Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 09, 2009


Just discovered this wildman of the piano, Volodos, who is the only living pianist, according to his accolades, who can do some of the great Horowitz arrangements justice. I have a 1948 recording of Horowitz doing this piece--when he was at the height of his powers, and Volodos matches it. Watch his expression after the last note. Then there's this, Volodos' own version of the famous Turkish March. Wow.

Update: Thanks for pointing out that the first video was of Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet, not of Volodos! The link is now fixed.

Pima Canyon

Went on a hike up one of the canyons north of the city of Tucson. Pima Canyon has a nice trail going into it from up near Oro Valley, a northwestern suburb of Tucson. Above is a huge suguaro, probably thirty-five feet tall, which towered over the trail. Because there has been plenty of moisture lately, the saguaro are unusually plump.

These two saguaro seem to be fighting over who gets to direct the band.

This is a shot looking high above the canyon floor. The telephoto makes it look like the cliff in the background is fairly close. It is not. In fact, I suspect it is several hundred feet tall.

The vertical saguaro highlight the slanted lines of the geological strata of Pima Canyon.

On the floor of the canyon, water moved along at a tiny trickle. Here are a couple of blades of grass shooting up from a little pond of water. Beneath the ripples are rotting cottonwood leaves. The bottoms of canyons, where there is actually enough water, are considered riparian ecosystems. They are quite lively with life.

This almost looks like moss, but it is a single plant, closer to a juniper. It thrives here growing in a crack in one of the big rocks that at one time broke off from the side of the canyon and landed at the bottom.

Why Arizona, cont.

Usually my departure for Arizona is a signal for the weather back in Minnesota to start warming up. Not this year. Uff da.

Dead flower heads

January 08, 2009


Silverbell Lake in west Tucson is manmade, and in the midst of a bunch of powerlines and massive excavation projects, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

No regret egret

I stealthily approached this beautiful bird, fearful of disturbing it as it posed beautifully in its natural state.

Nah, he was just out fishing with the guys...

...ready to offer a little coaching when needed.

Finally caught a cardinal


Since I spend many nights having dreams (nightmares) of missing the school bus and trying to get to school by alternate means, which always fail, I have to admire this kid who played out my nightmares in real life.

January 07, 2009

Olive tree

An olive tree provides some nice shade on the campus of the University of Arizona. You can see the olives on the ground here, but they don't taste like the ones in the jar, that's for sure.

Daisy and cactus

Hard times

Today, I reread the entire Bergeson family history, entitled From Fjords to Prairie, which was put together by Aunt Olla and Aunt Adeline perhaps twenty years ago. Fascinating.

Great-grandpa Lauritz Ebenezer Bergeson had grown up in good circumstances in Iowa. They were wealthy farmers. But things went wrong and they all lost their farms. Lauritz took his family to Canby, MN, then Gary, SD, and finally to Twin Valley MN. At each stop, things were rough. Most years they didn't have crops. Either hail, drought or disease took everything.

Moving to Twin Valley might not have been the best idea. Lauritz was dying at age 43 and he knew it. But he considered Twin Valley his promised land and he was determined to move there before he met his end. His reason for loving the farm on Twin Valley so much, according to Aunt Olla, was the cottonwoods which were so prevalent. But the farm was sandy, not the rich Red River Valley soil that the ad in the Norwegian newspaper had promised.

Lauritz died in a hotel in Twin Valley on April 4, 1916, before getting out to his new farm. His widow, Lena, was 35 years old and had seven children under 14. Uncle Roy, the fourteen-year-old, was the man of the house and my Grandfather, Melvin, was 10.

Roy was used to running things. His father had been nearly deaf, so Roy had been doing his business in town for him since he was 12-years old. The people of Twin Valley thought it very cute when Roy would come to town and negotiate with the banker and barter and trade. He wasn't big for his age, so it was quite a sight.

Meanwhile, my Grandfather Melvin worked with the horses. He contributed the family's share of labor to building the township's roads. A picture of the men involved with the project shows just that, men, with horses and scrapers, and then Grandpa, barefoot and 12-years old, with his horse and scraper.

Great-grandma Lena was wise and respected. She reportedly never raised her voice. The bankers knew her word was as good as gold. Throughout the difficult 1920s--the entire decade of the 1920s was terrible on the farms of Minnesota--she made the land interest payments and tax payments one way or the other. One year it was her strawberry crop that provided the cash. Another year, hogs. Another year, one of the kids worked out, either in Alberta, Canada or in Fargo. Another year, it might have been turkeys that saved the day.

But, according to Uncle Roy's account, they were a success. As far as I can tell, a success meant eventually paying off the farm and having some cash. It took them five years to pay off their father's funeral, which cost $85.

Roy and Grandpa worked out when they could. They raised enough cash for each to go to the University of Minnesota in St. Paul for one winter quarter. They shared a single set of school clothes and one fancy coat.

Well, the stories go on and on, but I can't imagine what those 10 years were like after their father died. The family was always on the verge of broke, yet somehow they made it through with their family and their farm intact. And they seem to have had a lot of fun in the process. To hear Aunt Olla tell it today, it was one big picnic. Humor and fun all the time.

For better or worse, I think Grandpa lived in the shadow of those years for the rest of his life. He never talked about them much, and when he did, he had nothing but good memories. But it wasn't all good. And I wouldn't trade places.

Speaking of Aunt Olla, she called today. "My brains, my eyes and my ears are all going at once," she said, "But enough still comes through so that I can enjoy life." She is blaming all her problems on the fact that she is 97, which I said is reasonable enough.

She told the story today of when Mama (great-grandma Lena) decided they could get some extra cash by scrubbing the floors at the old Home Lake School. So, they heated up many milk cans of water, loaded them up on the hay wagon, and headed over to the school with the team of horses. The kids weren't too enthused, but for once Mama was stern...they would not quit until that floor was white as snow. No tell-tale gray, no sir. They did the job right and ended up having a lot of fun in the process.

I think we have a ways to go before times get that tough.


Obama makes another good pick, and continues to confound those who insisted during the campaign that he was some sort of left-wing ideologue. Instead, it appears as if he merely values intelligence and competence.

Financial crisis

This article in the New York Times comes as close as any I have read to explaining the financial crisis.

It sounds to me like we're in a real mess.

January 06, 2009

Cool but not cold

Tucsonians pulled out their parkas today as the temperatures sunk into the 50s, but those of us from up north still basked in the sun, which returned in full force today after two days of drizzle and cloud cover.

As long as I can walk around outside, I am fine. It is about a twenty-minute walk to the University of Arizona library. I am working on a writing project which I first hatched in the University of Arizona library 13 years ago and have left largely untouched since then. Oddly, the past few days I have been sitting at the same table where I wrote about 100 pages of notes for the project in January of 1996.

Those notes are already smelling old. Not that I mind. I love digging through archives even if some of the molds in the paper cause a reaction. My old notebook did not. However, it is weird to have the pages of a notebook which I just remember completing already turn yellow and get crispy with age.

But I do love libraries, even if they will be soon made obsolete by Google, which intended to make all books available on the internet. The faint pulp smell gets my mental juices flowing, even if I go there to work on my own writing and not to read the writing of others.

The atmospherics of this trip to Tucson have been fantastic. In this apartment, it is quiet but for the train whistles. They come from about a mile away, so you can sleep through them. But nothing is more glorious than to wake up in the middle of the night fade back to sleep to the soothing tune of the train whistles echoing off the buildings and the mountains.

Then, there is the neighborhood. Every walk, I take a different route to nowhere in particular. Some of the houses are odd. Some are inspired. And, compared to the Midwest, there are a lot more of those homes where there are projects half-finished which you get the impression have been years in the making.

Stopped to talk to a couple on the street the other day. They have moved to Tucson from Boston. In their occupations, they have been a little frustrated by the pace in Tucson. Things get done slowly, if at all. Tomorrow doesn't mean tomorrow, it means not today.

Sure enough, I walked past their place today. The big project they were working on yesterday was all cleaned up today. Their yard looked perfect.

January 05, 2009

History of General Tsao's Chicken

It is time for an interesting lecture.

Rain in Tucson

It rained all day yesterday in Tucson. Today dawned cold. But later in the afternoon, the sun came out and it warmed up enough to take a lengthy walk.

Here is Lance in our digs, the Treehouse. It is a little apartment situated above a detached garage. It is in the Tucson tradition of having a guesthouse out back. This one was built just last year. The landlords did it themselves and they did it right. The floors, which are wooden, don't creak. At all. That is impressive.


Obama has put Leon Panetta in charge of the CIA. This is a great move and sends a signal to the entire national security bureaucracy. Panetta clearly understands the necessity of abiding by the rule of law. His article sums up the whole matter very well.

January 04, 2009

Photo dictionary

Check this out for fun.