Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 14, 2005


When will the Vikings learn not to rock the boat?

Surprise visitors

I knew cousin Monica was going to take Aunt Olla to Twin Valley today for final preparations for the sale tomorrow. I was slated to pick Olla up and bring her back to the Fertile Hilton at about 4 o'clock.

However, it was such a beautiful day that Olla decided Monica and she would spend it driving around the countryside having fun. Their first stop was here, and we had coffee and Oreos.

I got out the dreaded camera to snap a picture and Olla started fussing to get all primped for the picture. To address her worries that her hair wasn't right, I plopped my black leather hat on her head. That loosened her up for this picture with my second cousin Monica.

Old Friends

Back when I was in early elementary school, my mother, without my knowing, spirited away some of my toys and put them in the upstairs of the grainery. I don't know where she got the idea, but she figured that after about a year without the toys, I would enjoy them more when I got to play with them again.

When I discovered the toys in the grainery about a year later, (remember how long a year was when you were that age) it was better than getting new toys--it was as if I had been reunited with old friends.

I am having that same thrill now as I am working through my collection of music, some of which I haven't heard in years. I simply got out of the habit of listening to music. I think it happened when my CD player broke and I didn't get a new one right away.

So now in the new house, I found a way to hook up my little CD player to the good Bose speakers I inherited from Grandpa 20 years ago and I am hearing all of my old favorite recordings anew. Adding to the fun is that this house has wonderful acoustics.

I love pipe organ music. The trouble with most pipe organ recordings, however, is that they are mechanical sounding. In a recording, the mellowing effects of the church aren't allowed to do their work, possibly because the microphones are placed to close to the pipes.

However, in this house, the raw sounds of the pipe organ are mellowed out much as they would be if you were listening in a church. The bass sounds rumble through the wood and shake the floor upstairs. Just as is the case in a cathedral, the listening experience is changed as you move throughout the room.

So, I have been listening to some of the great pipe organs at a loud volume. When you have a big room, the volume can be impressive without being overbearing. The sound is more rounded and full rather than harsh.

Tonight, I dusted off an old CD of the organ at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I have heard the organ play in person. The recording never was as good, but on these speakers in this room, you actually get the feel of that monstrous instrument. One friend described its sound as that of a Versatile tractor bearing down on you at full throttle.

Choral music resonates well in here as well. I have a collection of Robert Shaw recordings. I have been frustrated with them in the past because the dynamic range is so wide that the loud parts are unbearable while the soft parts are inaudible. In the house, however, the loud parts are firmly impressive while the soft parts are perfectly clear. I have heard things in the recordings over the past two days that I have never before heard.

Right now, I am sitting in the crow's nest. Sergi Rachmaninoff, who died in 1940, is playing some of his own music in a recording made in the 1990s. How, you ask? Well, back before music was recorded electronically, somebody invented a player piano with rolls which were three feet wide and which recorded every nuance of the pianists performance, from the weight of the touch on the keys to the degrees of pedaling.

Rachmaninoff was intrigued by the technology and recorded several rolls in the years from 1915-1918 when he was at the peak of his formidable piano-playing powers. However, soon after the recordings were made, electronic recording came into being, which was much cheaper. The piano rolls were forgotten and the pianos designed to play them fell into disrepair.

When the piano rolls were uncovered, somebody was smart enough to recognize them for the treasure that they are. Because Rachmaninoff died in 1940, most of the recordings of him playing were in mono and were quite scratched up. The piano rolls, if handled right, could provide a modern recording of the old man playing his music much better than any recording which previously existed.

So, a Bosendorffer grand piano was outfitted with a machine which could read the rolls, a machine which had to be made from scratch, but which benefited from modern technology to the extent that it was probably superior to whatever piano was used to play the rolls when they were made in the 1910s.

The results of the reconstruction were extraordinary enough to merit two recordings, one of Rachmaninoff playing his own music and another of him playing the music of other composers.

Rachmaninoff was not only a great composer, he was probably one of the greatest piano players ever. According to one critic, he played with "a heart of gold and arms of steel."

New listeners probably won't be bowled over by the recordings--however, people who play piano will notice that he rarely uses the sustain pedal, the so-called "loud" pedal which has the effect of blurring everything together and covering up mistakes. Rachmaninoff didn't have to use the pedal. He not only didn't make mistakes, but his hands were so grotesquely large that he could hold a note down while playing other notes two octaves up--with the same hand. Try that sometime. I am lucky to reach one octave, much less two.

October 13, 2005

Aunt Olla's sale (update)

I called Aunt Olla last night at about eight o'clock. I think she was in bed, but she was eager to talk and did so for a good forty minutes until she was so tired that she was slurring her speech. Lyla, Ede and Olla had spent a day in Olla's apartment marking items. It was my responsibility to put ads in the paper, and they came out just fine.

I mentioned before on the weblog that we were going to have donut holes at the sale, but now Olla has decided that serving lunch would be too much hassle. Well, I think I might bring a coffee urn and pick up some donut holes anyway--why not. But if any of you were coming to the sale for the donut holes, they have been tabled for the time being.

Things are going well at the Fertile Hilton. Olla loves the place. She pushed her button in the middle of the night because she was hungry for milk toast, and sure enough somebody went and made her some (after coming down to her room to ask her how)--at three in the morning! Now, where else would you get service like that?

The sale has turned into quite an event. Some of Olla's former country school students are coming up from Detroit Lakes. Many people have said they are coming, although Olla suspects not all of them will. I am to be there at 8 o'clock sharp Saturday morning. I will be in charge of lifting things. I also am responsible for bringing a calculator and some change. And I have been assigned the job of making everything go smoothly.

The nurses are having quite a time figuring out all of Olla's vitamins. She has so many and each of them has to be taken at different intervals and you can bet that no doctor has written out instructions. So sometimes they just bring the bottles and let Olla pick what she wants to take. No big deal, Olla says, it's not like if you miss a day of vitamins you'll go into an irreversible tailspin.

After watching her whip the apartment into shape for the sale, Olla has decided that Aunt Ede is the Eighth Wonder of the World. I would have to agree. Ede complains that she can't do as much any more, which basically means that she now does the work of three people instead of four or five. There is an energy in Ede which, if tapped, could help free us from dependence on foreign oil.

There's something about Harriet

Wow, did our President get himself in a pickle with this Harriet Meirs nomination. After protesting that his last nominee's Roman Catholic faith was irrelevant to his qualifications, Bush now argues that Miers' evangelical faith, which is more in line with his personal convictions, is an argument for putting her on the Supreme Court.

Oops. There's good reasons for keeping it secular, Mr. President. We have many religions in this country and the argument that evangelical religion qualifies one for high public office is not an argument even evangelicals should want to make. It will only backfire.

At least the issue came out into the open, however. The debate is healthy and fascinating. And you have to feel a bit sorry for Ms. Meirs. What lawyer wouldn't want to be named to the Supreme Court? But what person would want to submit to the scrutiny of the media dog pack?

There is some debate over the authenticity of Bush's evangelical convictions. His language is at times sailor-like. If you are familiar with evangelical culture, using the f-word is just something you don't do. Ever. And Bush has even used it in interviews. I am not personally offended except for the obvious matter of bad taste, but I can't imagine how James Dobson puts up with it.

Could Bush really have been so cynical as to adopt a brand of religious faith shared by 40% of the electorate just to become President? I don't know. It could be that even he doesn't know. Or, it could be that he is one of those types I used to so distrust at Bible camp: They could act so pious when it was time to act pious, but when they sensed they could win favor by bragging of their drunken exploits and swearing like a sailor, hey, they could do that too.

It frustrated me because I was basically a good kid without dramatic ups and downs, yet I never got any social rewards for being a good kid at camp. The girls went for the guys who 1) acted like rowdy partiers early in the week and who 2) got converted at the end of the week and then became heroes for that. Either way, the hypocritical jerks got the chicks while we mousy little good kids tried to win friends and influence people by memorizing Bible verses, a losing battle from the beginning.

Misty morning in the gardens

Big issues

The local school board meeting was packed Tuesday night. The board was considering curriculum changes and a $5 million budget--but of course the packed house had nothing to do with any of that. No, parents and Concerned Citizens were rallying to keep the prom in Fertile.

Words cannot express my apathy. Move the prom to Winnipeg. Please. Anything, anything, to enrage my least favorite bunch of people in our little local world: Adults For Whom Prom Really Matters. Actually, they are my favorite bunch of people in the world because they are so easy to provoke. And they never catch on. They just can't imagine bigger issues in the world than those raised by prom. After all, the opportunity to doll up their darling little ones like Las Vegas showgirls and show them off to the town doesn't come often.

Apparently there was a lot of fulminating and finger-pointing at the board meeting. The solution was easy, in the end: the policy manual says the prom is to be in the high school gym. End of conflict. Go home, all you people, you got your way, so now we don't have to let you make fools of yourself in public. Thank you for finally showing some interest in the education of your children.

Oh, and we'll see you again when some public health nurse mentions the word "condom" on school property.

October 12, 2005

Ladies Aid

This afternoon, I entertained at a Ladies Aid meeting about fifteen miles from here. It was fun.

Since I know only a few sacred numbers well enough to sing and play them at the same time, I played "One Day at a Time," which I learned for a funeral a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised how many people sang along quietly.

After the program, one woman came up and give me a hug. "That song got me through the toughest time of my life," she said. She lost a daughter many years ago and "One Day at a Time," as presented in the song, became her prime comfort.

Then another woman came up and said she had to walk out while I was singing the song. Her husband, who is ill with cancer, has chosen the song for his funeral. "Now I know that we won't be the first to have it sung at a funeral," she said. I told her I hoped that it would be a while before that was necessary, and she did say that he is in remission.

Wow. You never know how something is going to hit people.

I then went on to sing some country songs, using as the excuse that these poor country singers obviously need ministering to, and to get some insight into their plight, we would listen to some of their music. The assembled ladies seemed to accept that somewhat weak line of logic in the spirit it was offered.

Ladies Aid wouldn't be Ladies Aid without good food--hotdish, beans, fresh bread, pickles...

HOUSE COMPLETE: I have been getting along with my little Bose Wave Machine since I moved into the house. Today, I saw some little plug-ins in the back and decided to resurrect my 25-year-old speakers to see if I could hook them up. After about 1/2 hour of work, I have sound to shake the rafters--oh my. Now I have to listen to my whole CD collection. The house accoustics are spectacular!

First, I listened to the entire Handel's Messiah. Now, I am listening to the Rolling Stones at full volume--I am hoping to disturb the neighbors. They're 1/2 mile away.

October 11, 2005


Tonight, I spoke to the nursing home auxilary in Red Lake Falls. I have spoken to banquets honoring volunteers before, but this turned out to be an annual meeting as well. Most of the people I know well from the nursery, so it was fun to visit.

Whenever I speak to annual meetings, I make a point of asking to speak before the business meeting while the audience is still fresh. Without warning that there was an annual meeting afoot tonight, I couldn't make my usual request, and I arrived to find out I was at the end of the program.

I think the people were a little tired by the time I got to them. They listened and laughed, but I could tell there were few regrets when I finished up. I talked about nursing homes--I have a stock of nursing home stories which I tell to illustrate my point that small town nursing homes are one thing we do very well.

The meeting was held in the legion hall. I have spoken to a meeting before, and this speech went much the same as the last one. Just okay. I think there's something about various rooms which affects how a speech goes.

During the meeting, I went in and sat at the bar and chatted with one of our long-time customers about cannas. Then we got started on my house, which took us right through the Secretary's Report, the Treasurer's Report, the report on the annual convention, the new business, the old business, and right up to the unanimous election of the new officers, at which time I slipped back in the door. I sipped a Sprite at the bar, for those of you wondering if I fogged up my mind with booze before speaking. Only Churchill could speak well drunk, and even he had troubles sometimes. Two drinks and I am useless for anything but the old lampshade routine.

EARLIER today, I kept plugging away at wood cutting. Did away with three large standing ash today. The one was stubborn--the saw got pinched three times in the same tree. Unusual. Some trees are just twisty and do funny things, I guess. The first tree I sawed down today fell in a ten-foot wide space where it was supposed to fall, so I guess pride goeth before the fall--the saw had to pinch on the next tree to bring me down a bit.

October 10, 2005

Cutting wood, cont.

After a week layoff due to busyness and cold weather, I got back into the swing of cutting wood this afternoon. The wood pile is swelling. I am attacking some standing dead ash in a little slough by the driveway of the nursery. It is so dry that it is going to burn like coal, I am convinced.

Earlier in the day, Joe and I concentrated upon putting empty pots in trays in preparation for filling the pots with soil later in the month. It sounded daunting, placing 10,000 pots in about 650 trays, but once Joe perfected a method and I adopted it, we really went to town and finished the project by one o'clock. Those trays represent only a fraction of the greenhouse pots--Ken and others had put the other empties together last summer.

Later in the day, I ran in to visit Ken. He looks healthier than he has in months. He has lost some weight in his ordeal, but his color is excellent and he seems pretty well back to normal. It will take a while to get his strength back, and he has to inject himself with a lemon-shaped thing full of antibiotic three times per day, a half-an-hour long procedure which would make me barf just to watch it, but he seems in good spirits.

Mid-day, I called Aunt Olla at the Fertile Hilton, as she calls the nursing home. She is still amazed at how fortunate she is and how well they treat her. She says she keeps feeling like leaving tips. After the meals, after they help her to her room, after they make her bed--she always wants to tip because the service is just so good.

Her roomate is "absolutely perfect." Well, her roomate is in bed all the time and doesn't say a single word or make a single noise, poor thing. But Olla says she gets along with her just fine and feels so fortunate, especially since things aren't so harmonious everywhere. Olla's been in the home before with noisier roomates. And today she got involved with a little dispute when she stopped by a room only to have both of the roomates try to show her pictures of their grandkids at the same time--until one stomped out. Or rolled out. Whatever, there was a vapor trail behind her, she was so mad. So, Olla backed out of the room carefully and went down the hall to her own.

Olla still feels the other inmates are staring at her, but she knows that they all have their own issues--and that they probably stare at everybody.

Tomorrow, Ede is taking Olla back to her apartment in Twin Valley for more sale preparation. The sale, by the way, is this Saturday in apartment 3 of the Johnson apartments just east of Zion church in Twin Valley. You are all welcome. There will be donut holes and coffee.

Olla finally remembered to have Ede order her some memory pills. They are some combination of bee pollen, alfalfa and sea weed. She figures it will take about a year to get her memory back to normal. She will be 95 then, finally getting her life in order, if all goes as planned. Olla's first goal, however, is to live until spring so she can hear the frogs croak in the swamp in front of my house. "How I long to hear frogs," she said today.

Olla's genius is setting fairly modest goals and then raising them to the level of the Holy Grail--it keeps her in a state of enthusiasm at all times. "I don't think I've ever had a better trip to Flom," she can say with utter conviction. Or, "I've never been to a funeral that was more fun."

Pin oak

I am fortunate to have a rare native pin oak behind the house. There are only a handful within miles of here. Each one is strikingly visible due to its red/orange fall color.

A single branch of the red oak catches the evening sun in between the far larger bur oak trees, which have already lost most of their leaves.

October 09, 2005

Beautiful October day

It was a little chilly early on, but later in the day things warmed up. This is a picture taken in front of the porch on my house towards the drive. I love the shimmering white trunks of the aspen. I was glad I didn't have to tear any of them down. I like the tunnel effect as the road heads out towards the field. It is difficult to believe that we started clearing this drive just over a year ago--and now I am living here.

Avian flu

Some fascinating stuff has come to light in the past few days about the great flu epidemic of 1918 and the similarities of it to the present avian flu which has health officials worried.

In what is a strange coincidence, scientists only now, in an article published October 6th, have figured out the 1918 bug. It started in birds and mutated so it could be passed from human to human.

I hope this flu never hits--perhaps it will be just another unjustified public panic like Y2K, which amounted to absolutely nothing. I suspect that is the case.

But I am glad that the epidemic of 1918 is finally getting some attention. It killed more people than World War I, yet almost nobody had heard of it until last week. In fact, more American soldiers in World War I died of the flu than died of war wounds.

You could learn of the 1918 horrors simply by going to a local graveyard. I know that the cemetery at St. John's church just down the road has a couple of rows of graves of relatively young people who died in 1918. A farm which is half-way between here and the church has been abandoned since 1918--ten of the eleven family members died from the flu nobody ever moved onto the farm after that.

Bachelors who lived alone in the country were found dead in the springtime. If it was communicated by bird feces, as scientists now seem certain was the case, I suppose that might explain how the loners caught it without any apparent human contact.

The flu was quick and deadly. Often people went to sleep without knowing they had it and died before waking.

Let us hope that this horror doesn't visit us. I am enough of a skeptic so I think that the mere fact that our public officials panicking means that nothing whatsoever will happen.

Fall photos

Some moss grows on a poplar stump.

This is a car from the late 1930s which is still in our woods. I believe it is the car my grandmother rolled into the ditch after picking dozens of pints of raspberries. It was a real mess.

This wheel has been sitting in the woods for a while.

Lichen grows on some gnarled old cables.