Relative Something

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

Inside View

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Justifiably so, most pictures of trees in autumn are from beyond the forest where the view can include the variety of brilliant colors glowing from entire trees. Yesterday, Delilah and I paused on a walk through our woods so I could capture the view of early autumn from within the trees.

There are plenty of green leaves still attached to branches but the forest floor is already carpeted by a new batch of recently fallen leaves. The onset of fall is first noticeable by the leaves that fall on our trails, before the ones that start turning colors up in the branches.

I find myself needing to put effort toward consciously noticing this IS autumn. The early phases of this transition beyond summer are just as much a part of my favorite season as the later phases when branches are bare and mornings frosty.

Earlier in the week, Cyndie captured her shadow visible on the trunk of a tree that was glowing orange with a spot of just-risen sunlight appearing through the forested landscape behind her.

It may be the last week of September but the grass on our property is growing like it’s still mid-summer. It is becoming common now that I end up mowing grass and mulching fallen leaves all at the same time.

It bothers me a little bit that I am not shocked that 80-degree temperatures are forecast for the next few days.

Just like the fall season IS here right now, so is global warming and all the effects scientists have long predicted would occur if humans didn’t reduce the creation of greenhouse gasses at the rate that has grown steadily since the beginning of industrialization.

Fall colors and hot temperatures are an odd combination for my mind to associate.



Written by johnwhays

September 25, 2021 at 9:37 am

Long Approach

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Cyndie was walking Delilah on the perimeter trail and paused to take a picture of the latest version of fall colors developing along our landscape. Then the horses noticed her. Cyndie kept taking pictures of the next few moments.

“Hello there!”

Of course, it was Mix and Swings who approached to see what Cyndie was up to. Light and Mia just kept grazing where they were.






Written by johnwhays

September 24, 2021 at 6:00 am

Middle Two

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As long as I’ve set off on the topic of featuring the horses residing with us since April, I would be remiss to stop at only the youngest and oldest. In the middle are Zodiacal Light (Light) and The Yellow Sheet (Momma Mia).









These two chestnuts prefer each others’ company more than hanging with the other two horses. At the same time, when we moved Swings and Mix inside the barn for their turns with the vet for teeth work, Light and Mia became very unsettled at the separation, whinnying and hurriedly moving about.

In addition to similar coloring, they share equal subserviency to Mix’s demonstrations of dominance over them, accepting the situation with little complaint.

The easiest way to tell them apart is by the markings on their faces. Light has a “round star and stripe” and Mia sports an “irregular stripe.” We usually need to wait for them to turn around to look at us before we are sure which horse is which.

Mia is a little smaller than Light and she’s the older of the two. Born in California in February of 2000, Mia is about 63 in comparative human years.

Sometimes I think she looks older than Swings. Mia reminds us of our previous horse, Dezirea for her acceptance of the lowest position in the hierarchy of the herd and for being quick to react startled by many things.

Light was born in British Columbia in the spring of 2003. She shows a bit of caregiver trait in looking after the sensitivities of the other horses. She was actually rescued twice from kill pens, one time with a foal at her side.

Light and Mia are the perfect middle two for the herd, creating a wonderful balance of four different horses that together project a precious equine energy.

The rescue organization, This Old Horse, did a masterful job of selecting them as good candidates for our land when we expressed interest in the possibility. It’s been only five months that these horses have lived with us and with each passing day they seem more and more comfortable with the situation.

I think it would be fair to say the same thing about us.



Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

Swings Photographed

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I didn’t set out to capture portraits of all the horses the other day. Moments after capturing the image of Mix that I posted yesterday, I turned to find Swings uphill from where I was standing. I had to change my position a couple of times to remove my shadow from the frame. The result provided a shadow of Swings that, for me, makes up for the other aspects of the shot I don’t like so much.

The background robs some of the definition her outlines deserve but I’m not discarding the image just because of that.

I like the way her shadow stands up against the wall behind her.

I like how the shadow appears to have its own personality.

I like how the outline of the head of the shadow is better defined than her actual head.

I like how Swings’ physical features and coloring come through looking totally defiant of her actual age.

Swings’ full Thoroughbred racing name is “Gate Swinger.” She was born in Kentucky and started racing as a two-year-old. Over her four years of running she earned $116,812. Swings is currently 26-years-old. That is approximately 75-and-a-half in human years. She is the oldest of the four now living with us.

When the horses arrived at Wintervale last April, one of the things we noticed about Swings was anxiety that led her to pace back and forth along a short distance of the paddock fence, from the barn overhang to the gate through which they arrived. At one point, I tried walking with her from outside the fence. She gave me a look like I was weird, but kept pacing.

I changed my tactic and switched to walking opposite her direction, back and forth so we passed each other in the middle. It caused her to give up for a while, but then she soon returned to pacing. I saw the other horses occasionally interrupt her pacing, as if to break the spell she was under.

After a few days her anxiety and that habit of pacing seemed to dissipate. Now she seems like the calmest of the four of them. As the eldest mare, she could easily take the role of herd leader because she presents herself as the most regal, but she doesn’t show a need to hold that complete dominance over all the others.

In fact, the order of hierarchy among the herd is a little complex. Swings will take over Mix’s feed pan in a gesture of dominance and Mix holds command over both Light and Mia, but Light is able to move Swings off her pan without any fuss.

The average life expectancy of Thoroughbreds is 25-28. Swings looks so good and has settled into such a zen-like calmness now that we will be very surprised if she doesn’t thrive well beyond the average range.

I will have plenty of opportunities to capture a picture of her that properly reveals how gorgeous all her features really are.



Written by johnwhays

September 22, 2021 at 6:00 am

Mix Photographed

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I didn’t set out to write about Mix today. It’s just that I took this picture of her over the weekend that I really like looking at and I wanted to use it in a post.

There is no specific story to go along with this image. It was early in the morning and the sun had just risen over our horizon. The horses had finished chomping their servings of feed and she was probably contemplating what to do next. As Mix turned her head, this moment was captured.

I like the way the sun highlights her tail, but with the addition of the fence shadow breaking it up.

I like how she is pointed toward the open gate to the hayfield.

I like how the hayfield is illuminated by the low-angle sunlight.

I like the two directions of fence line that accent the scene.

I like how attentive her ears look.

Mix’s full Thoroughbred racing name is “Pleasant Mix.” She was born in Ontario and started racing at age three. Over her three years of running she earned $213,420. We were told all four of the horses became broodmares after they were retired from racing, but we don’t have any of those details. Mix is currently 17-years-old. That is approximately 53 in human years. She is the youngest of the four now living with us.

When the horses arrived at Wintervale last April, one of the things we noticed about Mix was how she demonstrated food aggression. When feed pans were being prepared, she would chase off the others and paw at the ground. They all continue to work on their comfort level around feed time and are showing good progress about moving beyond any issues.

Mix takes multiple deep inhales to learn people’s scent. She is now showing a propensity to be very present with whoever shows up to visit. She loves attention and demonstrates a kind of quirky sense of humor about ways to get it.

For those of you who remember our old herd leader, Legacy, there is no denying that they share a very similar appearance, both being Grays. We feel they share a little bit more than just color.

I think that is one more reason I like this picture of Mix so much. I think I see some of Legacy’s spirit coming through.



Written by johnwhays

September 21, 2021 at 6:00 am

Last Week

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First off, I gotta say the Holman’s Table restaurant at St. Paul’s downtown airport is a winner in every category. Once you get past the understandable questions of whether you are in the right place as you navigate the final turns to reach the front door, everything else is sublime, from the decor to the menu. We had a great time at brunch yesterday morning.


Last week, the news story about four elite gymnasts testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee struck a nerve. We’ve been aware of the story of their abuse by now-convicted abuser Larry Nassar for years. It’s almost too harsh to contemplate, so when the news dies down, we gladly disregard the horror.

The new investigation into the handling of the accusations by the FBI and USA Gymnastics has brought the awfulness back to the forefront. It was almost a year after learning of the accusations before the FBI opened an investigation. It is estimated an additional 70 gymnasts were abused by him during that time.

While listening to a report describing the four gymnasts needing to recount their abuse one more time last week, this thought occurred to me: Their experience was like being tortured repeatedly after they summoned the courage to report the initial abuse.

Logic tells us they are not the only abuse victims who have dealt with this.

Imagine if you suffered a terrible injury in a remote wilderness, waiting days or weeks to be found by someone, wondering if you would survive long enough for help to arrive. It’s the stuff of countless book or film dramas. Eventually, you are discovered and relief is beyond measure. It becomes the pinnacle of these dramas. You are rescued!

Now, imagine if the people who found you don’t do anything after finding you.

Picture yourself laying there for almost another year before they start planning how they will rescue you.

That is the story of the victims of Larry Nassar and every other person whose story of abuse has fallen on deaf ears.



Written by johnwhays

September 20, 2021 at 6:00 am

Brilliant Day

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The weather yesterday was perfect for a September outdoor event. A lot like the day 40-years ago today when Cyndie and I were married in a garden on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. Blue skies, warm sunshine, and tree leaves turning colors right before our eyes.

I took Delilah for a walk in anticipation of the arrival of Hays family visitors and paused on the first hill of our driveway to enjoy the fresh breeze and take in the panoramic view of the horses peacefully grazing in the hayfield. The beginnings of the rainbow of fall colors are noticeable along the horizon.

Throughout the day of visiting and gorging on delicious food, we took time for walks in the woods and visits with the horses. The herd is growing more welcoming of human presence and they all made very obvious movements to approach us as we arrived near the areas they were grazing.

I had turned off the electric fence for the day to remove that concern while larger numbers of people come around, but that change is a little confusing for the horses. We try to have our greetings happen at one of the gates to give the horses consistency but the spontaneity of yesterday’s connections had us at unusual locations along the fenceline.

At one point, a group of us made our way up to the barn overhang, hoping the horses might follow along, despite them being over the rise on the far side of the hayfield. Initially, only Light decided to make the journey back and she was rewarded with some hand-offered treats.

After a time, Mia came into view as she returned as far as the waterer before deciding to reverse direction and head back out. The two chestnuts looked as though the distance of separation between them and the other two horses was something they preferred to minimize.

Their bond with each other is still stronger than any bond with us humans.

The bond with my family is as strong as ever and we enjoyed catching up on a few details and comparing experiences and perspectives. We share a lot of traits and laughed over how much our lives and behaviors tend to resemble our parents.

After the first couple had departed, we realized our neglect in capturing a group portrait. By the end of the day, we never got around to posing for any specific group pictures. I guess we will need to get together again soon so we can make up for that oversight.

The only picture I took included the spread of scrumptious delights available for human grazing presented on the center island of the kitchen.

Today, we hop from one family gathering to another as this day of Cyndie’s and my wedding anniversary is also the day of Julian’s birth. Cyndie’s mom and brother will be joining us for a brunch date in St. Paul at Holman’s Table in a renovated control tower of St. Paul’s downtown airport to celebrate the occasions.

Happy birthday, Julian!

Happy September 19th, everyone!



Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2021 at 8:24 am

Dancing Cranes

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Cyndie is home again! She received a wonderful greeting from Delilah, got ignored by Pequenita, adored by me, and most surprising of all, warmly loved by all the horses. She said they were all behaving like the four Arabians we used to have, showing that same desire to receive attention from her.

On Friday morning, she was cleaning the waterer and heard the sound of horses snoring.

We can’t remember the last time we saw them lay down for naps while either of us was around. The serenity didn’t last for long, though.

Two sandhill cranes made an appearance in the hayfield. The trumpeting vibrato trills of sandhill cranes have been reverberating for weeks from a dry creek bed beyond our trees in a neighboring field. Yesterday, they showed up in plain sight and grabbed the attention of the horses.

Cyndie recorded from a vantage point where she could capture both the horses and the two posturing, squawking cranes. Wait for their hopping around toward the end…



Today, we host a gathering of some of my family. Siblings and kid cousins will be here for a long-overdue get-together.

We will probably remind the horses of the sandhill cranes, but without the dancing.



Written by johnwhays

September 18, 2021 at 7:00 am

Age Old

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How old is old? It’s an age-old question. For many –even though “old” can be hard to define– the famous 1964 Supreme Court opinion phrase about obscenity, “I know it when I see it” fits nicely to identify old.

Many of us know old in ourselves because we feel it.

When I was a kid, “old” was anyone older than me. That pretty much applies throughout our entire lives. Early on, it was someone who went to school during the week. Later, it was someone who had a drivers’ license.

One aging milestone that really struck me was when professional sports heroes started getting younger than me.

Back when I was frequently participating in team sports, there was an occasion at the end of a night of floor hockey when my hand ached as if I had strained it. I assumed it must have been injured during some competitive action that kept me from noticing at the time.

When we met again for the next week’s games, my hand still hurt and it struck me as odd that I wouldn’t have noticed when I injured it. After some time, with the discomfort in my hand never getting any better, I learned that what I was feeling was an arthritic joint.

A few weeks ago, when I assumed my usual plank position for my morning exercise and stretching routine, I detected pain in my left foot. My first assumption was that I must have stressed it somehow and blamed either the shoes I wear all day at work or the boots I wear when outdoors at home.

Two things: First, I couldn’t positively identify having done anything specific to bring on this kind of pain. Second, the pain hasn’t shown any sign of going away. Reminds me an awful lot of what happened with my hand.

It makes me feel old.

Not as old as everyone older than me, but certainly older than everyone younger than me.

I have to say it. It’s all relative.

For the record, these thoughts came to me between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. when I needed to get out of bed and try to walk to the bathroom to pee.

I felt really old. Age-old.



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September 17, 2021 at 6:00 am

Different Problem

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Well, the horses didn’t eat through the bales in the slow feeder boxes in one day, but they seemed to have a different problem with one of the boxes. This is what I found when I got home from work on Monday:

I wish I could have seen how they went about tipping this onto its side because it isn’t just pulled over forward. It’s too close to the wall. It is possible they pushed it backward after tipping it, except there were no drag marks anywhere. It looked like the box had been picked up, tipped forward, and then set down on its side after moving a little back toward the wall.

I reoriented the box and there’s no evidence either box has been messed with since. The one on the other side had been emptied by the end of the day on Tuesday and this one was empty when I got home from work yesterday. It doesn’t seem as though they are having any difficulty eating through the metal grate as the hay disappears all the way down to the bottom of the boxes.

Speaking of different problems, Light has a very annoying habit of stepping on the side of her feed pan and dumping the contents onto the sandy limestone screenings below. It’s not good for them to eat their feed off the sand. Ingestion of sand can build up in their intestines and cause problems.

We’ve tried putting a mat beneath her pan, but she does a pretty good job of kicking that around, too.

The other day, I sat nearby and kept a hand on her pan when she started feeding, moving it each time she picked up a leg to step onto it. I think she then just started stepping more to make a game of it.

It was a bit of a game actually because the horses are constantly flinching and moving legs in response to irritating flies. Sometimes she was stepping to shoo flies and other times she wanted to stomp on her pan.

I eventually tired of my role and left her on her own after she’d eaten more than half the serving.

As I was scooping poop in the paddock I glanced up to find she had moved over to Mia’s pan and had made quick work of flipping that one completely over.

Of course, she then set about eating any leftover pellets out of the sand.

It’s unfortunate that a little nuisance of bad habits could lead to a different problem that harms their health and well-being later on.

When Cyndie gets home, we may take our mitigation efforts to the next level and mount a feeder for Light that won’t be so easy to spill.

“Just wait until your mother gets home!”

Yeah, I’ve been using that line with all the animals for most of the week.



Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2021 at 6:00 am