Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 21, 2005

Drizzly Friday

Spent the bulk of the day in Bemidji at a meeting of the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. The drive over to Bemidji was made colorful by the bright yellow tamarack. I am going to try to get a picture of a big tamarack near here down by the Sandhill River on the Harstad farm.

Tamarack are rare this far west, but when you get to Bagley, they become a big part of the forest and remain so all the way along Highway 2 as it winds between the Great Lakes. For those of you unfamiliar with the tree, it is a deciduous conifer, meaning it drops its needles every fall after they turn a bright yellow.

Tamarack grow in low, boggy areas only, but cannot tolerate the alkaline soils we have here in the Red River Valley.

AUNT OLLA called from the Fertile Hilton last night to say that she is enjoying the notoriety gained from my article on rummage sales. People are stopping by her room to tell her their stories about sticker-swapping and the like. So, I was relieved that she wasn't offended to have her sale presented in a less-than-glamorous light.

KEN came back to work for several hours today. He is still a bit sore and has to spend three hours per day juicing himself with antibiotic, but he seems to have good energy. He and Dad went out in the drizzle and started digging some trees. It is always fun to see the trees back in the bare root building. It is a tangible start on the spring season.

AUNT EDE called tonight; she and Cousin Ilene--along with Aunt Olla--went down to clean in the apartment. They boxed up the things that didn't sell at the sale and Ede hauled them to her garage for further distribution. Ilene just wrote to say that Ede's unbelievable energy continued today, although I am sure Ilene did a good deal of work as well. I got off easy because of the meeting in Bemidji where I sat like a bump on a log trying to comprehend balance sheets.

We're all going to make one more trip down for some final cleaning. Ede told Olla she wouldn't have to come along, but Olla insisted that she wants to lock the door the last time herself.

After protesting that she doesn't have the energy she used to, Ede casually mentioned on the phone that yesterday she washed all the windows on her house. And her house isn't small. That alone would have knocked me out for a day or two. I am lucky to do three windows in a day and then I call it good.

Inspired by Ede's feats, I decided to do some housecleaning tonight. I brought in the ten-foot ladder and vacuumed the tops of the big beams. They really needed it. Then I worked on hiding the wires from the stereo system, and finally I vacuumed the floor in the living room--and then I was completely shot.

I turned on the TV for a bit today, but it just makes too much noise. Perhaps tomorrow night I will watch the World Series. I think I am paying $1 per day for this dish. Ridiculous. I could get along without. However, I keep thinking that the winter will get long without some diversion in the evenings besides cleaning beams.

October 20, 2005

Ground squirrels

Tonight, I spoke at the Mahnomen County Historical Society's annual meeting. This time, I was on before the business meeting--which was nice!

Interesting group. I managed to offend a fan of North Dakota Senator "Wild Bill" Langer, who died in 1959. I did my master's thesis on Langer and didn't find much good to say about his legislative accomplishments. However, one of the people present took issue with my summation of his career, saying no senator had a better reputation for helping the common man. That is probably true; however, I had difficulty finding many concrete cases where Langer's influence helped.

After I spoke, I said my goodbyes and was followed out by an Indian gentleman who asked for a ride to the casino. We ended up visiting for the better part of an hour. He is in the White Earth tribal government, one of the people who is trying to clean up the place after the ouster of the mafia from the casino.

Well, he had many interesting stories about that struggle--including the time Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia offered to take his children into his home so they wouldn't be in danger from the mob.

But one interesting tidbit stuck out: He said the Indians called the Norwegian settlers around here "ground squirrels." That is their nickname for the Norskes to this day. Why? Because the first thing they would do when they arrived was put up a sod hut or dig themselves into the side of a hill.

Touch of class

No house in the sticks is complete without a satellite dish on prominent display. Mine has a particularly classy four-log anchor system.

This is temporary. I am going to set it up on the other side of the house next to another little pond where the dish will have access to the two satellites it taps into without polluting the scenery around the house.

I am a bit sheepish about the dish since I am not a big fan of TV. However, I had to balance the negative with the positive: The only way I will get to watch baseball is if I have a dish. Baseball won out over good taste.

I am pretty happy with how the grass is coming around the house. Dad seeded it the first week of September.

Also, note the woodpile. There's some good ash in there! However, because I vary the lengths of cobs according to the thickness to achieve optimal and appropriate throwing-in-the-stove size, the woodpile is a little kittywompus.

I recall old-timers having something of a contempt for people who couldn't put together a neat looking woodpile. In fact, I have a letter my great uncle Roy wrote to my Grandpa when Roy went away for a some schooling (their Dad was long dead) in the late 1920s which emphasized creating a woodpile in a prominent spot on the farm so that it presented a "bold front."

Apparently, a woodpile with a bold front was a testament to a family's virtue, to say nothing of their preparedness for winter.

My woodpile doesn't present much of a bold front, but it feels pretty good (and virtuous) to me.

October 19, 2005


The annual late season liturgy at the nursery starts with undercutting. The undercutter is a big U blade which goes under the trees and shrubs and loosens them up and cuts stray roots so that the trees can be more easily removed from the ground.

For the taller trees and shrubs, we use a U blade attached to two tractors, shown above. Neighbor Ken drives the tractor on the right, Dad the one on the left. Meanwhile, Joe and I plop down on the handles of the blade to push it into the ground.

The U blade has been on the nursery probably fifty years. It is used about 5 hours per year, if that. Today it hit a big rock and we'd thought we'd wrecked the oak beam on the one side. However, it still worked, despite some cracks. It is one of those deals that if you can get it to go another year, you do.

The tractors are a 1972 International 574, which I still consider to be new because I remember when it was purchased, and a 1962 Ford Selecto-Speed.

October 18, 2005

Cold front

It was nice and warm this morning; I think the temperature dropped 20 degrees throughout the day.

This morning, I sang at a funeral in town. I didn't know the woman very well. She moved to Fertile in retirement and was in the nursing home, so I recall her from there. But I know the family, so it was fun to visit.

Everybody has a story. The minister told some good stories about Doris. She loved to walk throughout her life. After her father died when she was very young, her sisters and her would walk eight miles one way to visit his grave. They planted geraniums there and tended them thoughout the summer.

Her love of walking continued throughout her entire life. In recent years, she would routinely walk from her home in East Grand Forks to Columbia Mall. That is at least four miles one way. She did get her driver's license at one time, but some unspecified trauma caused her to quit driving for good. She never married.

The undertaker had asked me to sing "Little Brown Church" for the funeral. I didn't know why--turns out the country church where Doris was going to be buried was a little brown church. So, that was more appropriate than I had originally thought.

It is difficult to tell how things go over. I played "Brown Church" with a little bounce to it. Most faces were somber at the time, but afterwards people said they liked it. One very proper woman made an interesting statement: "I enjoyed it so much I had a hard time not smiling!"

Then it was over to the Fertile Hilton, otherwise known as Fair Meadow Nursing Home, to play and sing for the monthly birthday party. I played "Little Brown Church" there as well, and was happy that Knute sang along. He was more than a little out of tune--his family is known more for their baseball playing prowess than music--but it was a complete pleasure to have him enjoy himself so much.

And tonight, I taught a community education class in Mahnomen. There were nine nice people there. We had a good visit around a table in the home economics room. I learned some things from them as well. One woman is a peony afficiando, so she taught me the distinction between a Memorial Day Peony (ferny foliage, single flower) and a Fern Leaf Peony (ferny foliage, double flower). She has a a rare type of peony which blooms May 10 every year. I would like to get my hands on a few of those.

In between these engagements, the guy from the phone company came and installed a satellite dish at the house. The baseball season is over, so my use for it will be minimal. I am not much of a TV watcher. When I asked him to hurry up so I could watch Judge Judy, he thought I was serious. When he got it hooked up, he set the channel on some other judge show where the people yell at each other and the crowd cheers.

So, I have 100 channels of stress to chose from. At least I will see the World Series, a pleasant enough way to waste time.

I am not looking forward to Aunt Olla's reading of my column about her rummage sale. She had a blast, but I came to the realization that rummage sales are for a certain type of people and I am not that type of person. I hope she takes the column in that spirit. It is bad enough that I called it a rummage sale. She prefers "moving sale." Or "estate sale." But I think you have to be deceased to officially call your sale an estate sale. In any case, the column isn't likely to sit well.

Weblog reader Elaine sent me some suggestions on how to prevent tag-swapping and other common rummage sale shenanigans. I wrote back that it was a good thing she hadn't sent her suggestions before the sale--I wouldn't have even showed up if I had known people were that goofy.

Weblog reader Karen wrote that "There isn't enough Prozac in the world to get me to go to one of those things!"

October 17, 2005

Rummage sale recovery

I think I was still tired from the sale today. Took a long nap. It is always exhausting to see a side of humanity you didn't want to think existed.

Newly convinced that I will never have such a sale myself, I started throwing out items I had been saving for a potential sale.

I got lost when I ran across a file box filled with nursery records from the 1960s. I decided to sift through it to see if there was anything of historical interest, and sure enough there was.

I have little knowledge of the specifics of the nursery when Grandpa was in charge--what they grew, how much money they made, where it came from, and so on. Included in the files were letters from Grandpa to nurseries. Their topic matter ranged from personal matters to financial problems.

One nurseryman wrote a note on the side of his order: "I am alone. My wife's sister left her some money and it went to her head. She left on April 17th. My first mistake of 1963."

Following a bad year in 1967, Grandpa had to write a nursery and ask for more time to pay his bill. He used humor, calling the nurseryman "my banker." The date on the letter was mid-June, a time when nurseries should have a full bank account if they ever do.

So, times weren't always easy, even in the later years after I figured Grandpa was better off.

Then there was a staggering order Grandpa sent to a nursery for no fewer than 600,000 Dropmore Elm. I had no idea he ever sold that many of one kind of tree in a single year. That year was 1962, just before the government got back into the shelterbelt business after about a decade of inactivity.

Other things which wouldn't happen now: "I forget what price we agreed upon last fall. Pay us what you think they're worth to you." That was a note from a nursery regarding a shipment of no fewer than 54,000 trees.

Credit was easy, but collecting was not. "Please pay now--this bill has been overdue for quite some time now," was a note on one invoice.

"ANTE UP!" was a less subtle reminder on another.

Any correspondence from a female was signed "Mrs. George Nelson," or something similar.

Letters from nurserymen whom I know Grandpa considered to be close friends were surprisingly blunt. "Please tell me right now if you need these trees. I have been holding them for you and I want to know if you need them."

Rather than causing me to mourn the more personal way of doing business in the past, the correspondence made me thankful for the more bureacratized system of doing business today. I like things more cut and dry.

Ah, I love digging through archives. I get lost in them. The time flies. Until I start sneezing. I am allergic to the must and mildew which forms on old paper, a problem which limited my sessions in the history archives at UND in graduate school to about an hour at a time.

One option

This article was forwarded by weblog reader and high school buddy Gary about a principled principal on Long Island.

October 16, 2005

First Wild Party at Swamp Castle

Six-year old Grant called last night wondering if he could come over and play on the catwalk. Of course, that was more than fine and while later he arrived with his parents and sister Cynthia.

The party took an unexpected turn when we tried out my stereo system. Dad put on some of his favorites from the 1980s, and soon the kids were dancing all over. I ran to get my camera from the pickup. It was cold and fogged up, thus the foggy image above.

Then the kids started taking pictures. Grant took the one above of Cynthia and I, and Cynthia took the picture below of Grant getting familiar the Euguene the bear.

Aunt Olla's sale

Well, the big sale day finally happened. I arrived at 9 a.m. to find Ede, Cousin Eileen, friend Lyla and neighbor Bev making final preparations.

I was drafted to be the cashier. Uff da. I should never have done that, but I made it through. I had mistakenly assumed that the sale would be a lighthearted affair--forgetting that the Rummage Sale Women would show up and start fighting for things and changing prices and hiding things and chiseling you down from fifty cents to thirty cents, and so on.

I tried to keep my humor in tact, but that was futile. It was greeted with blank stares by the amorphous Rummage Sale Women, clad in 1-ply cotton cling-pants which revealed more about their various bulges than any human eye should be required to bear.

The sale was a success. All of the big items sold. Olla had a blast. As long as I was busy hauling things, it was okay, but when I had to sit around by my Tupperware cash box waiting for business when it was perfectly nice outside, it got a little bit long. Also, the tussling and general ugliness of the Rummage Sale Women, who were mercifully gone by about 1/2 hour after the thing started, put me in a malevolent mood.

I mean, they started fighting over a strand of plastic ivy with pink leaves priced at a dime! I had to intervene. I am going to write a column about it all tonight, so will save some of the tawdry details until then.

There were nice people there as well, of course. Olla's 90-year-old friend Florence showed up and was in fine form. I handed her a cup of coffee, and she burst out, "Jesus, this is hotter than hell!"

Florence slammed her fingers in her car door earlier in the week, so she has trouble reaching into her pockets, as you can well imagine. She was frustrated after trying to get her wallet out of the pocket of her coat, and finally barked at the woman next to her: "Get my god damn wallet out of my pocket, would you?"

So, there were some fun moments in between all of the tussling.