Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘learning

Every Box

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I learned something this weekend. If I store something in a cardboard box in the shop or garage, it is like building a new luxury home for a mouse.

Every box I opened while cleaning out things that have been stored for far too long looked the same.

The front door was a perfectly chewed opening that seemed to open right into the kitchen. Obviously, mice don’t bother sweeping.

In the case of the old tractor seat in the photo above, the bedroom was another level down, through the cracked vinyl shell to the comfy foam inside.

The scene was identical in the box of Tiffany light fixtures I opened up on Saturday.

Less fortunate mice have to be a little more creative. In the pile of leftover lumber that has been neglectfully ignored in the shop for the two years since construction of our chicken coop, I uncovered a brilliantly packed residence constructed out of insulation pilfered from the shop walls.

It was only a one-story home that looked like the kitchen and bedroom were a shared space. I wonder if there is a mouse hierarchy that determines who gets the cardboard boxes.

Obviously, the four mousetraps I have distributed throughout the shop are something that mice have figured out how to avoid.

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Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2018 at 6:00 am

Posted in Chronicle

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Still Learning

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It’s been five years of horse ownership for us now, and we are still coming upon situations that baffle us. Yesterday, it was a fresh wound on Dezirea’s flank near the point of her hip. There was a dramatic vertical incision, and then a broad area on either side where the hair looks cleanly shaved.

I can’t imagine what it must have looked like when she got cut. Best guess is that she was rubbing up against something with a long, sharp edge. It’s possible that it was even something in the ground and she was rolling around and came in contact with the sharp edge.

We have yet to identify anything that looks like it might be the cause.

I would guess it probably gave her a bit of a jolt when she got cut. It seems likely to me that she would have recoiled or startled in some manner. Must have been a scene in the moment, but by the time we discovered it, she was as calm as if nothing was amiss.

Except for that gaping wound on her side.

We spent most of the day inside, out of the non-stop wetness around here. Dew point and air temperature have been hovering close together and the moisture doesn’t so much fall as rain as it just hovers in the air in a perfect mist.

The ground is thoroughly soaked. Our neighbor and part-time mail carrier told Cyndie that he was still planning to do a second cut and baling of our hay-field, but that was before this very persistent wet weather pattern settled over us. Next week is looking like repeating days of more rain, so I don’t expect there’ll be any activity in the fields for quite some time.

Since we chose to remain indoors, the opportunity to continue our momentum on decluttering was well served. Cyndie had already been through her closet, so I dug in on mine to catch up with her, and then we both went through dresser drawers.

Time to release some perfectly useable clothing back out into the world for the purpose it was designed to fulfill. I’m done storing these shirts and pants for years on end.

It is truly an exercise that rewards doubly. Our drawers and shelves change from over-stuffed to a much more functional order, and we give others an opportunity to actually wear this clothing again.

So, not only are we continuing to learn what is involved with owning horses, we are also still learning how rewarding it is to live intentionally aware of our surroundings and how rewarding it is to practice the art of reducing clutter.

You could call it the very definition of a continuing education.

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She Survives

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Much to our surprise, our Buff Orpington appears to be functioning normally after enduring a dangerous encounter which drew blood on Saturday in a fracas with our Belgian Tervuren Shepherd, Delilah.

Yesterday afternoon, Cyndie witnessed the hen drinking water and eating food in the coop, and when I peeked in on the chickens, our hero was in one of the nesting boxes, cooing.

I don’t know how she does it.

Looking back over the whole experience of deciding to make the blind leap into having chickens, despite knowing we had a dog who would do everything in her power to foil our plan, I am in awe of these three survivors who have endured every calamity of our inaugural year.

We thought it would be good to have chickens to help control flies, but we didn’t have a coop. So, I built a chicken coop. Then we just needed to get chickens. Cyndie ordered three each of three breeds from an online site.

Therein started our crash course in caring for chickens. Absolutely every challenge that arose was a first for us. Cyndie learned how to clean baby chicken butts when several of them developed problems.

We gambled on moving them to the coop before the weather had really warmed up consistently. We basically guessed our way through training them to free range, yet return to the coop. Finally, we left them completely on their own to avoid any number of potential passing predators.

Unfortunately, the losses started with Delilah, who ended up producing our first fatality when she broke free and grabbed a Rhode Island Red by the neck. Then in June, we lost six birds all in one horrible evening to an unseen attacker.

Somehow, the three that have survived all the challenges are closing in on their first birthday next month. I feel like they are doing it almost in spite of us.

After what the Buff has just been through, she has earned the bragging rights as toughest of them all.

Here’s hoping they all channel the survival skills gained in their first year into long and prosperous lives, and more importantly, that they might teach any new chicks that happen to show up, how to do the same.

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Written by johnwhays

February 12, 2018 at 7:00 am

Feeling Love

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In my lifetime, the art of feeling love has been a struggle to fully achieve. Luckily, I have had plenty of opportunity to practice. Most precious of all has been having Cynthia Ann Friswold around to repeatedly offer her guidance.

Quite frankly, some of that guidance comes across in a disguise that deftly pushes buttons that I’d rather not have pushed, but that’s part of the secret. Love isn’t always rainbows, flowers, and chocolate. True love is much more complex than that.

As a depressed person, I was distracted from being able to fully love. A combination of treatment for depression and couples therapy for our relationship was key to opening my eyes and my heart to love’s true potential.

Adding animals to our family has expanded my understanding of love to even greater depths.

Last evening, as I was holding our Buff Orpington hen while Cyndie worked diligently to remove globs of dried poop from the chicken’s tail feathers, I silently conveyed our love to the bird imprisoned by my grasp. Between a few isolated moments of flinching in discomfort, she generally rested her head against me and waited out the task.

We can hope she was able to tell our motives were pure.

Cyndie wanted me to offer the hen a red raspberry treat in reward for her patience of enduring the awkward procedure, but the Buff showed no interest. She just gave it the eye, with total detachment.

I had no idea that owning chickens might involve needing to bring them in out of the cold in the winter to wash and dry their butts. It’s a good thing they have gotten us to fall in love with them.

Owning horses is a whole ‘nother level of love.

Before our four Arabians had even arrived, back when we were having paddock fencing installed, a water line being buried, and a hay shed being built, the excavator arrived in his giant dump truck and chatted out his window with me at our first meeting. He asked what this project was about, and I told him my wife wants to get horses.

In a high-pitched voice of alarm, he exclaimed, “HORSES!?! It would be cheaper to get a new wife!”

Yes, there are costs to owning horses, but the rewards are pretty much immeasurable.

How do you measure love?

All I know for sure is, I’m feeling an awful lot of it in this latest phase of my life.

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Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2018 at 7:00 am

Incredible Awareness

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It is common to hear the term “watchdog” for a dog that guards property, but I’m finding our “lookout horses” surprisingly valuable in alerting me to activity on our perimeter. Over time, my interpretation of their equine reaction to the environment has changed from one of superiority to one of much more humble respect.

I used to think the silly horses were just being hyper-sensitive when they startled over triggers to which I was oblivious. My response early on was to try to assure the horses that there was nothing to worry about. Like I knew better than them.

With enough repetition, I began to learn that I was not more fully aware of reality than they were.

Last week, as I was beneath the overhang, the horses suddenly all turned around and looked out in the exact same direction. My eye quickly spotted the movement of our neighbor on his riding lawnmower. Chuckling at their intensity over this innocuous activity, I spoke to assure them the mower wasn’t worth the attention.

Yet they didn’t sway from their focus. I stood with them and watched the mower, barely visible through some trees, and suddenly movement in the much closer cornfield caught my eye.

The horses weren’t looking at the mower at all.

I had a split-second view of a good-size deer as it hopped over corn stalks.

I’m still learning.

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Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2017 at 9:49 am

Posted in Chronicle

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Watched, Learned

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Last month there was construction on the parking lot at the day-job and I found myself transfixed by the quick and efficient bucket work of a loader. Over and over I watched how the driver scooped up loads from a pile of asphalt debris in a smooth motion.

Last weekend I was able to practice copying what I had seen. I used our diesel tractor to move lime screenings from the pile dumped beside the hay shed, into the paddock to fill rills and washouts on the slopes beneath the overhang.

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I succeeded in improving my technique.

The last time I tried this exercise, I had a hard time keeping the bucket from digging into the turf and dirt beneath the pile, and I had trouble with spinning my rear tires and scarring the ground beneath the wheels with deep divots.

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Striving to emulate what I had seen weeks earlier, I focused on lifting the bucket through the pile in a single fluid motion, not worrying about trying to get the absolute most material in every scoop. I also practiced sliding the bucket into the pile from a few inches above the base, instead of right at the ground level.

It was easy to come back later and use a hand shovel to reshape the pile and scrape screenings away, down to the grass level.

My improved technique resulted in a lot less fuss for me and a lot less muss to the grounds.

Spring-boarding from that success, I took the tractor out again on Wednesday after work to mow the waterway and fence line along our property border to the south. With a dash of lucky good fortune, I executed maneuvers with minimal hassle to complete the mowing in extremely tight space limitations.

That worked so well, I was done with plenty of time to spare and continued positive momentum that led me to steer my attention to the leaning frame of the gazebo.

It is time to put the shade tarp over the frame, so I figured it best to first look into addressing the two bent top frame members. Ad-libbing a plan, I started taking out bolts to remove one section of bent frame. After multiple trips walking back to the shop for needed tools, I got the piece separated.

That led to another trip to the shop to see if I could figure out a way to bend the square tube back to straight and press out the kinks. My luck held and the first try brought success, just as time was running out for the day.

With my concerns about fixing the top tubes assuaged, I decided it would be most prudent to address the settling that has occurred at the base of the four vertical supports, in order to take away that additional play which allowed the structure to lean in the first place.

It just so happens I have a surplus of pavers that should work very nice in creating a new level footing under each of the four legs of the structure.

That’s one of the main projects on my plan for today. That, and wielding my new loader skills to move a large amount of old compost to make room for new.

There’s nothing like putting new skills to good use.

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Equine Perception

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This weekend, our friends, Mike & Barb, visited for dinner. Before sitting down to a sumptuous feast, we took a walk around the property that culminated in a visit with the horses. Mike brought some apples, so I opened a gate to serve up treats from within the paddock. Being unfamiliar with horses, Barb was more comfortable waiting just outside.

When it comes to treats, the horses are never bashful. Cyndie, Mike, and I moved among the herd to assure each of the 4 received a fair share. After they’d eaten all the apples,dscn5786e Legacy walked right up to Barb at the gate.

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I commented that he was probably fond of her color scheme.

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Especially considering the color pallet that Mike was sporting.

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Hunter seemed to pick right up on Mike’s playful spirit and soaked up his smell with big yawns and an outstretched tongue.

Cyndie pointed out that as herd leader, Legacy’s role is to make sure everyone is safe, connected, and part of the group. He chose to connect with Barb as a way to include her and acknowledge her reticence and sense of vulnerability over being among such large, and sometimes unpredictable animals.

As we discussed this, I was struck by the memory that I was in that very same place of unfamiliarity with horses when we bought this place. I would never think of stepping inside a fence with such large animals.

After one weekend of lessons on horse communication, and learning to understand my energies of mind, heart, and gut, I was significantly transformed. Before the end of the very first day of that weekend, I had moved from being completely naive about anything to do with horses, to finding myself successfully interacting with a horse I had no knowledge of, alone with him within the limited confines of a round pen.

dscn5787eIt was monumental for me. It laid the foundation for everything I’ve learned since, now living as a co-owner of four beautiful Arabian horses.

I feel like I’ve come farther than should be possible in such a short time. I also feel like I still know so little. Every day there is more to grasp about the remarkable dynamics of equine perception.

More often than not, I get the sense that they know more about me than I do.

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Written by johnwhays

February 13, 2017 at 7:00 am