Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘rocks

Pond Day

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

May 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

Syrup Again

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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.

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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 cyndie@wintervaleranch.com to register and receive directions.

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Leaning Over

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

March 27, 2018 at 6:00 am

New Backdrop

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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.

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

October 14, 2017 at 9:19 am

Many Hands

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From the moment we arranged the two boulders in the center location of what was to become the Rowcliffe Forest Garden Labyrinth, I envisioned a third stone resting upon them. The first challenge to fulfilling that vision was finding the right stone.

It needed to be the right shape and size, which I knew would mean the perfect stone would be too heavy for me to lift.

My quest for the specific stone was complicated by the fact that, without significant disruption, I couldn’t use trial and error to decide. Dealing with a such a heavy stone would mean the first one placed in that spot would likely be the only one placed in that spot.

Over the years, I experimented with light-weight objects to assist my eye for identifying what size and shape of rock I was looking for. Perfection proved to be hard to come by among the rock piles around our property, but last year I finally found one that had good potential.

It was buried in the woods, located conveniently close to the labyrinth. Using a small piece of woven fence panel and a strap, I created a sling to move it. Then I enlisted Cyndie –back when she still had two strong shoulders– to see if two people could do it.

It worked, enough to prove the concept, anyway. We stopped after getting it to the edge of the trail. There it sat for most of the year, because I wasn’t sure how to safely get it lifted high enough to position it atop the two boulders.

Yesterday, I realized we had the many hands of adventurous strong guys available to make the work light.

It’s a whole ‘nother story that we hosted a gathering at Wintervale with the families of Cyndie’s late aunt, Joan Brolin, to celebrate Christmas in September. That tale will likely get told in coming days.

I hadn’t thought about it in advance, but conversation somehow led to the topic of my wanting to figure out how to lift the heavy stone and place it. Cyndie’s brother, Steve, shared a video about a man who could move heavy objects by himself, using simple aids.

Cyndie’s cousin, Tom, thought we had enough hands and wanted to check it out. I grabbed a tape measure for one last confirmation that this stone would be the right size for what I was hoping to accomplish.

With little in the way of complications, five of us were able to move it, lift it high enough, roll it into place, and then rock it into a position that was stable.

It was an extremely satisfying triumphant moment for me.

Thank you to Cyndie’s brothers, Ben and Steve, and cousins Tom and Mike for helping fulfill my dream. And thank you to my daughter, Elysa, for capturing the event on my phone.

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Written by johnwhays

September 17, 2017 at 8:44 am

Making Peace

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It is getting to a point where I think I just need to make peace with the fact that water runoff on our property will carve its own path no matter what feeble attempts I make to direct it.

We received another short-but-robust deluge from the rain gods yesterday afternoon, which generated eroding runoff flow digging ever deeper into all the existing rills and washouts that had already evolved from the last few downpours this summer.

While standing on one of the spots inside the small paddock where our insufficient attempts to establish a direct route to the drainage swale had long ago spectacularly failed, I tried to envision what a successful solution might look like.

I picture a much more assertive effort along the lines of what you would see done to create a drainage ditch along a roadway. If we dig an unmistakable ditch, we could dump the material we scoop out of it to fill the washouts we’d rather not have.

The big challenge with a serious excavation is getting planted grass to sprout and hopefully hold soil in place before rainfall gets a chance to wash it all away. If money were no object, maybe we could line the ditch with enough river rock to form a creek bed.

Aw, heck, why stop there? Let’s just line it with a rubber pond skin first, and then pour on the rock. Wouldn’t that make a sharp-looking dry creek that’s always ready for a flash flood. It’s called Rainscaping.

There are a lot of images out there depicting some incredibly artistic solutions along these lines. Fifty dry creek ideas right here! But there is one thing missing from all photos I saw: weeds.

If we tried any of those solutions, in a very short time, you wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful rocks through the 3-foot tall weeds that would happily take root.

Maybe there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I’m thinking I need grass to grow to hold soil in place, or rocks. How about grass and rocks?

It would be a hassle to mow, though.

Back to reality. The rocks to cover the distances I need would be an awful strenuous effort to accomplish, in addition to the cost of having them delivered. Grass seed is something I can afford and plant easily myself.

It doesn’t cost anything to dream. I like picturing the possibilities. In the mean time, I am stuck looking at the ongoing and frustrating erosion that has had the better of me for the last five years.

I want to work on making my peace with that.

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Written by johnwhays

August 28, 2017 at 6:00 am

Beyond Me

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For me, building our chicken coop was a stretch. I’d never tried any construction project of that magnitude before, and I was choosing to work from found materials and without a blueprint. It was a small miracle it turned out as well as it did.

Now, Cyndie is telling me we need to modify it to have a divider that will allow us to introduce unfamiliar birds to the existing flock of three. Today, a functional version of her vision is completely beyond me. I have no idea how I will secure all the nooks and crannies with chicken wire to a point where two unfamiliar flocks of birds will co-exist for a while in that one coop.

On to something I can do. Yesterday, I put the old F150 to work doing double duty. First, it was a road trip to the cities to pick up a load of unwanted used pavers from a staff member at the day-job. Drew was nice enough to offer them up for free if I would go to his place and make them disappear.

I had a plan to use them on one of the muddy spots on our trail through the woods. Before I could get to that step, I needed to reclaim a pile of rock that I had stumbled upon when creating a path to the new chicken coop last year. There was an old rusty box stove in the woods that I believe was used to boil syrup. It looked to be generations old, and the area around it had some old busted cinder blocks and a pile of landscape rocks.

Those rocks would serve nicely to fill a spot in the trail that tends to puddle, so before setting the new paver pieces in place, I wanted to transfer the rocks.

The chickens showed up to help, but were almost too eager to get after the creepy crawling creatures revealed when I scooped a shovel-full. They were more interference than they were helpers, but they sure are cute to have as company.

While the hours of the day vanished, one after the other, I hustled to get the pavers moved out of the truck. We had an appointment to pick up a load of hay around dinner time.

Hoping to minimize the handling, I wanted to transfer from the truck to the ATV trailer so I could deliver pavers directly to the path in the woods.

After a cursory two trips of distributing pavers, I had a good start on the trail, but needed to stack the rest up by the shop for use at a later time. The appointed hay hour was fast approaching.

Given this morning’s new assignment with the chicken coop, I am thoroughly enjoying the mental ease and physical feasibility of yesterday’s projects. New hay is stacked in the shed and pavers cover the muddy trail.

Next time it rains I’ll be excited to walk the enhanced surface of the trail at the bottom of the hill.

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Written by johnwhays

July 8, 2017 at 9:31 am