Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

May 11, 2007

Prairie Skyline

Last night, I spoke to the Prairie Skyline group in Crookston, a group dedicated to preserving Crookston's historic buildings, of which there are plenty.

We discussed the politics of preservation. There are sullen types who, without articulating why, just prefer all old buildings leveled. They seem to be everywhere. There are also con-artists galore in the business of restoring old buildings. There are also vultures who look for deals on the old fixtures. Several horror stories were exchanged. Delicious cookies were served. A good time was had by all.

WHOA. I don't think I have ever been through a week like this before at the nursery. Business has been of the land office sort. The weather has been the instigator. You can't tell until about June 30 whether the season was any better or worse over all than any other, but right now we are going at a breakneck pace. In the next two days, Saturday and Sunday, we will likely do 11-12% of our annual business. It is scary, but fun, too. It is such a short season. Within three weeks, it will all fizzle.

Despite the frantic pace today, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman from Ada who flew in China during World War II. He flew "over the hump" from India to China several times. That means flying over the most formidable mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. And the planes they had back then...uff da. It was a cold ride.

Another interesting customer: A man who was the video man for the Twins from 1986 until last year when he retired. He got the job when he was at a spring training game. Twins manager Tom Kelly looked through the crowd, found somebody with a video camera, who happened to be this man, and offered him some bucks to film the right fielder picking his nose throughout the game. The next day, Kelly had him train his sights on some other clueless rookie. Oh, how Kelly hated rookies. Anyway, this man, who hails from Mahnomen, was eventually hired full-time.

One highlight of his career: When the Twins played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs, he was introduced to the crowd by the "voice of God," Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard.

I have to say, that would make my day.

May 09, 2007


When warmth comes before Mother's Day, it always catches us off guard. People are insisting upon planting their gardens, and for all we know they could be right in doing so. However, the conservative sorts are going to wait a week or two since it still could freeze.

We love the traffic and the sales, but there is a feeling of losing control of the whole situation. We're not completely set up and ready, and yet we are so busy selling that we won't have time to get completely set up and ready. So, you start a necessary job, like cleaning up a completely unsightly mess, and you get interrupted by somebody eager to part with a portion of their fortune. To attend to the customer, you leave a pile of dust in the middle of the floor which is more unsightly than dust evenly distributed. Then the phone rings. And somebody needs a bag of peat thrown in their trunk. Chaos.

I had about had it with the frustration of being in three places at once this morning. I was ready to check into a remote monastary for the rest of my life. Luckily, this afternoon, I had to go to Thief River Falls to meet with several high school teachers to select the readings for a Civil War seminar I am going to help with this summer. Just getting away from the phone and furor for four hours rejuvinated me.

The phone is an interesting phenomena. When you answer the phone, you might be frenzied, frazzled and in a furor, while the person who called you might be sitting on a lawn chair sipping a martini wanting to chit chat about plants. In fact, I am sure that most people who call are in a lawn chair sipping martinis. Anyway. Today, I was waiting on a couple of customers when the phone rang, so I grabbed it, and within thirty seconds, I believe, the caller asked, "So, tell me about China!"

Well, I couldn't very well start telling China stories when two people were shivering in the cold room with me waiting for me to wrap their trees. So, I had to say, let's talk about China some other time, shall we? --as much as I would have loved to spend ten minutes visiting about China.

This evening, a rare convergence occurred: In lily-white-with-a-few Latinos Norman County, two black couples who had never met each other showed up at the nursery at the same time to shop for petunias. I don't think they were aware of the remote chances of that occurring. They met and visited for a long time out in the yard. I wanted to say, listen people, we're lucky to get one black couple in here per year, much less two couples in the same evening! The one couple just moved here last winter for a job, and I think the woman is really, really lonely for home.

May 08, 2007

Beautiful Tuesday

You couldn't ask for nicer weather. The pristine weather brought out a lot of people. We were busy all day.

At this time of year, we just try to survive. There is so much to do. The greenhouse stuff needs water. The displays need to be neatened throughout the day. Weeds are growing. Trees need to be planted out in the field. The yard needs to be cleaned up before Mother's Day.

But the priority has to be selling, always. If people want to hand you money, you'd better take it. So, sometimes the greenhouse doesn't get swept, or the bare root building doesn't get neatened. Or the garbage doesn't get emptied in time.

My friend Dale is helping us out this spring. He has been a popular addition, so he usually is stolen for other tasks before he does what I hired him to do: keep things clean.

Well, he has taken after the bathrooms at the nursery and is cleaning them regularly and notifying us of the dusty spots he finds, spots which obviously haven't been cleaned since construction--such as the tops of the stalls. One-quarter inch of dust. It is good to have somebody that thorough.

TWINS: Baseball is funny. The Twins are banged up. Things haven't been going well. Yet, somehow, I feel like they're on the verge of a little winning streak.

May 07, 2007

Beautiful Monday

What a pristine day. The wind calmed nicely and the temperatures warmed. Although business was slow early in the morning, it later picked up and was as crazy busy as any May day.

Our Brazilian worker Renato has moved into my spare bedroom. He is our fourth Brazilian worker, the third to stay with me. Renato has been in the US for 13 months. I met him when he first arrived, as he and Leo, our last year's Brazilian, are friends. At the time, Renato knew next to no English. Now his English is quite good.

AFTER a tremendously busy weekend, my patience inevitably wears thin. I have to rely on humor to deal with some of the customers. Eventually, many of them start looking like farm animals.

There was a man this morning who talked like a goose. I couldn't imagine why he would talk that way. Then his wife came in, and she talked the same way. Could it be that was what attracted them to each other? Did they bob their heads in a mating dance sixty some years ago? One wonders. Or perhaps, they have developed the goose talk by being isolated together for decades on end.

Another gentleman came in who was delightful enough, but he was clearly there just to talk. He wanted to tell me about his every apple tree, both living and dead. He waited for me to finish up other customers. Once they left, he cornered me again so we could dwell upon a couple more dead apples.

When another customer apologized for interrupting us, the man said, "Oh, I am just here to talk."

Ahem. If there's anything which drives me batty it is people who think that I'd like nothing more than to sit around and chew the fat about their garden or their trees. If they have a problem, I hope they will present it and we'll deal with it, but if they just want to throw out random anecdotes about their gardening adventures and their prize-winning turnips, I am not the person to attempt to corner.

In general, I am unsympathetic to people as soon as I sense that their real purpose is not to efficiently complete a transaction which is to our mutual benefit, but to merely get attention. Once I sense that attention-getting is the main item on the agenda, I want to run away fast, and I usually do.

There are a few people, and I remember them all, who will not leave the grounds of the nursery until they have had a chance to hold forth at length about something irrelevant and uninteresting to me while I am standing there resisting the urge to strangle them.

"I forget the name of that tomato--Honey! What was the name of that tomato we got at Wal-mart last year that did so well?"

Anyway, these people are in the minority, but they do erode my love for humanity for the time they are in my field of vision.

ALTHOUGH: Since I have quit caffiene, my irritation level has gone down about 64%. Although I still feel the blood rising into my face every now and then, it doesn't last very long.

May 06, 2007

Swamp activity

Lots of wetland action out the window.

The hole in the aspen tree in front of the window has been a source of contention all spring. The pileated woodpeckers were there for two years. Then the mergansers took over. Two weeks ago a black starling bird of some sort started furiously building a nest there. Yesterday, under the escort from her drake, a female woodduck struggled into the hole. So, we'll see who wins in the end.

Red-wing blackbirds are now coming to the feeder. I think they frighten off everybody else. They make a racket that can be heard in the house.

Sandpipers are out on the fringes of the swamp this morning drilling for food.

The swans have sort of gone into hiding. You can occasionally see their white feathers through the reeds. The pair of geese come and go.

I counted fifteen turtles on logs this morning through the binoculars.

A purple finch stopped by, pretty red.

Blue-winged teal, mergansers and mallards all were playing in the water.

An active morning on the pond.

Twins 2 Boston 1

Notice that I only post about the Twins when they win. I am a fair weather fan. Last night's game was encouraging, although the Twins' offense continues to languish.

Santana was wild. People who are worried should remember that he has had troubles every season in April and May. In fact, he has been stronger this early season than any other in his career.

Nathan came back from a blown save to record four outs without much trouble. Neshek, Rincon and Guerrier gave up no runs, although Neshek walked a couple. I do like 2-1 games. That's the way baseball is supposed to be played.

Laptop revolution

An article in yesterday's New York Times, which I won't link to because it requires registration to read, says that many schools are starting to abandon the laptop-for-every-student idea.

Turns out, after seven years, there is absolutely no evidence that laptops are enhancing student achievement. In fact, it may be hurting.

Students spend time chatting, passing notes via the Internet, surfing for porn, whatever--anything but studying. Then, when there is a network breakdown, the whole school grinds to a halt.

After two semesters teaching at UMC, which was one of the first laptop campuses in the country, I heartily concur with the article. Laptops, in my experience, impeded learning. Students used them to be distracted during class. They used the computers as an excuse for late or lost assignments. They hide their faces in their computers and ignore the people around them.

I still think laptops should be banned from classrooms.