Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 24, 2006

Potting perennials

Leo's getting used to the cold. Although the greenhouse is heated, it isn't exactly cozy--and here Leo is in a T-shirt potting perennials. The fact that Leo knows how to work does a lot to overcome the language barrier. He's taking to nursery work like a duck to water.

Orpha was also at the potting bench. She returned this week for her 42nd spring at the nursery. I can keep track of it because she started the year I was born, 1964.

March 23, 2006

Character education

When I first heard that the kids to whom I was going to speak today were part of a "character education" program, I was a little taken aback. Shouldn't all education be "character" education? Shouldn't the basic virtues of honesty, integrity and the Golden Rule be emphasized in all subjects?

They should be, but they aren't. And so, I think the idea of education in matters of character is important. The kids seemed to be picking up on some of the basics. It was fun to see them comfortable discussing virtues in the abstract.

What I emphasized today was: Treat your fellow humans well, no matter what. If they smell, if they have funny looking ears--is that any reason to make them feel even worse? Don't kids who are different for whatever reason have enough troubles already? I told what I thought were sad stories about how we treated some people in school and about how I regret it now and wished we had been nicer.

I talked about how I quit piano lessons because they weren't cool and instead went out for wrestling where I amassed a record of 2 wins and 18 defeats in my first season. I told them--if you know somebody who plays piano better than they play basketball, you should encourage them to play piano and do well!

Obvious stuff. But such things were not brought up or emphasized much when I was in school. I remember feeling that character matters were seen as brushing too close to religion--off limits.

Well, general good traits transcend religion. Agnostics, atheists, Lutherans, Catholics--all have interest in training kids to treat others well. Nobody's going to sue. Kids need to learn right from wrong and if they don't get it at home, school's their only hope.

So, it was a fun and encouraging day.

Schoolkids and Lions

Went to Gary, MN today to speak to elementary school kids as a part of their "character education" program. I had no idea what I was going to say, figuring I'd wait and see how things panned out. I am always more intimidated by children than by senior citizens or other groups.

I spoke with the kids in three groups: lower elementary, middle elementary and upper elementary. The teacher who brought me in told me beforehand that I had been presented to the kids as a newspaper columnist and that one of the questions they had was, "What do you do when somebody doesn't like what you write?"

I started with that. I said I get letters from people who call me an idiot sometimes. I asked the kids, what would you do? The response was most interesting.

The youngest kids thought about it carefully, and for quite a while. Then some hands went up. "I would ignore them," was the first advice, followed by, "I would talk it over with them." Very sweet and considerate kids, these were.

But when I asked the same question of the fifth and sixth graders, the first three kids who raised their hands said, "Write 'em a mean letter back and tell them off!" One wonders what happened in those intervening five years!

Of course, the younger kids were prone to raise their hands and tell long and irrelevant stories which I just don't have the heart to cut off--"my Mom just moved again so she can be closer to me and my sister and my dad takes us down to see my mom and sometimes we stay all weekend but other times we just stay one night and then sometimes my sister comes back with us, but if she has something to do she stays."

At the end of the three sessions, I asked the groups if I could play piano for them. The first graders were the funniest--for some reason, when I started Maple Leaf Rag, they started giggling. As I played, the giggling just got louder. Then they started clapping along, still giggling, all the way to the end of the piece. That was fun! Sort of a spontaneous thing that you could never get to happen again.

One kid asked the titles of my books. I told him--Down on the Farm, Still on the Farm and Off the Farm, and said I was going to publish a new book but I couldn't figure out another title with the word "farm" in it.

"Back on the Farm!" a little previously shy kid shouted immediately.

You know, I think he might have something.

THIS EVENING, I spoke on trees to the Fertile Lions Club. They treated me to a nice meal beforehand. Of course, I have known them all for years, so it was an easy bunch. I don't often get to speak in the hometown.

When I got home from Lions Club, Leonidas was watching TV, trying to pick up some English. He asked if there were some English lessons in Fertile. I decided we had better sit down and have a lesson. But then came the question, how would we do it?

I suggested having him read out of his English grammar. We started, but it was terrifically boring. Eventually, Leonidas came upon the idea of working with terms from his day at the nursery, which is just how Cassio and I did our English lessons last summer.

Watering. Potting. Pot. Flat. Tray. Greenhouse. Office. Spade. Shovel. We got through about fifteen terms. We'll pick it up again tomorrow night.

I sense that Leonidas is quite frustrated with his language issues right now. Going where you don't know the language puts you back into childhood, in a sense. People talk loud to you as if you are either deaf, old or a baby. And--you still don't understand. It must be truly humiliating. I went through the same experience when I taught in New Zealand--and they speak English there. I simply couldn't understand their accent and they couldn't understand mine!

Last night, Leonidas showed me pictures of his family and friends back in Brazil. In the photos, he looked cocky and assured, a typical 22-year-old comfortable in his setting. I can't imagine the shock of coming to an unfamiliar culture where all of his familiar props have been removed.

March 22, 2006


When you find a decent-sized hill with a view in northwestern Minnesota, you stop, get out of the car and take a picture. At least I do.

When I came upon this scene, I congratulated myself on getting lost enough to find something new. What a view! It was made better by the fact that I didn't know where I was. Somewhere south of Clearbrook, I figured.

Well, it turns out the road at the bottom of the hill is US Highway 2 which I probably travel 20 times per year. I wasn't that lost after all.


Drove to Clearbrook this morning to speak and sing to a "Lifelong Learning" group. It is an educational program meant for senior citizens.

The gentleman who introduced me said right away that he thought I would be "longer in the tooth," given my columns. Once again, I will take this assumption that I am elderly as a compliment, although it still puzzles me.

The meeting was in the basement of a Lutheran Bretheren Church in Clearbrook. The pastor was named Tom Seaver, which I found fascinating since Tom Seaver is a pitcher in the Hall of Fame. The Rev. Tom Seaver seemed like a nice man, in contrast to the Hall of Fame Tom Seaver who is reputed to be something of a jerk.

It was a nice crowd. They had muffins beforehand, which I delved into. The piano was in relatively good shape, although the low F keys were a little warm. "A little warm" means, in tuning terms, somewhat off. Two of my songs were in F. So, I played the left hand a little light on the Fs so my ear wouldn't crack up.

On the way home, I was, as usual, running through the performance in my head, wondering what I could do better. I did some readings and I did some monologue, and it went okay, but it can always use polishing, and I have to give the same show about three times in the next two weeks, so it is fun to analyze.

That means that I drive distracted and miss this turn-off and that turn-off, and pretty soon I was very lost, knowing only that I wanted to go south and west and figuring by the angle of the sun that at least I was going the right direction.

I meandered and took pictures and drove slow. Clearbrook is only 50 miles from home, but the flora is so different. Norway pine, tamarack and native spruce are scattered through the woods unlike they are around home, where all varieties of those trees are planted, and usually in rows.

Eventually came out of the woods on US Highway 2. Stopped for supplies in Fosston. Picked up a birthday cake for Leonidas who turns 22 today, less than 24 hours after seeing his first snowbank. We had a party for him at afternoon coffee break.

March 21, 2006

Big blue church in the vale

Brand new Brazilian

Drove to Fergus Falls this afternoon to pick up Leonidas, a Brazilian exchange worker who will be at the nursery for the next few months. He will be occupying the guest room at my house.

"I am your new Cassio!" he announced right away, meaning, I found out later, that his English is still in the early stages, as Cassio's was when he first arrived in the United States. By the time Cassio arrived here at the nursery, however, he was in good shape, and I am confident Leonidas is going to have no problem whatsoever.

Until this morning, Leonidas had never seen snow or been outside Brazil. He has been reading this weblog for quite some time, however, so he is well acquainted with what this Minnesota adventure is going to involve.

Our trip back to Fertile went fine. The English-Portuguese dictionary functioned well. Leonidas hand-delivered a sealed note from Danilo, the other Brazilian worker we had last spring and summer. In the note, Danilo, who is a friend of Leonidas, included a nickname for Leonidas which I will use on him when it seems appropriate. I hope it is not offensive.

Right now, Leo is downstairs on the computer emailing his family that he made it safely. The internet is an amazing thing. So far, yet so near. So near, yet so far. One or the other.

All for the best

Today was the day for Aunt Olla to pick up her taxes. We went up town and thank goodness there was no ice on the sidewalks. We went in for the tax trauma--something seems funny when a 94-year-old on subsistence income has to pay in--and then headed out the front door.

Of course, like a good Norwegian, I stood with the door open to leave talking with the people inside. You can't just talk and then leave, no, you have to get half-way through the door and then discuss things. Unfortunately, Olla was already out the door and headed to the pickup.

Suddenly the people I was talking to jumped up and ran to the window--Olla had fallen off the front step. I went out and found her on the ground saying, "I am okay!" Of course, that is what they all say. I was thinking broken hip and I was mad at myself for letting her out of my grasp.

But she got up right away, put weight on her leg, said she might be a little sore, and was sure to mention that this would in no way interfere with our coffee date at the cafe.

(As I write this, I just remembered I forget to pay for the coffee and donuts at the cafe. I think I got more upset about the spill than Olla, hence my scatterbrainedness. I just called the cafe, and they said to catch it next time, no need to write it down or anything. Small town.)

Finally, we made it back to the Fertile Hilton with me a bit shook and Olla in one piece, barely.

I just called Olla to check up on her and she said the nurses were watching her and that nothing was wrong but that they were taking her blood pressure and generally pampering her as usual--perhaps a little more than usual.

And, of course, Olla said, "it turns out it was all for the best!" Yes, she was "getting a little foxy" she said, looking forward to summer and getting out and going places, and it is a good thing she took a tumble now before she got really going more than she should only to have something really bad happen to her. This tumble, she figured, will slow her down a bit and probably save her in the end.

You can't argue with perspective like that, although I'd rather the whole thing hadn't happened.

March 19, 2006


A buddy from high school called today. He just finished reading the paper and decided that the world is going crazy and he needed to call somebody to complain about it. He was referring specifically to the recent debacle involving Minnesota Senate Majority leader Dean Johnson who recorded telling a bunch of ministers that he had an assurance from three Supreme Court Justices that they weren't going to tinker with the gay marriage law as it is on the books.

Well, Johnson was clearly full of it. No Supreme Court Justice is going to give such an assurance on a case they haven't yet seen, or even more unlikely, on one which might appear before them soon. It would be grounds for impeaching a judge.

But we didn't stop with that absurdity. I was in a similar mood. We went on to the federal level, to uncontrolled federal debt, to unwise foreign adventures to incompetent opposition parties and on and on. It was a short but catharctic phone conversation. He assured me he'd call again to bitch when he felt like it, and I said go right ahead.

ANOTHER CALL: From a baseball tour buddy in California. Rene sat one row ahead of me on the baseball bus which took us to nine major league ballparks three years ago. On my trip up the coast of CA two winters ago, I stopped for about five days at Rene's place and we had a great time.

Rene's never held a real job. He started promoting concerts and other events in college and moved on to other entrepreneurial ventures. He seems to excel at whatever he touches. Right now, he's building and selling homes.

About ten years ago when Rene owned a minor league ballclub in Montana, he found out that he had a most interesting season-ticket holder: Calvin Griffith, former owner of the Twins. Calvin's wife had wanted to live on a ranch in Montana, so that's where they moved after Griffith sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad.

After discovering Calvin was in the crowd, Rene immediately went down and introduced himself. To make a long story short, Rene and he became best friends and when Calvin died Rene gave the eulogy at his funeral.

As a life-long Twins fan, I couldn't resist picking Rene's brain about Calvin to the point where I probably became a pest.

Rene, who has no Minnesota ties and hasn't been here since Calvin's funeral, wants to visit here and then go on another tour of ballparks this summer. I am sore tempted by the tour. In fact, we are going to see what the schedules look like for a brief tour in July, starting with a tour of the Fertile Golf Course, the story of which fascinates Rene. How in the world could a town of 800 get enough volunteers and money together to build an entire golf course?

Amateur photographs pro

Eric Hylden of the Grand Forks Herald is at the house today taking photos for a feature on the house the paper will publish in about a month.

Eric is a real pro. I have always admired his work. When the flood of 1997 came to Grand Forks, Eric took the pictures which Newsweek, Time and Life magazine used prominently in their coverage. Eric was part of the team which won one Pulitzer and finished second for another that year.

When Eric arrived this afternoon, he tugged in three suitcases full of equipment. Here is some of it. This is a flash which illuminates the entire house to help counteract the bright light outside.