Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘rocks

Rock Work

with 2 comments

Yesterday was one of those days when the things we thought we might do when we talked about it at breakfast, ended up being different than what we chose to do after stepping out into the day. It was funny that both Cyndie and I lobbied for a refocus to something different.

I wanted to do some rock work and she wanted to transplant some trees.

We started out by the road where the recent tree clearing by the township maintenance crew had uncovered an old rock pile and decaying fence post that marked our property boundary. I wanted to stack a cairn of stones to more purposefully indicate the spot.

We also dug up a couple of rocks that were pushing their way above ground enough to become a nuisance when mowing. What do I do with extra rocks? Find somewhere to balance them.

I picked Cyndie’s perennial garden.

We moved from there to transplanting volunteer oak trees from places they shouldn’t be to just outside the fence line of the paddock. If they take, the ultimate goal would be for them to provide natural shade for the horses. It’ll take a year to see if they survive the shock we put them through today, but it will take a lot of years to become tall enough to offer real shade.

I’m honestly skeptical about the chances, but if we never try, we’ll never have even a possibility.

The biggest hurdle is the soil. The trees were extricated from sandy soil at the high point of our property and replanted into heavy clay soil by the drainage ditch that crosses our back field.

Time will tell.

Maybe I should think about stacking rocks to make a wall high enough to offer shade. It would probably take as much time as growing trees, but the odds of success are probably better.



Written by johnwhays

September 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

We’re Dry

leave a comment »

During my commute home yesterday afternoon, I watched clouds thicken and grow dark to the south. When I exited from I94 east and turned toward the southeast heading to River Falls, the view looked a little threatening. Then the radio reported there was only one noteworthy storm worth mentioning. With possible heavy rain amounts, high wind, and hail, in Goodhue and Pierce counties, it included the communities of Red Wing and Hager City.

We live in Pierce county, a short distance north of Red Wing.

Good, I thought. We could use the rain. I just wasn’t fired up about driving in the pouring rain.

When I finally reached Beldenville, the road was soaking wet, but the rain was already done. It must have stopped just before I arrived.

We live a couple of miles north of Beldenville proper, and when I turned onto County J, the pavement was bone dry.

We didn’t get a drop at home.

I stepped out on the deck to take a picture of the drooping sunflower for a representation of how the plants are feeling about our long spell without rain.

As I stood there, I noticed there was a lot more than just the sunflower that would show up in the frame.

This sunflower made a surprise appearance, most likely growing from birdseed that fell from the feeder nearby. It shot up with robust energy at first. When the ground started to dry out, the growth stunted significantly. It hasn’t looked very happy ever since.

There used to be a big pine tree here. I’m guessing it might have been root bound, based on my recent discovery about the pines out in the field north of the driveway. We left it standing until it was good and dead, then I cut it down, leaving enough of the old trunk to have a nice support for a balanced rock. Using this chiseled stone for a base (probably a remnant from the construction of the field stone chimney on the house), I balanced a large rock that I was only barely able to lift up to the necessary height.

It eventually fell down.

I’ve yet to decide whether to put a different one up there, but I’ve definitely chosen to leave the too heavy one safely on the ground where it landed.

Even though the big tree died, the ground seems to be fertile for a new generation of pines sprouting in its place. There are at least three rising up around that stump, taking advantage of the sunlight available since I cut the big one down.

And where do baby trees come from? The number of pine cones remaining from the now-removed tree seem to offer plenty of clues.

Maybe if we come out of this dry spell, more of those seeds will sprout.



Written by johnwhays

August 17, 2018 at 6:00 am

Latest Word

leave a comment »

I have a habit of getting stuck on a pattern of frequent reuse of a particular word. The latest word that I’ve noticed –usually it happens without my being aware– is “gorgeous.” In terms of a hot August day at the lake, the word is well suited to describe yesterday.

After a lazy soak in the lake, Cyndie and I lost ourselves in an over-fascination with picking rocks that grabbed our fancy.

“I like this one.”

“Oooh, look at this!”

“Here’s one for you.”

In the water, they look so shiny and bright. Cyndie brings up a pile of them to keep, all of which tend to turn into much less spectacular stones after they’ve dried.

I like shapes and textures. Tear drop and smooth.

Both of our eyes are drawn to the ones with lines of different color layers.

I noticed an urge to break some open to get another view of the layers. That thought brought back a memory of hammering different colored stones to dust with my siblings to make layered sand art jars.

I remember thinking those always turned out gorgeous.

And for the record, this August weather totally rocks!



Written by johnwhays

August 12, 2018 at 8:33 am

Pond Day

leave a comment »

We’ve put off tending to our little landscape pond this spring for longer than we probably should. Part of that is because it was still frozen solid just a couple of weekends ago. The reality is, we would have been a lot better off if we had given the pond more attention way back last fall.

I failed to take a picture of the pond before starting, and thus missed a wonderful opportunity for the classic “before/after” comparison, so you’ll just have to take my word for how neglected it looked. The primary plant already growing in the pond before we arrived here was variegated sweet flag.

It has shown itself to be very happy with our location, expanding its reach in the last few years to an amazing degree. The old shoots were a dreary mess, along with a thick carpet of dead leaves and pine needles.

We spent most of the afternoon yesterday pulling dead and decaying organic matter out of the pond, along with all the swampy odors that come with that.

Cyndie heroically wrestled to prune out the unrestrained expansion of the sweet flag in hopes of being able to see more water than grass this summer.

I gathered the pump and filter paraphernalia from the garage shelf and got it reassembled and reinstalled. We rearranged rocks, trimmed tree branches overhead, and by dinner time, achieved a much less neglected looking pond.

The serenade of falling water has returned to compliment the constant chirping of night frogs for our evening soundtracks.

It seemed like a lot of work for one little pond, but given that it was done in a day and now looks ready for the summer, we decided it was a reasonable effort to put forth.

In a few weeks, we should be able to see new sprigs of variegated sweet flag poking up out of the water from what remains of the big cut back yesterday. Based on our experience here, I’m pretty sure we won’t wait so long next time to prune back the prolific advance of these happy plants.



Written by johnwhays

May 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

Syrup Again

leave a comment »

Since moving to the country and discovering some of the local treasures around us, Cyndie has purchased pure maple syrup only once a year. It’s that time again! Just a few miles south of Ellsworth, the Stockwell family taps 35 acres of maple trees and collects enough gallons of sap to supply folks with a full year’s worth of syrup, if you have containers to hold it.









We’ve figured out the routine and bring two 2-quart Mason jars to be placed under the spigot of the large tank and filled with the dark amber bliss every April during the S & S Sugar Bush open house pancake breakfast weekend.

It’s hard to find an event pancake breakfast that isn’t pretty darn good, be it firefighters, boy scouts, legions, or service clubs, but I gotta say the fresh, hot blueberry cakes, sausage, and pure maple syrup combination we enjoyed yesterday morning tasted about as good as I can recall ever experiencing.

Our friends Mike and Barb Wilkus accompanied us, having also joined us for the live Climate Cast at MPR Thursday night and then sleeping over to be available for the Sugar Bush open house. After the scrumptious breakfast, we took a stroll through the woods to witness the number of tapped trees that were supplying the sweet maple sap.

It is impressive to consider the hundreds of gallons of sap running up through the roots of these trees when the spring temperatures are just right —warm during the day and below freezing at night. One of the Stockwell sons described how the percent of sweetness drops in time, but his grandpa would collect the later sap for a vinegar.

The syrup open house has become so precious to us, Cyndie invited more friends to stop by today so she could go again and share the event with them, too. I reckon the delicious pancakes might have something to do with her zeal, as well.

There is another precious annual event that will be happening next week for us. For the second year in a row, Wintervale Ranch will be holding our own open house as a host site for The Labyrinth Society’s World Labyrinth Day Peace Walk. Walk as one at 1.

Around the world, at each location, people will walk and visualize peace at 1:00 p.m. in their time zones, creating a wave of peaceful energy flowing around the globe.

Cyndie has been working to spruce up our labyrinth, despite the lack of growth from the barely thawed landscape. I noticed when Barb and Mike were here and we did a moonlight walk Thursday night that the overnight freezing and daytime warm sunshine was still conspiring to tip over plenty of my rock arrangements.

It sounds like we can expect some rain showers this coming week, so maybe new growth will be exploding in spectacular glory for visitors on Saturday. If the day dawns nearly as spectacular as today, World Labyrinth Day will be a wonderful opportunity to experience the best of Wintervale Ranch.

If you are reading in the Twin Cities area, I hope you will consider joining us!

Saturday, May 5, 2018 between 12:00-3:00 p.m.  Please email to register and receive directions.



Leaning Over

with 8 comments

The heavy rock that took five people to lift into place on the boulders at the center of our labyrinth has survived the worst that winter tossed its way. It didn’t fall out and roll to the ground. However, it did lean over to a significant degree.

I think it might be a metaphor for how Cyndie and I feel after the number of challenges we have faced in the last few months, starting with the unexpected death of our lead horse, Legacy.

Just as we began to think we were coming to terms with one thing, another challenge would blow in on us. It all pretty much tipped us over to a similar degree. It occurred to us, more than once, that one way to avoid falling to earth would be by simply choosing to jump down of our own volition.

It’s funny. In a way, it took a leap of faith in the first place to get where we are today. Now we have wondered about taking a leap right back out of here, to be done with the struggles confounding our original vision.

The thing is, as crucial a part of our dream as Legacy was, I don’t want his dying to linger as the insurmountable disturbance that extinguished the flame of possibility for good. It doesn’t do proper justice to him or his name. Losing Legacy can be a powerful lesson for us to grasp and embrace.

Really, anything we might accomplish going forward, will be in honor of him and all he contributed here.

This past weekend, for the first time since he died, we witnessed the three chestnuts execute a completely unexpected “Emergency Response Drill.” It was a big deal to us. Legacy, as herd leader, used to initiate these surprise escape drills at feeding time as a way to see he could get the herd moving in a moments notice, even if it meant leaving their food.

They all run away with a full-speed urgency that implies all lives are at stake. At about ten paces away, they pull up short, turn around to assess the situation, and then walk back and finish eating.

It’s invigorating to watch, especially when you just so happen to be standing in the vicinity with a manure scoop, at risk of being inadvertently trampled by their frantic departure.

Neither Cyndie nor I spotted who initiated the drill, but simply knowing the herd is resuming their group behaviors was comforting. I don’t know if this will culminate in a clear establishment of a new leader, but I’m pleased to see they are working on some kind of arrangement.

Cyndie reported that the mares initiated another drill yesterday, while Hunter just happened to be rolling on the wet, muddy ground, which forced him to abort his plan and get back to his feet, pronto.

Yes, they are definitely working on something. Poor guy is outnumbered now, so I won’t be surprised if either Cayenne (who has always behaved like a big sister with him) or Dezirea end up filling the role as primary head of their household.

We’ve all been pushed over a little bit since the start of the year, but we haven’t hit the ground.

Knowing the horses are working things out, and having a brood of new chicks to fawn over, helps provide inspiration for us to visualize righting ourselves and doing Legacy proud.

I think we are making strides toward steadying ourselves to lean into whatever might unfold next.



Written by johnwhays

March 27, 2018 at 6:00 am

New Backdrop

with 2 comments

We are creating a new back drop for Cyndie’s wildflower perennial garden near the spot where soil from the neighbor’s cornfield has been pouring over our property line. This will obscure the sight of our less attractive silt fence and hay bale barrier installed to stem the flow of hyper-fertilized sandy topsoil that comes our way with every heavy rainfall event.









We started collecting a wide variety of branches for the project last year, not exactly sure what the method would be, nor what the ideal branch would look like. Though the added character of misshapen gnarly pieces seemed like a good thing, I quickly discovered that the perfectionist in me was more strongly attracted to a precise diameter of very straight young trees.

I also figured out in rather short order, we are going to need to collect a lot more raw material to complete the project.

Off to a fair start, though, and have, at the very least, proved the concept. The vision I had involved a more dense positioning of branches than I am achieving, but given the material I am working with, the result is more open. In the end, I think this will work out well enough.

It’s certainly easier to accomplish.

For all the places around our land where we fight to squelch the growth of vines, I’m thinking we should try to encourage some to climb this. That would fill in the gaps nicely.

My favorite part of yesterday’s effort was actually the successful digging out and moving of a rock that was once again on the outer limits of my ability. With Cyndie’s assistance, we used a pry bar to tip it up and force dirt back underneath.

Alternating back and forth to opposite sides, this raises the rock up to the surface without leaving a hole in the ground. Once at the surface, using the pry bar, we can get it to roll into a desired new position. The rock is visible on the right, in front of the new fence, in the photos above.

I expect there will end up being an additional rock balanced on that one sometime in the future.

It’s a challenge to tip rocks up when they weigh more than me. There are limits to how much leverage advantage I can achieve. There was another rock uphill from this one that was over twice the size. I would have loved to raise that one to the surface, but I wasn’t strong enough to tip it more than a fraction.

Cyndie couldn’t push enough soil beneath it to make any appreciable progress. Given that our primary goal was to build the fence, we left the boulder for a future challenge, should we ever be so inclined.




Written by johnwhays

October 14, 2017 at 9:19 am