Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 21, 2006


I sometimes debate with myself when I would be alive besides now, if I could. When chosing such a date, I assume good health and strong teeth.

Several times, I have landed upon 1915. Although World War I was underway, we weren't yet involved. The innocence of the 19th century had not yet been entirely shattered by the unbelievable slaughters which were about to begin.

The horse population in the United States was at its peak. Cars were not yet common. The steam engine, a beautiful mode of power if there ever was one, was still ascendant over the infernal internal combustion engine.

No loudspeakers yet. The pipe organ was the instrument of choice to fill large auditoriums with music without the hassle and cost of hiring an entire orchestra. People made their own music at home. Towns had male choruses and brass bands. If they were horrible, and many claim they were, nobody knew better.

Radio wasn't up and running yet. Newspapers were still filled with good writing, even the small-town papers. There was no national media to speak of, save for Hearst.

Rural life in Minnesota was at its peak. Norman County, a very rural county, numbered 15,000 residents in 1915 compared to about 6,500 today. The number of churches, halls, lodges, bandstands and general stores was never greater in rural Minnesota than in 1915.

The local culture would still have had a strong immigrant flavor. Many people didn't know English. Accents must have been strong amongst those who did. Aunt Olla has a lot of fun recalling some of the phrases and misnomers of the poor immigrants.

The surviving Civil War veterans would have still been telling stories. Teddy Roosevelt was still on the scene, as was William Jennings Bryan. The excitement of automobiles and airplanes was just around the corner.

Country schools were going strong, many of them brand new. Although my Grandmother, a country school teacher, once told me, "not a lot of education happened in those schools," I think what education did happen was salubrious--in the best cases, (at least in schools taught by the schoolteachers I have met) peppered with music and games and theatrical productions and a healthy intermixing of the age groups.

So, for now, if I had to pick a time other than now to have been alive, it would be 1915.

But I am open to other suggestions and opinions!

January 20, 2006


Brother Joe is leaving for a couple of weeks, so he brought all of his recording equipment and set up a studio here in my house. Before he left, he gave me a tutorial in recording. We'll see if I remember enough to be able to record some songs.

What I have done so far sounds hideous. It's like hearing your voice on tape. In fact, it is hearing your voice on tape. So no wonder it sounds hideous.

But you can record over as many times as you wish and harmonize with yourself. I have a few hymns I would like to put together in parts.

And, I would like to try to record some piano pieces as well. A good winter project.

With Joe's computer came his dazzling monitor. Photos take on an entirely new and vivid look when they appear on this latest state-of-the art screen from Dell. Wow. So, I just finished transferring photos down to that computer and watching them on a slide show. I would like to mount the screen on the wall and just have it on a permanent slide show. Haven't figured out how to accomplish that yet.

SPENT THE BULK of the day in Bemidji at a board meeting of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. Learned a lot, as usual. The organization is so large that it has taken be about a year to get a feel for what they do. Today we got one report from a psychologist and another from a lawyer. The meeting took five hours. I came home and went to sleep. Exhausted.

January 19, 2006

Home again, home again

Although I wasn't looking forward to getting back into cold weather, it really hasn't been that bad. In fact, I have seldom enjoyed getting home from Arizona as much as I have this year. The house has something to do with it. My old house was cold; this one, once it warms up, will be warm and spacious.

Made the first pass through the mail, throwing the obvious junk in the garbage. I dread confronting the mail after being gone for a few weeks--it feels as if there is accumulated stress in that pile.

Often there is, although never as much as I imagine. Today there were several late Christmas cards--I got more after Christmas than I got before--and a couple of nice letters. There was an anonymous letter postmarked Grand Forks which included a gospel tract and the words to the song "One Day at a Time." The bills had already been sorted out by bookkeeper Cindy, so I didn't face them--until she put the list on my desk of the money she'll need by next week to keep the nursery functioning.

Stopped by the Fertile Hilton to see Aunt Olla on the way home. She was busy working on sending back all the health magazines she gets in the mail with a "RETURN TO SENDER--has moved to nursing home" mark on it so that they quit sending her junk mail. It is going to take her several days to do that, but she figures its better than having to fill her wastebasket with junk mail every day.

Her brain is fuzzy, she claimed. She says its a remnant of a concussion she suffered about 10 years ago in a fall. She didn't seem too fuzzy to me, just a little worn out.

She lost her hearing aid again. When it started beeping in the middle of the night, two of the young nurses came in with little flashlights to find it--it was driving them nuts. Of course, Olla couldn't hear a thing. But she did open her eyes and catch the two girls probing around like burglars in her drawers, and the sight made her get the giggles for the rest of the night.

Olla has started to hoard vitamins in her drawers amongst her things. The nurses distribute them to her every day--per procedure--but Olla doesn't always feel like swallowing them, so she hides them. This is, apparently, illegal. So, the head nurse had a confab with Olla and explained the situation and all the trouble they would get in if the inspector found out that Olla was hoarding medicines. This is just like what happened with Grandpa fifteen years ago. Deja vu all over again for me.

Well, unlike Grandpa, Olla was understanding. She said I suppose it is dangerous to have all those medicines out there for the senile to discover and gobble on, and who knows when she might start losing it herself and take a bunch of alfalfa or kelp or something and end up in the hospital. So, that was fine. She'll just turn down the vitamins when the nurses come around with them rather than hoarding them.

Otherwise, Olla said she is still having a blast at the home. She is more tired than she was after she went in, but in fact she is keeping quite busy. "It is just one thing after another," is her stock phrase and has been for as long as I have known her. The other stock phrase: "So, it all worked out for the best."

January 18, 2006

Missouri River at Yankton, SD

No ice on the Missouri on January 17th.

January 17, 2006

Horse population

I asked below about when the horse population peaked, and I received an answer from weblog reader Miles.

Here are the US numbers:

1867 – 8,000,000
1915 – 21,500,000
1949 – 6,000,000
1950’s (early) - 2,000,000
1960 – 3 million

Today, there are an estimated 75,000,000 horses in the world. China leads the pack (herd?) with 10,000,000.

Scenic highlight

This scene in Platt, KS was the highlight of the drive from Dalhart, TX to York, NE.


Here is one conservative's take on the Bush attitude towards laws limiting his power.

I wasn't aware of this whole "signing statement" business until the past few weeks. I suppose, given Congress' habit of passing enormous omnibus bills which nobody could possibly read in their entirety, it is not surprising that a president might object to or seek to redefine parts of the bills. But the way the system is supposed to work is that Congress writes the bills, the President signs them or vetoes them as they stand, and then executes them if they become law, even if they become law over his veto.

It is interesting to me that Lindsay Graham, the same Republican who served prominently on the House impeachment committee during the Clinton years, is now, as a Senator, showing strong concern over this possible breach of the law by the Bush White House. He is to be lauded for his consistency.


A trip isn't a trip until I nearly run out of gas. I was at an eighth of a tank as I turned north on US 81 off of I-70 in central Kansas today. I assumed that there would soon be a gas station.

There wasn't. Although 81 is a big, sweeping four-lane at that point, I went for miles and miles without so much as seeing a billboard, much less a gas station.

As I approached the small town of Minneapolis, KS, I thought sure that there would be a gas station near the exit. I skipped the first exit, which showed no signs of life, and went on to the second. When that exit had no gas station, I assumed there was another exit over the hill. There was not.

The "low fuel" light went on. I knew I had 20 miles in the tank. But there were no stations in those twenty miles. I followed a semi real close so his draft would aid me.

Finally, I knew I was at the end. There was an exit ahead. I decided to take it, since the sign announced a town.

Alas, that town was nine miles off the highway.

So, I pulled into a junkyard. It was an odd place. Dozens of wreckers, some wrecked, some which seemed to be in service. The building was boarded up, and large trees grew out of the foundation--yet somebody seemed to be home.

I rang the bell. There was banging inside. A delay. And then a bleary-eyed teenage girl peeked through the door I asked if they had gas. She said no. She wanted me gone. I said do you know where I could get any? Nope, she said. She turned back and asked a man behind her, and he said nope. She slammed the door.

I think I happened upon an amateur pharmaceutical business. Darn, if I had been quicker on my feet I could have offered them the two sheets of Sudafed in my pickup in exchange for gas.

Instead, I went the a farmstead I spotted up on the next hill.

Knocked on the house door. Nobody home. Went to the shop. Nobody there. Just cats. Yelled "Hello!" repeatedly. Nothing.

Found three fuel tanks. The first one I tried was gas. I knocked twice more on the house door, wrote a note, put down some cash, and drove to the tank. Just a couple of drips came out.

I found the faucet which turned on the gas and was I ever relieved to hear gas gurgling in my tank.

After about a gallon, I slammed the nozzle back on the tank, replaced the cap, jumped in my pickup and roared away. I didn't want to explain. I paid generously for the gallon, and I left my name and number, so I think I am covered. But still, I feel like a bit of a crook. I was relieved to cross the state line.

Rule of Law

I am something of a fundamentalist when it comes to the rule of law. I thought it was right that Bill Clinton was impeached for perjuring himself (although he was never convicted) in testimony under oath. The punishment was about right: Although the Senate decided Clinton wasn't guilty of a "high crime and misdemeanor," Clinton's lying under oath and the subsequent circus of hearings permanently sullied his presidency. A person of his intelligence should have known to take seriously his responsibility to respect the rule of law. He should have been man enough to take the hit and tell the truth.

Now, we have Bush shunting aside the FISA law even though he didn't really have to. I have a feeling that the wiretapping which resulted went farther than FISA judges would have permitted, although it is impossible to know with the information we have right now.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter is promising hearings on the matter. Specter is very bright and respected. He knows very well where such an investigation might lead, but I believe his devotion to the Constitution and the rule of law will win out over political considerations.

As for Samuel Alito, he should be confirmed. I don't think that when the authors of the Constitution gave the president authority to appoint judges "with the advice and consent" of the Senate that they meant for there to be ideological tests. Rather, they were hoping to prevent blatant cronyism. Alito's serious and accomplished legal career, whatever he believes on individual issues, merits quick confirmation. The Democrats will be mistaken if they pull out the stops to prevent Alito from taking a seat on the Supreme Court. Rather, they should spend their energies putting up a decent presidential candidate who will then appoint judges who share his or her convictions.

I say that after hearing radio preachers across Kansas today argue that Alito is God's man to turn back the tide of liberal judicial activism. They might contain their enthusiasm for a while, given the unpredictibility of past "sure bet" appointments such as Kennedy, Souter and O'Connor.

When Eisenhower left office, he was asked if he made any mistakes. "Two," he replied, "and they're both on the Supreme Court."

Ike may not have liked it, but that is how the system was meant to work.

January 16, 2006

Gore Speech

Never thought I would get inspired by Al Gore--who was a complete washout as a presidential candidate--but his speech today in front of a coalition of civil liberties groups from both the left and the right was right on the mark. He raised every point I can think of which needs raising right now. Gore was introduced, incidentally, by ultra-conservative former congressman Bob Barr, another man I never thought I would find myself in agreement with.

Gore addressed the underlying justification for the present executive power grab: fear.

"Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same."

Well, not entirely. Roosevelt succeeded at interning American citizens of Japanese descent in remote, fenced in camps, and he tried many other tricks to grab power not his, but he was effectively opposed by Congress in the most egregious cases. Right now, nobody seems to care that the Bush administration is at the very least pushing the edge of the law with domestic wiretapping and torture.

Gore also sticks it to the phone companies who let the government tap into their main lines of communication--not just overseas communication, either.

People who trust Bush with all of these powers should ask: What if a liberal Democrat were president? Would they shrug off the legalities then? I'll bet not.

Dalhart, TX

Decided to take the cross-country route on US Highway 54. Made it as far as Dalhart on the Texas panhandle. Odd that Texas would be on the way from Arizona to Minnesota, but it is. I checked, and it is 961 miles from Dalhart to Brownsville, TX. Texas is a big state.

Geese, cows and grass. That's what's in Dalhart.

The nice woman at the check-in somehow got on the topic of religion and announced that she was a "holy rollah and proud of it! We're just very emotional pipul!"

She recommended the steakhouse across the parking lot. "This is steak country, so there's good steak cheap!"

Indeed there was. With the steak came a scruptious salad bar. When I said "excuse me" to a gentleman in a cowboy hat who was at the salad bar, he said, sincerely I assume, "You just mike yoursaylf t'home!"

A fourteen year old girl at the next table sent back two steaks, but pronounced the third perfect. "Third tahm's the charm!" said the waitress. This is steak country.

In a box prominently placed on the menu was written: "We feel it is important to balance our desire for profits with moral responsibility issues. For that reason, we feel we must limit patrons to two (2) beers per person."

On the wall was a mosaic of a cross with the star of Texas placed in the middle.

So, I am in Texas, if only a little corner of it.

January 15, 2006

Leaving Tucson

As if to taunt me, this morning was about as beautiful as it could get in Tucson. Had breakfast outside at a little greasy-spoon called Frank's with friend Ron, an astronomer at the University of Arizona who hails from back home. Then stopped by the home of Dad's high school roomate Elmer before heading down I-10 to near the Mexican border and then across into New Mexico.

The wind was at my back, the same brisk wind which has been fanning wildfires in Texas. The gas gauge barely moved. After five hours on the road, my eyes were shot, so I pulled off at Truth or Consequences, a town I have stopped at before, and found a great hotel--Comfort Inn--for $48. Huge room. Free breakfast. Brand new. Free wireless. Quite a deal.

Although I logged about 315 miles, that wasn't probably enough to get me home in three days. I see there are some weather systems working their way across; it wouldn't be a trip home from Tucson unless I ended up fighting weather. It happens every year.

Tucson was about the ideal vacation. Because I have been there eight winters before, I know the haunts. Because the visit was limited to two weeks, I milked more out of each day. I probably did more things this time than I did three years ago when I spent over two months. When you stay that long, you get into routines which sort of stifle adventurousness.

If a vacation's purpose is to enhance one's perspective on home, then this one was a success. I needed to get away, and getting away to a familiar place is much more relaxing than going somewhere new, say a foreign country. As much as I like foreign travel, it is more work than rest.

Yesterday, I traveled up to the Phoenix area to visit high school friend Al and his wife Rhonda, as well as the three lovely children they adopted six years ago from the former Soviet Union. The kids are doing well. It is fun to see them have a great home, coming as they did from the grim conditions in an orphanage. I sure admire people who adopt hurting children, taking on the unforseen problems which come with them due to deprivation in their first months and years, problems which seem to respond well to lots of love, if Al and Rhonda's situation is evidence.

I was going to take pictures, but forgot my chip. Again. I also wanted to get a picture of me feeding one of their horses handfuls of grass. The horse would grunt when I stopped, wanting more. Kind of fun. You wonder what goes on in a horses mind. Probably something like "I want food," although my grandfather claimed that he trained his horse to count when he was in his teens. He could ask the horse how many loads they hauled that day the horse would paw the ground with the number.

I wonder when the world horse population peaked? Can you imagine how many there were when horses were the main mode of transport in the western world?

Caballo Mountains

This beautiful range is east of the freeway running from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Truth or Consequences, NM. At the base of the range runs the Rio Grande River. The scenery around Truth or Consequences is some of my favorite in the country.