Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

©K.Dunn. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Aldo's legacy-life and purpose

Aldo is gone but I can sense him everywhere a day after his death. Yesterday afternoon, I visited the spot where he died. It's a beautiful spot. It was one of his many final gifts, to die in a spot where we could see him. He likes the woods nearby and he could have easily lay there for days without us giving it too much thought.

I shall lie here and go to sleep, this is a good vantage point for me, and them, he could have thought.

When I arrived at the Aldo's Spot as it is now known, the young male llama was nearby. The flock was on the opposite side of the cross fence, so he was searching for a herd. Aldo had served a purpose for this youngster-he gave him stability and grounding in his new home on his first days. He showed the young male the ropes and was clearly the leader of the two. That might have changed, but Aldo did his job and it helped me out. The elder statesman could be relied on by me to bring in the youngster at night, if I wanted gates shut.

I have always believed that elders can have a role, a significant place of respect not only in the human world, but in our animal world. It is the young that have the loudest role in commerce, commercialism and often the family. Nature also culls the elders. It is part of keeping the rest of the herd safe, and healthy. To each there is a time-it should not be feared, it should be the catalyst for enjoying and respecting the life that is given, no matter how long one has.

In Nature, the elders show us they are transitioning out of the herd or their rightful place. I can't speak for every species, I am not a animal expert and won't pretend to be-but I do know my flock and I see how the eldest are now spending more time separating. I count them every night, the flock, to make sure old Daisy has made it back.

Aldo's life was repurposed when he arrived here. I try to do that for the ones that I take on-watch them and see what seems to make them content. Sometimes I move them into a different field, with different pasture mates, and they fall back into themselves, into a role they understand. Aldo was this way. On his arrival, I had him in the orchard, to get to know him. When he saw the flock, he went to the gate. He clearly told me he wanted to be there, and he settled right in. When the flock moved, he wanted to go there too. His old age and fallen pasterns and thin condition, made it problematic sometimes to always be with the flock-since I was trying to put weight on him. So I created another flock for him-crippled goats or piglets. If there was more than one body to watch, no matter the species, he was in his element. His little elder goat sidekick - Scooby Keith- that he arrived with followed him at first. But eventually, Scooby made it clear he wanted to be with me, so he came to the upper barn, and then in time, he was able to acclimate more to the goats.

We are trying out the name Otis, Wild Otis to be exact, for the young black male. He has gone from being Ollie Ollie Oxen Free to Wendell, and now Otis. I hopes this name sticks.

I went to the field to relocate Otis, figuring this could be a long process. But I was able to encourage him along and then into the lavender field.. From there he hugged the fence line where the rams were. So I went and got our resident love machine-Birdie-and haltered her, led her to the field where Otis was, and within time, he followed us back to the new barn, into a stall where I could grab and halter him.

Each time I have to halter him it is a lesson for him, and he did better this time than last. I led him over to the donkey paddock where the sheep now live at night. They then wander up to the high fields for the day, returning at night. This morning, I was so pleased to see him up by Old Oak, sitting amongst his flock. And this morning, he went right up with them to the fields.

In his passing, Aldo the Elder created space for Otis do to what he has come here to do-guard sheep. The elder statesman did not mind dying. And Otis now has purpose.

The Head Troll speaks

Monday, July 27, 2015

Aldo is gone leaving me to do my best

For the first time in eleven years at Apifera, I had to break a covenant I have with myself and the animals. Even though I did the right thing for this particular event, I am haunted by what I had to do and think I will be for some time.

It was early morning, and Martyn had just driven down the drive. I heard the gravel under his tires as usual, and the sound of the gate squeaking as he left. It was a beautiful Monday morning, puffy clouds, blue sky, and cool air. The dogs barked, and a car came back up the drive-Martyn often returns to the house multiple times, forgetting his coffee or other essentials for his day. I noticed his coffee mug on the counter and grabbed it for him, as the front door opened and he looked right at me and said,

"Aldo is dead. He's up in the field."

I was stunned. He went on, giving me the essential details I needed to hear to face what had to be done. I have questioned how much of these details to share here. Some of you come here for stories and photos of the farm and the animals. While I know you understand what death is, I know that doesn't necessarily mean you want to see it in detail here. But I need to write about this-for me, and Aldo. I will say one thing upfront, Aldo did not suffer. And if you are patient, and read until the end, I think you will be left with a beautiful image-an image of Nature returning to Nature.

Martyn went on, "The vultures are there. His face is already gone and the yellow jackets have covered his face."

All of this was problematic to getting the body off the hill. I've never had to deal with vultures before, or a large body on an upper hill, or yellow jackets in a carcass. I had just moved the flock to another field, and had left Aldo and his buddy to be in the lower hills. They like it there and had just spent the last couple months with the flock. I so loved seeing his tall white neck and head poking up out of the tall grass like a periscope. I had planned on bringing the two llamas back to the flock today.

I had to think fast though. We've had a stray coyote lurking and I did not want Aldo's body there. If the vultures knew about it, so did the coyote. Martyn could not help me with his work schedule jammed pack this time of year. I was on my own. I told him I was going to try to get my friend over with her 4wheeler. She is an experienced shepherd and has horses and llamas and is one to go to for practical needs. If she couldn't help, my other plan was to hook Boone up and drag him down to a safer field.

Fortunately, my friend dropped her plans to come help me. I was able to climb the hill and spray his head-which was a skeleton- to help kill the wasps. I didn't get stung, a miracle in and of itself. We had to drag his body down the hill and then....I had to make a decision on the spot about what to do with the body. My covenant with the myself and the animals is if you live here and are cared for by me, you will die here.You will return to Nature here.

But this particular situation with its own specific conditions was in conflict with my covenant. There are various ways to dispose of a body. I'm not going to go into that detail here. What is important to this story is that I thought of each one, quickly, and made my decision, quickly. The vultures stayed above us as we talked.

I had to do something that was very difficult and upsetting for me. I had to witness and partake with my own hands in something that was required of, to deal with the decaying body. I hope I never have to do it again, but it was my best choice of the moment-for the farm and for the safety of the other animals. Aldo was gone, I was doing the best I could for him even in death.

But now I want to tell you something that I hope will leave you with a beautiful image in your mind. It is the image I will hold onto. Just a couple weeks ago I gave Aldo what would be his final haircut. I trimmed his feet, and gave him his annual shot and wormer. Aldo is very unlike Birdie, the latter being a love machine. Aldo is dignified and more llama like-independent and cautious. He was not one to do a lot of llama love like Birdie. He liked to have his necked rubbed, but didn't come up asking for it. So when I gave him his haircut, I was pleased that he kept laying his head on my shoulder, and I rubbed his eyes which many animals love. He seemed to really like that, and we spent many minutes doing this, off and on, as I trimmed him. I took note of this, and even said, something like,  

You are really enjoying your eye rubs, aren't you?

I realize now that was our farewell. Perhaps he knew then what we all know now. Or perhaps it was by chance I gave him his haircut that particular day so I was given that moment with him, to have a final haircut, a trim, and some eyeball massages. That was a gift for me.

Aldo was old. When he arrived, I was warned by my vet not to expect him to live much longer. She also told me that llamas tend to just....die. No drama, no lingering illness, just one day they are dead.

When I found his body, it was not Aldo anymore. His spirit had soared long before.

"I'm just so glad you got your haircut and toes trimmed," I the empty body. I was unable to mourn over him like I can with most of the deaths here. It was difficult. The ground under me did not feel the same for those moments on the hill.

Aldo died on a beautiful cool evening. We had some rain yesterday, it was in the seventies. I imagine he just lay down and went to sleep. There was no sign of distress on his body, or in the surrounding ground. He died under the sky, having spent his final day with his flock. To die outside in your element, with sky and ground engulfing you, and winged creatures caring for your body- it is okay.

When I first went to his body before my friend came, I looked for the new young male llama. He is on his third name now and I hope it sticks, Wild Otis. Otis began to come over to the body when he saw me. I took these images with my phone. Then I stood embracing my final moments with what was once The Great White. There was a puffy cloud above and the sky was just beautiful. Aldo had such sweet white ears, and puffy white hair on top of his head. They used to stand before me and blow in the wind, just like that cloud was doing now. The vultures were above me and I could hear their wings as they flew all around me overhead about twenty feet. And their shadows...their shadows flew all around me on the golden burned out field. I will remember that scene.

I will miss The Great White. But mostly, I know his spirit was not in that body when I found it. I was honored to have a relationship with him this time around. I just feel very sad today, even though he had a good long life.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chicken mystery, chicken complexities

This morning I found many rooster feathers scattered and floating out behind Old Barn. I immediately assumed that Uno had been killed, as they were either his feathers or Papa Roo's, and I had just seen Papa. Francis is an Aracuana so I knew they weren't his feathers.

I felt horribly. I have been in a chicken transition for awhile now, which you know if you follow along-surprise clutches, new chicks, another surprise hatching last week-and then there is the shifting forces of the three roosters Francis, Uno and Papa Roo.

I feel great loyalty to Papa since he was here first and has always been a gentleman. He is a Bantie and is well over ten. When Francis came on the scene, there was not a lot of fighting, but within about a year or two, it was clear that some scuffles had occurred, and Papa was ousted out from the hen house, or chose to be. He took five hens with him and they began roosting on a ledge in Old Barn, near Rosie. One of these hens was the black Bantie who has been a master at hiding eggs and creating her own mini chicken factory.

I have been putting Uno in with the Francis gang in the coop, along with the new chicks. It's been working out okay. In the meantime, my last remaining Buff Orpington has taken to the goat barn, alone, staying there all by herself for the last four weeks. I assumed she was on her way out, but she keeps on greeting me every morning.

So there is a bit of chicken chaos at Apifera right now.

And then this morning, the rooster feathers. Clearly something had fought a rooster and appeared to have won, since the feathers stretched for about 40 feet and ended up going out a fence into the woods.

So, like I said, I felt horribly about Uno. I failed him. But, didn't I put him in the coop last night, I'm sure of it.

I went to the coop, and there was Uno, alive as I was.

I returned to look over Papa Roo and noticed that he only had one hen with him, another black bantie. But there was no Chicken Named Dog-a large white hen who has been here some time. She is not a setter so I started feeling she must have been killed. And there below their roost spot was a dead Aracuana, who had been dead for some time, clearly from a natural death. I hadn't seen her body because she was lying under a board.

I noticed Papa seemed a bit off, 'with a coma look'. then I realized his tail feathers were really plucked, and under his comb was some blood.

He must have been in a very big scuffle, or was dragged out by something, but fought it off. This is intriguing. A raccoon could easily kill him, even though Papa has big talons. I begin to wonder if he was defending Chicken Named Dog, but, there was not one white hen feather to be found. I will wait a day before I know she is clearly gone, she might be hiding due to stress, but...doubtful.

I am also missing Ida, or Crazy Ida as I call her.

Marcella did not bark last night and if it had been a bobcat she would have. A raccoon could have come through Old Barn first, but from all the feathers, it seems it must have been a good struggle.

Even though papa has been surviving in Old Barn for months now, I am going to put him and his Bantie hen in Eleanor's stall tonight. He will have a job to do-eat the maggots on the poop to help keep flies down. Then when we get the new wing of the chicken hut done, he can live there, free from the other roosters.

It's eerie though. Just seems strange he could fight off a predator. Especially one that could have taken Chicken Named Dog, since she is a big, healthy hen. But as The Head Troll once said,

Papa will never die.

Footnote {6:00 post meridian} Chicken Named Dog appeared again, unscathed. After revisiting the feather trail tonight, I found racoon droppings near the final clump of Papa's feathers. Perhaps it was a youngster inexperienced with making a kill. It seems remarkable his feather trail was that long, and he got out alive. To be continued.

Friday, July 24, 2015

White Dog at dusk

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of him as I'm doing chores, such as this one last night, and there is an electrification of my insides-the beginning of a swoon like when we know we have a deep love for that moment.

Sharing Blog Love: The story of Georgia Grace

I wanted to start sharing blogs I encounter that show a person sharing stories, with excellent photography/art or words. I think we all know that our interaction on blogs has changed since Facebook and other social platforms, but I still look at my blog as an intimate place, a time to converse individually without fear of being interrupted or shamed for something. I miss the many people that used to talk on my blog-now many leave comments on Facebook instead. I am seeing more and more harried people, not taking the time[or not having it] to stop and READ. Facebook is cocktail chatter which has its place, but the blog is an intimate conversation by the fireside. So I'm going to share blogs I encounter and like.

Kerry O'Gorman lives on Vancouver Island and is an artist and photographer. I first was introduced to her world after she commented on my blog, and she has since been a follower here, encouraging my animal care and writings. Her photos are really wonderful and I hope you will visit her site. She also does felted creatures that are charming and for sale.

A recent post on her blog came to my attention and it is another example of one person helping an animal the best they can. I really felt for her, as I have encountered so many cats here in the past eleven years and it takes a lot of patience to trap them and do right by them-it's also expensive, and can be emotionally traumatic.

So when I saw her story about a little ferel kitten, who had been rejected by the ferel mother, I read on. The little imp of a furball appeared to be blind-and once they trapped her the vet diagnosed the cat with a disorder that would most likely lead to removing the eye. To have found a kitten with eyes that looked so diseased, I know Kerry must have felt so heart sick by it.

But she forged on, and now that little kitten is thriving in her care. And her name is Georgia Grace.

I will be watching Georgia as she goes through life. She certainly fell into the right hands, and if you have to live anywhere, Vancouver Island isn't too shabby.

Thank you for sharing your world, Kerry. Please continue!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Walter pondering piglets

You're definitely not lambs. I know that,  thought Walter.

The piglets are two weeks old and are starting to romp and play more. Soon I'll move them down to the lower paddocks. This will be fun and challenging as little piglets-no matter how well prepared you are with fencing-get their heads into the tiniest holes. I think I'm pretty prepared after the last piglets, but we shall see.

We have some beautiful gilts in this bunch. My little runt boy is catching up. I've been tendering them all as much as I can a few times a day. The runt really seems to love being held. I hold them up high, so their heads rest on my shoulder, and their bodies lay down on my chest, just like when they lie in a pig row.

At the end of the day, after chores, I usually have about an hour until Martyn gets home around 7:30, and I love to be in my barn with the animals, just hanging out, no words, no deadlines, just listening to them chew, snore, swat flies and slurp water.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sometimes you get pecked on

Well, I still have a husband...although he is contemplating pulling up his tomato plants and leaving. See, I was truly minding my own business last night and was on my way to the veggie garden to put up yet more chicken wire around the now blossoming tomato plants-because occasionally we still have a chicken or two go in there and peck the ripe tomatoes. It drives us nuts but especially Martyn. I have tried to Fort Knox it, but with each chicken intruder, Martyn gets more desperate. So, back to last night, my plan to help the tomatoes was sidetracked by a ....chirp.

There it was, a chick, at the donkey paddock gate.

Not again, I thought. I had been keeping my eyes peeled in the last few weeks for my missing Black Bantie hen, the same hen that gave me 7 new surprise chicks two months ago [after I'd brought home new chicks, like I said, she didn't get the memo].

I picked the chick up and went to a spot used by this bantie before to hide eggs-the same spot I had checked a few days earlier. There she was, sitting amongst broken egg shells. I ran to get a crate and flashlight and scooped mom and babies up. Except one little chick got out and I couldn't find her.

Martyn arrived home. Now, even though I didn't want, or need, more chicks, new life is always rather exciting. But I kept my lips sealed. I should point out I never keep secrets from Martyn. I let him get one beer in his belly and then told him the good news first:

"I found that darn Bantie hen!"

He took a sip of beer.

"...sitting on some chicks!"

He then went into a monologue about his tomatoes. I explained these chicks had not seen a tomato let alone pecked one. He pointed out I had to do something about having so many chicks-and I reminded him I am not a chicken and I did not lay the eggs, nor was I fertilized by a rooster.

Martyn never yells. I think he has lost his temper with me twice in our marriage. He might scream all the way down the driveway, but I can't say for sure.

I got some more beer in him and we talked about other stuff. But then I hear a 'peeping". It was not a baby bird. Chicks that are lost sound different. I crept back out to the spot where I had found the chicks, and there was the one little fluff ball that had gotten away from me. I scooped her up and introduced her to Martyn. He was pleasantly polite.

This morning Martyn got up early as usual and kissed me good-bye for work. I was relieved to see that the tomatoes were still planted in the vegetable garden.

I'm pretty sure he will come home tonight.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paco's nose in a pose

All equines will stick their tongues out from time to time after a drink. But Paco does it almost each time he drinks. Just another endearing quality of the little donkey that was lacked confidence but now is the resident poet.