Down on the Farm

Weekly column by Eric Bergeson.


My attitude towards salespeople could use some improvement. When I walk into a store and see a salesperson out of the corner of my eye circling like a vulture, I instinctively want to run the other way.

“How are you doing today?” they ask, as if they care. All they really care is that I have a credit card in my pocket with some room left on the limit.

“We have some really neat promotions going on right now,” the salesperson adds, dripping with contrived sincerity.


While visiting with a retired man in his eighties the other day, I groaned a bit when I said that I’d better get back to work.

He shook his finger at me gently and said, “Just be thankful you have work.”

I am starting to understand that when old-timers tell me to be glad I have work, they aren’t saying I should be glad to have a job to pay the bills. No, they are suggesting I be thankful I have something productive to do with my days. There is a difference.

The swamp

Swamps are mysterious. Our farm is full of them, but the only time I got the chance to explore them as a child was after freeze-up.

Muck. Stink. Reeds. Snakes. Mosquitoes. Weeds that leave your socks full of stickers. Swamps are secretive, fortified by some nasty natural barriers.

Lakes have obvious shores, perfect for frolicking families with inner tubes. Swamps have murky, dangerous boundaries which gobble up small children who wander too far from the fold.

Grass fire

People who let grass fires get away have always been pretty low on my totem poll. Good grief, what did they expect to happen, lighting a fire on a windy, dry spring day? Do they get some sort of sick thrill out of having the fire department come out?

Just when I was getting to feel pretty superior about this, a fire, the origins of which could be traced directly to somebody who looks a lot like me, jumped a road and started heading in the general direction of my new house.

Sawing down trees

Last summer, I cranked up the chainsaw and wreaked havoc on the oak trees that stood where my new house was to be built.

Killing old oak trees goes against my religion--but in order to put up a house in the woods, I told myself, you have to clear a little spot in the woods. I still felt uneasy each time ninety years of accumulated growth crashed to the ground.

Old garages

A question for scientific researchers: Just what causes all old garages to smell the same?

When I first opened the door to the garage in the apartment building where I just moved, the smell brought me back to the old garage in Fargo where Grandma Geiszler stored her 1954 Chevy--and to countless other garages I have stuck my nose into over the years.

The old garage smell probably has simple origins--something to do with decades of oil drips on rough concrete combined with the scent of the deteriorating rubber of old bicycle tires mixed with the smell of dry, unfinished wood.


Moving is disturbing! After my house sold last week, I had just a few days to get out. It’s just as well, since moving, like ripping off a Band-Aid, is best if done quickly.

Moving requires that one confront years of bad decisions, the evidence of which has built up underneath the basement stairs.

Moving forces you to confront habits you didn’t realize you had. After digging through the mounds of junk, you start to question your sanity.

A Wurlitzer Prize

One of America’s most remarkable audio treasures is the mighty Wurlitzer theater organ which resides in one of the Upper Midwest’s architectural treasures, the Fargo Theater.

Last Saturday evening, the newly-renovated instrument was shown off by Rob Richards, the house organist at Disney’s El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, CA.

Richards, who is originally from Aberdeen, SD, spent a week fine-tuning the organ to his standards before he put on the concert. The resulting sounds were spectacular.


Last summer, a pair of swans successfully raised five little cygnets on the swamp near the building site of my new house. I put a big window on the front of the house, hoping to watch the swans on an annual basis.

As we cleared the land and built a road to the building site last summer, we watched Ma and Pa swan sit motionless on or near their nest for weeks on end. Later on, we caught our first glimpses of the young as the swan family flotilla took its first tentative trips around the swamp.

Red Lake tragedy

When ten people die at once in one place, the media voyeurs descend to record the tears and beam them to the world. The villain’s background is studied, probed and investigated, and the talk shows buzz over who should have done something but didn’t.

If those same ten people were to have died over the course of a year, say in drug-related crimes, or in a series of alcohol-related car accidents, almost nobody would have noticed, even though the loss would be the same, the pain for the families would be the same, and the villain would still be on the loose.