Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘rocks

Harvesting Rocks

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Since it is harvest season, we decided to grab a couple of shovels and head into our woods to harvest rocks for use in the labyrinth. The back half of the circling pathway needs additional rocks to fully complete the borders. This time of year it is easier to see where old rock piles have been swallowed by the woods. From now until the ground freezes becomes prime rock harvesting time.

It might look a little like the photo above when we arrive at first but prying loose just one of the rocks can start a chain reaction of adjacent rocks coming free, one after another.

We were quickly reminded that prop shovels made for the classic “breaking ground” ceremonies where executives and politicians all toss a scoopful of sand are not hardy enough for real work.

Cyndie claimed the shovel in the photo above from her mom’s garage last year as they cleared out possessions in advance of selling the property. Her dad had been involved in more than one of these ground breaking events over the years, keeping the shovels as mementos. This one is the second to have suffered this kind of fate when used in projects around our property.

I turned the previous one into an edger tool by grinding the what was left of the spade into a cutting blade.

After uncovering a reasonable number of healthy-sized rocks for our purposes, we used a wheelbarrow to move them from the woods to the periphery of the labyrinth.

The dusty clay soil gives them all the appearance of being one color at this point but a few rain showers will bring out more individual personalities over time.

Now comes the fun part, picking just the right rocks to fill in the gaps around the back half of the labyrinth pathway. My guess is we could probably use four times as many as we “harvested” today to achieve the full effect we are after, but this amount will occupy us for now.

I want to also get after staging more downed tree trunks and limbs for chipping. There are at least four different spots in our forest where the professional trimmers cut down trees late last winter, leaving the lumber for us to process.

Collecting rocks and trimming downed trees are the two ongoing projects that will never really have a completion point on our property.

They nicely compliment the other project that is always ongoing around here: composting manure.

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Written by johnwhays

October 4, 2022 at 6:00 am

Even Frostier

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Yesterday morning, Wednesday, September 28th, was even colder than the day before. Instead of a few random spots of frost, our entire back pasture was white from ice crystals on the grass.

It was a hard enough freeze to quickly dispatch some of the plants in the labyrinth. The leaves of hydrangea plants had begun to turn black and shrivel by the afternoon.

Once the sun got high, the temperatures were ideal for toiling in the late September rays. We were on the final stretch of weeding around the rocks lining the paths of the front half of the labyrinth. First, we rolled the rocks away to make it easier to pull weeds. Then, using a guide stick to determine proper spacing, I repositioned rocks to define the lanes again.

Having started at the center of the labyrinth where the distances of each circuit are short, dealing with the increasing spans of the much longer outer rings began to grow a little tiresome. Upon reaching our goal, we rewarded ourselves with a second session of the day hanging with the horses as they freely checked out the barn.

It was their second opportunity of the day and every indication is that our plan is working wonderfully. We placed a small amount of feed in each of the stalls as enticement and by the end of the last session all but Mia had ventured in and out of different stalls to nibble. Swings was taking advantage of the water available in hanging buckets in each stall.

It’s looking like we are making good gains toward adjusting their attitude about coming inside the barn during harsh conditions.

Compared to last winter, they are certainly giving us a much less “frosty” reception to the opportunity.

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Written by johnwhays

September 29, 2022 at 6:00 am

Rock Relocation

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When I told Cyndie I was ready to drive the tractor into the back pasture to pick up that rock, she asked if she should move the horses out. I figured they wouldn’t be a problem and suggested she leave them be, without expecting them to be near as chill as they ended up being when the tractor rumbled past them all.

None of them even lifted their heads from chomping away on the grass at their feet. It was a rewarding demonstration of how comfortable they are getting with their environs and our activities around them.

As I was filling the hole with composted manure, the horses took turns approaching the rock and the tractor to see what was going on in their field. I love being able to be in their space and have them so calmly accept our presence.

The labyrinth was the easiest place to put the rock and the easiest spot to set it down was on the outer edge. Without any pre-planning, I grabbed two other available rocks from nearby and placed them on top, reserving the right to switch them out later if we come across ones we like better.

There is something satisfying about this whole process that makes me want to do it right away again. Luckily, there is a known candidate for relocation currently buried on our north loop trail. I know it is there but I don’t have any idea how much of it is buried out of sight.

I’m hoping to find out soon.

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Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2022 at 6:00 am

Rock Up

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When I was mowing the back pasture a couple of days ago, I was startled by what almost sounded like a gunshot when the brush cutter struck I rock that I didn’t know was there. In pure reaction mode, my foot hits the clutch as my right-hand grabs the lever to lift the mower.

I hopped down off the tractor and checked everything over, then walked off to grab a step-in stake to mark the hazard. With the blades looking no worse for the wear, I resumed the pasture cutting and finished without further interruption.

Yesterday, I grabbed a shovel and a pry bar to bring the troublemaker up out of the ground, not yet knowing if it would even be possible. All that was visible was the freshly nicked tip of a proverbial iceberg. What could be lurking beneath the surface might be so large it would require a backhoe to dig out.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case and I was able to employ my solo technique of bringing large rocks up to the surface where I can scoop them up in the loader for relocation.

While the horses grazed nearby, I began probing to find the edges of the rock. Relieved that the borders seemed reasonable, I began shoveling scoopfuls around the perimeter until I got deep enough to use the pry bar to get some movement of the rock.

It’s a slow but completely effective process of tipping the rock enough to shove dirt under it. At first, it seems ineffective but after enough iterations, the progress speeds up. Alternating back and forth on opposite sides of the rock, I pry it up and shove the dirt previously removed to fill the small gaps that open up.

If I had a time-lapse recording it would look like the rock “rocks” back and forth, gaining a little height each time.

The white portion is what the brush cutter chipped off. The darker portion around it is the area that was above the surface. The rest was the mystery encased in dirt.

It looks suspiciously shaped as if it had been formed at some time for a particular purpose but I have no idea why it was buried out in the middle of an open field if that was the case.

Now I am left with a significant void on the surface of the pasture. Before I come out to retrieve the rock with the loader bucket on the tractor I will need to fill the bucket with some replacement soil. Now, where will I find some natural fill around this place?

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Written by johnwhays

September 17, 2022 at 7:00 am

More Rocks

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Shortly after writing that we never have enough rocks, we have kicked it up a notch and collected even more from our woods. Yesterday, our friends Pam and John came out to help us heft many small boulders to enhance our ever-improving labyrinth. The endearingly named Rowcliffe Forest Garden Labyrinth was the focus of the day as we strove to replace many of the plaster faux rocks we originally used during the design of the pathway outlines.

When we arrived on this property there were a surprisingly large number of the manufactured rocks stored on a pallet, likely surplus material from construction of the house and shop/garage. We saw no need for continued storage, so took advantage of the rocky appearance to form much of the labyrinth’s path.

Now that we are striving to replace them with real rocks, it is a surprise to us how many there are. I have no recollection of using so many plaster flat-sided faux rocks.

After we paused for lunch and our friends needed to depart, Cyndie and I wandered down to put away the last wheelbarrow and found ourselves drawn to move just a few more rocks while the weather was nice. About six loads later, we had more than enough to occupy the rest of our day placing them around the circuitous path.

During a pause which found me seated on one of the center circle boulders, I thought to take a picture of the view from the inside out.

Most images we have taken are looking in from the outside.

I did a little rearranging of our small stones and petrified wood specimens that grace the center of the labyrinth dominated by the original boulders and then took more pictures.

It was energizing to linger in that space after the day with friends and our tending to the enhancement of the pathway borders.

One obvious takeaway from the day: we will never have enough rocks.

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Written by johnwhays

October 30, 2021 at 9:36 am

Never Enough

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There are a lot of ways that Cyndie and I are wonderfully compatible, and near the top of the list should be our shared appreciation/fascination with rocks. We both agree that you can never have enough rocks. Toward that end, yesterday Cyndie went into our woods where our newly cut trails had uncovered old piles of fieldstone and hauled a bunch out for use in the labyrinth.

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Our farmer neighbors think we are weird to hold their old rock piles in such high regard.

Cyndie shared a sweet story from her day. When she dumped one load of stones it made a loud clatter that caught the attention of our closest neighbor who was out trimming branches near his deer stand. He called out to her to ask if she was okay. I’m sure from his location it could have sounded like quite a crash.

It’s very comforting to know neighbors watch out for each other here.

These perfect specimens will get placed around the labyrinth pathways to build up the existing borders and allow removal of more of the artificial rocks we used when first establishing the circuitous route. We had pallets of manufactured stone left over from the decorative veneer plastered around the block foundation below the log walls of our house. At the time, it seemed like a good use of the material, but they don’t hold up well against the elements when laying flat on the ground. Some have broken apart from the moisture and many others are simply getting swallowed by the earth around them.

It was interesting for me to work on the different labyrinth design up at the lake over the weekend because that one has very wide borders that are three times the width of the narrow path.

Our labyrinth at home has wide paths with just a single line of stones as dividers.

After working with both, I now wish we could make our rock dividers wider at home, but doing so would narrow the path more than we want. Maybe by placing larger rocks strategically we can beef up the pathway borders enough to provide more of the visual impression I desire without compromising the walking space too much.

There never seems to be enough time to work on the enhancements we both dream of and there are never enough reasons to stop tweaking the design once and for all.

Our labyrinths will always be growing and changing with time.

And they will never have enough rocks, no matter what.

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Written by johnwhays

October 27, 2021 at 6:00 am

Glorious Days

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We have been blessed with three incredible sunrises as well as glorious October weather days at the lake this weekend.

The crisp morning air was colder than the lake water and produced mesmerizing steamy accents to the brilliant colors of the sunrise.

Most of the boats and docks have been pulled out of the water, but this poor orphaned catamaran was still awaiting attention.

It made for an appealing subject for a photo.

We didn’t spend much time near the water because there was so much fun to be had creating the new labyrinth path in the woods.

I was able to successfully route the path around the trees to form a shorter rendition than the 11-circuit Chartres pattern we made at home. Cyndie worked tirelessly to dig up rocks and move them to the edges.

There remains a fair amount of time needed to position more rocks and branches to better define the pathway in a manner that will endure through the seasons. Next spring, I envision a need to selectively remove ferns and trillium that cover the ground here in order to preserve the visibility of the path.

Since we usually are trying to transplant trillium from up here to back home in Beldenville, this has the potential of providing plenty of plants for the task.

Before we get to that point, this labyrinth will need to survive the winter, so I guess we’ll just have to make sure to get up here for the glorious days of the snow season and walk the path frequently enough to maintain the definition.

A labor of love.

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Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2021 at 9:48 am

A Kiss

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It’s all in how you look at things.

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Written by johnwhays

November 11, 2020 at 7:00 am

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Last Cut

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I know this cat named Pequenita who is highly skilled at showing up for scratches at the precise time that I want to use both of my hands to type on my laptop computer. She seems to know that I can’t resist her demands for attention.

Today, we head to Edina for the weekend to participate in Friswold family activities surrounding a graveside memorial service for Fred on Saturday. Please keep Cyndie and her family in your hearts and beam your love when you think of them.

In preparation for being away from home for the weekend, I jumped on the lawn tractor as soon as I got home from work yesterday afternoon to tackle the project of cutting the grass shorter than normal for the late-season mowing session. The short cut left a lot of grass clippings behind that I am going to need to sweep up.

In addition to the excessive clippings, the early cold snap and noticeably shorter daylight hours brought on dew that had me cutting some wet grass before I was through. The amount of grass stuck to the bottom of the mower deck was epic. I disconnected the mower from the tractor and struggled mightily to lift the deck for cleaning. It weighed a ton!

The whole project was a little too much for the short time I had available, so the finishing touches will come later. I still may end up needing to cut some areas another time before winter, but I’m hoping most of the mowing is now done for the season.

I’m at that point of wanting to use up the last of the gas in the mower before parking that tractor for the winter.

When I was cutting down by the labyrinth, I had to work around a couple of rocks that had tumbled from one of my recent precarious balance installations.

It’s all good fun until you neglect to pick up the fallen rocks. Those two have returned to ground level and interfered with grass cutting in the vicinity. Far be it from me to stop and get off the tractor to move them. I just forged ahead, cutting around the obstacles to keep going uninterrupted.

During our work down at the labyrinth last week, I took a picture of the center boulders and the miscellaneous additions scattered around them.

It wasn’t getting much attention during our sessions of adding rocks to the path borders, but it is the center point destination of the journey inward, after all.

The future star of the labyrinth garden, that maple tree we transplanted to the middle, will someday, long after I’m gone, tower over the paths.

Maybe by that time, the shade it will provide can dissuade the grass from growing so fast beneath its branches.

I will be happy if we’ve already made the last cut of labyrinth grass for the season. We will be making tracks in snow down there again before too long.

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Written by johnwhays

September 11, 2020 at 6:00 am

Delilah Helping

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While Cyndie and I were playing around with building more robust stone borders in the labyrinth over the weekend, we enjoyed some special company from Delilah. Even though she couldn’t pick up any of the rocks, she made a very notable point of being as present as possible in a clear gesture of moral support.

Normally, when we secure her leash somewhere while we are focused on a project, she sets off exploring every distance she can reach, seeking out any potential burrs she can collect in her thick coat or digging ferociously after some tunneling rodent in pursuit of entirely selfish entertainment.

On Labor Day Monday, she came over as close to “in my way” as possible, at the farthest reach of the leash that strained against her harness, and laid down to “supervise” my work. It was such uncharacteristic behavior, I paused to take a picture of her.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was also going to capture Cyndie in the background setting down a rock the size of the soccer ball with such little apparent effort that it looked to be as light as a soccer ball, too.

I assure you, none of the rocks that size were light. My back and legs second that assurance. We moved some heavy stones over the weekend.

We worked so hard, I think we tired out Delilah.

A short time later, I noticed she had laid her head down, using a rock for a pillow, and closed her eyes for a little nap, still at the far reach of her leash.

I think she was telling us the labyrinth is a very comfortable place to be.

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Written by johnwhays

September 9, 2020 at 6:00 am

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