Relative Something

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

Exceptional Effort

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Last week I wrote about one of our Buff Orpington hens who we suspect scrapped with the possum that had gotten into the coop, and has been behaving oddly ever since. It is not clear whether it is a result of exclusion by the rest of the brood, or an act of her own choosing, but she has become a loner from the rest of the bunch.

In the coop, she has taken to staying in one of the nesting boxes, day and night. There is no obvious sign that she is being picked on (pecked on?) by the others, but she repeatedly sets herself apart.

For the most part, the chickens have remained in the coop for over a week while the winter has raged, first with an epic Arctic chill and then subsequent days upon days of snow. More than once, we have opened the chicken door when the harshest temperatures eased.

They’ve showed little interest in dealing with the snow, …or so we thought.

Yesterday, Cyndie came upon a most unusual trail of animal tracks in the deep snow. She worried that it was evidence of a fox stalking our chickens. She checked the coop and counted hens. There was one missing, but there were no obvious tracks, even though the door was open.

On her way back to the barn, she spotted it.

That loner Buff Orpington was sitting by the paddock fence, almost as if stuck in the snow.

The weird trail was the path that hen had traversed through the deep powder snow. She must have almost been swimming to make forward progress. It had to have taken a monumental effort to get as far as she did. I suspect she stopped out of exhaustion.

Cyndie couldn’t get to the hen without first getting a shovel to make her way through the knee-deep snow. She picked up the loner and held her close to warm her.

It’s hard to imagine what drove that Buff to attempt crossing the deep snow toward the barn overhang, other than this ominous behavior of isolating herself from the rest of the brood.

Cyndie put her back in the coop, setting her up on the roost in hopes of re-training her to not spend the nights in a nest box.

That didn’t last, as, by evening, the Buff was back in a box again.

A bit of research turned up a variety of possible internal maladies that may be the cause of her isolation. We are going to let time dictate an outcome, while doing whatever we can to keep the poor girl comfortable.

None of them are laying eggs of late, due to the shortened hours of winter daylight, so it’s difficult to pinpoint egg related issues, if that is what’s ailing her.

Meanwhile, the last visit of the night last night turned up new tracks in the snow that, this time, looked suspiciously fox-like. It is no surprise that the deep snow cover we now have has challenged predators to seek easier prey.

There is plenty of drama to be interpreted in the fascinating markings vividly appearing in all this new snow blanketing our fields and forest. We would prefer that it not involve the taking of any of our animals, but nature will take its course.

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Written by johnwhays

February 14, 2019 at 7:00 am

Giving Up

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To heck with keeping up, I’m ready to give up. The snow-pocalypse of February wins. I can only endure so much, and it turns out, unending accumulation of plow-able amounts of snow in close succession is more than my fragile mind can handle.

It takes a certain mental discipline to clear the quarter-mile of driveway from the house to the road, then around the hay shed and in front of the barn, when the snow is falling fast enough to cover your progress as fast as you make it.

That’s alright. After the year when I waited until the snow was absolutely stopped before plowing, and there was too much for even my big tractor to clear, I learned that it would be smarter to plow whenever we get 5 or 6 inches, even if it was still snowing.

But it is very rare that it would take more than two sessions of plowing. Until now.

I am officially drained of my stoic Northland resilience. Is this one of the ways that zombies are created? I am but a shell of my former self. In the fading light of day, I found myself stumbling up the driveway from the barn, dragging a shovel behind me, while the snow continued to fall.

There is no space to push more snow. At the end of the day yesterday, the wind started to pick up and create drifts. Of all times for us to need more gas, it happens in the heart of a big snowstorm.

I stayed home from work yesterday, and the highlight of the day for me was that I wasn’t driving my car on snowy roads. Then I needed gas. Out I ventured onto the drifted roads in my car, frowning.

This battle all played out after I had spent the early part of the day raking snow off the roof, and then needing to shovel the giant mound from our front steps.

It was exhausting work, but when I finished, it seemed like the snow was letting up, inspiring me to move on to the plowing. I even saw a glimpse of a bright yellow circle in the sky, through the clouds for a few seconds.

It didn’t last. Halfway through plowing, the rate of snowfall picked up dramatically. That was pretty much the point that my brain threw in the towel.

The rest of the plowing was devoid of my usual attention to detail.

There are options that would serve to remedy my problem of having nowhere to push more snow: a snowblower attachment, for one.

Visiting Cyndie’s parents in Florida for several months is another possibility. I wonder if they would mind if we brought all our animals along.

I think the horses and chickens are all about as done with falling snow as I am.

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Written by johnwhays

February 13, 2019 at 7:00 am

Keeping Up

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While we were risking our lives to drive across the Twin Cities in heavy snow for the funeral on Sunday, our property back home was getting buried by another plowable layer. That meant, when I got home from work yesterday, I needed to plow and shovel a few hours worth of snow to get the place cleaned up.

Normally, this is a very rewarding endeavor, but this time it felt a little insane. Expending all this energy to clear snow when even more is imminent. By the end of the day today, our landscape will likely look as if I hadn’t done anything, if the passing precipitation lives up to what was predicted.

It reminds me of a humorous thought a friend once expressed. It went something like this: “I dusted once. A week later, all the dust had returned. I won’t fall for that again.”

As fast as we clear away fallen snow this February, more falls to replace it. My heart wants to just wait until it stops snowing for a few days and then plow. My mind knows the folly of such a plan. The more often I plow, the easier each following effort will be.

There are a couple of challenges created by these repeating waves of significant snowfalls. It is getting harder and harder to clear the snow because the piles are growing mighty tall, and the deep snow on our roof is leading to ice dams on the eaves.

That second one is a compound problem, actually. I can pull the snow down off of the roof with a rake, but then I need to shovel it somewhere. That means I have to throw it up and over the tall piles that already exist.

Just what I need. More shoveling!

I can’t keep up as it is.

It’s almost like the early summer growing season, when the grass grows so fast that it needs cutting the day after I just finished cutting it.

We are a land of two main seasons: shoveling snow or mowing grass.

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Written by johnwhays

February 12, 2019 at 7:00 am

Risking Again

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After last week’s risky and dangerous commute home from work, I intended to be more cautious about venturing out when the weather gets wild and the roads are dicey.

However, there are some things that cause us to push that envelope of safety, like, say… a funeral for a family member. That is what we were faced with yesterday. The service for Cyndie’s aunt was at a church in Plymouth, MN, not far from the location of my day-job.

I stepped out to clean off the front steps yesterday morning, and soon learned the snow was coming down so fast that the areas where I shoveled were getting covered right back up in minutes. That caused an alert that our drive to the cities was going to take much longer than normal.

I rushed inside to let Cyndie know that we needed to depart as soon as possible, and anything she was hoping to accomplish before leaving needed to be immediately re-evaluated as to whether it was more important than possibly missing the funeral.

It was another day of crash-defying navigation in horrible visibility with heavy snow falling and roads slippery and snow-covered. Just the conditions I never wanted to find myself in again for a very long time. It’s exhausting.

To complicate matters, we needed to drive separately. We would both stay overnight in Edina, and I would drive to work this morning, while Cyndie will join immediate family at the cemetery for a brief burial service. After that, she will drive home to take over from our house/animal sitter, Anna, who stayed overnight at Wintervale for us.

I drove ahead of Cyndie, but kept a close eye on her in my rear view mirror. Together, we slowly made our way with barely a minute to spare, luckily avoiding the fate that we witnessed maybe a dozen times along the way, of cars losing control and crashing into the ditches all around us.

It was crazy making. It was white-knuckle gripping of the steering wheel the whole way. That kind of “edge-of-disaster” driving is really, really exhausting.

Follow that with heavy emotions of a funeral service, and that’s one heck of a draining day.

Wouldn’t you know, tomorrow we are due to get hit with another big snow event.

Something tells me I won’t be driving to work Tuesday.

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Written by johnwhays

February 11, 2019 at 7:00 am

Breakfast Bread

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She never ceases to amaze me. Cyndie has outdone herself with a very impressive first-try baking success yesterday. Too bad you can’t smell the aroma of this image.

One of the unique treats we enjoy when visiting Cyndie’s parents in Florida is “Breakfast Bread.” Chock full of a cinnamon flavor, just the right amount of cherries, raisins, apricots, cranberries, dried apples, and chopped walnuts, with a texture that works perfectly well for toasting.

We loved the treat so much that we wanted to buy some for ourselves when we got home. The problem with that plan was that the only place we were able to find it was at Publix grocery stores in Florida.

Cyndie searched the internet for breakfast bread and the majority of the results that appeared included the word, “Publix,” and also phrases like, “copycat recipe.”

She had been cunning enough to take a picture of the ingredients on the label of one of the two Publix loaves we hauled home last week in our carry on luggage, which, for the record, earned my bag extra scrutiny going through security at the Fort Myers airport.

Armed with one of the many breakfast bread recipe ideas from the internet, and her list of actual ingredients from the loaves we know and love, Cyndie set out to bake a couple at home.

I am very proud to exclaim, “She NAILED it!”

On her first try.

I asked her how much a loaf costs at Publix and started doing the math. We could sell these, they are so good!

It may be time to revisit the latest version of the cottage food laws of Wisconsin.

When we moved here, Cyndie researched and discovered Wisconsin had strict restrictions requiring commercial kitchens in order to sell home-baked goods to the public. Since that time, there appears to have been some relaxing of the laws, so maybe it is time we explore new ways to take advantage of her baking skills for generating business income.

Hmm…

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Written by johnwhays

February 10, 2019 at 11:10 am

Saturday Thinking

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It’s a gorgeous winter day today. Seriously cold outside, but wonderful to look at. I don’t know why we find ourselves wondering this morning about where else we might choose to live, if we didn’t live here.

We are pondering the details that would allow us a return trip to visit Ian and family in Portugal.

If we didn’t have animals, we would have a lot more freedom to travel. If we lived closer to family and my workplace, navigating every single event in our lives would be dramatically more convenient.

Maybe grieving opens us up to such thinking. Cyndie is processing family photos and documents in preparation for a funeral service tomorrow for an aunt whom Cyndie had been assigned the responsibility of power of attorney. Caring for her aunt has consumed a majority of her attention for the last nine months.

Back in 2012, when we found this place, one of my early impressions was that we had discovered the place where I would live the rest of my life. It is very conflicting to contemplate the possibility of alternatives.

At the same time, I have gained a keen sense of how everything is always in a constant state of change.

I’m feeling a little lost lately about a question of why we were so lucky to have ended up here with our precious animals and the glorious land and healthy forest, if it wasn’t to share it with others through the cost-offsetting venture of Wintervale Ranch & Retreat Center.

We’ve fallen short of managing to build a revenue generating operation that would allow us to afford running the place without being employed somewhere else for too many critical hours per week.

If we haven’t accomplished the dream we envisioned years ago, what do we do with what remains?

I’m uneasy about the weather effects our warming planet is dishing out and wonder about how to deal with the results. I don’t like the thought of how jumping on airplanes at every whim feeds an industry that, though relatively small, has a disproportionally large impact on the climate system.

One Saturday morning won’t provide the answer to such a complex situation, but it is a chance to put our thoughts together in a kettle to begin simmering. Not that these thoughts haven’t already been simmering for a while now. Maybe we are just turning up the temperature on this kind of thinking today.

And, feeling fresh grief, for the end of another life.

It is really cold here.

We have a fire in the fireplace and our music playing from a random mix of my entire iTunes library.

It’s a Saturday morning, and Cyndie and I are thinking, occasionally out loud, together.

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Written by johnwhays

February 9, 2019 at 11:29 am

All Day

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Two all day things: It snowed all day yesterday and we shoveled all day. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here!

On Wednesday night, we noticed all the school districts in our vicinity were announcing they would be closed on Thursday, so I decided that was a pretty good clue that I shouldn’t try driving to the day-job. As a result, I am going in today, in a swap of days for my 4-day work week.

Sitting at my desk today will be a welcome relief from the strenuous exercise of shoveling for hours on end.

I took a little break to see what the horses thought of all these flying flakes. Cyndie caught a picture of Dezirea and me giving each other the eye. I think the horses were growing weary of the long duration of snowfall.

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Cayenne was sporting some cute curls in her long wet winter growth.

I got out the snowshoes to walk Delilah on our trails through the woods. She was so fired up to be out in the deep snow that she wanted to run, but I couldn’t keep up with her at that pace. I felt bad slowing her down.

The chickens showed no interest in leaving the coop. I snowshoed all around the coop to pack down the snow for whenever they decide to come out again. It’s probably going to be too cold for them today, but eventually, they will get tired of being cooped up (literally!) and venture out into the world again.

We have one Buff Orpington that doesn’t seem to be her normal self. We think she may have scrapped with that possum and be suffering some ill effects as a result. Cyndie couldn’t see any obvious physical wounds, so we have decided to just keep her comfortable and see if time heals whatever might be bothering her.

Today, I’m hoping to not do any shoveling all day. I’m expecting to be confused by this disruption of my normal routine, commuting and being at work on a Friday.

I expect it’s going to make my weekend seem unusually short, but my body will appreciate today’s break in the manual labor of property management chores.

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Written by johnwhays

February 8, 2019 at 7:00 am