Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

August 20, 2005

Book signing

Yesterday afternoon I went to the spanking new bookstore at the University of Minnesota-Crookston to sign books. Book signings are always preceded by loud press releases, big posters and many announcements on local radio, but they are almost always sparsely attended.

When the appointed hour came and I was to give a brief talk on whatever, there were fully three people in the audience. I was introduced. I didn't know what to say, since I knew the people already and it would seem a bit silly to launch into some sort of talk.

While I was stumbling around, one of the three in the audience came forward and said she had a question for me. Go ahead, I said.

"Are the Bergeson boys circumsized?"

I hadn't prepared an answer for this question in advance. She sensed some discomfort on my part and told about a new book that she is reading which talks about the dangers of circumcision. I assured her that I was on board with whatever bandwagon she was on and would lend my active support if and when I thought it appropriate.

I have known this lady since I was in high school and she picketed the school lunchroom because they refused to serve goat's milk. Later on, she picketed the health-mobile when they were immunizing students. She's really a delightful lady--absolutely off the wall, as you can probably sense, but a real antidote to the blandness which prevails around here.

As soon as I recovered from that little interrogation, I got started talking. The chairs filled up a bit. Some of you weblog readers stopped by--thanks! After it was over, I signed a few books and visited a bit.

Cassio had come along--he was hoping to wire some cash back to Brazil, but that didn't work out. He was also looking for some arrows. My uncle Orville has loaned him a bow. Cassio has built a target, but is short of arrows. We got to the arrow place only after it had closed, however. So the trip was a washout for Cassio--but I enjoyed myself.

August 18, 2005

Twins back in gear

The Twins beat Seattle tonight 7-3. It is good to win on the back of your fifth starter, in this case a struggling Joe Mays. The Twins have won six of seven.

I think Torii Hunter's injury and subsequent absence have actually helped the young guys step it up a bit. Torii was trying to be a team leader and was criticizing the young guys in the newspapers, which I don't think was a good move. He and Radke were complaining to the press about needing better hitters. I don't think it was good for morale. Terry Ryan knew they needed to get better hitting without Radke and Hunter reminding him. In the end, Ryan did the right thing by standing pat.

Give Morneau and Mauer a chance and they're going to be good. The other guys aren't as bad as they have been playing the past few weeks. If they have a good winning streak with Hunter on the shelf, I think he might have a little better attitude towards these young guys when he returns.

I don't know if the Twins will rescue this season, but they will be a good team for years to come the way they have set themselves up. Great years in baseball are a product of preparation and talent, yes, but in the end they require all things, including the stars, to line up in your favor--as they have for the White Sox this season. The time will come for the Twins.

The Twins have an ace-in-waiting down at AAA. Francisco Liriano has an ERA of about 1.50. He's only twenty-one. They are afraid of rushing him. The wisdom of holding people back has been proven before--take the case of Santana, who spent a long apprenticeship in the bullpen--but man, I would love to see this kid pitch at the major league level.

Nickname stuff

No surprise that I got a little flack about the UND nickname controversy entry below, no matter how innocuous it sounded when I wrote it. One person wrote that I was "helping pile on the uneducated and uncultured North Dakotans." I have reread the entry and don't see how it qualifies as piling on anybody--it seems I was critical of a billionaire from Las Vegas and a university president--both of whom would regard me as a mosquito.

This nickname issue touches people off for some reason. Whether or not you think the nickname offensive, a mascot is such a harmless and inconsequential thing that if people object, it should just be changed to something even more harmless and inconsequential. I personally think that the Sioux mascot is quite dignified--but a good body of people don't agree, and many of those people are actually of Sioux descent. Not all Sioux agree, either. But my point is--it is just a mascot. And sports are just sports. And nobody needs a $100 million arena. And at some point you have to tell pushy people with money to just go jump.

August 17, 2005

Devils Lake

Joe and I headed to Devils Lake, ND today to perform as a part of their Chautauqua series. We had a good crowd. It was held at a very nice auditorium at the Lake Region College. Good sound. Nice Steinway piano. We even had a lighting man who adjusted the lights with the mood of the songs. Very nice! The trip to Devils Lake is 140 miles one way, however, so I am a bit tired out tonight.

For once, Joe and I worked out a definite play list ahead of time and pretty much stuck to it. In the past we have just gone on stage and sort of pulled songs out of the hat as we went--however, a planned-out list worked much, much better. It was easy.

On the way home, I tuned into the Twins game. I speculated to Joe that Santana had a no-hitter going--the announcers never say it out loud, as that would jinx it--and sure enough, when Carl Everett of the Sox singled off Santana in the seventh, it was the first hit. Santana's pitch count eventually got up a little bit and Gardenhire had to pull him in the ninth, but he did a wonderful job--he's back to his form of one year ago. Don't know how long it can last, but for now, at least, the Twins are on a bit of a roll. It is nice to beat the Sox.

Nickname controversy

Here is Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman's view of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux logo controversy. It is a view you will not see in newspapers up here, to be sure.

Ralph Engelstad's gifts to the University of North Dakota were always controversial, even while I attended there in the mid-1980s. At that time, it came out that he had a floor devoted to Nazi memorabilia in his casino and that he threw big parties on Hitler's birthday. To investigate these claims, UND sent a team of academics out to view the offending exhibits. They came back with the conclusions that Engelstad simply had an interest in history. Yeah right.

I once talked to a man who visited Englestad's office in Las Vegas. On the wall were a couple of machine guns which, according to this man, Ralph referred to as "nigger-killers." Engelstad was a remarkably astute businessman, but I know of no anecdotes which reflect well on his personal character, and many, many which do not.

By many accounts, Mr. Engelstad was a virulent racist. However, because he had loads of money and was willing to throw it around, all criticisms of him in Grand Forks pretty much had to cease. You can't argue with a $100 million hockey arena.

The Fighting Sioux nickname seems harmless enough--and if you didn't know Engelstad's sordid past, you might think it was no big deal. But given his predilections, the festooning of his hockey arena with 4,000 unremovable Sioux logos seems pretty high-handed. You look at that place, and it has an air of Albert Speer about it.

The critical point came when UND President Kupchella decided to just change the nickname and get the whole controversy off his desk. That is what should have been done a long time ago--put college athletics in proper perspective, assert that the chain of command could not be corrupted by mere cash, and cool the jets of the radicals and intransigents on either side. Engelstad found out Kupchella's intentions, hit the roof, and threatened to shut down construction.

Kupchella should have told Engelstad right then and there to take his money and shove it. Or he should have resigned when he wasn't supported by the State Board of Higher Ed. But he didn't. He sold out. He still has his job, but he lost a lot of respect.

What Coleman didn't say in his column above is that Kupchella was fulfilling his purpose as UND president--pleasing Ralph. It is an open secret in Grand Forks that Ralph told UND that they had a $100 million waiting for them--if they fired the previous president Kendall Baker. They did. Kupchella was hired. And the hockey palace went up.

To me, this is a lesson about the corrupting power of money more than it is about nicknames and logos. Nothing galls me more than when people bow down to people with wealth just because they have wealth.

To be fair, the job of president of a university has to be one of the most unpleasant in the world. You have to please the alumni with money so you can get your hands on some of it; you have to please students, who are at their most idealistic and indignant; you have to please faculty, who are more often than not aggrieved over something; you have to please the legislature, which is usually busy catering to the ignorant masses--it is just an impossible job.

Needed rain

The morning began with a thunderstorm here at the nursery. It beat down the flowers pretty good. Too bad for the tour groups who are coming today--including one from Fargo. They plan for months in advance, so you can hardly expect them to wait until the flowers perk up again.

There is water standing in the low areas, so the rain must have amounted to something. We didn't have a rain guage out.

My swamp is down about a foot. It looks pretty forlorn. I wish it would rain enough to fill it up. It seems that with the bare shoreline showing there are different birds coming in--there is one I think might be a sandpiper who likes to dig in the mud with its long beak.

There is an area of the swamp deep enough for the swans to float around, thankfully.

HAD TO LISTEN to the Twins last night to the finish--sixteen innings, and they won 9-4 after five hours. It is always fun to beat the White Sox. The Twins bullpen outlasted the White Sox bullpen. In the end, the Sox were down to their last pitcher and he wasn't effective. They had to leave him in there to get beat up until he finished the inning. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen pretty much had to concede the game to save his pitching staff.

It took a year, but Guillen has whipped the White Sox into shape. Right now, they are the best team in baseball. For the past several years, they have been chronic underachievers, a collection of self-centered stars who didn't know how to play as a team. Guillen, who seems a bit like a Billy Martin, got rid of the worst egos, chewed out the others, took on some players with checkered pasts like Freddy Garcia--and forged them all into a team.

August 16, 2005

The herd stampedes

Just when you start having faith in humanity, something like this happens.


The cabinets were finished on Friday and I have been staring at them ever since--so I can't resist including some photos here. I wanted to have poplar wood somewhere prominent in the house, and I wanted it unpainted. The cabinet-maker Joseph, although he had never done unpainted poplar cabinets, took on the project and did a marvelous job.

The panels turned out spectacularly. I have to find some way to light them underneath there so people notice the beauty of the wood.

Here is the cabinet above the fridge. The poplar goes well with the knotty pine on the ceiling. I don't think it is possible to get woods to clash.

The cabinets were the last piece of the puzzle. There is some lighting left to do, but for the most part the house is complete. It is a great feeling! It was almost a year ago to the day that we broke ground.

August 15, 2005

More open house pictures by Tracie

Tracie crawled behind Dad's new pond to take a picture of the fountain with Joe's tour group in the background. The big plant on the right is a castor bean.

Sister Tracie is on the left, long-time nursery employee Aaron Rongen is on the right.

Good customer and all-around gentleman Karol waits for his ice cream cone. Karol stops by many times a season for coffee and to say hi. He is fond of trading pickups in Fertile--so at least twice, he has let me take a new pickup for a spin that has had all of eight miles on it.

Joe samples some ice cream while nursery bookkeeper Cindy and ice cream maven Jen mug it up after the long day Saturday.

Orpha, left, waits in line for ice cream with another long-time nursery employee, Sharon.


Six of us--Mom, Dad, Joe, Cassio, Lance and I--headed to Douglas Lodge at Itasca Park tonight to celebrate my birthday. Douglas Lodge is always beautiful. The smell inside brings back pleasant memories of the few times we stayed there when I was a kid. One time, I remember they had a black and white television on in the lobby showing a Twins game. Jim Palmer and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Twins 2-0. I suppose that was about 1976.

Tonight, the Twins are beating the White Sox 4-2 in the seventh inning. I finally turned on a Twins game after going on strike for the past three weeks.

The phone company is slow to get my new television dish in here at the house--they only have one installer, and he is backed up two months. I always end up with a conflict. When they reschedule, it always costs me another month or two. Right now, we are at October 18. That is after the baseball season is over. The only thing I watch on TV is baseball, so really I should just postpone installation until next April.

A nice birthday today. Dot brought cake. I got a few cards. Aunt Ede brought me some jam and some refrigerator pickles. Cassio bought me a card on which he wrote, in Portuguese, "Feliz Anniversaro!"

On the way home from Itasca, Cassio quizzed Joe and Mom about English. My mother has studied linguistics, so she engaged Cassio in a long discussion about "wake," "wake up," "awaken," "get up," "arise," and so on. Cassio: "Does the sun come up or show up?" I said it does both. My smart aleck answers weren't helpful.

August 14, 2005

Open House photos by Tracie

My sister took my camera for the day and shot over 400 photos. Here are some of the highlights.

Ninety-nine-year-old Charlie Ellis of Bagley came to the open house. After he found out we were doing music, he mentioned that he plays fiddle and happened to have his fiddle along in the car. I told him to bring it in and we would play.

I sat down and played some old hymns. He didn't care what key they were in, he could pick it up easily enough. Mom accompanied Charlie on "Mansion Over the Hilltop," and Dad played "Five Foot Two" and "Near the Cross." Charlie finally got tired after about twenty minutes of playing. The crowd gave him a nice ovation and Charlie took a deep bow.

Yesterday, Charlie had a younger friend driving. Last year when he came to the nursery--the first trip to the nursery in over fifty years--Dad asked him if he drove. "I sure didn't walk," he said.

Here is some of the crowd for one of the music sessions.

Jen Sobin, who owns LaLa Ice Cream in Fertile, which sells the most scrumptious home-made ice cream you've ever eaten, had a line by her stand for most of the day. Something happened with her cooler which made the ice cream very hard. So, Cassio came to her rescue and helped scoop ice cream for Jen for a couple of hours.

Ike and Phyllis joined Joe and I for two of the music sessions yesterday. They played some delightful bluegrass tunes. Phyllis plays bass fiddle, Ike the guitar. They also played along on some of the music Joe and I played.

Here is Joe conducting one of the tours. I don't know how he stayed afloat all day. We gave four concerts and in between the concerts, Joe gave three tours of the gardens. My voice was shot from singing alone.

Here is Dad with neighbor Vernon, husband to Roxanna, pictured below.