Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

September 01, 2006

Twins finally beat Royals

Uff da. After losing to the suddenly unhapless Royals two straight nights, Santana finally shut them down today. The Royals can be tough. The Twins got lucky in Kansas City a few weeks ago when they swept four straight; this week was a Royal revenge.

The Twins have looked like they were about to go down before. In fact, things look rough right now. Radke is not able to pitch. Liriano is still unable to pitch. Silva has been giving up home runs left and right. Castillo is injured. Mauer is scuffling, both at the plate and behind it. Morneau has slowed. Tyner has cooled off. Only Cuddyer is hot right now.

And now the Twins go into Yankee Stadium to face the mighty Yankees without either Radke or Santana on the mound. Looks grim.

But that's when the Twins have taken off throughout this season. Just when things look grim.

August 30, 2006

First day of class

I found myself getting nervous before heading up to Crookston to teach today. The first day is always a time when the class is stiff and uncomfortable and most attempts at humor fall utterly flat.

Leo, the Brazilian living with me who has worked at the nursery since March, has decided to go to UMC for fall semester, so he went along to register for classes.

First thing in each class I announced that class would not begin until all laptops were closed and put away. No objections, no response. The laptops went away, and bingo, I don't have to deal with that frustration this semester! I had been afraid that somebody would claim that they were unable to take handwritten notes, or something like that.

I took pictures of all the students standing beside their name on the chalkboard. I wish I could post some of them, but I had better not use them in that way. Instead, I am looking through them over and over in hopes of learning the names of the 60 students by the time the next class rolls around Friday.

My appearance in front of class was a rude surprise to one student. He had flunked the class when I taught it two years ago. He thought I was unfair to him at the time. He was now taking the class again and had no idea that I was substituting for the teacher listed in the class schedule.

So, I had a good time with that, telling him he would be free to leave if he didn't think we could get along. I think he'll do fine this time. Perhaps he won't go hunting instead of showing up for the first test as he did last time.

It was invigorating to be back in school! I was surprised at the rush the first day gave me. I walked up and down the crowded hallways like I was doing something important for about half-an-hour before class just to kill time and soak up the atmosphere.

My classes contain close to a dozen football players who right away announced they will be gone seven Fridays this fall. What do you do with that? We're supposed to accomodate them. Poor guys, they aren't here to learn history, they are here on scholarships from Los Angeles and Miami and downtown Minneapolis to play football. How can you blame them for not caring about anything else?

August 29, 2006

Preparing for class

Tomorrow is the first day of the American history classes I am teaching in Crookston at the university. I have taught this class two or three times before, so I have old notes and I am familiar with the basics. However, each time there is the challenge of tweaking things so the class goes better than before.

Crookston is the first "laptop university" in the world. That is, all students are required to have a laptop and many of the classes are based upon the internet and computers. Quizzes, tests, notes and research are done on the internet.

My first move will be to ban computers. You can have them in your bag, but I do not want any computers open on the desk in class. None. We'll see how that flies.

Last time I taught, the computers were nothing but a distraction. Students passed notes to each other over the internet--and would look up and smile at each other, and you knew you lost them then.

I was so impressed with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin when I first read excerpts of it this summer that I resolved to present it to my history classes in some form.

To me, the history of the United States up to the Civil War is a story of how we got to the point where we apparently had to have a bloody civil war, the bloodiest war in human history up to that time. And Uncle Tom's Cabin lit the match for that war.

In the introduction to the novel by author Jane Smiley, she argues that Uncle Tom's Cabin is out of favor right now. Apparently, it still makes too many people uncomfortable. It deals in moral ambiguities. It raises issues still undecided. It scratches old wounds. It is not often taught in high schools or colleges.

So, the novel which did the most to alter American history has fallen into disuse.

In the same way, one of the giant American writers, H. L. Mencken, is ignored. He still makes people uncomfortable. Much easier to put him on the shelf and refer to him as if everybody knows who he is without actually having students read him so they know who he is.

Always eager to make people uncomfortable and to rescue worthies from undeserved consignment to the scrap heap, I am considering reading Uncle Tom's Cabin to my classes.

Problem: It has 45 chapters and is over 500 pages long. Tonight, I test-read a page--and it took me one-and-a-half minutes. So, that would eat up a chunk of class time.

But--I have such good memories of teachers reading to us in elementary school that I am tempted to give it a try. If the students have no computers, perhaps they will listen. And if they become familiar with a great work of literature in the process, perhaps it will be an antidote to the very dry history text I am forcing them to read outside of class.

August 28, 2006

August projects

Spent the day on the Cat loader scooping out peat from the swamp in front of the house and moving it on shore where I am building an earthen ramp along-side the swamp. The ramp will be for observation of birds on the pond. I think it is already almost ten feet high at the apex.

Things go well early in the day before the soil wears out. As the day goes on, things get more muddy. Finally, about half-way through, I got good and stuck. Because I was behind an immovable stump, it took a little finagling to get out.

Fun, fun. I do love late summer civil engineering projects. It seems like I get involved with some crazy project every August.

Twenty years ago, I decided to build trails through the woods at the nursery. Those trails are still used. Dad mows them every year. During family reunions, cousins took the three wheeler on laps through the trail. One lap was about 1/2 mile.

About ten years ago, my August project was building a peat-brick wall at the nursery. That was before we had the gardens. I hauled peat bricks three-at-a-time from the peat swamp half-a-mile away.

It was an arduous task. I had to scrape away the peat that was loose to get down to the bready stuff. Then, I cut the bricks with a butcher knife. Then I pried them up with a pitchfork and loaded them on the back of the three wheeler for transport back to the nursery. The whole project took two weeks. The wall still stands, but you would never dream that it took two weeks to build.

About fifteen years ago, I plowed up an entire meadow. I had remembered the meadow being used as a strawberry patch when I was very young, so I thought it should be plowed up again. I cleared the brush and plowed the meadow and cultivated it for a time. The land was never used, and now it is grown up in trees.

Another time, I started cleaning out the woods in August. What a futile task! I hauled out all the junk, only to realize that there was nowhere to put it but...back in the woods.

I cleaned the grainery one August. It was full of nostalgic items. The job took days, as I often got pulled into reading an old college annual of my grandmother's or father's. But what privacy there was in the upstairs of the old grainery--nobody would ever imagine you were there rifling through things. The sun fought through the loose four-pane glass window. The bats squeaked. The mold and must stank. It was like crawling back to the pre-WW I era.

Uncle Rolly often came home in August. Now he works outdoors every day, but back then he was a professor and liked nothing more than to come home and take on a cleaning project. It usually involved clearing brush or sawing up trees.

I suppose the normal way to pass August in the countryside is to harvest. I was luckier--August has always been a hazy, lazy time before school, a time to listen to the Twins late into the night.