Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

July 08, 2006


Last night, I sat at the log cabin, the nursery's booth at the fair, from five until about ten. It was steamy hot in there.

The fair turns me into a recluse. I would rather stay home. I sometimes wonder why. I think I have figured it out. You run into people you haven't seen for years and years--and that isn't always pleasant.

For instance, a conversation last night, with somebody I knew from high school: After all the greetings were over with, the inevitable, "so, what are you doing now?"

This person had a respectable professional job. But when it came time to turn the tables on me, she phrased her question as follows: "So, you just stayed around here, then?"

Yep, I said. I didn't try to explain. I run the nursery, I said, but that didn't make an impact. It was clear that she thought it was some sort of tragedy that somebody who showed so much promise in high school had "just stayed around here." I suspect if I had said I was a district sales manager for a syringe company in Anoka I would have gotten kudos galore. Nothing against district sales managers for syringe companies in Anoka--let me make that clear.

"Have you always just been around here?" was the next question.

Yep, I said. No use adding detail because that just turns it into an attempt to justify one's existence, an exercise which strips one of all dignity.

So, I think that is why I don't like going to the fair. Those of us "left behind" in the small town do not wish to be quizzed about why we are here, or what we are doing here. We do not feel we need to list off our career achievements. They sound pretty meager, anyway. Why bring it up?

Screw up

Got a nasty call this morning by somebody infuriated at my column on the lake. That was somewhat confusing, since I wrote the column two years ago. Like any satire, it stirred up reactions both good and bad, and I was sort of glad that the whole thing had settled down.

So, I wondered, why did the Grand Forks paper reprint it this morning? Didn't they like the column I sent them? Why did they pick the lake one out of all of the old columns? Just to make my day?

The little mystery slowly unraveled. After assuming that the email of my actual column didn't go through, I figured out that the editor at the Herald had told me a while back that she wasn't getting those emails for some reason, and that she was taking the column directly off the website.

I had forgotten to post the column on the website. In the meantime, I started editing some of the old columns posted on the website in preparation for a new book. I discovered that editing a column moved it to the top of the list. I had edited the lake column, and it went right to the top--where the editor picked it up and ran it. It was completely my fault, and now I am sort of not liking to hear the phone ring.

The column was satire. I thought that was clear from the beginning. And I think the guy who called this morning had deeper issues than a column. In his rage, he spouted that he hadn't talked to his parents for 30 years and had worked for every dime he had and didn't have parents to hand him a nursery--and on and on.

Well, no wonder.

July 06, 2006


A few months ago, I read that one of my favorite columnists, Art Buchwald, had entered hospice and was refusing dialysis. He was expected to live only days. The article was entitled "Buchwald enters final chapter," or something similar.

However, I never heard that he actually died. Tonight, I typed his name into Google to find out what happened to him and found this article written today.

Old Letters

My sister Tracie came home for a couple of days. Her mission was to sort through some of her belongings. She is a reforming pack rat. Must be something that happens when you get near forty.

So, she plopped on my desk an entire folder of letters I had written to her when we both were in college. I was here in Minnesota at the time, she was in Oregon. No internet at the time, and phone calls were still expensive--so we actually wrote letters. I typed mine. No margins. Wall to wall print.

Good grief, I put a lot of effort into those letters. At the time, I had no weblog and no weekly column, so writing letters was my only outlet. I wrote them by the ream, composing two or three for every one which I sent. Somewhere, I still have files and files of unsent letters. I can't bear to look through them. Some of the people to whom I wrote I no longer remember.

Writing letters was my way of making sense of the world at the time. College wasn't very fun for me, and I tried to figure it all out on paper. As I slowly discovered that one thing after another was a complete sham, I reported my findings to friends and relatives.

Letters were different than emails are today. Because they weren't instant, they were written a more circumspect perspective. The person wouldn't get the letter for several days. Sometimes, the actual writing of the letter took several days. Letter writing, even twenty-five years ago, was a stately way of communicating.

There are no such stately ways of communicating now. It is all instant, all sloppy, all surface, all quick. And, I would argue, not as intimate.

In fact, I sometimes have romantic notions of the nineteenth century--how people communicated by letter even if they lived only a few miles apart. At one time in Victorian London, the mail was delivered twice per day. You could get a response to a letter in one day.

Instead of blue-screened computers, you had the feel of paper, the idiosynchracies of handwriting and the fun of opening an envelope. And you could set a good, particularly precious letter on the dresser for days, weeks or months.

Because letter writing was so competely different than face-to-face conversation, letter writing created a depth to a relationship which wouldn't have been there otherwise. I am not convinced that emails do the same. In fact, I sometimes think emails diminish all parties.

Have you ever gotten a really stupid forwarded email from somebody you respected? After about three such forwards, my opinion of that person starts to diminish.

However, letters inevitably present the most noble side of a person. Letters encourage the nostalgic feeling of missing somebody, whereas an email is so immediate that the "absence" in the maxim "absence makes the heart grow fonder" no longer has the desired effect.

There are disadvantages to letter-writing. I think my letters of twenty-five years ago were overwrought. They aren't fun to read. And, having a daily connection to people via the internet is reassuring, in some ways.

But like all changes, the disappearance of traditional letter writing is a loss which may be greater than it immediately appears.

July 05, 2006

Wood cuttin

The beautiful weather has given me a chance to cut some firewood. When I got the chainsaw going to clear brush in The Maples, I found it difficult to stop. The woodpile is already bigger now than it was last November.

The water is down in the swamp due to the dry weather, which allows me to get at some of the standing dead ash trees I usually don't reach until freeze-up.

Although I am not an expert chainsaw operator, I am learning. Yesterday, I took the chain off to grind down the little nubs in front of the cutting blades so the cutting blades would grab a little better. When I went back, the chain didn't cut at all. In fact, the chain burnt a groove in the bark. That was when I discovered that it is possible to put a chain on backwards.

Once that problem got fixed and the chain still didn't dig in without me pushing down, I decided to get a new chain. I wasted two trips to town on that endeavor. Apparently the chainsaw requires an odd size of chain. I still haven't found a new chain--and so I'll have to take a couple of days off. That means lost momentum and I likely won't be sawing wood again until September.

It is going to be too hot to saw wood in the next couple of days, anyway. Looks like the Polk County Fair in Fertile is going to have its usual hot weather.

TONIGHT, had a nice visit with weblog reader and astronomer Ron from Tucson. He is originally from this area, so is back to visit family. Lance, Ron and I sat at the restaurant in town and discussed the universe. Lance is an amateur space buff, Ron is a pro, and I like to sit back and watch.

THE TWINS suffered a loss to the lowly Royals last night, ending their big win streak. You can't expect such a streak to last forever. Actually, it was kind of a relief to get it over with. I hope the Twins can continue their excellence. You have to beat teams like the Royals if you expect to go to the playoffs.

THE POLK COUNTY FAIR in Fertile opened today. Dot decorated the interior of the old log cabin in a "birds and butterflies" theme, while Mom and Brother Joe decorated outside. I stayed back at the nursery and answered the phone, which rang only rarely. People are starting to arrive to visit the gardens, so the pace of business is stately. I am not much for storekeeping, but if I can find something else to do, like dust, that makes the time go faster.

July 03, 2006

Gardens perk up

With the heat, the gardens are starting to show some color. The hosta, above, have been looking good for over a month. They are still my favorite.

The yellow groundcover is moneywort, the blue is ageratum. The big round thing is a rock.

July 02, 2006

Liriano, Twins roll

Liriano had his best game yet, beating the Brewers 8-0. Twelve strikeouts and eight innings of shutout baseball. I was infuriated that Gardenhire pulled the rookie after eight innings--there was no indication he was tiring--but Gardenhire said 1) he wants to protect Liriano's young arm (apparently young pitchers blow a gasket if they throw more than 100 pitches) and 2) he wanted to give Kyle Lohse some work. Well, it is best to have an eight run lead before giving Lohse the ball, so I guess I understand.

It is impossible to believe that somebody could come along who could supplant Johan Santana as the Twins ace. Santana has been his terrific self, but Liriano has been a shade better. If these two keep this up, it will be like watching Koufax and Drysdale.

Right now, Liriano and Santana are the two best pitchers in the American League. Twins fans are privileged.

I didn't get to watch the game on TV, but I listened to it up at the nursery between customers. What a perfect day. I enjoyed putzing around the store and helping the few people who did come. I also had to water in the greenhouse since it was about 100 degrees in there today and some of the plants required watering three times today.

But that didn't keep me from the game. I kept my laptop on hand, too, so if I missed anything I could quickly catch up on Yahoo!

One thing about watching on the internet is you can keep track of how many pitches have been thrown. Knowing that, I was pretty sure Gardenhire was going to disappoint us all by "protecting" young Liriano from getting the first complete game of his career.

The Twins have put together a winning streak of rare proportions. It reminds me of the Tigers of 1984, who started at 35-5, or the Twins of 1991 who ran up 22 out of 25 wins in June--or the Tigers of 2006, who are matching the Twins win for win.

What has happened? How did a season I called a wreckage three weeks ago turn around? My guesses:

1) Liriano inspired everybody. The other pitchers have pulled their act together. Radke is showing his good side (enjoy it while it lasts) and Silva has stopped stinking the place up completely. The bullpen is the best in the American League.

2) The offense awoke for the first time in three years. Sparked by Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau have, for the first time, began to live up to their potential. Cuddyer is particularly fun to watch, since he has been a perennial underachiever for so long. Suddenly, he "stepped up to the plate," to use an overworn cliche, and is now an authentic clutch hitter.

3) Morneau got serious. A partier, Morneau has finally started to settle down and take his work seriously. Gardenhire called him into his office and said, kid, you start doing your work you could make $50 million over the next ten years. If you keep screwing around, you might be in the minors making $25,000 per year. Get with it, you little smart***. Morneau listened.

4) The Twins got rid of the left side of their infield and started over with Bartlett at short, who is a good hitter, and Punto, who is hitting better than his awful career stats. In spring training, the new batting coach Joe Vavra said he had figured out something that was wrong with Punto's swing that he thought he could fix. Most observers were skeptical, but Punto is now doing well. He takes stupid risks on the basepaths (sliding head first into first base is not a sign of a high IQ), so he probably will get injured sooner or later, but for now he is a serviceable replacement for the awful Batista at third.

5) Rondell White got injured. Good excuse to put him on the shelf and use the DH spot for people who can hit. Actually, White came to the Twins injured, was playing injured, and playing awfully, and finally got around to telling somebody about his injury so they could have an excuse to bench him. Thanks, Rondell.

6) Shannon Stewart got injured. That allowed the sweet-swinging Jason Kubel to get into the lineup. Now back on the roster, Stewart is now good only as a DH. He isn't a good left-fielder anymore, and he is fragile. Preserve him by keeping him out of the outfield for the rest of the year.

Gardenhire hasn't had to do much managing during this stretch. Most of the games have been blowouts. Thank goodness. When it comes to crunch time, Gardenhire's moves are characterized by more cowardice than courage. If only they could sneak Tom Kelly back in the dugout if the Twins get into the playoffs.

Watching winning baseball is an end in itself. The Twins probably won't make the playoffs due to the extraordinary play of the Tigers and White Sox, but they're going to provide a lot of fun in the meantime.