Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 29, 2005

A Plethora of Pumpkins

Somebody must have gotten disillusioned with the pumpkin market after planting this field. Or else they hoping to lure deer.


The Star Tribune has a story this morning about a couple with reverse seasonal disorder: They get cranky when it is hot, and love the drab days of November.

The story is in reference to the time change this weekend, which for many signals the advent of the dark, dreary days of winter.

It can work both ways for me. I can find early winter to be dismal, or I can be energized. This fall I am lucky enough to feel energized. At other times, it has been a bumpy ride.

Looking back, I have two sets of memories from every season. One set of memories is nothing but pleasant, the other is dark. There seems to be no middle ground. If my mood is dark, a fall day triggers memories from fall days in the past when I was in a similar state. The brain diabolically sorts through ones memories and brings only the ones which match the dark mood to the fore.

The same is true for the good state. The mental search engine then finds all the good memories of a particular season and brings them forward, making it possible to think fall has always been a wonderful time.

Flipping the switch from the dark side to the bright side is the trick, and two factors make the difference for me. First, taking anti-depressants regularly makes it a heck of a lot easier to get out of a funk. I intend to take them indefinitely. Secondly, sheer busyness is therapy. If I have a full slate of activity, it is much easier to pull out of whatever sort of funk the season might throw me into.

One exeception is cold, sunny days in February, those days when it is below zero and the wind makes the snow-snakes slither across the tar roads. In those conditions, it is almost impossible to flip the switch from despair to productive activity. That's when Arizona is the best therapy.


Using the anniversary of the Volstead Act as an excuse, Garrison Keillor made several interesting points on his Writer's Almanac last evening about Prohibition:

--Although Prohibition didn't work as well in urban areas, in rural areas commitments to insane asylums for alcoholism went down 50%.

--Women were the force behind the imposition of Prohibition. They didn't have the avenues to earn a living for themselves that they do today, divorce was much more difficult, and many of them simply became impoverished due to their husband's drinking.

--As a result, the liquor industry was the main opponent to women getting the vote. The liquor interests feared Prohibition. Sure enough, as soon as women got the vote, we got Prohibition.

I would add that drinking on a per-capita basis before Prohibition was probably double what it is today. They have pretty good statistics on drinking because booze has almost always been taxed.

If the per-capita rate of alcohol consumption was double then, it meant the problem was much more than twice as bad as at present--"per-capita" includes women and children. Women didn't have equal access to booze, and there were a lot more children at the time, so the men who drank really had to put it away to make the per-capita consumption as high as it was.

So, I think it is fair to say that Prohibition, far from being a triumph of puritans hoping to impose their purity on everybody, was a response to a national drinking problem which was much worse than any we face today.

My grandparents met at a temperance meeting. We think of temperance meetings today as quaint, moralizing affairs. But the teetotalling of my grandparents was probably a result of the pain caused by the previous generations' intemperance.

I know my great-great-grandfather signed up for two different units in the Civil War--seems he drank up the first bounty he was paid and needed some cash for beer so signed up for another. According to records unearthed by my uncle, somewhere during that binge he got married to a woman who was never heard from again and who is not my great-great-grandmother.

Lincoln had to pardon him for abandoning the first regiment or he would have been shot for desertion.

And my great-grandfather on the other side was a violent drunk who chased people with pitchforks when he got tuned up.

Frankly, if I had to live in a log cabin out here on the prairie through a Minnesota winter I'd probably be distilling my own whiskey as fast as I could drink it.

October 28, 2005

Rindal, cont.

Weblog reader, schoolmate and fellow former neighborhood terrorist Jeff Krogstad grew up on the farm behind the pines below. He points out that nearly every stone in the picture has "Krogstad" on it. "Only the 'scrubby' pine separate the living from the dead," he points out.

He also remembered something I did not. He claims that I played "Elvira" (by the Oak Ridge Boys) as the offertory on the old pipe organ at a youth service at Faaberg about 25 years ago.

Ah, the foolishness of ute.

Tour of greater Rindal

Decided to get a picture of the tamarack on the Harstad farm before it lost all its needles. This tree is rare in our immediate neck of the woods. I suspect the seed for this one floated in from over by Fosston on the Sandhill River, which runs a few feet from the tree.

Then I decided to take a trip through Rindal to take a picture of Faaberg Church, which is over 100 years old. It is our not-so-little white church in the dale, for Rindal is on a little river plain sunken below the surrounding terrain. Coming into Rindal from all directions you can see the steeple. It is particularly dramatic in the winter. I am going to try to get a picture of the entire scene sometime, but I think I need to break down and purchase a telephoto lens to pull it all together.

On the west end of the Faaberg cemetery runs this row of windswept pine. This is how pine are supposed to look, and I love them. Somebody once made a comment that they should plant something to replace those "scrubby pine." Over my dead body!

Every now and then I take a walk through this cemetery and am shocked to find that I remember well many of the people buried there. Friends and neighbors.

Faaberg is a real local historical treasure. Its wonderful 100-year-old pipe organ with a wood case still works and is used for services.

While taking pictures of the church, Rindal resident (one of about a dozen) and long-time nursery employee Omar waved me over to his house to show me his latest accomplishments with the scroll saw. This scene is on the back of a bench.

I asked Omar to show me his saw, so he took me down to his workshop in the basement of his house "where the phone doesn't ring and you don't know if it is forty below." Omar and Jan's living room is full of his handiwork.

October 27, 2005

King Karl

Cousin Anne is visiting Minnesota to see her new nephew Karl. She is recording her trip with the usual excellent pictures. My favorite is at the bottom of this page. Look at how that kid holds that leaf! He's already got gravitas, and he's only two months old.

For those of you new here, if you like good photography, page through Anne's archives. She doesn't take bad photos. Or, should we say she doesn't post bad photos!

Swamp castle pics

Things are starting to settle in the house a bit. The furniture is finding its home. I am putting some lights up. It is so nice to have warm lighting on the wood. So, I decided to take some pictures--which required a long exposure. I was too lazy to put up the tripod, so I propped the camera against various posts and beams.


It is time to dig the trees out of the ground and put them in storage for the winter. Here Dad dumps some Norway Poplar forcibly to the ground in the hopes that the dirt will shake loose from their roots. We undercut the trees first (see last week's entry) but even so, in some patches of ground the dirt is stubborn about falling off the roots.

Joe shakes the dirt off a Norway. Earlier in the day we dug maples and buckeye. We still have a long ways to go--it is imperative that digging be finished by the time the ground freezes, as you might imagine. But it can be tiring work.

The soil is a different texture each fall. This fall is pretty good in most areas except for this low spot. But some years we have to hit the dirt off the roots every darn tree by pounding the root against the toe of our boot. That gets to be a bit much--and can make for sore toes.


Spent the day yesterday on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Crookston in my capacity as a nursery owner who sometimes hires UMC graduates--or at least interns.

It was a day where area business and agency leaders advised people at the college on what they value in UMC graduates, and what they would like to see in potential employees.

Interesting. What we told the academics is pretty much that content isn't as important as character. The issues which came up? Integrity. Honesty. People skills. Ability to deal with older people. Punctuality. All the old-time virtues.

Computer skills are important--UMC students are very familiar with a computer because of the requirement that they all have a laptop, and that gives them a leg up at jobs. Of course, I recently wrote a column blasting in-class computer use as counter-productive--however, there is no doubt that familiarity with a computer is pretty important.

The bottom line: Business people want their new employees to hurry up and grow up, and there is simply no way of teaching that directly. I tried last fall while teaching to get people to show up on time, show interest, not cheat, and so on--but whoa, when you have 18-year-olds (some of whom are very mature, by the way--but they don't get noticed), you are swimming upstream to get them to see the importance of doing all the things their grandma told them to do. No, they are at a time of life when they are experimenting with their freedom.

Teaching character is the toughest job of all, but it is the most important. You probably won't see the results right away. You just have to plant seeds in their minds which might later take root, to employ an overused cliche.


I am always hoping to catch some of the stark beauty of the Red River Valley with the camera, but it is difficult to get a feel for the flatness and the lines. Here is an attempt using a row of trees that I have always enjoyed near Crookston. Somebody has taken the time to trim these green ash so they have nice trunks.

October 26, 2005

Old Friend Orion

Got up early enough this morning to see the constellation Orion in the southwest skies. Orion is a "winter constellation," meaning that it is visible in the winter skies only. So, its appearance marks the change in seasons.

Most constellations consist of unrelated stars which happen to line up in our vision from earth. The ancients, who spent a lot more time than we do observing the skies, named the constellations for figures in their mythology. Those names have stuck, even in modern astronomy, as a way of navigating the geography of the night sky.

Orion is compelling because it is so easy to find. It also contains, on either end, two distinguished stars: Vega, which is an obvious blue, and Betelguese, which is orange. Betelgeuse is about 400 light years away, relatively close in astronomical terms, and it is about to blow up. If it does blow up--and it might have blown up 350 years ago, for all we know--it will light the night sky like a small sun for a period of weeks.

Descending from the belt of Orion is the sword. It consists of what appears to be three dim stars. Put a binoculars on the sword, however, and you will see that the middle star is actually a blue cloud, the Orion nebula. If you ever get to look through a telescope at the nebula, you will see an entire nest of stars which are emerging from the cloud.

My grandfather once wrote that the reappearance of perennials in the spring was like old friend returning. I find Orion's return to the visible part of the sky to be as reassuring. Winter can be long, but if one looks at the stars, the season can seem quiet, calm and reassuring rather than morbidly inactive.

THE DRY LEAVES ON THE GROUND remind me of a simple astronomical discovery made a couple of years ago by an astronomer in Arizona. I wrote about it here two years ago, but will repeat the basics.

Many astronomers and laypersons in northern regions have, over the years, reported "hearing" the northern lights. I had one such experience about fifteen years ago during a particularly spectacular display of aurora borealis. When a bright sheet of northern lights would appear, there would be a slight buzz, sort of like static.

Many scientists ignored the buzz because it made no sense. Sound travels slowly, and northern lights happen dozens of miles away, but the buzzes associated with the northern lights sounded at the same time the lights flashed. Impossible. Some scientific discussion of the phenomena suggested that people who heard northern lights suffered from overactive imaginations. In fact, one article said that bringing up the issue was a sure way of losing friends--those who had heard the lights were adamant, and those who hadn't insisted they were crazy.

However, one perceptive astronomer in Arizona noticed that the buzzing usually happened in the fall of the year. He had a theory, and he tested it. Northern lights emit a low frequency radio wave. The astronomer took a bunch of dry leaves into the lab and bombarded them with that same radio wave. Lo and behold, the leaves buzzed. Clearly they were stirred by the radio waves.

So, people who hear the northern lights--and the Eskimos, who discuss the noise of the northern lights in their lore--aren't crazy after all.

This research was conducted only two years ago. I don't know if the researcher published his results. I heard about them from a friend of his at a star party in the Arizona desert. I don't even know what the person who told me the story looks like or who he was--it was a new moon, and all lights were off for stargazing. However, nothing has hit the internet yet about this finding. Perhaps the research didn't stand up to subsequent tests.

But it sounds like as good an explanation as any.

October 25, 2005

Fall classic

My house is finally fully wired to the world. On the television is the World Series game. On my lap is a computer hooked up to wireless internet.

I am ambivalent about the World Series. I have spent the past several years despising the White Sox, but they have gotten rid of all of their unbearably cocky players--players who claimed they were better than the Twins despite their poor record--and have gotten a manager who is a character, Ozzie Guillen.

A. J. Pierzynski has always been one of my favorites. Even his teammates dislike him, but he is a hard-nosed player in the old style.

I don't know a thing about the Houston Astros. I am happy that they finally got into a Series after 40 years of trying. Their manager, Phil Garner, is another hard-nosed type. His teammates called him "scrap iron."

So, it is a no-lose situation. It is just a relief to have the Yankees and Red Sox out of it.

AN INSURANCE inspector informed me today that I have to move the external wood stove thirty more feet from the house. Apparently, they have had a lot of trouble with fires resulting from sparks thrown from this type of stove. They have changed their regulations recently in an attempt to prevent fires.

Insurance companies really amount to a shadow government. They regulate you by threatening to cut off your coverage. That is their right, I guess. Yet, I always react to people coming in and telling me what to do with my life. I could turn into a take-to-the woods gun-totin type in a hurry if things ever got out of hand.

Of course, I don't want my house to burn down, and they've had experience with that sort of thing, so I will comply.

The woodstove heats water which is pumped through the floor. Once that floor heats up, you are warm to the bone. In fact, I have windows open tonight--it is 75 degrees in here and the heat is off. It is also humid. I think new houses are always humid for a while, but right now it feels like I built myself a big sauna.

Morning frost

The news

Although I don't subscribe to any newspapers and magazines, with the internet one doesn't need hard copies of the news to in order to keep up on with the world. Instead, I find myself reading commentary from newspapers around the world each morning.

Keeping up with the world is overrated, however. Sometimes I think it is an addiction which hampers creative productivity. It also agitates the mind, and to no good end: I am not going to change the path of a hurricane, or be able to help its victims in any meaningful way. I am not going to alter the political landscape no matter how frenetically I might write about it on this weblog or elsewhere.

In fact, reading the news is simply a way of twiddling one's thumbs while feeling educated about it. Of course, we are in a democracy and are obligated to keep up with the activities of our government. However, I think dipping into the news about once per month would fulfill that obligation. So little of substance changes amidst all the chatter.

Sometimes, I can't resist dipping into national affairs on this weblog, or in my weekly column. However, every time I do, I feel as if I am about to slip into a black hole. My real focus is daily life and the education it provides. I am endlessly fascinated by how other people, particularly the elderly, deal with the ups and downs of daily life. I am fascinated by the ideologies and rituals, some religious, most not, which people have developed to deal with daily life. How well do those rituals work? What role do they play? Are they always functional, or can they become a hinderance?

It seems that the type of analysis, the type of writing which has real traction with people, is that which merely attempts to describe the human condition with accuracy--not objective accuracy, but subjective accuracy. How did I really feel about the rummage sale two weeks ago? It took me a while to figure it out. Once I did, I wrote a column which was far more accurate in describing my feelings about the experience than it was about the details of the event--some of which might have gotten switched around a bit to more accurately reflect my take on the experience.

Contrast that column with the last one I wrote about over-indulgent, vain parents. As much as I agree with every word and love poking those people in the eye, the column's effect will be minimal or non-existent. It was more preachy than descriptive. On the surface, it might seem more relevant than a humorous column about a rummage sale; in fact, it is not.

Speaking of every day affairs, I have whiled away my early morning plunking on this keyboard--I now have twenty minutes to get up to the nursery so we can start filling more pacs.

October 24, 2005

Final trip to the apartment

After loading up the remaining things in Aunt Olla's apartment, Aunt Ede and Uncle Orville pose with Olla on the doorstep before she locks her apartment for the last time.

Ede helps Olla to the van for the trip back to the Fertile Hilton. "I have no regrets," Olla said as she left behind the apartment where she has spent most of the past decade.

It has been a long journey. Olla was born in Canby, MN and came north to Twin Valley with her family as an infant. Her father took her to hear William Jennings Bryan, the great orator, presidental candidate and Secretary of State, when Olla was six months old. He wanted her to be able to say she had heard him. She also remembers Charles Lindberg flying over the farm on a barnstorming tour after his flight to Paris.

Olla became a teacher, taught at several area rural schools before traveling to California during the war. She didn't like the work in the factories much, so she taught in Ojai, CA and several other locations before ending up in Las Vegas, NV, where she spent the rest of her career.

Her husband Doc and she were married for 22 years. After Doc died, Olla taught a couple of more years before retiring to a house south of Twin Valley in a little development named Johnnytown after her brother Johnny Bergeson, who moved several houses onto his farmland just east of Highway 32 to rent out.

In about 1990, Olla moved to Riverview Place in Fargo. When she broke her hip the first time, she moved to the nursing home in Twin Valley--only to move out of the home and back into an apartment when she recovered.

Now she's in the Fertile Hilton and loving every minute of it.

Pac filling

For at least the past thirty years, filling the greenhouse pacs for the spring using Dad's automated system has been a fall ritual. Up to about six years ago, we could do all the trays in one day. Now it takes a day-and-a-half.

Here Cindy, Sharon and Mom ready the empty trays to go on the conveyor. Another conveyor dumps the soil into the trays of pots at a rate of 17 trays per minute. An automatic leveler takes off the excess peat, which then goes up a third conveyor into a bucket where it is reused.

Dad kept the machinery running smoothly by keeping peat out of the engines and oiling things regularly. Above, neighbor Jenna keeps the peat in the hopper flowing onto the conveyor. My job was to fill the hopper with peat when it got empty.

Joe and Aaron stack the trays on pallets. When one pallet gets full, one of them takes it outside with the forklift while the other scrambles to keep up.

Here are Mom, Jenna and Sharon with the morning's work--about 1/3 of the greenhouse pots we will fill with plants and sell next spring. The pallets will be covered with plastic to prevent the soil from drying out and then will be left outside for the winter.

In March, Ken will dig the pallets out of the snow, bring them into the shop to thaw, and Sharon and the other transplanters will fill the pots with plants.

Pac filling is always festive. The nursery is a bit quiet this time of year, and it feels good to get an assembly line going for one day and feel like we are a thriving business again.

October 23, 2005

Quit while I'm ahead?

The column on the rummage sale seems to have gotten a few laughs from people. Hits on this website went up, which means more people read it than usual.

One woman just assumed that I had made it all up. Ha! I wish.

The columns people like all share a similar background. Usually, it is something I am reluctant to write about for fear of hurting somebody's feelings, in this case Aunt Olla's. And usually the experience about which I wrote was authentically traumatic. Believe it or not, those Rummage Sale Women struck a body blow to my faith in humanity--at least for a couple of days.

Then there is the matter of writing the next column, which won't be as funny. I couldn't keep up that pace, anyway--having to live through enough stuff like that to continue writing funny columns about such things would finish me off in a short while. Leave the weekly humor for Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.

Oops, Erma's dead and Dave quit.

Olla locks up

This afternoon, Uncle Orv, Aunt Ede and I loaded up the last of Aunt Olla's things from her apartment. Olla said good-bye to her neighbor Lilly, who stopped by, and then locked the place up for the last time, announcing that "I have no regrets whatsoever."

All in all, a pretty good way to move into the nursing home. Olla has embraced the change with her usual enthusiasm, refusing to see anything at all negative in an experience most of us dread. She is thrilled with the Fertile Hilton and, as always, is having the time of her life.

I think she's been having the time of her life for the past 94 years.


Yesterday, I eagerly opened a letter from the address of some friends from my baseball tour two years ago--but my heart sank a bit when I saw the pink pastels of a funeral folio.

Tess was writing to tell me that Warren passed away last week. He was eighty-three.

Warren and Tess were the honorary grandparents of our baseball tour bus. They were particularly dear to the back-of-the bus gang. Each morning, as they came on the bus, they graciously greeted everybody as they worked their way down the aisle.

Warren played minor league baseball for the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s. He loved baseball with a passion. Despite the misery of minor league ball--all-night bus trips followed by daytime doubleheaders--he said he wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Warren was also a roomate and lifetime friend of the late Wes Westrum, one of baseball's greatest catchers, who hailed from Clearbrook, MN.

Warren lived his entire life in Shakopee. The obvious love and respect between he and Teresa on the trip made it seem like they had been high school sweethearts.

I found out the truth when Warren and Teresa took me out for supper two springs ago after driving up from the Cities to the nursery to buy a couple of tomatoes.

Warren's first wife passed away of cancer several years ago. On her death bed, she told her best friend Tess-- "You take good care of my Warren."

She did. She married him. And they made a wonderful couple.

We had such wonderful conversations on the baseball trip. One day, we sat at a cafeteria in Michigan--we had some time to kill before the Tigers game that night--and talked Minnesota politics for over an hour.

It was a thrill for me when I saw Warren and Tess get out of their car at the nursery that spring day. I had never expected them to make such a long drive up just for tomatoes and a visit. We had a great time.

Tess wrote in her note that Warren first had a heart attack in the car following the Gophers/Purdue game in September. He pulled through that one, but had another just last week which was too much to survive.

One of the unanticipated benefits of going on the baseball tour--a busload of people united only by our passion for the game--was meeting people who were all-around wonderful. Warren and Tess were two of them, and it is sure sad to see Warren go.