Relative Something

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

Archive for May 2018

Spontaneous Transplantation

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Last night presented one of those moments that would unfold without us having a clue where it would ultimately lead. Thankfully, due to Cyndie’s willingness to run with it, we took a step that was long overdue.

She transplanted some volunteer sprouts of oak and maple trees.

It started with her walking the dog and me doing some work in the shop. I had the door open and some music playing. Suddenly, Delilah popped in to say hello. Cyndie paused to trim some growth around the vicinity.

While pulling weeds, she discovered the saturated ground made it easy to pull out the new tree sprouts.

We’ve been talking about transplanting trees for weeks, but never really formulated a plan on where they would go when we finally take action. Since she now had a stack of multiple beauties fresh out of the ground, it presented an urgency to decide on a new location for them.

I honestly have no idea why I didn’t come up with this before, but it hit me in an instant that planting them just outside the paddock fence would someday offer a natural shade for the horses inside the fence.

So, that’s what Cyndie did.

It will require some care to give these babies a fair chance at survival, but given the vast number of new sprouts showing up every spring, we will always have plenty of opportunities to try again, in case of any failures.

This is another thing that I would love to have done years ago, to have already taken advantage of that time for growth. The shade I’m looking forward to could be a decade away, to get the trees tall enough and filled out enough to cast a useful shadow.

It’s like our story about growing our own asparagus. People told us that it takes at least three years after planting to start harvesting stalks. For some silly reason, that information repeatedly caused us to not take action. Inexplicably, our response to something that required waiting a significant amount of time for results was to do nothing. Over and over again.

After three years, I mentioned that if we had just planted some when we first talked about the possibility, we could be harvesting already.

Then Cyndie came across the brilliant idea of not planting from seed, but buying a 2-year-old plant and burying it in the ground.

We are learning to get out of our own way.

In this regard, the spontaneity becomes our secret weapon. We will always get more progress if we just do it, and not wait for the “perfect” plan. We need to not worry so much about the possibility of failure.

My old mode of thinking involved not wanting to work hard on planting trees if they are just going to die, but I’m getting over that now. Maybe the four tries to succeed in the center of our labyrinth have softened my resistance.

We transplanted this group yesterday without any planning or preparation.

I have no idea what the result will be, but at least we have taken the required first step, thanks to Cyndie’s adventurous spontaneous effort.

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Forest View

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I’m no expert, but I’m willing to venture a guess that a tree that sprouts leaves in the spring, but can’t get them to grow any larger than the tip of a finger, is going through the slow process of dying.

I’ve been watching this tree out our bathroom window for several weeks. It is particularly noticeable because all the rest of the trees around it opened up gorgeous full-sized leaves on their branches.

That standout stalled at the earliest stage of sprouting leaves.

I’m now doubting its likelihood of catching up.

Looking out that window yesterday, it occurred to me how many months of the year that view opens deep into the wooded slope, looking across a carpet of brown fallen leaves covering the ground.

That spot is a favorite for rambunctious squirrels that put on Ninja Warrior obstacle course demonstrations, bringing Delilah to an uncontrollable outburst of window-screen destruction and flurries of loud barking in the front porch.

This time of year, that section of forest becomes an enchanting mystery. I love the darkness that develops under the canopy of shady leafed-out trees. When the sun is really bright, it makes that darkness even more intense.

Last year, in August, I posted about the Inviting Portals that beckon a visit into the benefits of breathing the forest air. I find those darkened openings irresistibly captivating.

I’m convinced that I receive equally beneficial psychological rewards simply from absorbing the glorious views of the walls of trees that tower along the edges of our forest and fields.

It’s never clear what the change from bare trees to leafy ones will bring. Branches along the trail that were overhead all winter will often surprise me with how much they droop under the added weight of leaves come spring.

After a brief, yet energized thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, some of the young trees around the house failed to hold their posture under the added weight of wetted leaves.

So, we’ve got trees with not enough leaves and trees with more leaves than they can support, but they are each an exception. The rest of the forest is as picturesque as ever now, providing views that invite and inspire.

Forest views that feed my soul tremendously.

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Written by johnwhays

May 30, 2018 at 6:00 am

Alluring

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Words on Images

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Written by johnwhays

May 29, 2018 at 6:00 am

Tall Trees

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Since it hurt too much to lift my left leg enough to do any pedaling, and it was hot as a baker’s oven outside in the sun, Delilah and I spent most of our walks yesterday in the woods. With all the leaves back in force, it feels a lot more like what I think “forest bathing” is all about.

We were breathing it in to the fullest.

At one point, I paused to marvel over some of our tall trees.

That one on the right has a lot of character. It is one of my favorites on our land.

Other than the wonderful walks in our woods, this long Memorial holiday weekend has been a bit of a bust for me.

I had hoped to put on some extended mileage in the bike saddle, especially because I was home alone. Instead, I spent a lot of time power lounging.

I didn’t even get around to mowing tall grass with the brush cutter behind the diesel tractor because the heat scared me off.

It’s growing tall enough that it looks like July out there already. With a head start like this, I’m very curious what the un-mowed areas will look like in a couple of months.

As always, it will come down to how much, and how often, rain falls.

For the time being, after that 4-plus inch deluge last week, it appears as though we are right where we want to be. The tall trees, and every other growing plant it seems, are all looking happy as ever.

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Written by johnwhays

May 28, 2018 at 6:00 am

Training Pause

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From the “no good deed goes unpunished” file, my zealous efforts of Friday produced a reward in the form of a strained muscle on the left side of my lower back. It doesn’t take much brilliance to figure out the wielding of a heavy pole saw with an engine on the low end and a spinning chain blade on the top turned out to be too much for my limited strength.

It has forced a pause in my biking and plank exercises that has altered a plan to maximize my conditioning prior to the start of The Tour of Minnesota biking and camping trip in June. Maybe it was fortuitous, because the weather has taken a harsh turn to oppressively HOT!

I am resting my painful muscle in the shade of the house. In a meager effort to be conscientious about the use of energy, I struggled to keep the house comfortable yesterday by managing open windows and closed shades. It was almost successful.

This morning, I have already closed the house up and turned on the AC. If I am going to get anything done outside today, as I slowly try to regain function, being able to return to a comfortable house will be very valuable.

I am home alone for a spell as Cyndie went to the lake place for a couple of days to contribute to the opening work-weekend. Jackie had a trip out-of-town planned before she moved in with us, so I am minding the ranch.

Delilah has been a sweetheart, allowing me to rest without constantly begging for attention. I think maybe she notices how crazy hot it is outside and her fur coat doesn’t like being out in the blazing sunshine on days like this.

Walking does seem to be good therapy for my sore muscle however, so we have made the rounds, staying in the shade of the woods as much as possible. This morning, we were rewarded with deer hoof prints on our trail that revealed the presence of a brand new fawn, based on the teeny-weeny size.

I tried to capture an accurate depiction of how tiny the little prints were, but even that doesn’t do justice to how surprisingly small they really look.

After we looped around on another trail, Delilah almost pulled my arm off when she struggled to chase some deer cutting into the woods by the labyrinth. The only view I could get was of a tail. No babies in sight.

Our next stop was the barn, to feed and clean up after horses. While we were in there, both Delilah and I noticed some shadows moving outside the front door. It was the chickens! They are expanding their territory nicely.

I’m impressed.

I’m also anxiously counting their numbers every time I come upon them. Still twelve.

Here’s hoping baby deer and baby chickens all find a way to achieve a healthy first year, and my strained muscle finds a way to heal fast enough that I can get back to biking, despite the heat.

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Written by johnwhays

May 27, 2018 at 10:40 am

Wild Life

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Lately, the night views at the coop have been dominated by the masked bandits. Luckily, despite their regular visits, there isn’t anything left out overnight to reward them.

Doesn’t prevent them from checking, just in case.

The only other (not-so) wild life we captured shots of recently was a neighbor’s cat. It sat for over ten minutes with its body facing the camera, but the head was always twisted side to side or around backwards. I don’t know why it didn’t just turn around.

I think maybe it was trying to see where that rabbit went that had been filling our memory card with pictures the previous week. That critter was pouncing back and forth across the view all night long.

The other wildness we have been enjoying was in the sky. Cyndie snapped this panorama as a thundering shower loomed large over the ranch.

I had just finished mowing and was putting the tractor in the garage when the first giant drops started slapping the ground.

It was a wild day of chores yesterday, after I squeaked in a short bike ride to start my exhausting day. Our grove of trees by the road was expanding to obscure the view of traffic coming down the hill, so I hauled out the pole chainsaw and did some highway crew style pruning.

No mercy.

Being clever, I put the battery charger on the truck before heading out on my bike ride earlier, thinking I might want to load the cuttings into the pickup so I wouldn’t have to work on chipping them near traffic.

There is a phantom load draining the battery that we haven’t been able to identify. I have finally heeded advice from a smart thinking friend and purchased a switch to protect the battery. After all the branches were loaded in the back, I parked the truck at the shop to install the device while the battery had some life to it.

I bought a unit that will automatically switch out the battery when it senses the voltage drop to a certain point. To reconnect, we simply press the brake pedal or toggle the headlights and the switch re-engages the battery to start the truck. This way, we don’t have to pop the hood and open or close the switch every time we use the truck.

We never know how long an interval it will be between uses, and both Cyndie and I are prone to forgetting just this kind of occasional detail.

With the installation complete, I moved on to the lawn tractor to finish the yard that I started Thursday afternoon, before that round of all-night thunderstorms. On my bike ride in the morning, I saw a lot of farm fields with brand new lakes in them. Our rain gauge indicated over 4-inches had fallen overnight.

Low on gas, and running out of time before the next thunderstorm, I wildly hustled to the arena to mow that, too.

By the time Cyndie and I called it a day, the clock had reached 7:30 p.m.

Another wild day in our wild life.

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Don’t Try

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We’ve been going about it all wrong. I’ve figured out a new way to grow grass. Simply don’t try.

It’s along the same lines as reverse psychology. It seems totally unlikely, but trust me. It works.

Here’s how you can do it:

Get a bunch of bales of grass hay. Four or five hundred worked well for us. Move them from one place to another, and then sweep all the leftover debris onto a hard gravel surface.

Next, drive back and forth across that surface over and over. Also, relentlessly bake that spot in the afternoon sun.

Never water it beyond what happens to fall from the sky as rain.

It doesn’t hurt to repeatedly process thoughts about not wanting grass to grow in the gravel area. You might even order a second load of rocky class-5 gravel to spread over the area. It’s what we did, and look at the results we got:

That grass is growing in the driveway where we don’t want it, many times better than it grows in areas where we actually want lawn grass. In addition, it is all grass. No weeds. In the lawn, many spots have more weeds and other odd ground cover growing than we have grass.

But not on the driveway. Noooooo. Just wonderful blades of grass there.

It’s not even simply a matter of not trying; we have actively sought to discourage grass from growing there, but to no avail.

I really don’t like mowing our gravel sections of driveway.

Unfortunately, I can’t avoid it. The grass grows too well there.

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Written by johnwhays

May 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

Small Difference

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Life is not as bad as it seems, and rarely as good as we might perceive. Frankly, I have this peculiar notion that the difference between best and worst outcomes is a much narrower range than we are groomed to believe.

There are abundant examples of both good and bad situations simultaneously playing out all over the world through the course of history. Sometimes they are occurring on opposite sides of the globe, but in varying degrees of intensity, good and bad things can happen in the very same place, even at the same time.

I’ve noticed in myself an increasing susceptibility to waves of gloom over news about the state of our planet and about the state of democracy. Each new report is picking up and adding to my gloom from the day before.

I have yet to master the same art for the news of good things in the world. I can’t seem to get the happy stories to compound into greater joy with each successive telling.

In my reality, the gap between the two is small, so resolving the discrepancy doesn’t need to be some Herculean effort. In the grand scheme of things, nurturing the positive is a very “do-able” feat.

Last night, Cyndie and I watched Carrie Fisher‘s “Wishful Drinking (2010) documentary one-woman show based on her memoir. Obviously, it triggered something that got me thinking about good and bad, and mental health. 

Hearing the way Carrie told her stories gave me the impression that she was a writer, which, in fact, she was. Maybe that is one reason the show resonated for me as much as it did. Of course, I am also a sucker for stories of recovery and self discovery.

A lot of her life stories sounded bad, although she delivered them with a dose of humor, and glimpses of moments that were good. I thought, we could all probably make our stories into a show like this. The difference however, is that hers comes across as something of an inside joke which we are all in on, because her life as a daughter of two celebrities and her iconic acting role in the movie “Star Wars” are public knowledge.

We hear her stories of situations we already know about, only from the actual inside perspective.

That aspect wouldn’t exist with my one-man show based on my non-celebrity memoir.

After the movie, I came downstairs from our loft and spotted this:

Really? Cyndie bakes amazing chocolate chip cookies on Tuesday, and a night later, pulls out some Oreos to eat instead.

I look at that picture, and all I see is good right next to bad.

In my perspective as a person seeking to manage a sugar addiction, the difference between the two is actually small.

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Written by johnwhays

May 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

New Family

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Since the day our friends George and Anneliese moved out to a new home they built in Princeton, MN, our basement “apartment” has been mostly unoccupied. Meanwhile, we have been searching for new sitters to care for our animals and house (needing to replace the services of both McKenna and Shelby, who have each moved away to their next life opportunities) to provide cover for times we escape to the lake place or embark on other exotic travels.

Cyndie advertised our search in two primary locations: our veterinary office in Stillwater, and the University of WI, River Falls Ag programs.

I did occasional scans of Craig’s List for pet sitters, and thought I struck gold when a perfect sounding post showed up just an hour prior to one of my visits. She didn’t want to travel very far, though, and told us we were out of her Hudson, WI range of service.

Then Jackie called. She was in school at River Falls and was hoping to find a room for the summer. Jackie has the horse skills we required and boards her own horse just six miles to the east, in El Paso, WI.

In a cosmic twist we never saw coming, when she stopped by to meet us the very first time, Cyndie recognized her date who got out of the car with her. Marcus is the new farrier who has been caring for our horses in the time since George moved.

When Jackie mentioned to Marcus that she was going to visit Beldenville to meet Cyndie, he responded that he knew a Cyndie in Beldenville. They quickly realized she was the same person, and Marcus came along for the introduction.

Some wonderful synchronicity there.

Cyndie and Jackie worked out terms and a rough schedule, and now we have a new housemate added to our cast of characters.

It has been rewarding to watch Delilah and Jackie’s relationship develop as they spend more time together.

In a very short number of days, Jackie has become the latest new member of our ever-expanding family. It’s a bonus that Marcus knows her, too.

We feel lucky to have met them both, and to have their help caring for our horses. And, in Jackie’s case, our home and other animals, too!

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Written by johnwhays

May 23, 2018 at 6:00 am

Same Result

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Last fall I bought a new yard tractor to mow grass. It’s a level up from the model we took on from the previous property owners, with a much sturdier mowing deck and improved steering. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to use it a couple of times, I’m able to judge its worth.

Performance is improved in all areas except one. Despite the inclusion of hose fittings to wash the underside of the deck with water, it collects grass and needs cleaning just the same as the previous one.

Since it was new, I decided to give the suggested water cleaning steps a chance, despite everything I’ve heard debunking the method. It just seems wrong to be getting the nooks and crannies of metal parts wet.

The results were as underwhelming as I’d expected.

Having mastered removing the deck for cleaning on the old mower, I figured it would be just as easy on this one, allowing me to turn it over to see the results directly.

In total neglect of checking any instructions, I boldly forged ahead to remove clips at the attachment points. Right away I realized, there was no handy lever to release tension on the belt. That didn’t stop me from getting it apart, but I knew it was going to complicate getting it all hooked up again after I was done.

Flipping the deck quickly revealed the gross limitations of the water method for cleaning. That might work if all you did was cut a short length of grass blades from a lush lawn. My reality involves a lot more weeds, small branches, dirt, and dust, combined with occasional areas of thick, too-long grass which packs on a complex brick of debris to the underside of the deck.

The sprayed water didn’t come close to being effective enough.

When it came time to reattach the deck, I made multiple futile attempts before finally wrestling all the clips in place at all the attachment points. All that remained was to get the belt over the pulley.

No matter what contortion of positions I tried, I didn’t have enough hands or leverage to muscle that belt in place. I knew there must be a logical procedure I wasn’t figuring out.

Yeah. This is the part where I went inside and consulted the manual again.

Surprise! There is a little square hole on the arm of the tensioning pulley intended for the post of a ratchet driver that would allow for enough leverage to get the belt over the engine pulley. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?

I also learned that I had removed two clips too many, which complicated the task unnecessarily.

So, cleaning the deck ends up being the same result as the old yard tractor, but properly informed, it will ultimately involve an easier process of removal and re-attachment.

Overall, I’m happy to report being very satisfied with the upgrade!

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Written by johnwhays

May 22, 2018 at 6:00 am