Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘learning

Better Sink

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I am always learning, and thanks to George’s comment on yesterday’s post, where he reminded me about something he shared on a recent visit, I have a renewed appreciation for the value of our grassy fields. Improving our planet is not all about planting more trees.

Grasslands are actually a more reliable carbon sink than tree forests, because they store much of the carbon underground in the root systems.

George pointed me to a podcast where I was able to learn about the Santa Maria Cattle Company in the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem where they are successfully reversing the desertification and building grassland using cattle as the primary tool.

Seems like inverse logic, doesn’t it?

Mismanaged, cows can overgraze and destroy the grassland. Luckily, better thinking is leading to a more enlightened perspective. It is possible to learn from our mistakes and choose a better way. Fernando Falomir and his family are showing what is possible and sharing what they have learned so others can do the same.


George also turned us on to Gabe Brown and the work he is doing to champion regenerative agriculture. Turning dirt into soil! Seems so simple.

Instead of the convention of tilling the earth to plant one crop and ply herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, while also needing to add irrigation to achieve results, Gabe reveals how farmers can succeed by mimicking the diversity of nature instead.

The compacted and deadened dirt can be exchanged for a thick aerated biomass soil that seems so obviously logical as to not require harsh and harmful chemicals to be viable. It can be done, because that is the natural way things worked before we started slamming our short-sighted mass production methods across the land.

In fact, we have a wonderful example right in the heart of Minnesota, where George has returned to his family land to put these precious principles into practice with Walker Farms.

It’s not all about trees.

I’ve definitely learned that.

Thanks, George Walker!



Six Years

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Somehow, six years have passed since we moved from our home of twenty-five years in a suburb of the Twin Cities to this amazing property in western Wisconsin.

Happy 6th Anniversary, Wintervale!

What an amazing time we’ve had figuring out a completely different life from the one we had previously known.

Looking back on our arrival here, we now laugh about the week-long struggle we endured to accomplish the actual closing on the property, while being granted access anyway by the sellers and moving our furniture in as if it was already officially ours.

We put our trust in a local fencing company to help design a layout for our paddocks and pasture fences and were rewarded with a much-loved result. They also helped us accomplish the addition of the hay shed, overcoming repeated weather delays caused by one of the wettest springs locals had experienced.

Five years ago September, our horses arrived and really brought this place to life. That started an ongoing lesson in the art of composting manure, among many other more romantic attractions of owning horses.

This time of year, we are probably composting as many leaves as we are manure.

We are in our second year of having chickens around to control flies and ticks, while also enjoying the secondary benefit of unbelievably great eggs.

We have learned a lot about baled hay and forest management.

We dabbled a little in trying to launch a business.

We’ve stumbled through trying to train our first dog, while simultaneously working on keeping one of two house cats we adopted from a rescue organization.

Every time the leaves fall from our trees and cover the trails six inches deep, it throws me back to that first year when we arrived.

That leads to thoughts about all the things I’ve listed above and gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the number of things we have accomplished since moving here.

I also have a tendency to contemplate what life might have been like had we not made this move. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be in as good of shape as I am now. Caring for animals and managing many acres of hilly fields and forest has a way of keeping a person off the couch for long stretches of time.

I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It’s been a great six years.

Here’s to diving into our seventh with wonder and glee over whatever adventures it may bring!



Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

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.



Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2018 at 6:00 am

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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.



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.



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.



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.



Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2017 at 9:49 am

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