Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 17, 2007

Why the bird feeder empties so quickly



Redpoll



The burning question: "Do redpolls have eyelashes?" has been answered. See below.



February 16, 2007

Re-Joyce

Joyce Hatto, who died last year after a long struggle with cancer, was known as the "greatest pianist nobody ever heard of."

Two days ago, an article was published that alleges she wasn't what everybody thought.


February 15, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Despite the cold, it is good to be back in the land of empty highways and deep woods. The bird feeders were empty, but after I filled them, the birds were back within minutes. Chickadees, nuthatches, redpoles, finches, woodpeckers.

It was fun to get the wood stove going. Shoveled out the ash first, then built a fire worthy of a boy scout. It felt good to get the heat going in the house, heat that comes not from electricity but from dead trees.

I appreciate anew the spaciousness of having my own house after being confined to a hotel room for a couple of weeks. Before going to Arizona, all I could think about was the cold outside and how nice it would be to be somewhere warm. After 10 days in Arizona, I started longing for a little more inside space. You can't be outside all day! The television in the hotel room seemed just in front of my nose.

After I come home, it is always interesting to see two week's worth of calls on caller ID. If the caller didn't leave a message, am I obligated to call them back? What in the world did that person want? Should I call them back to find out?

When I first had caller ID, I would call everybody back--but it usually turned out that the people whose name on the ID made me the most curious had dialed the wrong number and didn't even know they called me, so my return call just caused confusion--although in some cases, it was a good chance to catch up.

The other catch-up job is to get all of the speaking engagements on a single calendar. That is proving to be a challenge. I come across only one conflict that will force me to do some fast talking on and substitute my brother for me even though he is on vacation and out of touch so I am doling out one of his March afternoons without his permission.

The other challenge is a little note I found in my handwriting that says "March 12, 6:30 p.m." I have absolutely no idea where I am supposed to be March 12th at 6:30 p.m., and I don't know how I am going to find out.

I scribbled the note on a piece of mail which arrived January 28th. I left for Arizona on February 1st, so there is a three-day window during which I wrote the note. It was sitting by the phone. So, I looked back on the caller ID at the calls I received during those days. Only one potential call, and that was from the local library. I might call them to ask them why they called me on January 29th, and see what sort of confusion that causes.

If anybody hears that I am to speak somewhere on Monday evening, March 12 at 6:30 p.m., I would really appreciate it if you would email me the information.

I am on hiatus from taking pictures. I love taking and posting pictures, but after posting China pictures for a month, nothing else seems as interesting. I just about caught a huge owl in a tree at the side of the road today, but when I screeched to a stop and opened the door on my pickup to take a picture, the owl screeched and flew away.

I think I took three pictures in Arizona. Oh well.

But I don't think I have ever felt as refreshed after a vacation. I took it easy. If I felt like napping, I napped. If I felt like laying on the bed for two hours staring at the ceiling in the middle of the day, that is what I did, and that happened several times. I thought I was turning into a vegetable, but now that I am home, I feel energized. Perhaps that is what I needed.


February 14, 2007

Broken plane

After a six hour delay at the Minneapolis airport last night, the time finally came to board our plane, a DC-9 which they had just gotten out of the hanger. We got in, sat down, buckled up--and were informed that the plane was broken, we'd have to deplane.

That was the word they used: Broken. Refreshingly blunt. No "technical difficulties" or "equipment malfunctions," just a plane that was broken.

Then we had to wait on the planning department to find another plane. That took a couple of hours. The desk agent said, "We have received word that a plane is on its way from the hangar, but until I see it with my own eyes, I am not going to get too excited." More refreshing honesty.

We got on the plane by midnight, and landed in Grand Forks at a little after one a.m. It was -18 F, but there was no wind, and I was surprised that it didn't feel colder. It was actually refreshing.

Perhaps I was so refreshed by the trip that I didn't feel dread or anger at the cold. That is a good sign. Perhaps I am ready for the spring. Sometimes I come home from Arizona only to collapse into a heap and be worthless for a month until business forces me to get busy.

The drive yesterday morning from Phoenix to Tucson on I-10 seems flat, although over the 90 miles you climb 2,000 feet. Usually I have not noticed the climb, but in the Mustang, I could feel it pull. The engine was working.

As I swung into Tucson, I felt nostalgia for the place. Next year, I am going to have to go down earlier so I miss the Gem and Mineral Show and can stay in my favorite place again.

Dropped the Mustang off at Hertz. It had 400 miles on it when I picked it up, and 1088 when I dropped it off. It was fun while it lasted.


February 12, 2007

Something's wrong with this picture...

I just turned on the TV and scanned the channels. The major cable news channels, FOX News, Headline News, CNN and MSNBC were dedicating their time to...Anna Nicole Smith.

Yikes.


A mystery

In my research about the town of Halstad, the most fascinating nugget to come to light so far is the story of Skitch Henderson, one-time bandleader on The Tonight Show and founder of the New York Pops Orchestra, headquartered at Carnegie Hall.

When Henderson died a little over a year ago, Rudy Guiliani, Mike Wallace, Lena Horne and other celebrities spoke at a memorial service given in his honor at Carnegie Hall.

Halstad people know that Skitch was born in Halstad. His mother died when he was a toddler, and he was brought up by an aunt, Hatty Gift. She introduced him to music.

Skitch went on to perform around the Midwest, finally making it big. But when he signed with MGM, he (or a publicist) put down his birthplace as Birmingham, England. Apparently, you weren't going to make it big if you were from Halstad.

Skitch Henderson never backed down from the story. In fact, he embellished it. He was born in Birmingham, educated in Switzerland, and served in the Royal Air Force before switching to the American Air Force and becoming an American citizen. Later, he studied with German composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Searches of records have failed to turn up any evidence that any of the claims were true. In fact, Henderson was convicted of tax evasion in 1975 and served some time in prison. Although some people I have talked to blamed an unnamed publicist for filling in "Birmingham" in the "place of birth" blank on his contract with MGM, it is clear that Henderson did nothing to promote the truth and did much to embellish it with additional false information.

The Halstad Centennial History book treats the topic firmly, if gently--lamenting that Henderson didn't claim Halstad, but showing pictures of him as a part of classes at Halstad school, as if to prove that Henderson was actually from Halstad. If you go online, you can find images of the Halstad census records indicating that Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson (Skitch's full name) actually was born and resided in Halstad as a child.

Yet, the New York Pops website still contains the erroneous birthplace information, as did the New York Times obituary.

Aunt Hatty, meanwhile, once gave an interview to a newspaper here in Arizona which attempted to clear up the mess. However, when the article appeared, all of her information concerning Skitch's birthplace was ignored--and he was once again born in Birmingham.


Phinishing in Phoenix

Good thing I looked at my airline ticket. I was planning to show up at the Tucson airport Wednesday morning to fly back to Minnesota. However, my ticket says I fly out tomorrow.

Alas, the lock on my hotel door has finally shut down for good. I saw a stickie note on the computer in the office when I went to get yet another set of new keys: "Do not sell room 213!" Below were three other room numbers. For some reason, the desk clerk said, all the automatic electric door locks are going nuts and not letting people in. Just overheard the guy next door swearing at his door.

So, because I am leaving, I finished up one last interview down here--which went very well--and I will pack up and head home.

The trip has been restful. I haven't done much but read, write, and conduct four interviews. I haven't felt like taking pictures, perhaps because I haven't found anything particularly photogenic. The trip to China was traveling--which is not a vacation, but which is much more interesting, of course. This brief trip to Arizona was a vacation, and I feel refreshed.

Ten days is probably not a fair trial for the Phoenix area, but I do find it overwhelming. You just never know when there's going to be a monumental traffic jam, and when you're going to get caught in it. Could be Saturday morning. Could be in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts. You never know. And when the traffic jams up, it goes for miles and it goes so slow that eventually people start heading to the shoulder so somebody in their car can step out and relieve themselves, something which doesn't make people here blink, and which I have never seen before, naive Minnesota boy that I am.

It rained here yesterday. Today, it was 76 degrees. That meant there was some humidity. It was humid in the room last night, and after I walked this morning, I came in all sweaty. That is something which does not happen in Tucson.

Tucson is at 3000 feet, while Phoenix is at 1000. That might account for Tucson's lower humidity. In addition, the higher elevation makes the colors more vivid in Tucson. The mountains are closer in Tucson, and it has about one third the population of Phoenix. There isn't the traffic. And, I suppose, I prefer Tucson because I know my way around after having spent parts of so many winters there.

There is more grass in Phoenix, and a lot less litter. Tucson can get scruffy. Phoenix's freeways are well-kempt, something which can't be said about the junk-cluttered roadsides of Tucson.

Phoenix is easy to navigate, as long as you aren't in a hurry. I think it is over 70 miles wide in most places. Most all the roads are on a grid. It is just so massive it gets disconcerting. I can see why people tend to hunker down in their neighborhood and stay there and why, just because you know somebody who lives in Mesa or Sun City or wherever, doesn't mean you get over there to visit more than once per year.

I tried to get out of Phoenix three times. By that I mean, I jumped in the Mustang and planned to head into the mountains, or somewhere, anywhere outside of town. All three times, traffic was so heavy that I just got off at the next exit and went to a bookstore to read books! Not a bad option, anyway. I can't say that I was very persistent in my quest to get out of town, or that I was disappointed to sip coffee at the bookstore.