Relative Something

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

Archive for April 2018

Trail Inspirations

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After a second visit on Saturday for pure maple syrup and pancakes, Cyndie enlisted the artistic energies of visiting Williams girls, Ella and Sarah, to decorate some of the new blocks before we placed them on the trail.

It’s a bit of a shame that their designs will all too quickly be subject to the abuses of plodding muddy boots and paws, but that won’t stop the creative exclamations from still offering glimpses of inspiration to passersby.

The 60 new blocks paved another 8.5 feet of sloppy trail, but we’re still going to need a lot more pallets if we want to cover the length of perpetually wet ground down there.

The picture I used yesterday to show the blocks on the trail was from October of 2016. Yesterday, Cyndie took a picture with the newest blocks in the foreground, which is actually viewing in the opposite direction from the first image.

It’s not an exact comparison, but I like seeing one next to the other.

Can you see how far in the distance the old blocks run in the picture on the right?

2016

2018

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Reminds me a little of the yellow brick road. Oh my!

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Written by johnwhays

April 30, 2018 at 6:00 am

Pallet Reuse

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You may recall that I built our chicken coop using wood predominantly gathered from pallets I salvaged at my workplace. Even though our coop is complete, the pallets keep coming. At the day-job, equipment arrives mounted to brand new pallets that the manufacturer doesn’t want returned.

I hate to imagine the wood pallets getting discarded after just one short shipping journey, so I continue to look for ways we can use them on the ranch.

One immediate need is in improving the footing on our trails where the surface is frequently such a muddy mess that you could lose a shoe if not careful.

The pallets I bring home from work have four blocks nailed on top which make it difficult to stack things on them, like bales of hay. Since that is a primary use for the pallets, my first project in reuse involves removing the blocks.

The pallets almost always arrive in sets of three, and my knack for procrastination plays out in a tendency to wait to remove the top blocks until some later time. Yesterday, being warm and sunny, turned out to be one of those later times.

Turns out our collection of pallets had grown to 15. That just so happens to mean 60 blocks, all power-nailed to the planks on the pallets. My right arm got a decent workout swinging the 3-pound hammer against the pry bar.

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Today we hope to extend the “paved” portion of muddy trail with the newly harvested blocks.

After that, the plan is to put up the temporary protective fenced courtyard around the chicken coop in preparation for the chicks first ventures out on real earth.

I wonder if a certain fox will be spying on us while we work…

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Written by johnwhays

April 29, 2018 at 10:09 am

Syrup Again

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Since moving to the country and discovering some of the local treasures around us, Cyndie has purchased pure maple syrup only once a year. It’s that time again! Just a few miles south of Ellsworth, the Stockwell family taps 35 acres of maple trees and collects enough gallons of sap to supply folks with a full year’s worth of syrup, if you have containers to hold it.

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We’ve figured out the routine and bring two 2-quart Mason jars to be placed under the spigot of the large tank and filled with the dark amber bliss every April during the S & S Sugar Bush open house pancake breakfast weekend.

It’s hard to find an event pancake breakfast that isn’t pretty darn good, be it firefighters, boy scouts, legions, or service clubs, but I gotta say the fresh, hot blueberry cakes, sausage, and pure maple syrup combination we enjoyed yesterday morning tasted about as good as I can recall ever experiencing.

Our friends Mike and Barb Wilkus accompanied us, having also joined us for the live Climate Cast at MPR Thursday night and then sleeping over to be available for the Sugar Bush open house. After the scrumptious breakfast, we took a stroll through the woods to witness the number of tapped trees that were supplying the sweet maple sap.

It is impressive to consider the hundreds of gallons of sap running up through the roots of these trees when the spring temperatures are just right —warm during the day and below freezing at night. One of the Stockwell sons described how the percent of sweetness drops in time, but his grandpa would collect the later sap for a vinegar.

The syrup open house has become so precious to us, Cyndie invited more friends to stop by today so she could go again and share the event with them, too. I reckon the delicious pancakes might have something to do with her zeal, as well.

There is another precious annual event that will be happening next week for us. For the second year in a row, Wintervale Ranch will be holding our own open house as a host site for The Labyrinth Society’s World Labyrinth Day Peace Walk. Walk as one at 1.

Around the world, at each location, people will walk and visualize peace at 1:00 p.m. in their time zones, creating a wave of peaceful energy flowing around the globe.

Cyndie has been working to spruce up our labyrinth, despite the lack of growth from the barely thawed landscape. I noticed when Barb and Mike were here and we did a moonlight walk Thursday night that the overnight freezing and daytime warm sunshine was still conspiring to tip over plenty of my rock arrangements.

It sounds like we can expect some rain showers this coming week, so maybe new growth will be exploding in spectacular glory for visitors on Saturday. If the day dawns nearly as spectacular as today, World Labyrinth Day will be a wonderful opportunity to experience the best of Wintervale Ranch.

If you are reading in the Twin Cities area, I hope you will consider joining us!

Saturday, May 5, 2018 between 12:00-3:00 p.m.  Please email cyndie@wintervaleranch.com to register and receive directions.

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Climate Forum

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Last night we attended a fascinating climate discussion at the MPR building in St. Paul, hosted by Chief Meteorologist, Paul Huttner.

I fully expected to be left in a downtrodden mood, but they actually did a fair job of offering some hope and encouragement about things that individuals can do, as well as sharing some accomplishments of young people who are getting involved to influence municipalities to take some timely action. It’s the kid’s future at stake, after all.

It has me wanting to put more effort into figuring out how we might make further progress toward utilizing renewable energy like wind and solar, in addition to the geothermal furnace we installed when we moved here. I’m also wondering about the possibility of getting a fully electric car. For the long commuting I am doing to get to work four days a week, that would feel like a most tangible change, to no longer burn gasoline and spew the exhaust.

We almost didn’t get a chance to burn fuel on the way home after the event. Upon arriving downtown, we had pulled into the first parking ramp we found near our destination. Signs indicated it was open until 10:00 on weekdays, so we felt satisfied. Unfortunately, when we returned to the building shortly before nine, it was all locked up!

After walking the full circumference in search of an unlocked door, we happened upon a back door with a security intercom. It seemed like the solution, but communication with the person was not entirely clear, and we found ourselves standing and waiting for someone who never came.

We were saved by the coincidental arrival of two police officers who were able to open the door and direct us to the elevator that led to the parking levels below ground. There were no humans around at that hour, but a machine at the exit swallowed our five dollar bill and gates automatically opened.

We gladly hustled the car onto the city streets and headed for the freeway back to Wisconsin, dumping our carbon emissions all the way home.

The data is pretty obvious folks. The climate is changing and the effects on our weather are underway.

It only makes sense to take this into account and make decisions accordingly. Not just for the immediate future, but for the lifetimes of those who will be dealing with it for the next 50-100 years and beyond.

From the “Eat local, think global” catch phrase, try this morph: Act today, with a plan for tomorrow.

And turn off the lights on your way out.

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Written by johnwhays

April 27, 2018 at 6:00 am

Deer Me

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Seriously? Just hours after posting about things that could go wrong, but might not?

Yeah.

I was barreling along at the posted speed limit on the state highway between Beldenville and River Falls in the pre-dawn darkness around 5:20 a.m. yesterday, when a deer ran right into the side of my car door. BAM!

Little did I know, a different deer running across the road in front of me just after I pulled out of our driveway ten minutes earlier, could have served as a warning. I hadn’t seen any deer on my morning commute for months before this.

After passing plenty of fields and wooded areas where deer sightings could be expected, I reached the outskirts of River Falls, where there was a steel business on the right and a cul-de-sac of houses on the left. I wasn’t expecting this activity as the road made a slight bend to the right, distracting advance visibility. A deer suddenly appeared in my headlights from the left and I reacted by pulling my foot off the accelerator pedal.

Before I could move for the brake, a second deer blasted into the door beside me with impressive force.

That was a fine ‘how do you do?’

The shock left me numb for a second and I coasted a little ways before deciding I should pull over and inspect the result of the impact. I don’t know if there were any others trailing along behind the one that hit me, but I didn’t see any more deer than the first two, and they were now out of sight.

I suspect the deer swung around after the initial contact and then smacked the back bumper for good measure. My door was covered with a fair amount of hair. Shedding season, you know.

Fortunately, no glass was shattered, and the function and seal of the door are still good. It’s going to be almost a month before my body shop can get to me. They are still backed up with appointments from ice and snowstorm damaged vehicles from the winter that didn’t want to end.

The estimator said mine was the first of the spring deer damage incidents they’ve seen this year.

Aren’t I the lucky one?

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Written by johnwhays

April 26, 2018 at 6:00 am

All There

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It’s all there. The good and the bad. Really, it’s always been that way. Disasters and human rights abuses are scattered throughout history, right along with the victories and accomplishments.

We can choose which of these we allow our attention to focus.

Wars take lives, medical advances save lives. Weather disasters destroy, ingenuity builds.

In my old life, the negative held an illogical amount of my attention. I aligned with the adage of Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

When a hard day at work feels like things went wrong just because they could, it is too easy for me to slip into a dreary doldrums of woe. It is the natural direction my mind, and subsequently my body, would tend to go. It takes a conscious effort to think otherwise.

Luckily, after receiving a diagnosis of depression and being offered treatment with education, medication, and talk therapy, I learned both the ease and the benefit of choosing to think differently.

Bad things still happen, just like they always have.

Yesterday, at work, I decided to start a new adage. My natural inclination to be pessimistic shows through a little bit, but you can see my intentions are noble.

“Anything that can go wrong, might not.”

See what I did there?

Thinking positive!

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

Hearty Impression

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What might the message be from this tree with an old wound that it is growing around in the shape of a heart?

I don’t know, but I’d like to think it is something heartwarming.

When we were cleaning out the landscaping around the back side of the house over the weekend, I discovered that a tie holding a maple sapling to a support stake was too tight and had begun constricting the tree’s growth. What a sorry sight to stumble upon; an occasion where my efforts to help a tree had ended up hurting it.

Trees seem to grow slowly, in general, but at the same time, there is a dramatic amount of activity happening in relatively short time spans. I think the trunk of that sapling has doubled in size since it was tied. I would have liked to see a time-lapse of that progress.

Just a week ago we were digging out from beneath a huge snow storm, and yesterday, on my drive home from work, I could already see the tops of tree clusters developing a green tinge from sprouting new buds. It warms my heart to know the leaves will soon be making an appearance.

Ever wonder how many leaves grow on the branches of mature trees? There are a lot of variables, but an oft-repeated average seen in the results of a Google search is around 200,000. That number makes my heart flutter like the quaking leaves of our poplar trees.

At the extension class we took last month to learn tricks of identifying trees, (did I already write about this?) we found out the thing that makes some leaves oscillate in the wind is the square shape of the leaf stem. It isn’t round, it has four flat sides.

Fun facts for people who love trees. Hopefully, that includes everyone. How could anyone with a heart, not love a tree?

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Written by johnwhays

April 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

Nice Out

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It seems like I have fallen into a heavy rotation of posts about the weather, or at least, heavier than what I’ve normally referenced since starting this blog so many years ago. Living in the country with acres to tend and animals to care for has a way of amplifying the significance of the weather, particularly when the conditions are extreme or out of the ordinary.

As we enter the last week of April, finally having warm sunshine be the order of the day is unleashing a sense of urgency for getting into the outdoor spring chores. We started first thing in the morning yesterday, building a fire outside to burn combustibles from Friday’s garage clean-up that didn’t fit in our trash bin.

While we were out on that side of the house, we also moved all our outdoor furniture back on the deck, trimmed shrubs, and raked around the landscaping.

The afternoon was focused on the labyrinth. Cyndie did some plant pruning and raking, while I busied myself with reorienting and balancing rocks that had been felled by the long winter.

I was in the woods, digging up some additional rocks, I felt something on my eyebrow that I thought was debris that had kicked up, but when it didn’t just brush away with the back of my gloved hand, I paused. Removing my glove to better reach behind my sunglasses, my bare fingers were able to extricate a tiny tick. Most likely, a deer tick.

Happy spring!

At least it’s finally nice outside.

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Written by johnwhays

April 23, 2018 at 6:00 am

Deeply Sleepy

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I mentioned in yesterday’s post about my turning the compost pile in the paddock while Cyndie brushed the horses, but I completely forgot to describe the startling incident we witnessed while there.

While we silently toiled amid the unparalleled calm of a windless spring sunny day, Dezirea was wafting off to sleep. I wasn’t paying direct attention to her as I huffed over heavy pitchfork lifting, but that changed when she suddenly jerked.

“Did you see that?” I asked Cyndie.

She had.

Dezirea was standing on the slope just beyond the overhang, facing downhill. In the warmth and serenity of the morning, she fell into a deep enough sleep that her front legs buckled. In the same way I do when my head jerks in inadvertent loss of consciousness when unplanned sleep surprises me, she startled herself back to alert.

Sort of alert, that is.

Seconds later, she did it again, except this time, she actually dropped all the ways to her knees. We both tried to encourage her to simply lay down for a serious nap.

In our thinking, we could be trusted to watch over the herd while she slept. But I can understand her hesitance. My attention was not as aware of our surroundings as it was on what I was working on directly in front of me.

Struggling to get back on her feet, instead of going down the rest of the way to the ground, Dezirea made her way around so that she was facing uphill, where she resumed the usual upright nap that horses deftly accomplish.

I didn’t take any pictures during this drama, but I do have a series of images to share. I was intending to get a shot of Hunter’s mane, which he somehow finds ways to crop short, but he picked up his head and provided these views of his munching hay, instead.

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Bon Apetit!

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Written by johnwhays

April 22, 2018 at 9:43 am

Clutter Rearranging

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With the weather finally making a turn for the better, yesterday Cyndie spoke about possibly cleaning up in the garage to find gardening tools. The May labyrinth Peace Walk is only two weeks away, and she wants to trim back the winter-kill on the plants before the big day.

I spent the morning rearranging the gigantic winter manure pile in the paddock, while she brushed the shedding horses as they munched hay. They are definitely ready to be done with their winter coats.

I hope that means they know the cold temperatures are done for the season.

After lunch, we started poking around in the garage. One thing led to another and pretty soon we found ourselves into a full-fledged spring cleaning effort. The kind that uncovers boxes of things that haven’t been touched since we moved in.

I finally got around to sweeping sawdust off the yard tools stand which had been there since 2014 when we had carpenters build the storage room in our basement. That’s four years of not bothering, for those keeping score.

They did the majority of sawing in the garage, and everything got covered in dust, but that tool stand was right in the line of fire and was buried. With all the rakes, shovels, pruners, loppers, and brushes hanging on the portable stand, the sawdust was deemed harmless and not worth the time.

My Achilles heel of order happens to be flat surfaces. After much of the garage clutter had been pulled out and sorted, Cyndie took advantage of our momentum and went after the workbench in the back corner that is a catch-all to a monumental degree.

Old fluorescent light bulbs, some associated fixtures, screws and brackets left over from purchased assemblies, a broken staple gun, boxes, bags, gloves, old shoes, metal rulers I didn’t know I had, an electronic work light I don’t remember.

It’s great to dig into all of this stuff, but the questions that lead to things landing on that flat surface in the first place still remain. Do we throw away or keep? If we keep, where to put it that will be of any value to us in the future? If we throw, how to dispose of the electronic or hazardous items than can’t go in our weekly trash bin?

Unfortunately, way too much of the stuff that we cleaned out of the garage yesterday made its way down to the shop, where the flat surfaces are now doubly cluttered.

The house garage now looks pretty nice, but it wasn’t really a great clutter busting effort in the end.

It was clutter rearranging.

But it’s a start.

We need to go prune some plants in the labyrinth. The shop clean up will be a project for another day, hopefully sooner than in four years.

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