Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

April 01, 2006

Grand Forks

Spent yesterday and today at the Grand Forks Home Show. It has some other name like "Lifestyles Expo," or something similarly irrelevant. But it is a Home Show, with the usual spa and cabinet displays. I will be there tomorrow as well, manning a booth. I also gave a seminar this afternoon and will give another tomorrow afternoon.

The Home Show, or whatever it is called, is held at the Alerus Center. Another crazy name--a non-word some bank decided to call itself after putting various non-words in front of a focus group and measuring the response on the warm fuzzymeter. Like Innovis or Altru. Then Alerus Bank paid millions to have the name affixed to an indoor stadium in Grand Forks. Nobody knows what an "alerus" is because it isn't.

For some reason, I think of an alerus as a type of cloud. "Ah, yes, and above those cumulus and beneath the cirrus lie some alerus." Or, it could be a name for a sleeping pill. Shall we put you on Ambien or Alerus? Or better yet, a decongestant. "Ah, yes, I'm glad I'm on Alerus!"

I arrived early at the Alerus this morning. As usual, I left my nametag at the restaurant last night, but because the Grand Forks Home Show is usually a friendly and informal affair, much more relaxed than the Fargo Home Show, I thought I would have no problem going to my booth and getting one of the other name tags for people from the nursery who weren't going to show up anyway.

But oh no, they had just posted some schoolmarm by the entrance, and she wasn't about to let anybody past without their badge. She would be a candidate for a Homeland Security post, I think. She really gave me the once over and finally I just went past her, ran in and got a badge and came back out to shove it in front of her frowning countenance.

Well, that sort of bureacratic stupidity always spawns homicidal thoughts. Also, meglomaniacal thoughts: "Doesn't she know who I am? Doesn't she know that I am one of the seminar presenters?"

As fate would have it, when I arrived at the seminar tent to present my seminar, she was in the front row. I think she was taken aback when she saw me. She wanted to learn about growing plants, but she hadn't counted on having to listen to the jerk with no badge. But it was too late. She couldn't get up and leave.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, the folks at the Grand Forks Herald notified me that the section where my column had appeared for the last couple of years was being eliminated and therefore they would no longer have room for my column. That was somewhat upsetting, but there is nothing to be done: The paper is under a constant squeeze from corporate headquarters and has, thanks to cost cutting measures, been reduced to a shell of its former self. It is also for sale.

However, it was satisfying to have several people ask where the column had gone the past couple weeks. I told them to give the Herald a call, of course, or better yet, write them a note. Don't know if it will do any good, but it can't hurt.


March 31, 2006

Reasserting the obvious

Two headlines this morning struck me as funny: "Mental sharpness may impact number of falls in elderly" was the first. They needed a study to find this out. I hope it wasn't funded by tax dollars, but I suspect it was.

Second: "Santana pleased with changeup." Really! And I'll bet Michelangelo was happy with the Sistine Chapel, too. If Santana is already painting the strike zone with his change-up, we're going to have a fun spring. And summer.


Vocational aptitude



Was showing Leo some photo albums and came across this one of me at nine months. My inclinations were already obvious. Notice the glee with which I am slaughtering somebody in print. The makers of Gerbers liquid pea goop?



Here's one more shot of the million dollar toilet near Devils Lake. I think it was worth every dime.



With the driving rain pattering against the windows this morning, this was the view from the crow's nest of the swamp.


March 30, 2006

Catalog party

The nursery catalogs arrived yesterday. Today, we started affixing the mailing labels in hopes of getting the whole schmear out in the mail tomorrow. I enjoy the assembly line-like process. Cindy has it down to a science. Printing out the labels, organizing by zip code, boxing up the catalogs, filling out the forms for the bulk mailing requirements.

As for me, I just stick labels and obey orders. That didn't prevent me from knocking over a cup of coffee on about a dozen catalogs and two pages of labels. That took about ten minutes of recovery time.

Back when Grandpa owned the nursery, long before computers, there was the problem of how to address 7,000 catalogs. In typical fashion, Grandpa threw a catalog party. All the neighbors and extended family were invited. It was potluck. There was singing. Each person would address about 100 catalogs and it would be done in about two hours.

I haven't yet gotten up the gall to throw a catalog party. Grandpa could pull it off because he ran the nursery as a non-profit. He assumed that everybody in the neighborhood and the family was ready and willing to contribute their time to the noble cause. And they usually were.

THE SNOW HAS EVAPORATED over the past two days. Suddenly, the fields have gone from white to black. A thunderstorm last night helped wash away some of the white stuff. Right now, rain is pattering on the roof, an absolutely blissful sound. The ditches are full of running water, and the culverts are gushing.

There is now worry of flooding in Fargo. They have declared a flood emergency in order to speed the building of dikes. With the speed of the melt, I can see why it might be a problem.

With the melt comes nightly fog. As I drove to Mahnomen tonight to teach a class, the wet fields contrasted with the bright white of the remaining snow for some surreal scenery--made more so by the fog.

Spring has sprung, and on Tuesday the Twins play their first game of the season!

NOTE: Weblog reader Irene reports that the beautiful school pictured below is now a saddle shop.


March 29, 2006

Jottings

My favorite part of Sid Hartman's sports column in the Minneapolis Tribune were the "jottings," little snippets of gossip separated by three dots...So, here are jottings of the trip to Minot...The windbreaks near Larimore are spectacular...I was in a picture-taking mood, so I snapped about 100...Highway 2 was so abandoned I could stop whenever I wanted...of course it would have helped if I had put the memory card in my camera first...

All the people I met in Minot were very friendly...Thanks to Irene for a good Norwegian breakfast this morning...much better than a restaurant...and thanks to her friends and mine, Gladys and Marian, for coming to the performance last night...speaking of good food, the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant on Gateway in Grand Forks has a pretty darn good buffet...Leo didn't understand that I wasn't returning last night, so he was wondering what happened to me..."you survived!" he said today...I found out that he only started learning English after he found out he was coming to work at the nursery, just months ago...his father lives in a state in Brazil which was recently settled and granted statehood only in 1994...Brazil is now almost completely on ethanol...we should examine how they did it...

The Twins are going to be fun to watch this year...I am not predicting their finish as that will just jinx them...last year I had a good feeling when they left spring training, a feeling which was not justified by subsequent events...slick-fielding Juan Castro is one of my favorite players and looks to have won the shortstop position...that will give the Twins a fantastic second base/shortstop combination...phenom Francisco Liriano made the team...if he bridles his fastball he'll be dangerous...almost as dangerous as if he doesn't bridle it, stop to think of it...he can nearly hit 100 mph. on the radar...


Million-dollar toilet

Weblog reader Tara, who grew up 3 miles from the rest area highlighted below, sent on "the rest of the story" this morning. The rest area is indeed modeled after a steamboat. The story is quite interesting. So is the story of the rest area, according to Tara:
The rest area cost one million dollars to build. It was quite the uproar in the community as who would ever spend that much on a bathroom. They now call it the million dollar toilet.

Another interesting side note is there was an unsolved murder at that rest area in the 1980's. Someone passing through was murdered and thrown into the pond next to the rest area. It is unsolved to this day.

In addition, weblog reader Phil, who recently moved from this area to San Diego, identified the post which ships are tied to as a "bollard." He related the following:
Once, in Bermuda, we were having coffee at a wharfside restaurant when a very strong wind blew a cruise ship away from the dock, taking out one of the bollards in the process. Interesting for us; frightening for some of the passengers who, seeing the moving ship, thought they had (literally) missed the boat.


March 28, 2006

Wyeth

Something about this scene, a repeat of the one below, reminds me of this painting by Andrew Wyeth, which has always held a spot in my imagination. Because Wyeth was a New Englander, I don't think he realized how well this painting represents much of North Dakota.


Performing

Well, I made it through the performance in front of 500 people without screwing up too badly. Lots of nice comments afterwards by nice people. At one point, the clip-on mike started cutting out when I was in the middle of a song. I didn't know whether to quit and repair it or just plow ahead. I plowed ahead, although I could sense that the cutting out was distracting some of the audience on the right side of the room.

At the end of the song, I had to change gears and go to a hand-held mike. That meant I couldn't sing and play--so I had to go right into a monologue. It took a while for that to gather steam to make up for the uncomfortable hiatus when the mike conked out.

Most things went fine. One story that I had gone over in my head on the drive here worked, the other just went whump and fell flat. Blank stares. I have to figure out what went wrong there as I thought I had a good punchline and it just disappeared. Food for thought on the way home tomorrow.

I started playing piano too fast and was positioned six inches to the right of normal. So, I had to shift left during Maple Leaf Rag and I never did get in a comfortable position as I was still scrunched in too close. So, I cut off a couple of the refrains just to get to the end in good order. Basic rule: Sit at the piano a bit and make sure you are comfortable before tearing into your piece!

Weblog reader Irene, who attended the performance, had called one of the ladies who runs Minot's Hostfest and told her she should come listen just in case my act would be something they'd be interested in. She showed up, and we had a nice visit. I don't know if I am cut out for that sort of thing, but who knows.

This performance thing is just an adventure, anyway. Never did it until four years ago. It has helped me learn some of the dynamics of being on stage. I also have had to conquer stage fright. It creeps up at the wierdest times. Suddenly you feel completely bereft. It is scary.

When that panicky feeling comes and you don't know what the next note is, you sort of have to relax and it might well show up. If it doesn't, you just start the song over and probably most of the audience won't notice.

Tonight's challenges: An audience which didn't know me from Adam. An audience which had full tummies, hadn't been to the bar since social hour three hours before, and had just endured an annual meeting with its litany of reports, elections, slide shows, speeches and awards. Also, a huge room which was spread out wide with people sitting at tables with some pretty unforgiving acoustics.

And a fussy microphone.

All in all, I survived--but it was nice to get a call from Irene afterwards who said I did a good job! Thanks, Irene!


Notable rest area



On the long lonely stretches of US Highway 2 across North Dakota, this clever rest area appeared right near Devils Lake. It took me a while to realize that it had a steamboat theme. Notice the vent doubling as the paddle wheel as well as the smoke stack.



Around behind was a deck decked out to look like a ship's deck. On the back of the ship were these exhaust vents. When somebody inside pushed one of the hand dryer fans, steam came out one of the vents. Very clever!



One the floor inside was a map of the Devils Lake region. Out the front, I just noticed as I was posting this picture that the garbage cans look like the posts on the dock that one would wrap big rope around when one docked. There is a name for such a post, I am sure, but I am not nautical enough to know it.



This is probably one of the nicer entrances to a rest area restroom I have seen. I don't know what that red thing up against the ceiling is for, but it fits in. The paddlewheel makes another appearance as well.

What a whimsical little break in the trip.


Denbigh School



I don't think I have seen a building so perfectly lonely as this 1907 school in the dying little town of Denbigh, North Dakota, just east of Minot. It looked from this distance like somebody has been caring for the interior. The school looks in great condition. Hope it stays that way.

I am in the Holiday Inn in Minot. It is a behemoth, but a little worn around the edges. Downstairs, there are 500 farmers and ranchers from the 17 counties of northwest North Dakota having their annual credit union meeting. After they are done with their meeting and a meal, I will entertain.

I was going to take a nap, but having seen the situation and the audience, I got a little wound up. No nap. Just finished ironing my shirt and rubbing the dried spaghetti sauce from the last dress-up occasion off my dress pants. I should be ready to go.


March 27, 2006

Slow melt

Last night it didn't freeze. That means the snow could melt all night, which speeds things up considerably. However, there still are no black spots in the fields until you get about thirty miles south of here. All white.

I remember as a kid that the stubbornness of spring was so discouraging. I would get so sick of winter, and time moved so slow, and it seemed like forever until Opening Day of the baseball season--late March was just too much. I felt persecuted. I looked for the fields to start to open. It took so very unbearably long. I sort of feel a little bit of that this spring, although it is much easier now that I am old enough for time to move speedily along.

Tonight, I taught a community education class in Ada. There was a nice group of 12 people. We met in the board room, which means nice cushy swivel chairs. Bizarre, since last night I dreamt that I was at a board meeting in a school on nice cushy swivel chairs. The meeting in my dream was much more stressful than the community ed class, believe me. I think I was wrapped in nothing but a skimpy afghan just hoping nobody would notice that I had come to the meeting without clothes on.

Tomorrow, I go to Minot to perform before a North Dakota Farm Credit gathering. I am not real sure what it will involve, or how many people will be present. I wasn't real hepped on driving that far when things are busy at the nursery, but they made it worth my while. We'll see if I'm worth their while!

Somebody asked, how can you go out speaking and all that when there is so much to do at the nursery? The sad answer is I don't do much at the nursery. I showed up today and walked around for a while and got the distinct feeling that wherever I showed up, things slowed down as people just waited for me to leave so they could get back to what they were doing.

The nursery benefits from an excess of talented employees. We all do our thing, and my thing is to publicize. That means being on the road.

I felt a bit sheepish last week when I spoke to a group in Clearbrook and was accosted by a woman afterwards who said, "Your hands are soft! You mustn't do any work! You must just go out and speak!" She's right.


March 26, 2006

Faaberg interior

Lance and I went over to Rindal just as church was getting out in hopes that we could take some photos inside. I love the old country churches, and I think Faaberg is one of the prettiest around.



The stained glass behind the altar was glowing in today's sunshine.



The 100-year-old pipe organ is a thing of beauty, and it has a nice sound as well.



The warm light through the stained glass windows shines on the end-post of the altar. The crushed velvet looks rich and warm.



Looking up towards the balcony, one sees a level of detail and curvature which would never appear in modern construction.

The smell of fresh paint was wafting up from the basement. I was glad to hear that the congregation is still keeping the place up. In fact, last year, they finished a remodel of the kitchen.

However, church member Jim said "I suppose it is a matter of time," meaning that Faaberg, like most country churches, was likely to close.

Then he thought again. "You know, we had three babies crying at today's service." Sounded pretty good, Jim admitted. "Maybe things will turn around."


On the road

Yesterday, I spoke to about 170 gardeners in Alexandria at the Douglas County garden seminar put on by the master gardeners there. It was a lively group in a very good auditorium.

I hesitate to take speaking engagements over 100 miles from the nursery on the premise that when one gets that far away, the likelihood of gaining customers from speech goes down to about zilch. However, there were many existing customers in the audience, including a couple from Paynesville who comes up at least once or twice per season. (They have a daughter in Crookston, so it isn't that they're driving all the way up north just for plants.) And the rest of the people seemed interested and wanted to have the catalog mailed to them, so perhaps the speech will have some PR benefit after all.

Out of all the people in the audience, I always notice the one crab. I have learned not to hold the crab's crabiness against him or her because perhaps he or she has a migraine headache or has come to the garden seminar to take their mind of some tragedy or the effects of chemotherapy. You just never know. This particular woman seemed to scowl more deeply with my every attempt at humor.

As so often happens, she came up to me afterwards and said she enjoyed the presentation and would like to visit the nursery to buy some willow. So, once again, you can't read the book by the grim cover.

After the speech, I had to leave to head back to Fertile so I could be in Crookston by six p.m. where Joe and I were scheduled to provide the entertainment for the a credit union annual meeting. I originally was to perform that gig on my own, but the credit union people discovered that the old piano at the Eagle's was unplayable, so then the one-man show became Joe and I, and Joe did all the accompaniment work with the guitar. Bailed me out. If I had shown up by myself only to find a piano which didn't work, I would have been up a creek without a paddle.

Two speeches and seven hours on the road was about enough for a day.