Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 02, 2006


Blue Jays

The blue jay above feasted at the feeder, until he was rudely shunned away by the blue jay below, who had noticably brighter plumage.

What to do?

That is the question we face in Iraq. I am glad I am not in a position to decide.

My first impulse would be: Let's pour in troops, settle things down, get rid of the bad guys and try to get the country back on its feet.

That is simply not possible without reinstituting the draft, a political impossibility right now. We only have about 20,000 troops to send in. In a country of 26 million, I somehow doubt that will tilt the scales.

Our peak level of troops in Vietnam was 537,000 in 1968. Vietnam had a larger population than Iraq by about double at the time, although it was geographically smaller. In any case, the half-million troops weren't able conclude matters in Vietnam. We lost over 50,000 troops before pulling out. Would it really be wise to commit 500,000 troops in Iraq even if we had them available? I think not.

The other option is to pull out and blame the Iraqis for not being able to take advantage of our deposing of Saddam Hussien. I find that option to be cowardly and irresponsible. We promised stability and democracy. Pulling out would leave the Iraqis who believed us in the lurch.

Nobody has a solution right now. Nothing sounds right. Perhaps somebody will find one. We can only hope. But in the meantime, we can evaluate the lessons learned:

1) A relatively stable state run by a ruthless, crazy, evil dictator may be preferable to a stateless anarchy which might spread throughout the region.

2) It is not easy to transplant American democracy overseas, especially in a country divided by religious and ethnic hatred. When you have people willing to kill each other on a mass scale, democratic institutions cease to work.

3) We shouldn't get into conflicts until the American people are completely on board. Roosevelt wanted to enter World War II long before Pearl Harbor, but it took Pearl Harbor to get the American people up in arms enough to fight. Accusations that Roosevelt knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened and did nothing haven't been proven. That doesn't meant that Roosevelt wasn't glad it happened. Churchill, for his part, was absolutely ecstatic. After Pearl Harbor, he knew victory was inevitable: America, with its manpower and industrial might, was in it with both feet.

Waiting for consensus necessarily means that democracies are going to be slow to respond to threats. That has always been the case. A leader can lead, but if he or she gets out too far in front of the pack, the pack might just go another direction and leave him stranded--as stranded as Lyndon Johnson was in 1968, and as stranded as Richard Nixon felt after his escalation of the Vietnam war didn't result in conclusive victory.


Woke up to this today. A lot of snow fell last evening. It is puffy and powdery. If the wind comes up, it will blow around.

Last night, I attended a dinner for the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation in Bagley. The roads over weren't bad, but on the way home, it was downright nasty.

So, since we have snow, now I hope we get nine feet of it so that when it melts next March and April the runoff will fill my swamp so the swans can nest again. That is asking a bit much. I think the swamp covers about eight acres. In places, it will be three feet deep when full. At most 30 acres drain into the swamp, so may take years for the swamp to return to its former level.

Chickadee eyes feeder

November 30, 2006

Old newspapers

Spent the afternoon in a reel of microfilm of the Norman County Index from 1951 and 1952 at the Ada Library.

Saw that my grandfather ran ads for the nursery all summer. "We are happy to have visitors at any time, but we do not care to work Sundays."

Also, I saw that Grandpa was on the board of an organization called the Norman County Temperance Association. They had a speaker whose thesis was that if your neighbor doesn't know how to use his freedom properly, freedom for him is a curse. You should stop him as a service to himself and the larger community.

A big concern was highway safety. People were dying in crashes right and left. John Pfund, editor of the Index, wrote that a person didn't want to even be out there on the highway, there were so many deaths. Several letters to the editor made the same point. One woman kindly included the license plate numbers of three cars she had seen speeding through town.

Most accidents, according to a study cited in one article, happened in broad daylight, on straightaways, in good weather. The real culprit: "Too many slow brains driving fast cars," according to the study. Ha.

I have no idea yet, but I suspect that the cars got bigger and more powerful after the war. They were driven, in many cases, by returning veterans. It is sort of a legend that veterans returning from hard combat drive fast and take more risks than usual. (More soldiers have died in accidents after returning from the present Afghanistan conflict than have actually died in Afghanistan, according to a buddy of mine who is at present in Afghanistan). The roads were still narrow and probably quite bad.

One nugget: The American Legion in Halstad had 99 members after the war. In 1949, they banded together to build a wood quonset, which still stands, for dances and roller skating. They had 52 Saturday night dances per year, and roller skating on other nights. It was a big success. Some of the acts which came to the town of 635: Louis Armstrong. Glenn Miller. Tommy Dorsey. At one of the dances, it was discovered that people from 31 different area towns attended.

The Legionaires found the materials to build the quonset "through a great deal of chiseling." Norman County donated gravel from their pit. Materials were scavenged from other work sites. A store in Fargo was getting new lighting, so they sold their old lights to the Halstad boys at a steep discount. One can imagine how difficult it was to turn down a recently returned vet for a donation to the cause!

Because electricity was still quite recent, the newspaper contained ads galore for appliances. And electric milking equipment. There were still ads in the fall for delivery of lignite.

There was a promise from WDAY in Fargo that by fall of 1952, they might be broadcasting a television signal to the Ada area.

A Hereford bull sold for $660 at the Norman County Fair in Ada in the summer of 1951.

Ada had a municipal band which gave concerts throughout the summer.

Not only was town-team baseball a huge attraction, but town team basketball, with teams often consisting of returning veterans, went on throughout the winter.

Many of the people in the obituaries were born in Norway.

November 29, 2006

Summoned to the Hilton

Aunt Olla called for me to come in an deliver some burn medication to the Hilton. Seems she orders her milk-toast with extra hot milk. The nursing home staff reluctantly prepares it as she wishes, but then their worst fears came true: Olla spilled a little of the hot milk on her arm.

The burn was minor, but not in the eyes of the staff. In fact, everybody soon knew about the milk burn and Olla had to try to calm down the furor. One nurse, a reader of this weblog, speculated that Olla was smoking in bed. It was a joke, and Olla loved it.

So, as usual, Olla said the whole burn experience has been a blast.

Not so fun has been the peer pressure Olla feels to go to Bible Study. Bible Study is at 10:15 in the morning, just when Olla is busiest with correspondence and other duties. But the pressure continues. "They think they're going to save me!" Olla says, although I think she still feels guilty.

Olla prefers afternoon devotions when they "read Guideposts or something." It is more laid back. No sermons.

Olla hoards the cookies the staff brings for afternoon coffee and gives them to me when I visit. She hasn't gotten as many lately, so today there were only three. They were neatly wrapped in a napkin with a bow.

The other item of business: In today's local paper, there was a picture of a woman eating spaghetti. Olla's point? "If they ever put a picture like that of me in the paper, somebody's going to pay!"

Just so Olla doesn't forget any of the things she was going to tell me, she lines notes and other items up on her bed before I visit. She has to do this because she still can't afford memory pills.

Which accent do you have?

After taking this strangely simple 12-question quiz, I was correctly identified as having a North Central, or Minnesota accent. See where you land.

November 28, 2006

Goodbye to Wy

An old friend of Grandpa's, another first-generation nurseryman, Wy Sheppard has passed away at age 92. Wy was a colorful character, like all those old nurserymen. The wry look on his picture captures perfectly what little I knew of Wy's personality.

UPDATE: Weblog reader Mary writes:

Reading of Wy Sheppard's death in today's blog brought fond memories of when Wy was our "across the back fence" neighbor in Grand Forks. He was a wonderful gardener who shared his love of gardening and was a good neighbor in all the ways that make for good neighbors. And he was uniquely himself!

After the flood of 1997, my husband and I moved to Detroit Lakes and Wy and Alice moved to Reeves Drive. The loss of neighborhood was one of the saddest results of the flood.

Painful truth

Micheal Kinsley makes some salient points about the internet and egomania.

More drear pictures

Lone trees seem more lonely in the winter, and particularly on a wet, dreary day.

This willow stands about one-half mile north of the nursery.

Three miles away are these nice spruce trees, trees in such good condition that it is certain that somebody has taken care of them for the past twenty years.

The Sandhill River west of the Erickson farm has an odd, blue/green cast.

Dreary day

If the weather forecast means anything, this will be the last day of warm weather for a while. We're supposed to get snow and cold tonight. Today, however, it is drizzling.

So, I drove around the countryside looking for pictures. The colors get a little more vivid in a drizzle as everything is wet. Even so, things are dreary.

Here is an old building about 4 miles from the nursery, perched only about 15 feet from the road. Inside is some old machinery.

Pine always have a mystical look.

Old Abe

We have reached the Civil War in history class. That has inspired me to pick up Carl Sandburg's biography of Abraham Lincoln, if for no other reason than to find some good stories.

What is always striking about Lincoln is his refusal to hold grudges of any sort. Although Lincoln was a wily lawyer and a political schemer of the highest order, his saint-like ability to grant instant forgiveness for any slight, even the most egregious, is what built his well-deserved reputation.

For instance: Lincoln traveled at great personal risk to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac to deliver a message to Gen. McClellan. Lincoln arrived at McClellan's home to find that the general was gone at a wedding. Lincoln could have been furious at that point, for he had ordered McClellan to attack as soon as possible, an order which would preclude his dressing up and attending weddings.

Lincoln sat in the parlor and waited for McClellan to come home. The general did, but went upstairs without even greeting Lincoln. Forty minutes passed. Lincoln inquired of the servants as to when McClellan might come down to visit. They replied that McClellan had gone to bed.

Lincoln's advisors said he should fire McClellan on the spot. Such an affront to the dignity of the office of president couldn't be tolerated. Lincoln replied that now wasn't the time to worry about dignity; if McClellan would so much as win a battle, any arrogance could be forgiven.

Lincoln ended up firing McClellan, but not before tolerating much more from the general, including a possible plot to overthrow the president and replace him with a military dictatorship with McClellan at the head.

November 26, 2006

Adventures with machinery

Feeling a little post-Thanksgiving lethargy, I decided to get out and putz around on the Cat loader for a while.

That's never as simple as it sounds, not with me at the controls.

I headed out onto the swamp, which is empty of water. The frozen peat ground seemed like the ideal terrain for the all-terrain Cat. I collected some firewood, and rolled across the swamp like a tank in battle, headed for the woodpile.

Well, the peat ground gave way mid-way across the swamp, and I fell into a pit. As I cast around trying to get out, I stirred up a black hole of soupy muck. I couldn't find bottom with the bucket to push myself out. Previously invisible water surrounded the cat and lapped against the door.

So, I was stuck.

Before I went to Dad for help, I ran back up to the place and got the International 574 warmed up, gathered together the chains, and got the tractor placed in the swamp.

Then, it was to go get Dad. Two years ago when I sunk the other skid steer through the ice into three feet of water, I was almost scared to tell Dad. The passing years have dulled my sense of shame. I didn't even worry this time.

The tractor couldn't budge the Cat. It started spinning in the peat muck and threatened to sink in itself, even though we stretched 25 feet of chains out so the tractor could work from what looked to be more solid ground.

Darkness fell and we decided to let things sit until morning.

About eight o'clock this morning as I laid in bed, I could hear the stirring of machinery up at the place. Dad was already up and ready to tackle the problem. So was brother Joe.

Dad found some sturdy oak pallets. We drove the tractor on top of them so it wouldn't sink. I went and found two eight-foot oak logs, which we placed in the cesspool of muck to give the Cat bucket something to push against. Once we got the whole thing set up, which took about an hour, I got in the Cat, pushed with the bucket while Dad pulled with the 574. The Cat popped up out of the muck like nothing.

So, that was a relief. We didn't need to call Tim the backhoe man. The cat is in the shop thawing out. And I have been rescued from another embarrassing machinery situation.

It will be a relief when the swamp fills again so I am not tempted to cruise out there with machinery. I think I have been stuck four times this summer. At least.