disappear from the place, but right now, every cleaning breeds more cleaning as sawdust sticks to shoes, socks and bare feet with equal ease. I have already both swept and vacuumed every floor surface in the place over the past few hours and still there is sawdust everywhere.

But I do enjoy vacuuming. I find myself humming and singing. It gives one the same sense of accomplishment as mowing.

RADKE finally won, and the Twins beat the Royals last night. The Twins really don't have much hope of catching the sizzling White Sox--but they are the frontrunners for the wild-card playoff spot, the spot that goes to the second-place team with the best record out of the three American League divisions.

July 07, 2005

Early morning at the Swamp Castle

My house was built for morning. It faces east northeast. I was sort of hoping that by letting in lots of sun early in the morning, I could be turned into a morning person.

This morning, it worked. I awoke with the dawn at five o'clock. I pushed start on the coffee machine, and then walked around enjoying the sunshine on the woodwork.

So, I must subject you to some pictures.

Here is a view from the front windows looking back into the house.

The texture of the tile is brought out nicely by the morning sun's low angles. Here, it sort of looks like the surface of the moon. In reality, it is not nearly as rough.

This is the fireplace as viewed from the book nook.

The beam above the head of the bed went in yesterday. Jeff and Dean notched it into the two stub walls which form a nook around what I assume will be a headboard of some sort.

Lots of Kronschnabel craftsmanship on display in this corner at the top of the staircase to the loft, although now I see that they still have a little trim left to add beneath the vertical knotty pine. The tray to the left contains rope lights which shine up on the wood.

The texture of the beams shows in the morning sun. The only treatment to the beams has been to grind them with a wire brush. I am going to leave them unstained and unsealed as I have always loved the look of natural wood. I am disappointed when I go to those unfinished wood furniture stores and realize that all that beautiful stuff is going to look glossy. Part of the sensuality of wood is its softness.

The two staircases turned out nicely. The lower one, from the main floor to the loft, is steeper than code. One day I will have to put in an elevator, I guess. I am not particularly good at stairs the way it is, and things aren't going to improve as I age.

The sun lights up the top of one of the big beams in the living room. Employee Ryan Nelson finished the formidable job of grinding the beams yesterday. Before he did, this spot was fuzzy and dirty.

Finally, here is a shot of the bathtub. In the foreground is a still life consisting of a bottle of high octane tar shampoo, a bar of Irish Spring soap on a plate for the kitchen, and a small jar of wood putty. Jeff and Dean extended the flooring up the walls of the tub. Steve the tile guy used left over tile from downstairs to tile the horizontal surfaces. He has yet to add grout.

July 06, 2005


Here are some of the guys loading up a truck we borrow every year from our cousins at Lee Nursery north of Fertile to take things to the fair. We decorate around an old log cabin there that was originally built by the Izaak Walton League, a Teddy Roosevelt-era conservation organization.

When does a fly run out of steam?

That was the question that occurred to me as one of those unnaturally large house flies angrily buzzed up in the beams at 1 a.m. last night. I had a good shot at him when he landed low on the bathroom wall, but missed. Disgusting.

All that buzzing, you'd think they'd have to stop and eat sometime, or just plain run out of gas. I was waiting for it to happen but fell asleep before it did.

I had harbored some sort of illusion that the new house would be pest free, but with the doors open so frequently, flies and other insects get in. When I got home last night, I shut all the windows and vacuumed the live flies for a while until they were down to a manageable number.

YESTERDAY, I went down to Twin Valley to visit Aunt Olla. We had set up the appointment the week before, but she didn't answer the door. So I went in and looked from room to room--you never know with a 94-year-old. Everything was in good order, and there were still droplets of water in the sink, so I knew she didn't disappear completely. I sort of wondered at first whether Florence and Olla had headed out to Montana or something.

So, I left a note and went up town for dinner. Then I got groceries and went back to check in again.

It wasn't long after I got back to the office that Olla called and said she was in the jail in Ulen for lying about her age at the liquor store and she wondered if I'd bail her out. I have often said that if she and Florence got in trouble that she shouldn't even bother calling me to bail them out--I'd just let them sit.

The Ulen reference comes from the time Olla needed wine for a ham recipe, but refused to buy the wine at the Twin Valley liquor store for fear word would get out--so I had to drive her down to Ulen where the wine selection left quite a bit to be desired but where the likelihood of rumors starting would be lower. Since then I never miss a chance to loudly ask Olla in public if she wants to make a booze run to Ulen, at which point she starts in on a long explanation of the ham recipe to anybody within earshot.

That was the joke. Actually, Cousin Ilene had picked up Olla and taken her on a string of errands and Olla couldn't very well turn her down because these errands had been bothering her for such a long time. So, all's well that ends well, and we're going to go out for lunch next Tuesday instead.

Olla has decided to more into the Fair Meadow Nursing Home in Fertile in September. She has picked out her room. She prefers to refer to the place as the old people's home--rather than some fancy new moniker.

The Polk County Fair starts this week. We are hauling in flowers to put on display this morning. Joe and Mom are running that show; Dot has put up a display in the log cabin. This year the theme is a Mexican fiesta.

July 05, 2005

Old friends

The process of unpacking is one of rediscovering old things that I had forgotten I owned, namely music CDs and books.

Every time I enter a new space, I have to play all of my CDs to see how they sound. I was going to put a new stereo system in the house, but the little Bose Wave Machine fills the whole place so effectively I think I can postpone the expense of something larger.

I have probably mentioned it before in this space, but one of my most treasured CDs is A Window in Time, a recording of Rachmaninoff playing his own music. Rachmaninoff was one of the great piano players of all time. Before audio recording was developed, he recorded his music on piano rolls around the year 1915--but not the usual piano rolls. These rolls were several feet wide and recorded every nuance of pressure on the keys as well as the pedal.

The rolls were in storage until about fifteen years ago when they were discovered. Somebody rebuilt a piano to play them, and then recorded the results on modern equipment. So, we have Rachmaninoff at the peak of his piano playing powers recorded on modern digital equipment.

Nobody could play like Rachmaninoff, probably because nobody else had his hands. His fingers were so long they hung to his knees. He had a two-octave reach. Consequently, he didn't have to rely on overuse of the sustain pedal to pull his phrasing together. In addition, he had, as a critic of the time said, "arms of steel and a heart of gold." His playing doesn't immediately dazzle a person, but in time you realize, particularly if you are a piano player yourself, the utter control he exercises over every note--not just the pressure he exerts on the keys, but the length of the note is always perfect.

Ah, but was he really as great as the piano rolls make him sound? There are some who claim that Rachmaninoff himself went through the rolls with a razor blade and altered the air holes where he felt he had held a note too long. Well, I won't be that fussy--modern pianists have the benefit of 100s of takes and editing equipment galore. In fact, modern recordings are almost obnoxiously perfect, and serve to make audiences so spoiled that when artists make mistakes in live performances they are disappointed.

BOOKS are my other old friends. Last night, I read some of William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, and then some Nietszche. Makes one wonder--is there really anything new under the sun? The old-timers had the same thoughts, fought the same battles, suffered the same disillusionments--the gift of books is to learn from the ancients so one doesn't have to fight all the battles over again. But--I must reread the books, for I forget what I read--and despair that it did me no good the first time around because it all seems so fresh.

I remember when my grandmother lost her memory--she read and reread--every night--a book Walk Across America by a Jenkins. She never tired of it. It was fresh to her each time. In a way, I feel I am doing the same thing--although the repeat readings are a bit more spread out at this stage in my life.

All kinds of fun

Got up this morning when the automatic coffee maker started gurgling, poured a cup and went up in the crow's nest. I was there five minutes. The swans were in hiding, but there was a family of eight ducks, many other pairs of duck-like waterfowl, and two odd birds which I will have to research when I have time. Then a beaver-like animal came swimming through the muck. When it came out of the water, it clear that it was a racoon. It disappeared into the reeds. So, now I know that racoons swim, something of which I was not aware.

Quite a bit of activity in the time it takes for a half a cup of coffee.

Last night, a delightful evening at the Swamp Castle. Cassio and I watched a movie. Afterwards, the Twins were on. At 9:50, there was still some light on the swamp and I spotted a swan. So, I went up into the crow's nest--and there was the whole swan family out feeding near the house in the dusk. Mama and Papa were staring into the windows, but the little ones--there were six that I saw--were busy gorging on algae.

It was a "it doesn't get much better than this" moment--the Twins game echoing through the house, watching swans.

Problem: A bird hits a window about once per day. So far I have found one dead grouse and one yellow thrush of some sort. This morning I was awakened by a big thud--another bird, which I didn't find, kamakazied into a window.

If things ever really go south, I will just walk around the house every morning to collect breakfast.

MEANWHILE: The Twins won another last night. Suddenly they are hot. They always play the Angels well in Anaheim. The bats seem to be clicking into gear. The Twins now have the 5th best record in the major leagues, even after a mediocre June.

July 04, 2005

Comet collision

Astronomer Ron Fevig of the University of Arizona alerted me to the comet collision which occurred at about 2 a.m. last night. NASA sent a probe to crash into a comet. The probe took pictures until seconds before it crashed into the comet at 20,000 some miles-per-hour. The mother ship took the picture below from about 300 miles away a few seconds after the impact. All of this is occurring out in the Mars region of the solar system. Scientists will study the pictures of the explosion to find out about the composition and density of comets.

July 03, 2005

Settling in

Can't get too settled into the new house; cabinets and carpet still have to be intalled. I suppose we're down to the last week of carpentery. Every bit of progress brings a new slew of work--I am overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning that needs to be done. Namely, scrubbing the sticky stuff off the windows, vacuuming the dust off the beams and the window sills, trying to get all the sawdust out of the house and sorting through all of my boxes for the basics of living.

My belongings--furniture and otherwise--look perfectly tawdry when set in a spanking new house. However, as much as I was tempted to go out and get all new furniture, I am now concentrating upon using what I can to keep expenses down. Just got a bill and found that I spent $512 on brass covers for the floor outlets. That was a shocker.

Every time I see something like that on a bill, I think about the guy who built the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis. He was wealthy, but went broke building his magnum opus, the tallest building in Minneapolis. He outfitted it with solid gold doorknobs.

So, when I go under, they'll say, "he insisted upon brass outlet covers."

It is a quiet Sunday at the nursery. Mom and Joe are up at Maple Lake selling flowers at the craft show at the Pavilion. I am sitting at the nursery in case anybody drifts in--even though we are officially closed. You hate to send somebody home who has driven fifty miles.