Relative Something

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

Archive for April 2020


leave a comment »


Words on Images



Written by johnwhays

April 30, 2020 at 6:00 am

Luck Ends

with 4 comments

Our surprising run of luck with keeping our latest eight free-range chickens in the wilds of rural Wisconsin farm country ended yesterday in a very similar fashion to our first attempt a couple of years earlier. In the waning hours of daylight, when Cyndie went out to close the chicken door on the coop, there were only three hens on the roost.

A cursory survey of the surroundings turned up one body and one pile of feathers. No other clues were found.

Some predator or predators had a good meal last night. It, or they, made off with four gorgeous hens.

It was a real joy while it lasted. Unfortunately, it is not joyous at all when lives come to an end. The cycles of natural life can be harsh.

The unwelcome drama made for a pretty crummy end to an otherwise rainy, gloomy day.

And then there were three…



Written by johnwhays

April 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Not Knowing

with 2 comments

If only we knew. Have I been infected? Do I have antibodies? Will illness strike someone I know? Will the economic depression last very long? Will the food supply chain normalize? Will hospitals near me become overrun? When I get the virus will I have no symptoms, or will I need to be hospitalized? Will there be a second wave?

Thus far, the COVID-19 pandemic has barely impacted my life. I could avoid contributing to the oversaturation of media information on the topic and only write about home projects and the weather as if there is no life-altering virus outbreak disrupting the world all the while. I’d prefer that, actually. But the reality is, there is an undulating ripple that is disturbing the universal foundation of how everything used to work, which makes pretending there isn’t seem conspicuously disingenuous.

Of greater distress to me than not knowing the answers to all the questions in my first paragraph is the growing reality that I no longer have plans on the calendar for going out with friends or family for dinner to celebrate events, or for going to see live music performances, or to go to the lake this summer, or take a week off work to go biking and camping with friends.

We don’t know what we are going to be doing next week, next month, all summer, or next year. That puts a real crimp in the realm of feeling hopeful and inspired.

It’s just not very sexy to replace that kind of hope with the more realistic desires of hoping we all get through this alive and with some semblance of our incomes, assets, and health still intact.

I struggle with a little guilt over feeling like I would prefer to just get the virus and be forced to stay home and do nothing for two weeks just so I could have a few days of certainty and also a little justification for allowing myself to lay in bed until I honestly didn’t want to anymore.

I’m tired. I don’t want to simply appreciate the sunlight shining on the newly blossoming flowers. Dewdrops on the grass. Pond frogs starting to sing again.

I don’t want to meditate on the zen of not knowing.

Well, maybe I do want a little of that meditation, especially in place of hearing one more government briefing about how they are going to ramp up testing or whether or not it is wise to speculate about injecting disinfectant that works on hard surfaces into human bodies.

Is it possible to inhale UV light? That might work.

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be sarcastic.

I feel for those who suffer every day with the fear of getting infected and for the people who are already suffering significant financial disruptions. As well, for those who are needing to work long hours for days and weeks on end at higher risk of infection to care for seriously ill patients.

Here’s to achieving the art of finding peace with not always knowing.



Written by johnwhays

April 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

First Cut

leave a comment »

For some reason, surrounded by more simultaneous projects than I can keep track of, yesterday I decided to do something that wasn’t on the list: mow some grass. It was earlier in the year than I usually choose to mow, but it was something I could just get done while quickly making the place look better. Cleaned up the leaves nicely.

That’s just a way to not say that I’m bugged by an inability to finish taking out all the trees that have been marked for removal by the DNR forester so long ago I’ve lost track. That whole project is conflicting because I’d rather be planting trees than cutting them down. It is also daunting due to the large number of trees in multiple locations with red dots painted on them.

Compared to that extensive lumberjacking exercise, sitting on the lawn tractor while spiffing up a few of our lawn grass areas was easy picking.

Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get sidetracked after the mowing by attempting to remove several of the last piles of downed wood from Saturday’s effort, which ultimately usurped plans to make big headway on the produce garden terracing.

The intended quick effort to remove two of the heaviest sections of downed tree trunk ended up killing valuable time while I fought a losing battle with the winch cable on the ATV. I allowed the cable to unspool too far and it came off the winch. Unfortunately, I had upsized that cable because the previous cable kept breaking when used with the snowplow blade.

The bigger diameter cable doesn’t fit well in the hole of the winch spool hub, so my hasty attempts to re-secure it were repeatedly foiled. In the end, I temporarily rigged it to accomplish the immediate task after multiple iterations and we were able to move that wood into the barn. I’d like to let those pieces dry out for use in undetermined future sculpting projects.

It just took three times as long as it should have.

We think the tree was an American Hornbeam or Hop Hornbeam and may have some burl adding bulges to the otherwise muscle-looking features of the trunk.

I think it will present some interesting visuals when carved and sanded.

I’ll have a hard time figuring out where to make a first cut on that beauty when the time comes after a year of seasoning.



Written by johnwhays

April 27, 2020 at 6:00 am

Breaking Point

leave a comment »

How far can things stretch before they break? The one sure way to find out is when the “thing” in question actually breaks. I’m inclined toward not discovering this in most cases, and as a result, try not to stretch the limits of unknowns that could involve harm.

It’s weird to watch the number of people who are choosing to march together in protest over having businesses forced to shut down and people commanded to shelter in place. Have they honestly reached their breaking point? Something tells me that would be a poor use of the descriptor.

For the most part, I avoided breaking anything I didn’t intend to break yesterday while pretending to be a lumberjack, although I did suffer a significant contusion just above my right knee. Wood is really heavy. Really, really heavy. A tree that didn’t seem all that large tipped precisely in the direction I intended, but at the last moment when the upper branches reached the ground, it caused the trunk to swiftly roll back toward me and smack my leg.

I was able to cut the smaller trees straight through with a single swipe, such that I am right beside them as they respond. Sometimes they lay down on their own, other times the trunk shifts and lands upright on the ground with the high branches held up by surrounding limbs. The tree that got me was just a bit bigger, so I smartly cut a notch on the front side and made a slot on the backside for the hinge technique of felling trees.

There was one important next step I forgot where I’m to swiftly move away when the tree starts to tip.

I stretched the safety rules, but luckily this time, not to a breaking point.

Out of the many trees toppled yesterday, I only had one get hung up on a nearby three so solidly that we couldn’t pull it down. I cut the leaning trunk to separate the upper portion from the base but that didn’t do anything about the limb that was tightly nestled deep in the “Y” of the standing tree.

Using the skills I learned from my brother, Elliott, I tossed a weighted line into the branches in order to pull a rope through. Cyndie and I took turns trying to pull in every direction, but nothing was going to change that perfect catch-point of the two trees. I headed back to the shop for the pole-chainsaw.

It wasn’t long enough to reach the critical point from the ground, but I was able to trim and bring down the bulk of the tree.

I was reaching the breaking point of my tolerance for dealing with that blasted tangle of branches and called it a day.

There is a terrace wall construction project that is in need of attention.

Counting my blessings that sheltering at home for us does not mean staying inside an apartment or our house…



Clearing Branches

leave a comment »

For almost a year the branches lay in the section of woods beside our driveway, between the house and the barn. They were from a large oak tree that was already misshapen by previous storm damage. The lopsided section that had mostly survived the first incident many years before, tipped over about two stories high and required professional help to bring down the rest of the way.

I had the tree service do the minimum work of bringing the tree to the ground, but nothing more. We could do the rest.

Talk is cheap.

There was a lot of work left to be done, which is why it has taken almost a full year to come close to finishing the dispatching of all those logs and branches away from the scene. Yesterday, in the last days before the woods will become thick with green leaves, Cyndie and I finally cleaned up the area where the debris was spread.









And we are not even done yet. There remain many standing trees with red paint on them which the DNR forester marked as threatening to the health of larger oaks around them.

Today’s inspiration is to cut those down and use the biggest sections to replace the creosote-soaked fence posts in our garden terrace walls. It will mean the wall won’t last as long since the tree trunks will rot sooner than the fence posts, but we think they will last long enough to allow collecting rocks for reinforcement over time.

I know cutting more trees down will create a lot more branches that need to be dealt with, but while we are in that mode I’m hoping momentum will keep progress flowing and not leave them laying in place for a whole year.

The challenge will be in splitting time between working on the garden terraces and clearing the new piles of branches created.

This will not be a one-day project, we know that much.



Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2020 at 8:57 am

Russian Technician

leave a comment »

I finally figured it out. Our cat has a gift like that Russian sleep clinic technician and now everything makes sense. I now understand her crazy obsession of pummeling us with kneading paws in the early morning darkness when we least desire her affectionate attention. Pequenita is the Russian sleep tech from Cyndie’s tales of being tested in a sleep lab years ago.

First, she was told to stay awake for ten minutes while wearing the cap of countless wired sensors. Cyndie describes looking out a window and around the room to pass the time. Looking at a magazine. How hard is it to stay awake for ten minutes? Then the grumpy countenanced Russian technician’s voice came over the speaker and told her to wake up.

“I’m not asleep.” she claims to have said.

But, she was. He saw her fall asleep in about 30 seconds. He made her try again. Multiple times over the 24-hour period of testing, they played that little game. She says she failed every time. What startled her was that she felt like she succeeded every time. She didn’t think she was falling asleep.

This discrepancy of perception worked both ways with her sleep cycle. The objective is to have the patient stay awake when it is time to be awake, and stay asleep when it is time to sleep.

In the morning, Cyndie describes her battle with the Russian technician’s voice over the intercom.

“You need to get up now because you are awake.” His words grabbed her attention.

“I’m not awake. I’m still sleeping.”

“No, you’re not. I can see your brain waves.”

This guy knows what sleeping brain waves and awake brain waves look like. It’s what he does. He could clearly see when her brain woke up.

I don’t think Pequenita is perceiving our brain waves, but I think she detects that same moment when our brains wake up, yet we think we are still sleeping. That is why her treading paws on our heads is so annoying. We are trying to remain asleep. She knows that we are not still sleeping.

I think it is our breathing that she detects. Even though we have no intention of waking up yet, there are moments in the sleep cycle when we transition out of deep sleep to what I would describe as semi-conscious. For me, it is often occurring when one of my arms has fallen incredibly numb and I need to switch positions. There is also the very obvious situation of a full bladder, which I am extremely grateful to be alerted to so I can remedy while maintaining dry sheets. Sometimes, it is a result of a vivid dream experience.

My first guess is that Pequenita hears the change in our breathing as our brains wake up. I expect our body movements are another easy clue.

When she steps on our heads in the early morning hours before we want to wake up, I now think of her as our own little ornery Russian sleep technician letting us know our brains are no longer asleep.



Written by johnwhays

April 24, 2020 at 6:00 am