Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 03, 2006

Ball joints

That's what they call the things which went out on my pickup, which caused the tires to wear horribly, and which cost $660 to replace today. Whoa. I wasn't quite ready for that total.

Oh well, I put it on the credit card so it doesn't matter anyway.

It took four hours to finish the job. I took along work and reading so I passed the time blissfully until three-and-a-half hours, anyway. The last half hour consisted of a failed attempt to get my emergency brake cable loose. It was frozen in place because I have never used it in 170,000 miles. During that time, I paced the drab, cold shop.

Driving home, the steering felt different. It was the first time I had the front wheels aligned since I bought the pickup new.

WINTER RETURNED today. Zero degrees this morning. High in the teens today. Last night, as the temperatures sank, the front windows on the prow of the house cracked and groaned loudly. No glass broke, anyway, but something about the colder temps always makes the prow groan, crack and creak. It actually interfered with my sleep.

The birds continue to eat me out of house and home. I think they go through three dollars worth of thistle per day. At least. I think I am going to put them on rations. Right now, they are telling all their friends and the crowd is just getting out of hand. Like a keg party, but for birds.

THE TWINS signed 40-year-old Ruben Sierra to a minor league contract. I like the signing. He has tormented the Twins for years. He may not hit for a high average, but when it matters, he has always been lethal. He is a switch hitter, which is nice.

I have been reading columnist George Will's Men at Work, a baseball book he wrote about fifteen years ago. It really is very good. It describes the tiny details of the game which occupy the minds of the players, managers and coaches, but which seldom are noticed by the fans.

For instance, every time Yogi Berra got on base, he would talk the ear of the defensive player nearest him--until there was a play called, say a hit and run, and then Yogi would go silent. The other teams caught on. Finally, the Yanks figured it out and told Yogi to shut up. That didn't work, so they told him to keep talking no matter what. That finally ended the spying.

Tony LaRussa actually has a scout watch his managerial moves as if the scout were from an opposing team to see if he is falling into any identifiable tendencies.

Gene Mauch noticed--get this--that a tendon in the neck of a certain opposing shortstop would stand out before a fastball and would be unnoticable before a curve. That is plausible--infielders know what pitch is coming next and react accordingly. Mauch was able to relay this info to his hitters, and they pounded the pitchers for that team mercilessly.

One problem which probably on the decline is the matter of ballplayers coming to the park drunk. Nowadays, teams wouldn't put up with that behavior. But in the old days, it was pretty common. Mickey Mantle once tottered around in the batter's box for three pitches before conking a 460-foot home run. His manager Ralph Houk knew Mantle was drunk and played him anyway just to make a fool out of him. After stroking the home run, Mantle barely made it around the bases without falling over.

Baseball is good for stories, and Will's book has quite a few good ones.


A road to energy independence

Here is a long, but interesting article on the prospects for alternative fuels. Note that Brazil has, through creative legislation, all but eliminated its dependence upon foreign oil.


February 02, 2006

Taxes

Ah, the day to take the shoebox into the accountant. Actually, it was a folder of stuff assembled by my mother and bookkeeper Cindy which, ritual dictates, I look at a few hours before going to the accountant and see if I understand. I nod and say I get it, but if there were a test, I'd flunk.

So I go into the accountant's office and then he starts peppering me with questions about which I know little or nothing. "I'll get back to you on that," is my standard reply.

Next year, I am bringing along the people in the know and withdraw from one more business detail.

No wonder I had a dream two nights ago that I was taking a test and I couldn't answer a single question. It was administered by the local nursing home administrator who, in real life, is way too nice a guy to hand out difficult tests.

Then last night, as this afternoon's tax meeting drew nigh, I dreamt that I had cystic fibrosis. My lung x-rays were white, my time was limited and breathing was difficult. It was awful.

Another business detail: A new greenhouse stove came today. Damaged. Badly. Who did it, the trucking firm? The manufacturer? The distributor? By the time I arrived at the nursery, Dad had already been on the phone raising cane. He thinks he had it figured out, but none of the parties involved are eager to accept responsibilty.

Dad is good and stubborn about these things. He told me, we just can't accept that stove in any way shape or form. He knows darn well that if I am around when the interested parties call, I will fudge and give in and apologize for things I shouldn't apologize for. So, the best solution was for me to spend the next couple of hours in at the accountant so I was not near the phone. That way they call they will get Dad and they will get an earful.

I sometimes feel guilty delegating misery.

Dad also takes on the task of dealing with mechanics. My attitude is, fix the stupid thing and send the bill and don't bother me with the details. Dad revels in the details and makes sure they get it right.

So, I sat in at the accountant and said, well what do you think? Well, let's do that then.

I had very few original thoughts today.


February 01, 2006

Travels

Aunt Olla wanted to come out to my house to go through some of her things, so I picked her up at the Fertile Hilton after lunch. We took the back roads out to the nursery just to see some new scenery, since we don't get to take trips to Frenchman's Bluff southeast of Twin Valley any more.



Here is the former home of my bus driver August. He and I were buddies when I was in kindergarten and first grade. If I wasn't at the top of the driveway, he would pull the bus into the nursery and find me. He really treated me well.

August was an old-school type, a World War II veteran who smoked filterless cigarettes and wore drab green work clothes. He was as thin as a rail.

When I was in second grade--and no longer on August's route--he had a terrific stroke. For at least a couple of years he laid in the Vet's hospital, unable to speak or move before he eventually died. I felt very bad. During that time, I got to know his wife Nora, a wonderfully jolly woman.



I wonder if Nora was responsible for the unconventional coloring on this outbuilding on the farmsite. It would be like her, although I do know that some people lived here well after August and Nora were gone.

As we drove through the country, I was amazed at how many farmsteads have no tracks running up the drive. That means they are unoccupied and unvisited--farmsteads I remember being vital.

We came to the old IOGT hall, the temperance hall down the road, and Olla remembered that her brother Mike (known to people who knew him later in life as Melvin, also my grandfather) was so enthralled with some bran muffins Olla had made that he got up front at a meeting of the IOGT and bragged them up and passed them out to everybody, citing their health benefits. Olla was mortified.

"I got on a health kick there for a while....sixty...no, it was.....goodness....seventy-three years ago!" It was in 1933. It must have worked. Olla is now 94 and going strong. She's been on a health kick for most of the last century!

We had coffee and Olla went through some of her boxes of books to pick out some favorites to bring into the HIlton to fill the empty shelf. She got her nose in a few of them, of course--health books advocating various home remedies. Hundreds of them. In fact, one of the books was entitled "1001 Home Remedies." Olla finally decided that she just can't keep up with them all, and put the vitamin books in the "discard" pile, which means I am to keep them until she dies at which time I am to give them away to a thrift shop. But throw them? Never.

Back at the Hilton, Olla sat me down in her recliner and said, "Now look around the room. What's different?"

Whoa, that's always a loaded question for a male--to sense the most recent decorating change in the room. I needed a hint.

"Look straight ahead. What jumps out at you?"

The flourescent lamp? The curtain around her roomate's bed? Finally, I noticed some plastic flourescent pink flowers on the top shelf across the room, and I'll be darned if it didn't change the whole mood of the place. At least that is what I think I was supposed to say.

Reminds me of the local bachelor farmer around here (true story) who was over for supper at the home of his fishing buddy and his wife--and was called into the living room to have a look at the new valances above the window or wherever valances are. He knew what to do. He looked up in wonder at the valances, stuck his thumbs behind the straps on his overalls and said, "You know, you wouldn't know it was the same house!"


January 31, 2006

What's wrong with this picture?

I just checked on Google News. On their front page were the following links to major news items:

In The News:
Coretta Scott King
State of the Union
Bob Woodruff
Jill Carroll
Wendy Wasserstein
Martin Luther King
Samuel Alito
Alan Greenspan
Mayville State
Exxon Mobil


I did a double take near the end. Since when does Mayville State make national news? Did the campus burn?

No, they hired a new head football coach. The news is competing with the State of Union, at least on Google. Go Comets!

And no, the coach wasn't Mike Tice.


Mozart

This year is the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The year will be filled with Mozart concerts, tributes, radio shows, and so on. Most music writers are weighing in with tributes, but one critic will have no part of the love-fest. Although I am not so sour on Mozart, I do enjoy this line:

Where 10 days of Bach on a classical music radio station will flush out the ears and open minds to limitless vistas, the coming year of Mozart feels like a term at Guantanamo Bay without the sunshine.

There will be no refuge from neatly resolved chords, no escaping that ingratiating musical grin.


As long as Bach remains high on his pedestal, I am happy to consider Mozart a genius as well. I think of genius as a subjective and singular view of the world which the artist imprints on everything he does, for better or worse. In Mozart's case, the results were magic. The lightness and purity in Mozart which the above critic sees as unbearable sweetness hasn't been duplicated by anybody else. If you can't stand it, go listen to Shastakovich.

When listening to public radio and trying to figure out who is the composer of the obviously late 18th century stuff coming over the speaker, I apply a test: If it sounds like Mozart but lacks sparkle, it is Haydn. If it sounds like Mozart but is too insistent, it is Beethoven hacking away. If it sounds simple, elegant and perfectly proportioned, it is Mozart.


Of voles and moles

Weblog reader Jerrianne from Alaska writes that the little brown furball shown below is actually a redback vole, while the pink snouted thing is probably a mole. Research on the web confirms that she is correct. Type in "redback vole" on google images and all kinds of those little furballs show up. And the only thing with a pink snout is a mole.


January 30, 2006

Trains!

I love trains, but even more, I love train whistles. They are an echo from the past. I am against city ordinances, such as the one recently proposed in Fargo, that would ban trains from sounding their whistles in town.

When I was in the dorm at UND, I could hear the trains banging together and apart in the train yard just across campus. I also could hear the whistles, but I was convinced at the time and still am that the whistles sound different, and better, in Fargo.

After graduating from UND, I went to Moorhead State where I ended up in an apartment only two blocks from the tracks where about 58 trains per day come through, most of them carrying coal. I have many great memories of falling asleep to those train whistles.

I remember falling asleep to train whistles in Flagstaff, AZ--whistles which bounced off the San Francisco mountains so you would hear them twice, once in a higher key than the next due to the Doppler effect.

Well, tonight I am a happy camper. I am hearing train whistles in my house, a full nine miles from the nearest track. I think it due to the microphone I have outside which is hooked to a speaker inside, a microphone meant for the birds but which is proving to have additional benefits. I have been hearing many things I haven't heard before in the past few days. But the most thrilling has been the train whistles. Just now, I heard the train toot on and off for a stretch of ten minutes, which means I must have been hearing it travel over a space of many miles.

So, even here in the woods in the middle of nowhere, I get to hear the distant rumble of commerce and industry. For some reason, it is reassuring.


Rodents

After a particularly busy day at the bird feeder, things got quiet mid-afternoon. The dozens of finches and redpoles, the two nuthatches, the blue jay, the handful of chickadees and the woodpeckers all left. I stood by the window waiting for their return when I noticed (and heard through the microphone) this little fur ball.



While waiting for the mouse to get in good view for a photo, I saw something out of the corner of my eye reach up from a hole in the snow, grab a bird seed and immediately disappear. It was a vole. I took dozens of shots and the only one which came close to catching the elusive little bugger was the one below.



The pink dot on the lower right is his snout.

The vole actually made little snout-sized holes in the show. It would reach up through the snow hole, grab a seed as if its long snout was the trunk on an elephant, and pull it back in through the hole, all in a split second. Too fast to adjust the camera, anyway.

It is bad news if the voles are active this winter. They are fond of eating the bark off young trees, which kills the trees. This is the first time I have seen a vole in action. It seemed loath to see the daylight. They reportedly will not run across the snow, preferring to tunnel through.

Since I blocked off the hole which was the point-of-entry for mice into the garage (two of which I trapped on the weekend), I am not to concerned about these little things operating out my window. The birds went through 1/2 of the feeders--which I just filled last evening. Perhaps the rodents will moderate the bird-food consumption rate a bit.


January 29, 2006

Drear



I took this picture when my speedometer was on 57 mph, and this kid was passing me. I suppose taking pictures while driving is as bad as using a cell phone.



The orange trees are "Flame" willow, planted here by the driveway of nursery employee Sharon. I believe she started these from cuttings. The photo is taken from about 1/3 of a mile away. My grandpa introduced the Flame due to its outstanding winter branch color and global branching habit. It is one of my very favorite trees.