Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Harvesting Rocks

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Since it is harvest season, we decided to grab a couple of shovels and head into our woods to harvest rocks for use in the labyrinth. The back half of the circling pathway needs additional rocks to fully complete the borders. This time of year it is easier to see where old rock piles have been swallowed by the woods. From now until the ground freezes becomes prime rock harvesting time.

It might look a little like the photo above when we arrive at first but prying loose just one of the rocks can start a chain reaction of adjacent rocks coming free, one after another.

We were quickly reminded that prop shovels made for the classic “breaking ground” ceremonies where executives and politicians all toss a scoopful of sand are not hardy enough for real work.

Cyndie claimed the shovel in the photo above from her mom’s garage last year as they cleared out possessions in advance of selling the property. Her dad had been involved in more than one of these ground breaking events over the years, keeping the shovels as mementos. This one is the second to have suffered this kind of fate when used in projects around our property.

I turned the previous one into an edger tool by grinding the what was left of the spade into a cutting blade.

After uncovering a reasonable number of healthy-sized rocks for our purposes, we used a wheelbarrow to move them from the woods to the periphery of the labyrinth.

The dusty clay soil gives them all the appearance of being one color at this point but a few rain showers will bring out more individual personalities over time.

Now comes the fun part, picking just the right rocks to fill in the gaps around the back half of the labyrinth pathway. My guess is we could probably use four times as many as we “harvested” today to achieve the full effect we are after, but this amount will occupy us for now.

I want to also get after staging more downed tree trunks and limbs for chipping. There are at least four different spots in our forest where the professional trimmers cut down trees late last winter, leaving the lumber for us to process.

Collecting rocks and trimming downed trees are the two ongoing projects that will never really have a completion point on our property.

They nicely compliment the other project that is always ongoing around here: composting manure.

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Written by johnwhays

October 4, 2022 at 6:00 am

View Within

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Living in farm country has exposed me to the life cycle of cultivated crops and I was just commenting to Cyndie the other day how entire fields of soybeans suddenly all turn from green to yellow-brown in about a day. I wondered what it is they trigger on. The hours of sunlight? The reduced angle of the sun? Some particular overnight low temperature?

Boom. All at once, the field is no longer green.

Walking through our woods yesterday, I realized some of the ground cover that grows beneath the canopy has abruptly traded its green color for yellow.

That is a blurry photo but I am using it anyway because it still shows exactly what I’m describing.

Driving through the countryside to see the fall colors won’t show you this version of autumn. The view from within the forests of the fading greenery provides a different perspective of transformation after summer is over.

I did succeed in capturing a couple of other views from yesterday that weren’t as blurry.

It won’t be long before our boardwalk will become entirely obscured by a thick blanket of leaves. You won’t see any of the wood blocks after the maple trees drop their leaves.

The views from within the forest of the changes from summer to fall are a wonderful compliment to the brightly colored tree tops available from a distance.

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Written by johnwhays

October 3, 2022 at 6:00 am

Calming Nerves

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We are witnessing good progress in helping the horses to accept the inside of the barn as a non-threatening environment by continuing to give them time to freely explore the stalls and open space. There was much less anxiety on display yesterday morning as the horses moved around to sniff and listen to the walled confines.

It was clear watching Mix’s ears that she was just listening to what it sounded like inside the barn as she stood stationary for a long span of time. It was a marked difference from the constant alerted movements all four horses demonstrated the first two times we invited them in last week.

Doesn’t look like weather will be forcing us to confine the horses indoors any time soon. The warm, dry month of September is carrying on into the first week of October for us with more of the same. Fall color is intensifying accordingly. Red has arrived!

Can that be both calming and invigorating at the same time? Yeah, it’s a little of both.

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Written by johnwhays

October 2, 2022 at 10:18 am

Chippin’ Away

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Little by little, day by day… We made another modicum of progress in dealing with the wealth of downed trees awaiting processing on our property on Thursday. I didn’t have a wasp get into my sleeve and painfully sting me four times when I grabbed a branch to put it in the ATV trailer. Cyndie can’t say the same thing.

Her wrist and forearm looked a bit like a hot baseball bat but that didn’t keep her from carrying on and loading branches into the chipper.

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Under the canopy of leaves that created dappled light over our chosen workspace, we made quick work of the collection of prime-sized, appropriately trimmed limbs we’ve been stockpiling for just this purpose. Once the trailer was emptied, we sought out worthy specimens scattered throughout the immediate vicinity.

That effort reaffirmed my interest in putting more time toward pre-staging the optimum branches for chipping. The brilliant chipper attachment we have can handle up to 5-inch diameter branches but too large a “Y” breakout on a limb will seize progress as it gets wedged in the narrowest point of the chute. Sticks and twigs that are small can also bog things down.

Lately, I find myself inclined toward optimizing production of the best chips for landscaping by choosing ideally sized limbs. There is a time and place for chewing up entire piles of branches, but lately, our purposes call for less shrapnel and more good chip chunks.

Our next task along these lines will be to process the remaining downed trees, trimming and sorting limbs for a future day of chipping. It will be a rewarding exercise on its own, but it is also a form of delayed gratification… if you know what I mean.

There is something really satisfying about grinding a trailer-load of arm-sized branches into a huge pile of wood chips.

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Aerial View

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We were finishing breakfast yesterday morning when our friend, Mike Wilkus, texted that he and his niece would be flying over our place in twenty minutes. Cyndie responded that we would be out in our field with the horses and asked for a photo of the labyrinth. Right on time, we heard the sound of a small plane approaching.

They flew right over us and made a turn to come around again. It was easiest for us to see them when they were right over us but from my experience as a passenger in small planes, I knew it is most difficult to see what is directly below. It felt a little dorky to be waving my arms broadly toward a small visible speck of a plane so far away in the sky, but I was guessing that was when they would have the best-angled view of us.

Soon, Mike was sending us pictures he took and Cyndie was sending hers right back. It went a little like this:

The four horses stand out pretty well in that last image. Cyndie, Delilah and I were a little above and to the right of the horses. To the right of us, the bottom portion of our brand spanking new driveway stands out rather nicely, too. Looks pretty good even from that altitude.

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Written by johnwhays

September 30, 2022 at 6:00 am

Even Frostier

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Yesterday morning, Wednesday, September 28th, was even colder than the day before. Instead of a few random spots of frost, our entire back pasture was white from ice crystals on the grass.

It was a hard enough freeze to quickly dispatch some of the plants in the labyrinth. The leaves of hydrangea plants had begun to turn black and shrivel by the afternoon.

Once the sun got high, the temperatures were ideal for toiling in the late September rays. We were on the final stretch of weeding around the rocks lining the paths of the front half of the labyrinth. First, we rolled the rocks away to make it easier to pull weeds. Then, using a guide stick to determine proper spacing, I repositioned rocks to define the lanes again.

Having started at the center of the labyrinth where the distances of each circuit are short, dealing with the increasing spans of the much longer outer rings began to grow a little tiresome. Upon reaching our goal, we rewarded ourselves with a second session of the day hanging with the horses as they freely checked out the barn.

It was their second opportunity of the day and every indication is that our plan is working wonderfully. We placed a small amount of feed in each of the stalls as enticement and by the end of the last session all but Mia had ventured in and out of different stalls to nibble. Swings was taking advantage of the water available in hanging buckets in each stall.

It’s looking like we are making good gains toward adjusting their attitude about coming inside the barn during harsh conditions.

Compared to last winter, they are certainly giving us a much less “frosty” reception to the opportunity.

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Written by johnwhays

September 29, 2022 at 6:00 am

Advance Preparation

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While people in Florida have been preparing in advance for the threat of hurricane Ian, yesterday we took a first step in preparing for cold weather that will be impacting our lives in the weeks and months ahead. We’ve been planning for a while to try something new to see if we could adjust our horses’ attitudes about the inside of the barn. The last time we put them inside the stalls during harsh weather they were none too happy about it. More precisely, downright panicky over it.

The weather yesterday morning served up added inspiration for executing our plan by presenting our first confirmed frost of the season.

Didn’t really see that coming. The air temperature was 37°F up at the house. That much colder down the hill, obviously.

On a perfectly sunny morning, we opened access to the barn to let the horses freely explore on their own initiative while we lingered nearby to provide a calming presence. With the four stalls all open and stocked with food and water, they had a chance to come inside and check out the entire space or step in a stall for a nibble, yet they could also go right back outside whenever they wished.

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There was plenty of apprehension and a few instances of being startled but overall they behaved as well as we hoped and inspired us to continue the exercise many more times in the days ahead. It’s a little akin to having four bulls in a china shop to have them loosely meandering in the cramped space around the stalls. Mix was the only one to figure out there was something to eat in the stalls and grabbed a mouthful of feed before quickly darting back outside to munch. Then she came back in and repeated the routine a couple times.

Any quick movement from one horse triggers all the others to follow suite which is a little nerve wracking when suddenly they all have to make it through a narrow door at once.

They were obviously unsure about what we were up to and wary about the strange access we had granted. We are hoping their uncertainty will diminish with future iterations of the drill. Eventually, we will want to get them used to coming inside during darkness since that is often the situation when we end up bringing them in during stormy or super cold winter weather.

As often as possible in the days ahead, we hope to allow them to come and go as they please inside the barn in hopes of creating and strengthening feelings of comfort with being in the stalls.

Back when we had the Arabian horses our experience was completely different. Those four would line up and beg to be allowed in during nasty weather and seemed thrilled to each have their own protected spaces with unchallenged access to food and water.

I’m not expecting to achieve a change to that level from our rescued Thoroughbreds, but just getting to a point where they don’t show signs of triggered PTSD when we bring them inside during bad weather will be a great relief.

I like being prepared in advance, just in case we experience any bitter storms this winter.

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Written by johnwhays

September 28, 2022 at 6:00 am

Strolling

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Words on Images

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Written by johnwhays

September 27, 2022 at 6:00 am

Changes Underway

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There is no denying the trend that is underway. Our trees are beginning to reveal what their true autumn colors will be as the change inches toward its peak.

Will it be a week or several? Time will tell. We often get hit with strong winds just when the colors are about to be their best, which knocks much of the glory to the ground sooner than we want. Yesterday’s wind wasn’t as dramatic as I feared. Brought down more twigs and sticks than leaves, probably because not many leaves have changed yet.

I walked past the willow tree in the paddock and realized that I’d only seen a horse eating a branch one time yet the bottom of the branches end perfectly at the height they can reach. They are keeping it trimmed. Look at the willow tree in the background to see the difference of one beyond their access.

We gave up trying to protect the one in the paddock and didn’t expect to see any new leaves on the branches this summer so it has already outlived our expectations. The horses chew on the bark and roots in our presence, but I guess they wait until we aren’t around to prune the growing branches.

I think they will miss it when the tree no longer provides much in the way of shade. We have been trying to nurse along some new shade trees we transplanted just beyond the paddock fence but they won’t be providing much shade until a decade from now. I mean, if they even survive this first-year shock of having been moved.

We’ll find out next summer whether any of them might have a future of someday adding colors to our glorious autumn seasons.

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Written by johnwhays

September 26, 2022 at 6:00 am

Outstretched Arms

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As if reaching for a hug or stretching to embrace the world before me, arms wide and heart open, I stand and gaze up toward the sky with lyrics from all my favorite songs strolling around in my increasingly foggy memory bank.

Can it be so hard
To love yourself without thinking
Someone else holds a lower card?

Free to Be, 1977 Bruce Cockburn

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Holding a sense of wonder has got to be one of the great secrets of living an enlightened life. Hah! Brings to mind the great darts episode of Ted Lasso:

“Be curious, not judgemental.”

In which the main character apparently misattributes the quote to Walt Whitman.

What does the world hold for me today? It’s mostly blue sky now but that’s changed twice already since I woke up a half-hour later than usual this morning. As I was getting Delilah into her harness for her morning stroll through our woods, the sun was shining brightly into our front entrance. I grabbed my sunglasses and off we went into the not-too-cold morning air.

Halfway through the woods on our way around toward the barn to feed the horses, I fumbled to stash my sunglasses in a vest pocket. The sky was filled with clouds.

Now the clouds have disappeared again, about as fast as they had shown up a couple of hours ago.

Last night’s weather forecast for today promised high winds but they haven’t kicked up here yet. I’ve left the barn doors closed in anticipation of avoiding the dusty turmoil that blustery days can kick up in there.

Here’s to being open to whatever insights the universe happens to provide for our further enlightenment on a sunny Sunday with no firm commitments demanding our time or attention.

I’m feeling a certain pull to lay down and stare up at the clouds while listening to a random shuffle of my music library.

Imagine that.

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Written by johnwhays

September 25, 2022 at 10:38 am