Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 18, 2006

Cattiness at the bird feeder

Perhaps the finches are moody because I took away the thistle feeder for financial reasons and replaced it with broken sunflower seeds. Nyger thistle is their favorite, but they will eat the sunflower seeds if forced. But boy, they are fighting out there today. Lots of angry cackling.

There aren't enough pegs for all the birds, so the game is to arrive at the feeder with so much bluster that it scares away the wimps and frees up a peg. It doesn't often work, as in this case where the flapping is met with a blank stare.

Content as a cat with a can of tuna, this finch could use a napkin.

February 17, 2006

High of ten below

Don't like this weather, even if the sun shines. I find the cold oppressive. Last night, I visited friends and drove cross country home on gravel roads. They were drifting in. Realized that if I went in the ditch, nobody would find me for a while. Looked and felt around and couldn't find the cell phone in the pickup. Decided just to drive carefully.

Today, frigid cold. It was twenty-two below zero at noon. The sinister white snow-snakes slithered across the highway. Ugly stuff.

February 16, 2006

Career speaker

Today I spoke to two classes of 9th graders at the school in town about careers. I guess the idea was I would tell them how to become a 1) nurseryman and 2) a writer.

I regard neither as a career. In fact, the word career makes me cringe. I don't ever want to have a career unless it involves baseball, and unless I develop a knuckleball in a hurry, that isn't on the agenda.

So, I preached to them about not going to college until they are ready to get good grades, about not going into debt unless they know just how they are going to pay it off soon, about doing something with their lives so that they can look back on their life and say they made the world a little better, and so on.

Wow, it is tough sledding speaking to high school students. They have much else on their mind. They aren't about to violate the rules of cool by asking questions. They are so much different than a bunch of gardeners who start asking questions once you get five minutes into your speech, questions which shape the presentation and enliven the proceedings.

By the second hour of preaching at the students, I felt like I had spent the afternoon trying to blow up a balloon with a big hole in it.

Winter drags on

Went out to take some photos at sunset tonight. I noticed that sunset occurs a full hour later now than it did in December. We are just about two months away from the shortest day of the year. That means the darkest 1/3 of the year is behind us. However, we are in the grip of a little cold spell which is more January than March. Single digits today, and below zero tonight.

I don't often take pictures of deer. They are the rural equivalent of pigeons. Pretty, but so numerous that they qualify as pests. This one posed nicely before bolting the second I snapped the shot.

February 15, 2006

More kerfluffle

Okay, now this story won't go away. Cheney, who has two drunk driving busts on his record, had "a beer or two" before the hunting incident. A beer or two, for those of you who have never had a beer or two, doesn't usually mean a beer or two.

Also, nobody called the cops. You would think if there was a shooting that the first thing you would do would be to call the cops, even if it was accidental. Why might nobody have called the cops?

I still think the press should largely ignore the hunting thing and concentrate upon the larger issues at hand.


In a decent world, Dick Cheney's hunting incident would be seen by all as:

1) a horrible day for the injured hunter and his family,

2) a horrible day for Dick Cheney

3) an incident of no national significance and not worthy of national coverage beyond a footnote in the news.

But we don't live in a very decent world. Instead, the media has chosen to beat up Cheney over the incident. What was most offensive to them, it seems, was his failure to report immediately to the media what happened, as if it were any of their business.

The White House propaganda machine, meanwhile, spun into action on a matter upon which one might have hoped they could have maintained silence. First they blamed the hunter. Then they blamed his dog. Then they said that the reason the incident wasn't reported right away was because everybody was busy making sure the hunter had adequate care--as if they all were so busy performing CPR that they couldn't talk to the press for 18 hours.

Such evasion and lies made the press mad, and now we have a full kerfluffle over something not worth kerfluffling about.

The media has plenty to hang on Dick Cheney if they so desire, none of it having to do with bad aim. If they were to do their job, they would be pushing the matter of the original justifications for the Iraq war, the misuse and abuse of intelligence data and those who gathered it, the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, the torture and abuse of sometimes innocent detainees in Iraq and who knows where else--there's plenty of real problems for which Cheney should be held accountable.

Incidentally, some new pictures of the abuse of Iraqi detainees came out today. They are sickening. The administration sued to keep them secret on the grounds that they would inflame our enemies. That's about the weakest argument for secrecy I have ever heard. It sounds almost Soviet. Of course, the pictures will inflame our enemies. They should also inflame our citizens to make sure those to blame are held accountable.

Just like the cartoons of Mohammad, the pictures of detainee abuse should be shown broadly. I want to know if my tax dollars are being used to torture, kill and maim people rendered helpless by their being in captivity.

Long live a free and vigorous press. I just wish they had their priorities in order.

February 14, 2006


This old barn is less than two miles from the nursery on an abandoned farmstead. It probably hasn't been used for thirty or forty years, but it is still in remarkably good shape--no sway to the roof or anything. I like when they have the brick base.

I counted about seven unused old barns on the way to town. It is nice that they are still standing.

A barn, an outbuilding and some bins are on a farmstead which is no longer a farm. The house is occupied, however.

I am running out of patience with this winter weather as far as taking pictures is concerned. I have lost interest in trying to find something interesting in the bleakness. Maybe old buildings will be the answer.

PLAYED AND SANG AT the Fertile Hilton today. I mixed ragtime with some country and a few old hymns. I think the old hymns do the people the most good. They sing along, almost everybody, including people who wouldn't strike one as devout. The hymns must be remnants of childhood.

They crowned the Valentine's Day King and Queen. The King is 101 years old and was fast asleep by the time of the actual coronation. Later, the staff of the Hilton let him sleep while everybody else retired to the lunchroom for coffee. So, when I came back to get my music, there was this lone 102-year-old man slouched over in a wheelchair with a gaudy red felt crown plopped kitty-wompus on his head. It was quite a picture, but it would have felt exploitative to take it.

For queen, they started to read out the person's pedigree and it sounded like Aunt Olla. Whoa, I said, they couldn't do that--she'll throw the crown on the ground. Valentine Queen. Who ever heard of anything so ridiculous? From a large family. Attended school at Moorhead State. Taught country school. I dreaded the crowning.

Instead, it was my wonderful fifth grade teacher Dolie who got the honor. She accepted the crown with good humor.

Aunt Olla is still shot from the weekend. We not only had the party here at the house on Saturday night, but we enjoyed an Aunt Ede meal on Sunday night. Ede could open a restaurant. The highlight of this particular meal for me was a new fruit soup recipe which included curry as a spice. Whoa, was it over-the-top good.

Out of wood

With the thermometer slated to drop dramatically for the next few days, I thought I had better get some wood sawn. The pile I put up last fall has run out.

A couple of days ago, I decided to saw up some big ash logs which have been laying around for a few years. Easy pickins, I thought. Well, they dulled the saw in a hurry. And the resulting firewood has been behaving funny. It burns, but it doesn't form coals. It just disappears. So, when I come in the morning to load more wood, there's nothing to start the fire.

The wood wasn't rotten, so I don't know what the problem was.

There's also the eight foot logs left from the clearing of woods for the house. They sit there in a pile so neat, just begging to be sawn up. But...every time a sink the chain saw into those logs, no matter how clean they look, the chain gets dull right away. I suspect the mud we gathered when we rolled the logs around after sawing down the trees just washed down into the grooves of the bark with the rains. It doesn't take much dirt to screw up a blade.

So today I decided to test the thickness of th ice and go saw some standing dead ash in the swamp, stuff I know burns like coal. The new Cat loader with tracks plows right through the three-foot deep snow. No problem there. I did manage to get the chain pinched while felling the first tree. Pulled it out, but the chain came off, so had to return to the shop after making only one cut.

The other problem is clothing. It is warm enough today for a light jacket and work gloves. But as I waded in the snow, my boots filled up with snow which started to melt. By the time I finished sawing up about four trees, my boots were squishy and my jeans were soaked up to thigh level.

So, had to come in and thaw out.

THIS AFTERNOON, I go into the nursing home to play and sing for their monthly birthday party. Aunt Olla will be there. Last time I was in the dining room at the home, I was shouting at somebody who is hard of hearing. A lady at the next table piped up, "You talk to damn loud. I like it better when you sing!"

So, today I'll sing.

February 13, 2006

Hymn sing

Here is a snippet of the event this weekend which inspired me to write a column on singing together. With my father's first cousin Roy visiting from California, I decided to host a gathering at my house for the rest of the cousins. Here is my brother Joe, bass, Dad, baritone, Aunt Ede, melody, and cousin Roy. Mom, not pictured, was on piano. Cousins Ilene and Marlene, Uncle Orville and Aunt Olla also sang.

Different people shouted out song numbers. It never failed that whatever hymn we sang brought to mind a story from Aunt Olla. This was the last song I heard my brother Johnny play on his banjo. This was the song we had at my father's funeral in 1918. This was the song we sung at my mother's funeral in 1969. This song was a favorite of my grandmother who, to the consternation of the Lutheran Bergesons, joined the Salvation Army back in Norway.

Olla's hearing aid was a constant problem. She pulled it out, and then it shreiked constantly until Cousin Marlene figured out how to shut it up. Olla couldn't hear it, so it didn't bother her at all, but it drove everybody else to distraction. Olla was in fine form until returning to the Fertile Hilton well after 10 p.m.

The sight of cameras sends Olla into conniptions. She doesn't like to have pictures taken unless she has a chance to primp and pose. When I started taking pictures at the dinner table, she complained that the lighting was unflattering. So I shut off the main light and dimmed the others. That was better, she said. It also made it impossible to take photos.

Joe and I did some singing, Dad played a little piano, and Cousin Roy played his eighth grade recital piece, a real barn-burner by Greig. He hadn't played it in years, but we all enjoyed it.