Relative Something

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

Archive for May 2020

Different Tracks

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Our grass is growing fast and the ground is saturated from recent rains so I decided to use the power trimmer to mow areas with standing water to avoid creating muddy tire tracks. While focused on the grass in front of me, I was oblivious to what was happening behind me.

As I shuffled along at a slow pace, I was leaving muddy tracks behind me. Ha ha! Oh well.

I trimmed along the paddock fence from the outside and then stepped inside to clean up around the overhang. With no horses grazing the paddocks, the grass in there is growing pretty tall.

It feels very satisfying to transform the place from looking abandoned to freshly trimmed. It’s only partially abandoned.

This morning we are abandoning the property for a few hours to attend a socially distanced graduation ceremony for Cyndie’s niece, Althea, on her family’s driveway in Edina.

I appreciate the attempt to accomplish some traditions amid the upside-down turmoil of a global pandemic and civil unrest.

In the middle of my afternoon of mowing yesterday, I claimed a block of time to watch coverage of the launch of the manned Dragon capsule as it happened. In the evening, I watched the news broadcasts of police and national guard soldiers arresting violators of the curfew put in place to quell the looting and riots that have unfolded amid the protesters who are fed up with police abuse and unchecked murder of black citizens.

Remember when kneeling during the national anthem was the attempt to express protest over police misconduct?

While I am making different tracks in our wet areas, protesters are seeing a need to use different tactics to bring a change in the unacceptable status quo of equality being professed but not enacted.

We shall overcome, someday.



Written by johnwhays

May 31, 2020 at 8:00 am

Can’t Breathe

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Anger boiling over in the form of roiling balls of flame with no visible public servants on hand to contain the rage as daytime turns into night makes for a disturbing meditation in the moments before nodding off to sleep.

It is hard to breathe through our masks.

It is hard to breathe through the smoke.

It is hard to breathe when being choked.

It is hard to contend with the fact that all I was going to do was breathe in our forest air yesterday and beam love to the world, yet the Pentagon needed to put military police on alert as protesters ignored curfew orders and ignited numerous new fires.

Morning turns the tide and reasonable people emerge with brooms and trash bags to pick up debris in an attempt to hasten the healing of the damage done overnight.

It’s an interesting dynamic to watch the venting of angst built up over multiple generations and centuries of time followed by the immediate effort to clean up the present damage which will actually require generations of repair to remedy.

How many years of treating people of color (and women and LGBTQ and homeless and impoverished and mentally impaired human beings) with equal respect to their white counterparts will be needed to complete healing that is the dream of healthy well-meaning communities of enlightened citizens of the world?

I’m not sure I can breathe that long.



Written by johnwhays

May 30, 2020 at 8:42 am

Stress Squared

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Just when we thought the problem commanding our attention was an invisible virus contagion with potential to kill that has shut down life as we knew it, centuries of systemic oppression have boiled over in response to another murder of a black man in police custody, this time in Minneapolis.

It’s mind-numbing.

Unfathomable that so many people were present during the incident and either chose not to or were unauthorized to intervene.

My commute home yesterday took me uncomfortably close to some of the riotous protestations underway beside the freeway, but beyond a momentary slowing of traffic in the area, the worst disruption for me was hearing details of what was actually happening at that moment on the live radio coverage as I passed by.

The activity in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul was disturbingly close to where our daughter, Elysa lives.

Hearing about the transformation from protesting to arson and vandalism by some people is heartbreaking.

There is stress stacked upon stress, stacked upon stress.

It is hard to know how much influence one can have from a distance, standing among the trees of our forest amid a chorus of bird songs and frogs beckoning, sending love to all those people in the thick of things just 50 miles away to the northeast.

Today, that’s what I’ve got to offer.

I wish it could put out fires. Or, better yet, keep people from ever starting them.



Written by johnwhays

May 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Weather Delay

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The hatch was closed on the SpaceX Dragon capsule with astronauts buckled in place, but the window of acceptable weather collapsed with about 17 minutes to go on the countdown to launch. I had just mentioned to Cyndie over the phone during my commute home from work that I would miss seeing the spectacle but suggested she turn it on to watch.

A few minutes later, she called me back to report the mission was postponed. There were lightning strikes showing up inside the radius of acceptability and the stormy seas in the “if-need-to-abort-launch” landing zone were also problematic.

“Due to the weather conditions, the launch is scrubbing,” NASA wrote. “Our next opportunity will be Saturday, May 30 at 3:22pm ET.”

The good news is that their next try will be at a time I should be available to witness the historic return of U.S.-launched astronauts. I was able to see a few minutes of NASA’s live streaming coverage yesterday about three hours before launch and was thrilled over the incredible visual access provided to what felt like almost intimate moments of preparation.

From a mix of alternate camera angles switching back and forth like a scripted movie, I saw technicians’ eyes inside their hooded jumpsuits and above their face masks as they tended to the complex number of details securing Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in their seats. Watching with the sound off, I was undistracted by narration as I watched the sequence play out and the techs waited as the astronauts wiggled their hands into the sleek spacesuit gloves and tried to close the two different zippers.

Eventually, a tech reached up to assist with the last little pull. Then the two technicians swapped positions and double-checked each step the other had executed on their respective charges. The astronauts and techs exchanged fist-bumps that gave me goose-bumps.

Why, in my day <cough> all we got was Walter Cronkite talking along with occasional animated shots of what was about to happen interspersed with long-distance views of the launch pad, in grainy black & white images.

If you haven’t visited the NASA live streaming coverage before, I encourage you to check it out on Saturday afternoon. It is truly fascinating. Coverage is expected to begin around 11am ET.

Tuesday night, we had some weather delays of our own at Wintervale. Anything we expected to accomplish outside was put on hold for a series of rumbling thunderstorms that carried on through the night, leaving drainage ditches filled and flowing and the small creeks up to the brim by yesterday morning.

Sure am glad I’m not trying to plan a bike trip in this kind of weather this year.



Written by johnwhays

May 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

Pay Attention

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Attention to what? That’s a good question.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Your posture right now.
  • Who is suffering most among those you know and love.
  • The best return for your investment of time.
  • How long it has been since you voiced appreciation to someone deserving.
  • How you might help someone less deserving.
  • Your most common habitual “tick.”
  • When you sense yourself not acting in your own best interest.
  • How false information is being used for unethical advantage.
  • What it is you are actually afraid of.
  • How long it has been since you laughed and cried at the same time.
  • What you actually ate in one day that was not a healthy choice.
  • How swiftly days become weeks and weeks become months.
  • How much sleep you are getting.
  • Maintaining a healthy social distance from all others.
  • The expression on your face when not actively smiling.
  • How much of our unspoken thinking is inadvertently communicated.
  • When you find yourself unable to ask for what you need or want.
  • The power of love.



Written by johnwhays

May 27, 2020 at 6:00 am

Three Trees

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Cyndie sent me this image yesterday and what caught my eye was the combination of three of the trees we have planted in our time here were all in the frame.

On the left is a crab apple in blossom.

On the right is a hydrangea that Cyndie planted beside her labyrinth. When we moved the gazebo last year, that tree needed to be relocated to the opposite perimeter.

In the background is a maple that we moved from beneath one of our big old maples a short distance away to the east. That little maple offspring is now all by itself in the center of the labyrinth.

All three trees have gone through a lot in these new locations. The hydrangea is showing some green this spring, but we think it is a last gasp before the end. We were thrilled to see it didn’t appear to look shocked after the last transplantation, but then, later in the summer, a limb dropped off and revealed a spongy wound that showed little sign of healthy life.

I didn’t expect to see any leaves this spring, so what did sprout has me curious to see what another year might bring.

The most rewarding of the three is that maple. It was our fourth try to get a maple of that size to survive the trauma of the move to the middle of the labyrinth. I like to imagine what it will look like in a hundred years when it towers over the circuitous garden.

I hope to live long enough to see what a 20-year-old tree looks like in the labyrinth.

In the meantime, we are thoroughly enjoying all of them, just the way they are each day.



Written by johnwhays

May 26, 2020 at 6:00 am

Not Real

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Apparently we are all in this together in these challenging times. That’s the message coming through the airwaves and print ads day after day. Doesn’t really feel like it to me. There are an awful lot of people who are voicing an interest in self over others. I continue to argue that all times are challenging in one way or another, so repeatedly echoing that trope gets annoying.

In the face of the ever-present risk of COVID-19 virus infection spread, we have avoided doing a lot of things. Today is the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S. and we have not hit the road to the lake place this year.

I spent yesterday trying to mow our amazing crop of dandelions. The ability of those dandelion stems to survive the spinning blade that severs all the green leaves and grass blades around them is difficult to fathom.

Staying at home provides a little extra time to peruse the news floating around the interweb and I have found a new favorite morsel of absurdity in the Associated Press page of “Not Real News.” It’s a look at what didn’t happen each week.

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media.

For those of you who tour Facebook and Twitter, I recommend you review claims being shared there which raise your ire might turn out to be untrue. There are multiple cases where photos used to make a point have been manipulated, often using images that are years removed from what they are intended to portray.

I do not participate in the primary social media apps so I don’t learn about some of these claims until finding them in the AP article.

Really? There is a circuit board for a 5G installation that has COVID-19 printed on it? Um, no.

A couple of the claims are aiming to make government officials and policies look more inept or corrupt than they really are. Is it much of a stretch to imagine the source of such noisy disruption to our actual news information could be coming from foreign governments? No.

Let’s all be in this together and none of us allow any of the flaky claims to spread. We want the disinformation to all shelter in place!

Be safe out there.



Written by johnwhays

May 25, 2020 at 9:02 am

Breakfast Buddy

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It was only a short time ago that Cyndie was visited for a day by a wild roughed grouse while gardening. A couple of days ago, we had a wonderful sighting of a brightly colored oriole in a pine tree outside our window, which is a rare event in the more than seven years we have been here.

Now, we have an iridescent blue-black starling with a very yellow beak who, for the past two days, is showing up to have breakfast with our chickens.

Arriving this morning in a branch overhead, and then making its way down to partake of the grain in the pan on the ground, the chickens only mildly appeared to question the return of this unlikely visitor.

Maybe birds are picking up on these unprecedented extraordinary times of the pandemic and seeking to make an extra connection with others around them.

Wouldn’t surprise me a bit, except for the fact the birds probably aren’t aware the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is infecting humans around the world.

Maybe it has more to do with people slowing down enough to take notice. Who knows? It could be a little bit of both.



Written by johnwhays

May 24, 2020 at 9:34 am

Simplest Solution

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I don’t know how many times I am going to face this lesson before I comprehend it well enough to no longer be fooled. It’s batteries. Apparently, I know just enough to fall prey to a key misperception. My understanding of electronics is deeper than many others, having attended years of technical school and working in high tech firms with engineers for most of my career, but batteries seem to be a repeating weak point for me.

The problem preventing the diesel tractor from starting which I had come to suspect was related to a missing safety interlock signal turned out to be the most obvious and likely cause of a bad battery.

Sure, the “fully charged” light came on when I connected a charger to the battery. Sure, the instruments on the dash lit up deceivingly bright when I turned the key.

It was all a facade. There was no “oomph” behind that initial twelve volts that allowed my ‘too smart for its own good’ brain to wander off after several much less likely possible component failures.

With essential assistance from Cyndie, who rose to the occasion to provide tenacious problem-solving brainpower and impressive muscle, we extracted the heavy battery from the very difficult to access front end of the tractor.

I’m particularly pleased with our simultaneous insight to use blocks of wood tucked under the unwieldy battery after lifting it just inches at a time in order to get it up where we could finally muscle it clear of the multiple obstructions.

After reversing that process to drop in the new battery, starting the tractor was easy. The afternoon project of chipping branches turned the area beside Cyndie’s new gardens into a lumberjack camp of cut branches, sawed logs, and flying woodchips.









Turning logs into split firewood and branches into woodchips are two processes I find most rewarding for getting greater value out of the material left over after the initial project of needing to remove trees.

It isn’t necessarily a simple solution, but it is a wonderful achievement of making full use of our resources.

I can only hope that I will now find it easy to recognize future occasions of weak batteries being the simplest solution in my troubleshooting of equipment failing to start.



Starting Big

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In the beginning, I was asked to build a terrace wall for Cyndie to have a produce garden. Seemed like a good idea to me. We talked about creating two levels in the space she wanted to use, but decided to focus on just the upper level to start. We have never grown our own food before, so I suggested we start small and learn what works in that location.

Just a suggestion.

The other day I saw no less than 21 different names listed in a text where Cyndie described what she has planted.

So, that one terrace I started building has been dwarfed by subsequent construction Cyndie undertook on her own. Fencing and netting, all hers, three different locations.

Plants are in the ground and awaiting some mulch. Woodchips are something I can contribute to her new project. The rest has spun up so quick it makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

When Cyndie bursts headlong into her projects, I tend to get out of the way. I am inclined toward sequential thinking and prone to plotting each step in advance before taking action. Cyndie operates more randomly and takes action simultaneously to figuring out a plan.

I guess we serve as a classic example of the attraction of opposites.

Here’s hoping she meets with an incredible success that exceeds imagination come harvest time.

I’ll be watching to see if my terrace does its job. The rest will be gravy.



Written by johnwhays

May 22, 2020 at 6:00 am