Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

July 13, 2006

Dog days

It rained for five minutes today, and only very lightly. Wherever machinery has worked, the ground is covered in dust. We need a good soaker. Or two.

The temptation in this hot weather is to stay inside. Instead, I went out and cut wood. I don't notice the heat until I shut off the chainsaw and realize I am drenched. Today's highlight was the felling of a giant dead ash tree right where I wanted it to fall. Of course, it was leaning in the direction to begin with, but it still is satisfying to watch it crash to the ground.

Got a new chain on the chainsaw today. It is like buying new shoes. You put it off and put it off and then when you finally make the purchase, you wonder why you didn't do it sooner. With the new chain, the saw goes through oak like a hot knife through butter.

Spent the entire day looking forward to watching Liriano pitch tonight, so it wasn't at all surprising that he didn't do well. His face looked tired in the dugout before he started to pitch. Can't imagine why, after he spent the last three days on airplanes, first to go home to the Dominican Republic for the All Star break, then to be called back to join the All Star team when another pitcher was dropped from the American League team, then back to the Twin Cities--they should have started Radke instead. He went fishing for three days.

During the game, I was lured into watching CNN a little while by the drama going on in the Mideast. Things are pretty sobering over there right now. I have no expertise and few opinions on the Mideast. I just hope we don't get dragged in deeper than we are already.

If the region exploded, I don't suppose we wouldn't jump in right away--we don't have enough people in uniform. But eventually, something horrible would likely happen--a Pearl Harbor type incident--which would crystalize American public opinion enough to permit the reinstatement of the draft.

And then we would be in deep. Unlike World War II, we wouldn't have to merely defeat two totalitarian regimes. If we take this one on--and I suppose we already have--we will have to defeat a form of religion to win. I am not so sure how you do that.

The news, it seems, just gets more glum.

Cut wood, watch baseball.

July 12, 2006


Wow, it is stifling today. I go into the air conditioning of the house and never want to come out. Instead, I am reading history, an activity which doesn't raise much of a sweat.

Three weeks from now, I am co-teaching a history seminar for high school teachers. That is requiring me to do some reading in advance. Amongst the many texts for the course are Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance and Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. I regard it as a privilege to be required to read these essays for the first time at age 41 instead of reading them in college. Classic texts take on a different hue when viewed from the middle years.

Emerson can't write worth a hoot. His message is wonderful, but it is buried in a sea of vague pronouns and odd syntax. I would think my difficulty with him was a product of the times in which he wrote if Thoreau, his contemporary, wasn't so much more accessible. So, somebody in mid-nineteenth century New England knew how to write.

Thoreau and Emerson are flaming idealists. Particularly Thoreau. Seems their essays are particularly suited to a college audience. Thoreau was inflexible in his insistence that not a one of his tax dollars go to support slavery or the Mexican War. He said that silent opposition to those twin evils meant nothing--but not paying his taxes was his duty as a human, and it might inspire others to question the whole endeavor as well.

About the Mexican War, another one of my favorite writers, Gen. U. S. Grant, said of the conflict that never has a more unjust war been waged by a stronger people against a weaker one. So, Thoreau was not alone in his opposition to the war. Grant, who fought in it, thought it unjust--but, unlike Thoreau, Grant went about his duties anyway.

Even more eloquent than Emerson or Thoreau--so eloquent that every phrase sounds forth like a trumpet from the mountaintop--was the anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass. Wow, could he write. His What to a Slave is the 4th of July? is heart-rendingly brilliant. It is 19th century oratory, so it goes on a bit. But speakers of that time, the good ones at least, knew how to string together an argument. No sound bites back then--the people came miles on horseback to be entertained by a speech--and they didn't want it to finish in five minutes.

Speaking of 19th century oratory, I wrote a column a couple of weeks about about The Maples. In it, I said that for me, the row of trees strummed the "mystic chords of memory."

Aunt Olla cut out the article and underlined that phrase. She said when she read it, she said to herself, "more, more, more!"

Well, I had to inform her that I stole the phrase from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address. I thought it was common enough to be in the public domain, so I didn't ask permission. I figured Abe wouldn't mind.

But it just goes to show you the power of rhetoric Lincoln commanded. One-hundred fifty years later, Aunt Olla picked out a single phrase of his and recognized its genius even though it wasn't between quote marks or given attribution.

AUNT OLLA CALLED today to discuss the last column I wrote on modern loneliness. We got to discussing how times have changed. She said children are so overprotected today. Years back, she said, quoting her brother Roy, "we kids were a dime a dozen and we knew it."

When company came, the kids played unsupervised around machinery, swamps, potholes, swimming holes and horses while the adults ignored them completely and discussed adult matters. Nobody worried a whit about safety.

Sometimes families got to many kids so they had to ship some off to the relatives, or the neighbors. They just couldn't feed them all. Not much room for sentiment when people were threatened with hunger. Olla's sister, my great-aunt Millie, was shipped off to Saskatchewan for a time before she objected so strenuously that she came back home. I believe she was 10 years old or younger.

Olla herself showed me a letter which she wrote home which told about how she stayed in bed all weekend at Moorhead Teacher's College in the 1920s because she couldn't afford food. She and her roomate figured that by staying in bed they wouldn't need to eat so much.

So, people are more lonely now--but our tummies are full.

July 11, 2006

Pileated woodpecker

July 10, 2006

Shooting herons

The blue heron was on the pond tonight in front of the house. Unfortunately, I blew it twice--once I didn't have my camera in the house. After I ran out and got it, the heron had moved farther away--but I got a shot of him ingesting a big, flopping salamander. Great shot. No chip in camera.

So, after I put in the chip I got a few shots of the blue and below, a couple of shots of the strange, elusive green heron.

Notice the difference in neck lengths in the two admittedly low quality photos, taken at dusk from the crow's nest with the telephoto at maximum strength. Same bird, different pose. The green herons have a loud and peculiar call, not at all hoarse like the blue heron.

Stone peddler

A sort of offbeat peddler stopped by this morning at opening with an old van. He was wanting to sell some stuff out of his old van--burnt wood tabletops. I wasn't too impressed with the wood burning, but this rock really caught my eye. He said it was for sale, so I bought it. It is fieldstone carved by a friend of his whose name is...Stone. I decided to make the purchase despite the murky provenance of the piece.

Joe pointed me toward this beautiful daylily. Daylilies look edible, and they are. Not that they taste good.

The pond looked serene tonight.

Aunt Olla called today. The dahlia in her window at the Fertile Hilton had stopped blooming, so she wondered if I would replace it with a begonia. That was a good excuse to run to town.

Olla's still wondering if people have been commenting on the story, reprinted here, of her ordering a beer at the Pizza Hut and getting carded at age 94. Of course, she is worried that the entire countryside is scandalized and that her reputation is gone. I assured her that everybody at the cafe is convinced she's gone down the tubes.

Then she said that she's been praying for rain and for the first time in her life, it hasn't worked. I pointed out the possible connection with the beer incident.

Sometimes people do actually spread gossip, believe it or not.

Brother Joe was asked to do a musical show at the end of the month. Well, he has travel plans for that time, so he said, "I am not sure I'll still be around then."

Four days later, a lady pulled me aside at the fair and asked in hushed tones, "Is it true that Joe only has a month to live?"

July 09, 2006

Summer turns color

It is partly due to the dry weather and partly due to things maturing, but the last week has seen a change from an all-green landscape to one with a more golden hue.

The dust hangs over the gravel roads for a long time on a dry day like today.

With acres of cultivated flowers to photograph, my eye drifted off in the woods to this naturally occurring morning glory.