Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 28, 2006


Happy 65th birthday today to Uncle Rolly, pictured here with Aunt Jean. Rolly is retired from the rat race of corporate America but has now started a timber business in southern Indiana which keeps him busy doing just what he likes, working with wood in all its stages.

New visitors

Yesterday, redpoles showed up at the feeder for the first time.

The finches are more numerous, but generally it seems as though the redpoles are given equal access to the feeders. When the woodpecker shows up, however, everybody else leaves.

A heartening example of inter-species harmony at the bird feeder.

January 27, 2006

Good article

This article in the Washington Post Magazine comes via my mother, who read about it at the website of James Lileks, who writes a blog called the "Daily Bleat." Lileks is a wonderful writer, so when he says a piece is "Pulitzerian," I believe it. But, as he said, you have to stick with this one. It probably takes half an hour to read, and it is worth it.


Whenever I imagined having a telephoto lens, I thought about how I would use it to make sense of the windbreaks in the Red River Valley. Today was my first chance. The results were mixed. I was frustrated by how restricted the view through the telephoto was, but that is inevitable.

Above is a row of green ash with their trunks neatly trimmed. Beyond the tree row is I-29. Below is a row of poplar on a farmstead south of Grand Forks which has a spectacularly well-kempt shelterbelt surrounding it which consists of spruce, poplar, buckeye, black walnut, dogwood and other trees. Kudos to people who take the tremendous amount of time required to nurture an entire shelterbelt.

January Color

As a kid, I remember squinting at the Christmas tree so it blurred and looked even more ethereal. This evening over at Mom and Dad's, I was sitting on the couch aiming the telephoto out onto their deck where there still are three potted spruce trees lit with Christmas lights. The telephoto did the squinting for me.

By the way, don't try the potted spruce thing at home, especially indoors. Bringing a potted spruce inside for Christmas season will kill it. Even these potted spruce on the deck aren't the best bet to survive until spring. Surviving winter in a pot is a different proposition than surviving winter in the ground.

Above, I changed the zoom. Also some interesting colors. Below, the colors were gentler. It is fun to get the camera to produce cubist looking stuff, frozen little images of what I enjoyed as a kid while squinting and deliberately blurring my eyes.

We get our color where we can find it in January, that's for sure.

About time

A writer with the courage of his convictions at Christianity Today magazine argues in this article that torture should never be permitted. I have been waiting for somebody of his ilk to care. This article is dead on, especially its first point about the dignity of every human. Nobody is "human debris," I don't care what they think or do.

January 26, 2006


Finally, after swearing for months before, during and after two moves that I was going to sort through all my things and fill a dumpster with junk, I did just that today. What a relief. However, the garbage man doesn't come until next Wednesday, so there is still a chance that some of that stuff will pop out of the dumpster and find its way back into my garage.

I went through all of my old clothes. Five boxes worth. I put anything I didn't ever think I would wear again into three boxes and marked them "give away." I then threw them in the dumpster. I mean, if the clothes aren't good enough to meet my very low standards, why burden somebody else with them?

I hear horror stories about how the thrift shops are inundated with clothes. I don't really know how to get clothes to people who need them. It is a waste, but having those clothes completely out of my life right now just seemed like the right decision.

While I was in Arizona, some mice were in the garage. I know how they got in--through the tube that brings in the pipes from the outdoor stove--so I will fix that. But in the meantime, they got in the birdseed and decided to haul it all over the garage and hoard it in various places. Most humorously, they filled the tubes on the three rolls of paper towels I had sitting on the shelf with sunflower seeds.

The industriousness of field mice never ceases to amaze me. In my last house, I came home from two months in Arizona to find two of my shoes filled with soybeans, origin unknown. I hope they are able to carry more than one per trip.

I also went through every box that I had put in storage and reduced it, distributed what I wanted to keep, and threw the rest. One pickup load there. Soon the garage may hold two vehicles.

So, a fun day. The hours flew by. One wonders why I didn't do it sooner.


These scrubby oak adorn the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. Oak at sunset seem to cast a darker silhouette than other trees. Their mood is appropriate for cemeteries.


One year ago, I wrote a column on owning a snowblower. Neighbor Vernon owns one, so when things get a little thick in our driveways, Dad gives him a call. Here are Dad, left, and Vernon, in the red hat, discussing snowblowing issues yesterday afternoon.

January 25, 2006

Spanish Flu

An eighty-four-year-old gentleman named Paul wrote me a nice letter concerning a column I wrote a while back about the 1918 flu. It included the following story:

My father was stationed in Texas in the US Army at the time. He was guarding some prisoners. One afternoon all of a sudden he became very sick. He told his officer and was told to go to the infirmary at once. He started to go to this place, only a short distance away, and that is all he remembered. He woke up two days later so very cold. He looked up and saw the sky through a very old shed. The place was full of bodies. He was in a make-shift morgue.

He started to yell. Somebody came and told him they thought he was dead. They then immediately moved him to a hospital where he improved fast.

They had already sent a telegram to his parents at Felton that he had passed away. He always showed that telegram to visitors. He lived to be 91 years-of-age.

Quite a story.

I met Paul a few years ago at the Felton Cafe. The Felton Cafe is where Aunt Olla and I stop for breakfast on our way to Fargo.

As we were getting back into my pickup to leave the cafe a couple of years ago, Olla struck up a conversation with this nice gentleman. She right away has to bring up the fact that I write a column, as in "he's the one who writes the column," assuming everybody in the world knows about it and will immediately bow down to us both. It mortifies me.

This time, however, we happened upon a regular reader, and Paul and I have corresponded a couple of times over the years.

Feeding finches

A busy morning for the finches. They are attacking the thistle feeder with a vengeance. Those at the top of the food chain go right up to the feeder, while those a ways down in the pecking order feed off the fallen thistle on the ground.

Frowsty morn

Couldn't resist running up the driveway a little this morning to try to catch the orange of the rising sun in the frost on the branches of the trees. It is a very still morning, and the air echoed with birds chirping and woodpeckers knocking on old trees.

I turned on the microphone on the bird feeder at sunrise. On cue, about two dozen finches started to fight over the pegs on the thistle-seed feeder.

The telephoto makes the aspen woods look like a tangled mess.

January 24, 2006

Ribbons of grass

Quick trip

Took a trip down to Minneapolis. Drove the parents of high school friend Roger down to the swearing-in ceremony for new Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson. Anderson was judge in Crookston for many years, and Roger's dad Bob was a public defender.

Fun trip. Heard a lot of lawyer stories. I know from others that Bob was legendary for going to great lengths to defend his often indigent clients. He told me about a time witnesses were claiming that his client was throwing beer cans from his car--and they even said they could tell what kind of beer it was as it flew from the car. So, to prove that the witnesses were stretching things, Bob brought a briefcase full of beer cans to court and rolled them across the floor and asked the jury see if they could read the label on the rolling cans.

Well, the judge called him on that one. "Bob, I think we get the point."

Judge Anderson told me once of his great admiration for Bob's work. "Bob never had a guilty client!" he said. But even so, in the process of defending his clients, Bob sometimes tore apart the witnesses so mercilessly that the good Judge would have to call him aside and say good grief, cool it.

Bob loved public defending. The people at the jail had his number, and they'd get drunks in there in the middle of the night and they'd tell them they had one phone call to make, and those poor drunks didn't know who to call, so the cops would say, "here, call Bob Remark," and Bob would be awakened at 3 a.m. to talk to a drunk. "The cops got a kick out of doing that," he said.

Bob told a good story on Judge Anderson. Bob was defending a little pint-sized Mexican kid who was accused of threatening a cop with a pocket knife. Both Bob and the judge were a little chagrined at the zeal of the prosecutor, but nobody said anything until the judge finally pulled out his pocket knife and said, "look, my knife is bigger than his, and I sure don't think I am a dangerous criminal! I am dismissing this case!"

Of course, at the swearing in ceremony, there were hundreds of people--but Bob and his wife Sharon got a chance to congratulate Minnesota's new Chief Justice.

January 22, 2006


While surfing the web, I found this portrait of a boy by one of my favorite painters, John Singer Sargent. Sargent had a touch like no other. Soft, yet defined.


Took a walk late this afternoon to experiment with the new telephoto lens. Here is the Morton building in some shadows from oak trees. The telephoto flattens out the picture which can allow one to highlight abstract patterns more easily, I think.

Birds are back

I didn't have anybody fill the bird feeders while I was gone, so the birds had moved on. However, it only took two days for the finches, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers to rediscover the full feeders.

A healthy thump on the window this morning let me know they were back.

This is also the first shot with my new telephoto lens, which I took out of the box this morning.

And, another technological advance: I set up the unit with a microphone on the bird feeder which runs the sound through a wire to a speaker inside. So, it sounds like the birds are chirping right in the house. Very nice. You can hear their wings whir when they take off. If they land on the microphone itself, however, it makes quite a racket.