Relative Something

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

Long Time

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It has been a long time since I did a jigsaw puzzle at home. After visiting Judy’s and Mary’s houses over the holidays and seeing their puzzles in progress, I felt a renewed motivation to get out one of my own again. Luckily, I had a very special new puzzle in my queue.

For the first time ever, I’m building a puzzle of a picture that I took. Elysa had this made for me as a gift after I mentioned that I thought the image would make a great jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve only spent a little time on this so far, but already I can sense the difference of studying pieces of an image that I captured. The location is a northern Minnesota forest on land owned by our friends, Mike and Barb Wilkus. We were hiking through the woods on a beautiful fall day and I stopped to snap a shot of the small lake surrounded by trees.

I’m going to love working on assembling this puzzle.

It will become a battle of wanting to make quick progress even though I also don’t want the project to end soon.

I suspect this will be a puzzle I have no problem assembling over and over again, although I feel it also deserves a turn or two up at the Wilkus cabin. Hopefully, both scenarios can be achieved over time.

That part of my brain that loves jigsaw puzzling is very happy indeed, especially because it’s been a long time since I’ve built one.

Maybe even more so, because I stood in this very spot.




Written by johnwhays

January 15, 2020 at 7:00 am

Stealthy Visitors

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We had a light coating of snow overnight Sunday night and that made for great tracks viewing yesterday. Cyndie spotted footprints that didn’t come from our chickens.

Based on recent sightings, we both believe it was a pheasant that we’ve seen hanging around recently. These tracks were made between the time Cyndie and Delilah headed out on a walk and returned a short while later. They never saw the bird that walked by.

There were also paw prints from a critter large enough to take interest in chickens.


In fact, Cyndie followed the trail of these tracks right to the coop, where she found the chickens all perched up on the roost as if seeking refuge as far above the ground as possible.

No harm done. Not this time, anyway.

Just some footprints in the snow from stealthy visitors in the broad daylight.

Maybe the visitors didn’t have enough time to linger longer because Cyndie and Delilah were making rounds. In the case of our chickens, this is probably a very good thing.


Written by johnwhays

January 14, 2020 at 7:00 am

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Written by johnwhays

January 13, 2020 at 7:00 am

Big Think

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I’m not sure about the trick of living in the moment while trying to make big decisions that have the potential of dramatically changing the rest of my life, but that is the reality that simmers beneath my every minute lately. As Cyndie slips ever deeper into focusing her time on caring for her parents, decisions being contemplated have the potential of defining whether we will stay on this property or go.

There is a challenging balance in a committed relationship of cultivating what we want together as a couple while also honoring each of our individual desires. That would be made a little easier if we both definitively knew what it was we wanted the rest of our functional years to look like.

I had no idea that our empty-nest years would lead to the gorgeous property we found that became our Wintervale. The seed for this dream originated from a supernatural meld of both Cyndie’s and my interests and experiences, but I would not have arrived at this point without her energy driving most of the outcomes.

That same inclination has me leaning toward following her lead again as her focus has changed, despite my heart increasingly being gripped by the sanctuary of the forests and fields, and beautiful log home where we’ve been living for the last seven years. If I could figure out a way to afford it, I’d stay here even if she moved in with her parents –sighting the year we lived apart when she moved to Boston as a case study precedent– but that might be at odds with achieving our best long-term joint effort.

Neither of us knows how well our health will hold out, how climate catastrophes will impact the coming years, whether our meager retirement accounts will protect us from the next recession, or what future life events will demand our attention, but those unknowns are all lumped into our thinking as we consider the big “what next.”

I want to also include the simple joys of standing still in the woods and listening to the natural sounds that surround me. Breathing in the forest aromas and feeling the reality of temperature and precipitation against my skin. Walking over the rise in our open fields to feel the wind when it blows, or the stillness when it doesn’t.

At the same time, I’ve lived in town and know the conveniences associated. I would welcome the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and return to riding my bike more than driving my car.

I tell ya, living in the moment of planning the future is one heck of a big think.



Written by johnwhays

January 12, 2020 at 8:57 am

Winter Walking

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Referring back to my recent post about feeling maladjusted to real cold, this morning’s walk was extremely refreshing at -1°(F). The big moon was low in the west and lit up brilliantly by sun rays that hadn’t crested our horizon yet. I hastily tried to capture a shot with the new Olympus pocket camera while standing on the trail down to the northwest corner of our property.

Nothing spectacular about the image, but that is not the camera’s fault. I didn’t do anything to contribute toward making it a better photo. It was a quick exercise in seeing how well I could pull the camera out of a deep pocket and get a shot with my bare hand while Delilah patiently waited to get on with the more important tasks on her mind.

The pads on her feet are calibrated for the indoor comfort of our house, so the bitter cold snow gets painful for her to stand upon. We made the morning jaunt a short one today, skipping to bother even opening the chicken coop until after the sunshine offers at least a suggestion of possible warmth.

Yesterday, in the bright light of midday, I took some pictures of the snow conditions we are stuck with so far this year.

The snow is crusty, not very deep, and rather uninviting for romping around. That’s not all bad, though. I’ve needed to do less plowing and shoveling, and walking the trails with Delilah can be done without putting on snowshoes.

On the bright side, there is at least enough snow to offer the classic sound absorption that creates mystical quiet in the great outdoors. Both yesterday and this morning the glory and wonder of a winter walk with just the sound of boots on snow were at a peak.

When I stop moving, the lack of sound slowly reveals the delicate notes of a single bird in the distance or the sound of Delilah breathing in the trace of a scent hanging in the still air.

We live in a winter wonderland, no matter how much snow we get.



Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2020 at 10:28 am

Whatever Is

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I tried some perfunctory experimenting with the new camera after work yesterday without bothering to know anything specific about the features or settings. Who has time to read and learn from manuals? I took pictures of Delilah and then the moon with underwhelming results.

I spotted a leaf melting in the snow, but the sun had already set and the lighting wasn’t optimal.

I was excited by the empty imprint below the leaf. I wonder if that leaf is responsible for both impressions or if the empty spot was a different leaf that blew away.

Another image of the interesting snow patterns that Cyndie provided a few days ago highlights how much more rewarding it can be to take pictures with the help of some sunlight.

It’s relatively quiet on the ranch of late. Somehow the chickens have continued to dodge the fate of any predator visits. I needed to engineer a fix for our busted mailbox door. I kludged something that works for now but is unlikely to last very long. I’ve seen how rough that mailbox gets treated.

If luck is on my side today, the body shop will complete the job of repairing the front end of my car that got busted up by airborne road debris last month. I miss my car. I’ve been driving a rental all week, the cost of which was covered by my insurance. To get anything more than the most basic models would involve added expense. I didn’t want to pay. ‘Nuff said.

Despite repeated annual attempts to not give a hoot about NFL games, I have yet to completely kick the habit that has been with me for my entire life, so I plan to watch playoff games all weekend. I’m operating in standard Minnesota fan mode and fully expecting the Vikings to fall flat, while quietly hoping the team surprises me and gives us something to crow about.

When I’m not watching sports, we have been taking in a few new movies at home on DVD. We just saw, “Knives Out” and were thoroughly entertained by the screenplay, the production value, and the wonderful acting. I’m always impressed when actors I’m fond of choose to take on a role playing unlikeable characters. We recommend this movie!

That’s the news for today from ranch Wintervale-be-gone, where all the animals are both smart and good looking.

Be kind to someone you don’t know today.



Written by johnwhays

January 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Unplanned Solution

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I thought it would be so simple. Just drop my camera off at the shop to be sent out for cleaning. However, my plan was dashed the very moment I removed the trusty old Nikon from my pocket. Without a hint of hesitation, the clerk informed me there was no repairing this model. In today’s economy, it is cheaper to simply replace it.

This means that my Nikon is basically a disposable camera. That’s just wrong.

Of course, I won’t throw it away. There must be some use for it, even in a world where cell phones are more often used as cameras than for calls.

Admittedly, I tend to rely on my pocket camera more than my phone out of a sense of protection for the phone. I’m more willing to risk the camera to the harsh elements and risky handholds many situations present than I am my phone.

What could I do? I bought a new pocket camera built to withstand the abuse to which I expose them. This go-round I have chosen the Olympus Tough TG-6.

I’m looking forward to the macro mode feature it offers. After I charged the battery last night, the first picture taken was of the reflection of our old Hays family lamp I saw on the surface of the granite countertop below.

I was intrigued that the “auto” mode chose to focus on the image being reflected and not on the actual counter surface.

I look forward to getting to know this camera better and using it to capture a new level of filled-frame images, among the myriad other visuals that tend to catch my attention.



Written by johnwhays

January 9, 2020 at 7:00 am