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

Archive for the ‘Chronicle’ Category

Rusty Hue

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The changing season has taken a very noticeable shift in a short span of days, from brilliant to subdued, in terms of color palette. Last week, the color was electric, but yesterday the landscape looked like someone had unplugged the power and all the trees have begun to rust.

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Those pictures were taken just four days apart. Our forest is quickly becoming transparent, as you can see.

It kinda gives the impression that winter is on the way, which is mind-bending because yesterday the temperature was so summer-like. How it looked, and how it felt were not quite in alignment.

Naturally, I base my perception of what kind of weather to expect, on what I’ve experienced in the past, but the planet hasn’t been itself lately. With all that humans have done to muck up the natural order, we’ve made the art of prediction less predictable.

It has me trying to reclaim the naiveté of my youth, when I didn’t have a clue about weather and seasons. Each day was just something to be explored. I’m sure it was magical. I don’t actually recall. Though, of course, I didn’t need to plan and prepare for what would come next.

This has me longing for the benefits of childhood freedom from needing to be concerned about preparing property for the freeze and clearing snow, having enough fuel, getting vehicles winterized.

Oh, to just wake up one morning and exclaim, “Snow!” with pure joy about going outside to play in it.

That is, if it still gets cold enough for snow in coming days.

It’s getting hard to predict.

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Written by johnwhays

October 21, 2017 at 8:24 am

Five Years

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Happy Anniversary, Wintervale!

This week, five years ago, is when we made the big leap from the suburbs in Minnesota to the rolling countryside of west-central Wisconsin. We only moved about an hour east, but in many ways, we are a world away from our previous life.

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There is so much that I didn’t have a clue about in October of 2012 when we committed to this new adventure. Actually, that is one thing I was very certain about, …that I didn’t have any idea what would happen next.

In the five years since, we accomplished a remarkable number of things, most of them made up as we went along. There was no grand five-year plan, just a vague idea of what we thought we could do. It has really been more of a case of multiple one-year plans, each one blossoming into the next.

Honestly, we’ve had a remarkable number of successes that have fueled inspirations to take on whatever next possibility showed up in the light of each additional day.

The idea that we could even end up here in the first place was born even further back than five years ago, in September of 2010 when we traveled to Portugal to meet Ian Rowcliffe. Ian’s insights, wisdom, and initiative to nurture his Forest Garden Estate planted a seed in us that has blossomed into what Wintervale Ranch is today.

We also give a lot of credit to Tom and Sue Sherry, who helped design our layout and fencing, doing the work under their company, Best Built Fence, but becoming friends, as well. They deftly interpreted our dreams to devise a real world layout that suited us perfectly.

Honorable mention goes to nature, itself. The four seasons, the extremes of weather, and the march of time have done the most to shape this land since we arrived. From the onslaught of 18 inches of heavy, wet spring snow in the first days of May, 2013, to the flash-flooding rains of 2017, many changes are forced upon us whether we want them, or not.

The simple growth of trees becomes a striking reference of change through a span of five years.

I didn’t find an exact matching shot, but this recent picture of the mailbox with the Wintervale flag and signs caught a corner of one tree by the road that has tripled in size.

Can you spot it in the picture on the left above, to the right of the moving van backing up the driveway?

We’ve come a long way in five years, baby. Now, without a break, we are jumping into our sixth and everything is just going to keep on growing.

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Written by johnwhays

October 20, 2017 at 6:00 am

Unexpected Anxiety

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Back on August 1st of this year, the Twin Cities marked the tenth anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse across the Mississippi River. On Tuesday, I unexpectedly found myself remembering it again, with an unnerving amount of anxiety.

On the way home from work, driving east, past downtown Minneapolis on I94, flashing lights of a state highway patrol car caught my attention as it made its way into the flow of traffic ahead of me. Never a good sign.

Brakelights were soon to follow, quickly filling all four lanes. Eventually, I could see an overhead sign in the distance with information. An accident east of the Huron exit had closed two of the left lanes.

Traffic crawled at a snail’s pace, bumper to bumper. It was a little claustrophobia-inducing, with plenty of large trucks mixed in among the autos.

Then, I and all the many vehicles around me reached the bridge crossing the Mississippi river, just south of the 35W bridge. There we sat.

Way too long, for my comfort.

And there was nothing I could do. It became nerve-wracking. Normally, we whiz over this bridge in an instant, but now the weight of these many vehicles was a static load. The west-bound lanes were freely flowing, and I could feel the bridge shake when that traffic passed across the deck.

We progressed not in feet, but inches. The slower the progress was, the tighter the congestion seemed to get. I allowed for greater space between my bumper and the car ahead of me. Images of what it would be like to suddenly be dropping appeared in my mind.

I did not want to be stopped on that bridge –especially when surrounded by the combined weight of all the other vehicles around me.

Talk about anxiety. Imagine what that would have been like for someone who actually was involved in the 35W collapse in 2007. No thank you.

With great relief, I reached the other side of the bridge without incident. I had successfully avoided a screaming and pounding meltdown, despite an urge that lurked surprisingly close. Conscious breathing does wonders in moments like this.

A short distance ahead, I reached sight of flashing emergency lights and the traffic in the left two lanes began forcing their way, two-at-a-time into my lane. Upon reaching the location of the incident, the scene was rather odd. It’s hard to know how many responders may have already departed, but there were only two patrol cars and officers, plus a highway helper truck managing traffic.

A dramatically squished car with fluids beneath it rested cockeyed in the second lane. That was it. No other debris, no people, no tow truck. I’m guessing there was a lot of activity there while I was stuck in line for the preceding 15 or 20 minutes.

From that point, it was instantly back to highway speeds and an uneventful commute the rest of the way home, during which, I had time to think more about what people experienced 10-years ago when the 35W bridge collapsed.

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Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2017 at 6:00 am

Forest Find

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While Cyndie and I were perusing our woods, collecting materials for the stick fence we are making, I came upon a very picturesque tree. Well, the remains of a tree.

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As much as we like to clean out downed branches in an effort to tidy up our woods, it’s nice to find occasional examples of nature’s course playing out without our, at times, overbearing intervention.

There is something very satisfying about seeing an old tree turning back into the dirt from which it grew.

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Written by johnwhays

October 18, 2017 at 6:00 am

Autumn Sunshine

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This week, the weather forecast is ideal for sun and color. We are reaching the point where the tree-scape offers hardly any remaining green foliage. With evening’s arrival rapidly moving to an ever-earlier hour, the late afternoon sunshine is now putting its low spotlight on the peaking red/yellow/orange hues of autumn, illuminating them with a wonderfully amplified brilliance.

The grass isn’t showing much regard for the change of season. It is still growing like it’s early summer. Last time we had opportunity to mow, Cyndie took a crack at it, but wasn’t able to finish because the belt slipped off the pulleys.

After work yesterday, I picked up where she left off, and found the challenge of extra-long grass compounded by standing water in many places. The soaking rain we received on Saturday has yet to soak in.

A week of drying will be a timely blessing. One that comes with a bonus of some prime autumn viewing.

And for the record, the two shots above are different angle views of the same tree.

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Written by johnwhays

October 17, 2017 at 6:00 am

Finishing Something

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Far be it for me to stay on one project all the way to fruition. Instead of finishing the fence we started on Friday, I let the weather move my focus to something else. Luckily, the change of direction let me toward the completion of wiring AC power to the chicken coop.

Like so many other occasions, after accomplishing the hardest part of the job – like getting the wire buried between the coop and barn– I have a tendency to lose momentum. That initial dose of job-satisfaction can be enough that my sense of urgency to complete tasks dissipates.

Just when the end of a tunnel is in sight, I discover a side route that hijacks my attention.

This day, I headed back down the primary path in the tunnel of electrifying the coop.

First, I removed the panel of the circuit breaker box and made connections to a GFI breaker.

Next, I set about getting the electrical box mounted in the coop. This only required two extra trips back to the shop for tools, hardware, and a modification to the box.

Things were progressing slower than I wanted, but without any insurmountable problems. The one big interruption I needed to work around was the unplanned arrival of a chicken.

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It was late enough in the day that I assumed I wouldn’t be a bother to the chickens while I worked, but our Buff Orpington proved me wrong. She puttered around in the nest box right beneath where I was working, so I just kept at it, hoping she wouldn’t be bothered by me.

After she started to stress out a bit, I took the hint and agreed to take a break, closing things up enough to give her all the privacy I thought she might need.

For whatever unknown reason, that wasn’t enough. After watching the last quarter of the Vikings game, I came back to take my project across the finish line, only to find the hen still in the nest box. Really.

Not to be deterred, I assembled a few objects into a barrier for her so I could forge ahead with my work. It is the first time I ever listened to a chicken lay an egg.

Before the day was over, the coop outlet was live, everything was buttoned up, and all tools were put away.

Yes, finished. That’s a special level of satisfaction.

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Written by johnwhays

October 16, 2017 at 6:00 am

Downtown Again

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Once again, we made the easy dash from our beautiful countryside into the metropolitan energy buzzing just 45-minutes away. Last night, it was the precious Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul for the Iron & Wine concert.

It was another fabulously successful adventure for Cyndie and me. As a soaking rain settled over the land, Cyndie was able to escort the chickens into the coop early, allowing us to venture through fading daylight and blurring road spray to compete for parking with NHL’s Minnesota Wild hockey fans.

My first parking ramp option just happened to be closed for construction, so it was a single trip around the block, barely squeaking through an intersection on the brink of gridlock, to reach an easy and convenient second choice.

We arrived at the theatre early and took some time to explore the layout, as this was our first event at the renovated historic venue. It is a wonderful mashup of new and old. The almost scary looking ceiling made an early impression, but every other sense was extremely positive for a place to enjoy music performance.

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I had chosen to buy reserved seats in the balcony over the main floor standing general admission. Even though I purchased the tickets as early as possible, the best available was half-way up from the front of the balcony. Cyndie captured a shot while I was checking out the view from the first row. Really nice seats, if you can get them.

We aren’t overly familiar with the full career of Sam Beam as Iron & Wine, but being repeatedly struck by the sound every time I hear a cut played on the radio, I wanted to see where it comes from in person. We weren’t disappointed.

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The giant hanging cotton balls were a little funky, but they captured the colored lights nicely. The dancing light on the back curtain was perfect, every song.

Sam Beam was wonderfully social and totally obliterates any concept of a fourth wall separating the performer from the audience. At one point, he graciously interacted with a fan who shouted a knock-knock joke.

Almost every time, just as the interactive banter approached a point of being too much, the imaginary veil would fall and a song would swiftly transport the ambiance to a far away place of Sam’s creation. He does well with plying a craft of sparse quiet guitar work with delicate instrumentation from his supporting musicians, bolstered by moments of full momentum and volume.

Even though the show started around the time we often head for bed, we hung around for the full show, including the perfect encore song, for which the female members of the band returned wearing beards that looked mysteriously similar to Sam’s.

What?

A wonderful time was had by all. We chalk it up as one more good experience heading downtown from the countryside, again.

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Written by johnwhays

October 15, 2017 at 10:37 am