Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 20, 2006

Gallavanting

Aunt Olla and I headed to Lake Park yesterday morning to visit her schoolkid Eileen and her husband Harold. Eileen had a big spread prepared, and Olla was in fine form, visiting for several hours about old times.

On the way to Lake Park, we took the back roads east of Ulen. This was the area where Olla taught school in the 1930s. There wasn't a single grove of trees which Olla didn't remember. She even remembered where there used to be farmsteads in what are now open fields.

Olla spent 5 years at District 29. Those years were the best experience of her teaching career. She followed a teacher who was kind of tough, so the kids were eager for somebody who was willing to have a little fun. Olla right away ordered balls and bats and other playground equipment. "I've always enjoyed spending money!" she said.

Of course, the expenditures caused some controversy when the bills showed up at the school board meeting. But they got over it.

I had an inkling that the trip to Lake Park wasn't all that was on Olla's agenda, but I always hesitate to ask. Eventually, Olla said, "do you have anything important on tonight?" and I knew that she had something else on her mind.

That something else was to eat at the Fireside restaurant on the east shore of Lake Detroit. After an opulent late noon meal at Eileen and Harold's, I wasn't hungry. Neither was Olla. But Olla had a dream of seeing the Fireside restaurant, and once she gets a vision, there's no stopping it.

We drove around the lake until the restaurant opened. I still wasn't hungry. But part of Olla's vision was that we eat, so I knew I was going to have to make some room.

By the time the Fireside opened, I actually had enough appetite for some soup and salad. That is what we had. And the view over the lake from table by the big window was beautiful.


October 19, 2006

Cambridge

Weblog reader Jerrianne from Alaska passes on a link to photos of Cambridge. Wow. I spent a summer in Cambridge, and I took many long walks in the late evening. Believe me, these scenes are everywhere. I recognize many of them. And they are best is the light of dusk, which in the English summer comes at about 10:30 p.m., just as people are stumbling home from the pubs (which close at 11).

This is some great photography. It captures the scenes which I found surreal even while experiencing them.


October 18, 2006

Pac filling

Came home from class to find the men running the pac filling operation. That is the assembly line Dad invented which we use each fall to fill the 5,500 trays of pacs with soil for use and sale in the greenhouse in the spring. Usually we have six or seven people on hand to man the operation. When I came home today, they were hustling along with four. The pac-filler puts out seventeen trays per minute no matter what, so with four people you run out of breath.

It is a fall ritual. And it gets one feeling as if we are on our way to spring. I worked a couple of hours, but won't be around tomorrow for the rest of it. I speak in the morning, and then am taking Aunt Olla on a trip to Detroit Lakes with a stop in Lake Park. I am sure I will have a full report tomorrow night.


October 17, 2006

Fall colors



Time for some color on this weblog. Things are getting a little blah. The last time the sun was out, I took this picture of pumpkins on my front porch.



The flowering crab berries are putting on their display of color right now. The berries look like little Christmas ornaments.



Each fall, Dad picks up a straw bale from neighbor Les to use for covering the potted shrubs.



Mark the spot where you see these deep gold ferny shrubs along the upper bank of road ditches. They are asparagus. Come back to the same spot in May and you'll have a feast of the finest vegetable known to man.


October 16, 2006

Local man missing

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Charlie Gustafson of Beltrami is still missing in the wilds of southeastern Wyoming. He was elk hunting with relatives.

Charlie is one of those kindly people who always has a good word to say when you meet him on the street. His family reports that he was a survival instructor in the Air Force, so perhaps he will be able to fend off the elements and take care of himself. He did return three gunshots the evening he went missing, but nothing has been seen or heard of him since last Wednesday.


Cubs hire Piniella

The Chicago Cubs hired one of my all-time favorite baseball people, Lou Piniella, in an attempt to end their perpetual losing ways. The fiery Pineilla is from the Billy Martin mold. He'll throw things, scream at umpires, kick dirt, all that good entertaining stuff.

Piniella will quickly become the center of attention in Chicago, although his cross-town counterpart, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, will give him a run for his money in the headline-grabbing department. Piniella replaces the sleepy, New Age Dusty Baker, a favorite of the players if only because he let them do as they pleased.

Meanwhile, another great manager from the old school, Jim Leyland, has his Tigers in the World Series. He may face one of my least favorite managers, the robotic Tony LaRussa--if the Cardinals beat the Mets. If the Mets go to the Series, it will be good for their manager Willie Randolph, who is a real class act.

Tony LaRussa manages by computer printout. He doesn't adapt well to the playoffs. You could argue that Ron Gardenhire doesn't adapt well to the playoffs, either, since he has lost four out of five of the playoff series he has managed. Both managers know well how to milk their teams over a 162-game schedule, but seem unable to motivate them in a short series.

To be fair, Gardenhire had one hand tied behind his back against the A's. The Twins bats went dead at the wrong time, and the starting pitching was worn out. You can't win a World Series with nothing more than a good bullpen.

As for Piniella, he was one of those players who survived on guile and hustle. He could hit, but he was slower than a cement truck. His outfield play was filled with spectacular diving catches made necessary only because he was so slow in the first place.

One of the great television clips of all time was recorded when Piniella chugged towards home plate during a Yankees-Red Sox game in the late seventies. Waiting with the ball was another great, catcher Carlton Fisk. Piniella hit him with a football like tackle. Fisk held the ball. The ump called Piniella out. Pictures show Piniella on his knees pleading with the umpire. Seconds later Fisk came after him and they had a good, old-fashioned brawl.

As much as my grandfather hated the Yankees, he always made an exception for Piniella. The guy has heart, and he wears it on his sleeve. He'll be a perfect fit for the Cubs. Either he'll make them win, or he'll go down fighting, screaming and throwing things.


Election of 1800

Lectured today on the election of 1800, which I still don't understand myself. Jefferson and Adams were the two presidential candidates. Neither got a majority in the Electoral College, so the election was thrown into the House of Representatives.

The system in place at the time dictated that the second place finisher in the vote in the House would become Vice President. Jefferson was tied with his running mate Aaron Burr for many ballots. Finally, one state threw the election to Jefferson, who entered office without much of a mandate.

Jefferson wasn't much of a president. He was better at philosophizing than leading. He was followed by Madison. More of the same.

Madison blundered his way into the War of 1812. The text was blurry about why the war happened, so I looked up other sources. Nobody seems to be able to agree why the war was fought.

Some said the United States had ambitions of taking Canada, which was held only loosely by the British. Others said we were angry about the British pestering our shipping. Yet other said we were attempting to use the conflict in Europe to better our position in the world.

Madison made demands of the British before the war. The British Parliament met all the demands, but because there was a 12-week turnaround in communication with Europe, word reached Washington D. C. too late--the war was already on.

Three years later, the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty was signed in Europe. The war was over. But due to the delay in communication, its biggest battle was fought 10 days later in New Orleans. Andrew Jackson massacred 2000 British troops in a battle which assured him of the presidency, but which was completely unnecessary.

These sort of events are difficult to make compelling to college students, believe me. From 1800-1860, the country sort of blundered its way along with mediocre presidents and mediocre events until the Civil War.

So today we covered several famous events which were only loosely connected: The Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the War of 1812, and the famous Marbury vs. Madison court case, which I still don't understand.

By the end of the lecture, the students were ready for it to be over. One student talked to me after class and said he had gotten sick of school and was homesick, so that's why he had been gone for the past two weeks. Another student looked almost despondent the entire hour. I was worried about her, and resolved to talk to her after class, but she rushed out of the room as if she was about to cry.

So why bother teaching history to college students who have so many other things on their mind?

Good question. I keep telling the class that they are learning a skill: How to attack and comprehend mounds of information and decide what details are important. If they advance on that front, they have gained something lasting and valuable. No, they probably won't remember what the War of 1812 was about ten years from now, but perhaps they will be able to read whatever text they run into at that time with improved critical facilities.

It is a vague course mission, but it is something.


October 15, 2006

Window washing

Since I wrote a column on window-washing a couple of weeks ago, I have gotten dozens of suggestions. Most had something to do with vinegar or dish soap, or a combination of the two. Some methods were complicated, some were simple.

Some common themes: Use newspaper or cheap paper towels, the expensive paper towels smear.

Vinegar is about as good as it gets, apparently. One lady uses dish soap, ammonia and vinegar.

So, today, I mixed up some vinegar water and did almost all of my windows. They turned out great. Must be the cool weather.

Of course, I haven't seen them in the morning sun yet. I will let you know tomorrow how things looked as the sun came up.


Stri vs. strid

Reader Lyndon agrees with Jim and Ingela that "strid" means conflict, and furthermore, many soldiers in the old time ended up adopting it as a surname simply to distinguish themselves from all the Mattsons and Nelsons. Thus, there are people with the surname "Streed" up in the far reaches of northwest Minnesota.

Irene writes back that she had lunch with a director of the Sons of Norway today who alleged that both "stri" and "strid" are words. "Stri" means a lot of work. "Strid" means conflict. Thus, the woman at the nursing home in Halstad, who is blissfully unaware of the international furor she provoked, probably was using the word "stri" when she referred to gardening.