Relative Something

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

Archive for October 2022

Holding On

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Sometimes it feels like sanity in public society is precariously hanging on by mere threads. Scaremongering. Election deniers who are unable to provide evidence to support their wild range of accusations of widespread fraud. Crazy claims continue to survive the passage of time without losing momentum over the lack of reality-based proof. No, they just seem to grow the way wind-blown wildfires do.

I don’t understand it.

Why doesn’t truth snuff out the flames? Why aren’t healthy-minded people able to drown out the extremely offensive antisemitic and racist noise emanating from too many varieties of modern media?

It’s spookier than Halloween, I tell ya.

A full-sized Snickers would go a long way toward distracting me from how thin the tenuous line of healthy thinking is holding society together.

What should we believe? That kids will don wild costumes and roam door to door in neighborhoods to holler for tricks and treats?


There is something else I don’t understand. How does a quarterback heave a football sixty yards downfield so that it reaches a racing receiver who is running at full speed and still able to look up at the last second as the ball drops perfectly within easy reach while all manner of defensive mayhem is unleashed around both guys?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if NFL players dropped to the ground, writhing in pain each time an opponent committed a penalty against them? I’m poking fun at you, FIFA Men’s World Cup contenders.

I have yet to figure out how to reconcile the discontentment over the questionable (ahem…bribes?) award back in 2010 of this year’s World Cup to Qatar. Add to that the controversial treatment of immigrant laborers needed to build the infrastructure of stadiums and other facilities to support the global sporting event and the need to reschedule the tourney to the northern hemisphere winter season due to the average high temperature of the desert nation. It all feels just plain wrong trying to fully enjoy the game competitions under the tarnished situation of awarding Qatar the honor of hosting.

I suppose I could wear a black band on my arm while watching the games.

All these issues are meaningless to our horses. They are holding on to their sanity by simply being horses. I’m not sure they sense the climate is changing but they are vividly aware of how many warm, dry, and sunny days in a row we have been experiencing for months. It has become common lately to find the four of them gathered along the far fence of the hay field taking turns laying down to nap in the mid-morning sunshine.

When I feel like I’m barely holding on to my healthy mindset, my favorite remedy involves an extended quiet visit with the herd of horses.

Even though it feels weird to be outside in short sleeves at the end of October.

Happy Halloween!



Written by johnwhays

October 31, 2022 at 6:00 am

Corporate Contrast

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While attempting to make some really delicious pumpkin fudge last week, Cyndie was aghast to discover that the weight of Nestle white chocolate chips did not equal the 12 ounces marked on the package. After pouring out two packets and placing them on the scale, she was 4 ounces short of the required amount for her recipe.

That just wouldn’t do.

It is rare that I see my lovely wife get particularly worked up over relatively minor issues, but this fall fudge recipe is not one to be careless with when it comes to portions. With an uncharacteristic furor, Cyndie fussed and fumed over the need to interrupt her baking for a trip to the nearest grocery store to get more white chocolate chips.

Next thing I know, I hear her talking to someone. She had called Nestle Customer Service to lodge a complaint!

This was getting serious. First, they told her that 10 oz. is the size they package. That didn’t fit any logic for a package clearly labeled 12 oz. Then they admonished her when she admitted the package had a “best by” date of September. She was given the option of receiving some coupons in the mail in compensation for her suffering.

The two new 12 oz. packages she purchased to finish making the fudge weighed in at 10 oz. and 11 oz.

Who knew a corporation might play fast and loose with rules?

Contrast Cyndie’s customer service experience with mine as I sought assistance from The North Face for my beloved Rock 22 tent.

I bought it so long ago that I can’t remember how old it is now, but I’d guess it’s been 10-15 years. The elastic cord in the tent poles wore out years ago and some of the fittings where the sections connect started sliding down into the tube. I shipped the two poles to The North Face warranty department and swiftly received a brand new pair of poles in replacement.

This past summer I survived two major thunderstorms inside that tent and my two-year-old patch of waterproof tape held up fine on the rainfly. Unfortunately though, one clip and a large length of seam sealing tape delaminated to an extent beyond my ability to salvage.

I figured it was time to buy a new tent but decided there was enough life left in the rest of the old Rock 22 to see if The North Face might be able to help me out. In a phone call with a real person in Customer Service, I was informed I could drop off my flysheet at their store in the Mall of America and they would send it to the warranty department in Texas for analysis.

Yesterday, Fed Ex delivered a brand new replacement rain fly for a tent that is so old it is no longer being made. No questions asked.

I rarely like to boast of fanatic loyalty to a corporation for its products but I will be hard pressed to ever feel The North Face is not worthy of whatever price they charge for their tents.

Whatever they cost, I suspect the Nestle white chocolate chips are overpriced.



Written by johnwhays

October 30, 2022 at 10:37 am

Bad Thermocouple

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We all have good days and bad days. Our day yesterday deserves to be called a good one. I try not to complain too much when I sleep soundly right up to a half-hour past when we usually feed the horses. Delilah let us sleep in. By the time I finished breakfast and made my way through the entire daily newspaper, it was almost 11 o’clock.

There are plenty of days when I would feel discouraged that outdoor projects didn’t get started until the middle of the day but given the luxury of freedom to take as much time as I want playing word games on my phone, finishing my poached eggs, and perusing all the articles in the newspaper is something I relish being able to do.

One key aspect of the day that made it so good was how much was achieved after the morning of leisure. Cyndie and I decided to get after the multiple “widow makers” hung up in our woods. Five of them, to be exact. Three of which were relatively small and easy to deal with. That left a couple that I wasn’t looking forward to and led me to don a helmet, just in case.

I was ultimately successful in all cases but the key reason all was good was a matter of luck that my being in an unsafe position right when the chain came off the bar didn’t lead to any negative consequences. The biggest and most challenging tree came down with a scary amount of cracking that had me jumping back three times, only to need to step in and continue the cut each time. When it finally crashed to the ground it was with a ferocious amount of energy that is really unnerving.

Once everything was on the ground, the clean up has become rather routine for us and we were able to process everything with rewarding efficiency. I was even able to cut three other trees that I’ve wanted to deal with for quite a while but never happen to have a chainsaw with me at the time. Yesterday, I had a saw.

As I was finishing up in the last spot, Cyndie caught up with me and said the guy who installed our horse waterer in the paddocks was coming to figure out why the heater wasn’t keeping the water from freezing like it used to.

This was a problem that plagued us throughout much of last winter and it was looking to be even worse this year based on the few overnight freezes we’ve experienced thus far. We’ve been asking for help for weeks but he hasn’t made it out, despite telling us he would.

Just having him show up was going to make for a good day but having him diagnose a specific problem of the thermocouple failure and his having a replacement with him and installing it without trouble seemed like a bonus.

Yesterday was one of those good days.



Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2022 at 8:00 am

Grand Opening

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One of the first projects we did shortly after we arrived here ten years ago had to do with the rusted old barbed wire fence along our northern property border. We climbed into the thick bramble of thorny trees and pulled up much of the old barbed wire, replacing it with a new nylon fence rope.

Our thinking at the time was that we might have horses coming near the fences along the property borders and barbed wire is inappropriate for horses. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the area we picked to start working was the least likely to ever have horse traffic near it.

For ten years since, much of that area has been ignored and allowed to grow unconstrained. That resulted in a wild thicket of grape vines snarled around the sharp thorns of wild plum trees. It was easy to cut vines and trees down but an incredibly frustrating battle to pull the branches apart and then shove them into a new tangle parallel to the fence line.









We decided to leave a couple of nice-looking maple trees alone, even though they look like they are right in the middle of the pathway. They are easy enough to walk around and will be a nice asset as they grow to maturity in the years to come.

We ended up with a pleasing alleyway between the pine trees and the wall of tangled branches along the property line. My goal, as always along this stretch of our northern border from the road up to the shop garage, is to continually trim back new growth until that thicket begins to look like a giant hedge delineating our property line.

It was the grand opening of a pathway that took us ten years to finally accomplish.

I stacked a few rocks on the old pine stump we had saved for just that purpose. It was an expression of our interest in opening up this portion of trail for more regular visits.

Like every other new trail we have opened up, this one is suddenly our new favorite and beckons us to return for a stroll each time we venture outside.

We walked it with flashlights in the dark last night upon our return from rolling the trash bin down the end of the driveway by the road. Shortly after we had gotten back inside the house, one of the largest and loudest outbursts of coyote howling started up. We stepped outside to listen and I got the sense it was coming from two different directions.

I whistled my most shrill loud whistle and their yelping stopped. Cyndie walked to the barn and turned on all the outside lights.

My guess is they were all excited about our new trail and were feeling in a celebratory mood over it. It gives me pleasure to know they won’t be getting any chicken dinners from us. Not for a while, anyway. One never knows when the urge to have free-ranging chickens again will override our frustrations over losing so many of them to predators.



Written by johnwhays

October 28, 2022 at 6:00 am

Half Day

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I felt a little like I was “quiet quitting” yesterday when I chose to wait a half day before venturing out with pruning tools in hand to clear more brush along our northern property line. It was cold outside in the morning and I knew it would be warming up eventually, what with the bright sunshine we were experiencing.

A little extra time in the recliner doing some reading and writing meant outdoor chores could wait. I guess that is a luxury one has when you are your own boss. I just won’t be giving myself any “going out of your way” awards for my partial effort.

In the morning frost, one of our fence posts caught my eye because the lines of the grain pattern were accentuated by the ice crystals.

The horses didn’t show any signs of being bothered by the brisk start of the day and remained wonderfully mellow while morning feed pans were served.

My slow start, which pretty much kicked off right out of bed –for no obvious reason I was seriously lacking in motivation from the moment I stood up– carried over into the afternoon when I finally did get outside to cut branches. I was in no mood to crank up and maneuver the chainsaw. The ratcheted lopper and a good old pruning handsaw became my weapons of choice.

I guess I am gambling that the weather predictions for the days ahead will prove accurate and there is no rush to finish any of our ongoing outdoor projects before snow and cold bring an end to landscaping endeavors.

Mentally, it seems I am more than prepared to engage in extended indoor activities at the earliest opportunity. The idea of not even getting out of bed loomed large on my mind at the moment Delilah made her body-shaking, ear-flopping announcement that it was time to get going yesterday morning.

It was hump day yesterday, after all. No wonder I was feeling unmotivated. Now it’s Thursday and I am ready and rarin’ to go. Except, the days of the week make no difference in my schedule of activities.

I can report, however, that just because I no longer commute to a day job, every day definitely does NOT seem like a Saturday.

Taking a half day off every so often gives me a chance to appreciate that every day is almost like a Saturday if I choose to think of it like that.



Written by johnwhays

October 27, 2022 at 6:00 am

Overgrown Shrubs

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We took the plunge yesterday and began cutting down a thicket of Nannyberry Viburnum bushes behind Cyndie’s perennial garden. Neither of us is a fan of the funky smell nannyberry bushes give off when cut, so the work is stinky but the results are rewarding.

We also decided to remove the stick fence I built as a backdrop for her garden. It had partially collapsed anyway, so removal cleans the area up nicely.

Looking east before we started:

One of the triggers that started this exercise was the discovery of a nice volunteer oak tree that needed to have competition eliminated around it. Since we are currently on a mission to find and protect as many volunteer oak trees as possible that are sprouting all over our property, the obliteration of this stand of nannyberry bushes feels justified.

It’s just a side benefit that this will give me the pathway I always wanted along our property fence line behind her garden.

The view when we stopped cutting for the day:

Barely visible in the distance beyond the willow tree is the path of our north loop trail that currently turns to pass in front of the garden and leads to the driveway. That option will remain because it also leads toward the barn on the other side of the driveway and we are often coming from that direction to feed the horses after walking Delilah.

Soon there will be the additional option of continuing straight and walking behind the willow tree and perennial garden on the way to the back side of the shop garage.

We are prepared for the area to look ridiculous for a while, like a fresh haircut that needs time before it looks and feels like what we originally had in mind. I may consider reinstalling some leaning branch ( ////// ) fencing again in the vicinity of the garden if the change ends up looking a little too over-pruned.

At least the little oak tree stands out now without all the other branches blocking its air space.

There remains a fair amount of cutting to be done to remove the last of the nannyberry behind the garden. I’m hoping nothing interrupts our plan for today to continue what we started. The sooner we complete this section, the sooner I can turn around and go the other way, cutting out the untamed growth between the garden and the shop garage.



Busted Tree

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In my post on Sunday, I mentioned it was windy over the weekend. Yesterday morning, I found a small dead tree had tipped across one of our trails. Later in the afternoon, we discovered a larger tree had busted off on a different trail. High winds tend to bring down more than just small branches around our property.

Maybe the portion of the trunk that had been chewed up by some scavenger became the weak spot, as it snapped off right in the middle of that gaping wound. Regardless, the upper portion is caught in other trees and will need to be dealt with using the chainsaw.

There are currently four other trees in our woods, one smaller and two larger, that are similarly hung up. I have multiple opportunities to practice using the knowledge I gained watching professionals bring down much larger “widow-makers.”

Our “vertical firewood storage” is looking to be cut up and split, whether I want to do it right now or not.

Overnight Sunday we were visited by a little thunder and lightning along with what sounded like decent rainfall on the roof and skylight. Yesterday morning it was hard to tell any precipitation had fallen by the looks of things on the ground. Luckily, by evening the precipitation on the radar looked much more widespread with a potential of extended duration.

By dinnertime, the deck was actually wet from falling rain. Cyndie successfully got a rain cover on Mia to give her an edge in fending off a chill overnight. It would be just great if gentle rain like we were getting would last for several days.

That would give me more justification for putting off the chainsaw challenge I’m not fired up to tackle.

We have a plan in mind to do some much easier chainsawing behind Cyndie’s perennial garden where we found an eight-foot oak tree that is being smothered by junk trees. Actually, they are more like overgrown bushes than they are trees. In cutting down those nuisances we’ll open a lane behind the garden to continue the last distance for our perimeter trail along our property border.

The length from the west end of the north loop trail to behind the shop garage is so congested with wild growth that we have just taken to the driveway over the last ten years. Clearing that section will be a lot of work but I’ve wanted to create a path there for a long time, so it will be a very rewarding effort for me.

Not that bringing down busted widow-makers and cutting them up isn’t rewarding. Opening up a trail though, offers endless appreciation ever after with each successive stroll.



Written by johnwhays

October 25, 2022 at 6:00 am

Lost 2

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Words on Images



Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2022 at 6:00 am

Hiking Afton

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A hike in the woods along the scenic St. Croix River is always good for what ails, especially on an uncharacteristically summery day in the second half of October in the greater Twin Cities. Even better, doing it with precious friends and sharing a picnic lunch adds a magical essence of energizing endorphins.

We met Pam and John at Afton State Park early enough in the day that a second layer with long sleeves helped to tide us over until the heat of a summer day settled in. Pam and I first connected on a group trek in the Himalayas in 2009, the one that served as inspiration for me to start this blog. The mixture of terrain in the park and the marvelous conversations yesterday sparked remembrances for both of us of the weeks we shared over a decade ago in Nepal.

Driving to the Minnesota side of the St. Croix river from our house, I witnessed a phenomenon in the sky that was a first for me. High winds had pushed some clouds 90° from flat to straight up. On an otherwise unremarkable-weather morning, such an anomaly in the sky seemed incredibly remarkable to me.

I can only wonder what that would have been like for a small plane if one were in the vicinity.

My drive home included a different kind of excitement in the sky in the form of smoke. Actually, I smelled it before I saw it and the instant impression I had was alarm over the possibility of a brush fire on this hot and windy day with the extremely dry conditions our drought has caused.

I had just come through River Falls and finally spotting the thickness and depth of the smoke served to heighten my level of concern. Then I came upon a bright orange temporary road sign indicating a “prescribed burn” in progress.

“In these conditions?!!” I thought to myself.

Cyndie and I had traveled in separate cars as she had overnight plans with a friend in the Cities and drove west from Afton after our picnic and I returned home to take care of the horses and Delilah.

A short distance after the sign, my anxiousness dropped significantly at the sight of an incredible number of strategically parked vehicles and some big equipment, indicating this was not some short-sighted amateur operation. Still, it seemed to me like the weather conditions would have given them reason to pick another time for such a risky endeavor. I have no idea what the purpose was for the burn at that location.

Enquiring minds would like to know.

Good thing for me the residual endorphins from the good time hiking and picnicking in Afton State Park with John and Pam survived that brief, smoky disruption to my serenity on the drive home.



Written by johnwhays

October 23, 2022 at 9:53 am


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best vest
in the west
fits over my chest
just to test
in jest
if it’s better
than the rest
except that it’s not
not by a long shot
missed the spot
the one she bought
is way too taut
left me fraught
and I forgot
it’s probably too hot
for me to be dressed
in such classy attire
to what do I aspire
decked out like a fire
dancing on a wire
looking like some kind of liar
a square wheel in a round tire
bouncing down this dirt road
carrying a heavy load
a positively charged electrode
threatening to explode
in a lame attempt to goad
some reaction à la mode
the least I could do
dressed to the nines
remember the times
the costume defines
the extent of my whines
constrained tweed confines
tight wrinkle lines
stretching the best vest
ever to grace my chest
I never would have guessed
how other people’s zest
helps me feel blessed
no matter how I’m dressed



Written by johnwhays

October 22, 2022 at 7:00 am