Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘Winter

Delicate Impressions

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There is a new covering of snow that has created a fresh surface for our forest creatures to make their marks upon. I’ve gotten no better over the years at differentiating the identity of the range of little footprints made by squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, moles, and mice, but I know all of them are out there running around.

It starts with one or two crossing our trails while snow is still falling and by 24 hours later, it looks like everyone is out and about. Yesterday, we found evidence of a feathered friend, or friends, dancing around on the white carpet.

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I love seeing the gentle wisps of wing feathers adding context to visible footwork scribbled in the snow.

While I had my camera out to capture all this art, I spotted a different sort of impression. I love the combination of the shadow of sunlight and the indented snow impression on either side of this dried plant that wind had pressed down.

No pictures were taken during our last walk of the night because it was too dark, but there were plenty of beautiful views we enjoyed as I pulled the trash bin down our driveway to the road.

I wore a headlamp but never turned it on. With the small crescent moon reflecting light onto the white snow-covered ground, there was just enough light that I could navigate my way.

The sky was crystal clear, which explains the space-like below-zero temperatures we are experiencing again. We put blankets back on the horses earlier in the night after giving them a break for a few days. The stars were so bright we almost didn’t need the reflections off the slice of the moon that was visible.

I noticed the horses were standing at the bottom of the slope from the barn, near the gate to the hayfield, as we passed by. As Delilah and I neared the top of the last rise in the driveway before it drops down to the road, my peripheral vision picked up motion to my right.

Turning my head to figure out what it was brought an unexpected startle of the four horses jogging along the fence beside us. We all stopped as I turned my whole body to acknowledge them and exchange greetings. Delilah seemed unimpressed with having company on our trek.

As I resumed pulling the trash bin along the driveway, the four blanketed horses decided to run off in a beautiful semi-moonlit arc off the rise and back down toward the outer perimeter of the paddock fence line.

The delicate impressions of walking the trash to the road always make the chore well worth the effort, even in hazardous wind-chill conditions.

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Written by johnwhays

January 7, 2022 at 7:00 am

Cold Start

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In the purest definition of my life memories of what “up north” during a Minnesota winter entails, we have been enjoying gorgeous deep snow scenes and seriously cold temperatures. It stays below zero all day long for days at a time and there is no sign anywhere of the fallen snow melting on the ground. No slush on the rural roads. Just hard-packed snow with occasional areas of sand dropped at higher traffic intersections.

The first day of January offered clear skies and plenty of sun, the common denominator for extremely cold temperatures. With no cloud cover to hold a little of the earth’s heat, the air feels like it is aligning with the temperatures of deep space above.

Delilah’s thick fur coat keeps her comfortable all but the bottoms of her paws. She isn’t a big fan of standing around in the cold. In fact, even if we are walking along with her, she wants to pick up the pace and hustle to get wherever the heck it is we intend on going.

After multiple snowshoeing adventures this weekend, I think she has figured out that the initial extra time she is made to wait at the beginning while we are strapping on the odd contraptions to our boots, comes with a payoff of opportunities to romp in the deep stuff shortly after.

We bushwhacked right from the driveway into the wooded contours of the southern edge of the Chippewa National Forest yesterday and I guided Delilah to select a navigable route atop a ridge, every so often aligned with the tracks revealing deer had already done the same.

It is a treat to watch the glee of Delilah’s leaping through the deep snow. She has no choice but to leap, actually, since it is deeper than her legs are long.

The only setback she experiences is the need to pause once in a while to chew away the snow that balls up between her toes. I can imagine that feels just as annoying as the snow that collects under the cleat of my snowshoes in certain conditions. We didn’t have that problem with the cold powder snow this weekend.

It was a cold start of the year 2022, but a grand one for us. Here’s hoping it proves to be a hint of greater times to come.

It was truly precious to kick off the new year in such a special place with our even more special friends and hosts, Barb and Mike Wilkus.

We will spend the rest of today on the road, heading home to see how the horses are doing in this coldest weather since they arrived with us last April. Having dreamt about horses this morning, I’m feeling a heightened urge to get home to see ours.

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Written by johnwhays

January 2, 2022 at 10:14 am

Hello 2022

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Happy New Year! Good Riddance, Old Year! Let’s hope the coming year will bring the ultimate demise of the current global pandemic so we can better focus on dealing with the growing weather calamities caused by the ever-warming planet. We find ourselves under the spell of a deep freeze of -31°(F) this morning here just north of Grand Rapids, MN.

We celebrated the last day of 2021 yesterday with a hearty snowshoe hike in the woods on nearby Wilkus’ property before the temperatures plummeted well below zero.

They have christened the property with an acronym’d designation garnered from Barb and Mike’s grandchildren: Maggie, Allie, Jackson, Jack, and Caleb.

It is a perfect name for the magical plot of varying elevations with thick tree growth and a pond nestled in a bowl surrounded by a prominent ridge.

With almost two feet of relatively fresh snow accumulation creating iconic winter landscape views, we let Delilah bounce ahead to break a trail that we widened with our snowshoes.

For some reason, I kept noticing a mental image of a steamy cup of hot cocoa forming while we clomped through the powder. Barb made my dream come true after we got back to the cabin.

As you might imagine, Delilah was in her glory, pouncing about like “T-i-double guh-er” of Winnie the Pooh fame in the deep snow.

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It took extra effort to dissuade her from a fixation on a tree in which she spied a nut-weilding squirrel energetically climb. So many new sights and smells for her to explore.

She didn’t seem all that fired up about our staying up late to hoot and holler over the Times Square ball dropping in New York at 11:00 p.m. our time. As long as it was midnight somewhere, it was good enough for us to call it a night.

May the new year treat you all with big love in all the best of forms that can be manifest!

Peace!

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Written by johnwhays

January 1, 2022 at 10:36 am

Seem Settled

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The most recent batch of wild weather is now history. Yesterday, I cranked up the chainsaw and cut apart sections of the downed trees that obstructed our trails. All of them were already dead and have inspired me to consider being more proactive about tending to the potential hazards to our fences.

Speaking of our fences, I am surprised at the resilience of our high tensile wire fence. Despite the heavy pressure on the top wire of a section where one of the larger trees landed, no damage resulted. After I cut the tree into pieces, the wire returned to its original appearance. At our cold temperatures, I expected the stretch would have remained and required re-tensioning of the top wire.

Our horses seem settled into a winter routine. Their overnight inside the barn stalls protected them from the rain that dripped off fence boards, freezing into little icicles as the warmth transformed into more normal December temperatures.

We had a dusting of snow overnight last night that revealed the horses stayed out in the open while flakes fell. They had little white blankets on their backs when we showed up to serve their morning feed.

There was just enough early sunshine to trigger their habit of standing sideways to soak up the rays. I noticed steam rising off their bodies as the snow blankets began to melt.

In the time since I returned to the house and finished my own breakfast, the sky has become overcast. At this point, the horses are more inclined to lay down and roll around to knock the melting snow blankets off their backs.

They’ve now seen a full gamut of winter conditions interspersed with an uncharacteristic warm spell and spring-like thunderstorm and appear to be handling it with minimal stress. That goes a long way to relieve us from fretting over how to provide them the best care.

It is helping us to feel settled with our late decision to keep the horses here full-time. If they are happy, we are happy.

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Written by johnwhays

December 18, 2021 at 11:25 am

Chronological Order

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We did not experience deadly tornadoes last night, just a pleasant blast of big snow that has thrust us fully into what winter is usually like around these parts. Here is my photo exposé chronicling the views.

I did a little “pre-plowing” last night to break the project up into two episodes of medium depths instead of one massive task.

Just like the meteorologists were boasting, it was coming down at 1-to-2 inches per hour, but I would say the flakes were pretty small.

The pre-dawn light was enticing and the muffled sound in the woods was accented with sweet songbird melodies.

There was a hint of a labyrinth pathway under the fresh blanket of new snow.

The horses appear to have dealt with the storm well. We treated them to some sweet apple-flavored biskets after their morning feed to celebrate the novelty of their new deep-snow landscape.

There is a lot of plowing to be done between the barn and the hay shed. I didn’t spend any time last night pre-plowing that area. The driveway has about 5 new inches on it, not accounting for the areas where drifts will be much deeper.

The depths vary greatly depending on where we check but 11-inches was a pretty common reading I found up by the house.

There is a lot of snow to be pulled off the eaves of the roof. I would like to do that as soon as possible to take advantage of the bright sunshine we expect today but there is a lot of plowing that I’ll work on first.

It will be a gorgeous winter day to be outside, which is a good thing because I expect my snow clearing work will take me all day long to accomplish.

I will be thanking the universe the whole time that I am not cleaning up debris from tornado destruction instead.

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Written by johnwhays

December 11, 2021 at 10:48 am

Remembering Winter

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It has been a couple of years since we’ve had horses over the months of freezing temperatures and blowing snow. I’m finding it a little comical that neither Cyndie nor I remember how we handled the nuances of our barn chores during the winter months.

It’s not difficult to make it up as we go along, except for the nagging knowledge that we already had a smoothly functioning routine once before. Seems like we shouldn’t have to start anew.

Yesterday, we found the waterer was freezing up, leading me to believe one or more of the heating elements are failing. At least that is a new problem because we never needed to worry about that before.

Manure management is a little wobbly. Sometimes, frozen poop is easier to scoop up. A lot of other times it isn’t. I keep telling Cyndie we used to leave it all in place until spring but she doesn’t remember it that way. The difference, I believe, is that we haven’t received much snow yet and we can still roll the wheelbarrow around. She’ll be happy to leave it all when/if real snow begins to accumulate.

I’ve reminded Cyndie that we plowed a path from the barn to the compost area and only scooped under the overhang and in the stalls over winter. Since we don’t have any snow yet, the obvious limitations aren’t there.

I’m already trying to recall my routine of resuming active composting after winter releases its grip. Those of you who keep dogs in your backyard in places where snow covers the ground for months know what the ground looks like when the snow first melts. Multiply that mental image by the volume four horses produce.

We are getting hit with seriously cold temperatures and aggressive winter winds already. The unknown element of snow accumulation remains to be revealed in the weeks ahead.

I’m waiting to find out if this will turn out to be a winter like the snowy ones I remember most from the recent past.

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Written by johnwhays

December 7, 2021 at 7:00 am

Staying Put

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Upon seeing Ward’s comment on yesterday’s post, I realized I haven’t written about our decision to keep our rescued Thoroughbreds through the winter. It’s actually been a gradual process for us to come to this conclusion. Recently, Cyndie affirmed our intentions with “This Old Horse” and this set in motion preparations for winter horse care.

They are fully supportive and provided contact information for some volunteer caretakers living near us who we didn’t previously know about. If we find ourselves needing coverage during a time we will be away, “This Old Horse” volunteers can step in.

We might update the horses’ feed rations or nutrition for the winter. “This Old Horse” will bring us heated water buckets for in the barn stalls. We will be contacting their hay supplier to coordinate a plan for when we will be needing more bales.

It is a wonderful partnership that serves the horses’ best interests and gives us the support that enables us to provide them a long-term retirement home.

We are very happy to report the horses are staying put for the indefinite future.

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Written by johnwhays

November 17, 2021 at 7:00 am

Gentle Reminder

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This year’s initiation to snow cover came gently and during the weekend, causing minimal impact to our routine. We aren’t sure about the history of our horses’ experience with snow but there was no indication they were the least bit disturbed by the arrival of whiteness.

Their greater concern of late is the frequent report of rifles reverberating in the valley. In the days leading up to the actual 9-day deer hunting season, there are a lot more gunshots heard than the few bursts at dusk and dawn when the season is underway. My guess is early gunshots are a result of shooters aligning their scopes and firing their weapons in rehearsal for the real thing, based on a comment I heard from someone years ago.

Not being a hunter myself, I just rely on what others have told me.

After a single day, the snow is rapidly disappearing.

I’ll take that as a reminder that the transition of seasons doesn’t always happen in an instant. This year we have been spared one of those sudden blast storms with deep snow that ends up lasting the entire winter. I’m lookin’ at you, 1991 Halloween Blizzard.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m perfectly okay with a gentle reminder when season-long snowfall is nigh.

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Written by johnwhays

November 16, 2021 at 7:00 am

Time Weathered

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What a wind we experienced yesterday! A simple walk around the property was an exhausting struggle. The bare branches of our trees clattered overhead as they bounced against one another, putting me on alert about walking beneath them. Delilah’s ability to smell what’d been going on overnight was visibly altered as a wealth of distant scent information was arriving through the air faster than she could parse and the ground scents were being endlessly scrubbed away.

While deep in the woods near the edge of our property, we witnessed the sound of a large tree cracking and falling. My first impression had me turning to my left to look up the hill toward the direction of our house, but that didn’t sound right. Looking in the opposite direction into our neighbor’s woods locked into the full sound, but I couldn’t see the source.

It was definitely impacting multiple trees and the cracking and crunching made quite an impression. I looked toward Delilah and she was staring intently toward the direction of the sound, after which she looked up at me as if to say, “Whoa!” –as in, ‘that was huge!’

Yeah, that was a “whoa” alright. It was a big one that answered any questions about falling trees making sounds whether anyone was there, or not.

We were out on the second trek of the day and I could see the footprint evidence of Cyndie and Delilah’s first walk at dawn. Cyndie was able to stay on top of the frozen crust. It provided a contrast to the other extreme from her afternoon walk the day before when the soft snow had her boots dropping to the full depth, making a stroll on our trail into a real slog.

At the hour I was traveling over the terrain, my boots were just breaking the surface.

Our snowpack has experienced multiple thaw/freeze cycles in the last week and then yesterday the surface was scoured by the relentless battering of gale-force gusting winds. It barely looks like snow anymore. It resembles the surface of the moon, except for the occasional random foot path trails various wildlife visitors have left in their wake.

This morning’s peaceful calm almost enhances the perception of a lunar location.

It’s a calm before the next storm, we are told. A Winter Weather Advisory is on for tonight and tomorrow morning in our location. That crusty surface will be given a fresh new coat of inches on which we get to tread in the days ahead.

Huzzah to that, we say! Bring it on.

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Written by johnwhays

February 27, 2021 at 10:43 am

Rare Interaction

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We interacted in a social way with other humans yesterday! Late February 2021. A milestone. Duly masked for appropriate social behavior in a pandemic, we hosted our friends, Barb and Mike Wilkus to share an appetizer, visit the chickens, and then travel to Pepin for a snowshoe hiking event at YMCA’s Camp Pepin. Afterward, we returned to our house for a light dinner, dessert by the fire, a little banter, and …blink, blink… the night was over.

There will never be enough time to catch up on the year of social interaction we have lost since the pandemic swept the world.

Hanging with friends will never feel fully satisfying until masking is no longer standard procedure.

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Despite the limitations, we happily absorbed every second of the gift of friends who love the outdoors and are up for adventures. Camp Pepin was decked out with ice lanterns along a groomed trail and campfires aglow in the woods for an open house event intended to rejuvenate interest in camp activities that the virus outbreak has squelched.

As the dusk of the hour consumed us, we came upon a familiar scene of a deer carcass that had certainly fed a variety of wildlife.

 Looked strikingly similar to the one we found in our woods, antlers, and all.

The weather was perfectly comfortable for winter activity and the treasure of enjoying it with precious friends was a wonderful treat.

It sparks a glimmer of hope for visions of increased opportunities on the horizon in the months ahead. Do we dare begin to make plans again for renewing our old level of interactions with other people as vaccinations reach a greater majority?

That will be one step toward making it happen. Let’s all start making plans now for as normal a summer as possible to help galvanize the future reality we want to happen.

I am emphatically hoping it can play out sans masks.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2021 at 11:29 am