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

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. All images ar©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Do you like Maine, they ask, would you do it all again?

M'Lady Apple from my studio
We have been here exactly two years now. In 2016, we loaded up 33 animals and headed from our first farm in Oregon to make the 6 day journey to mid coast Maine. One of the first beauties we met was an old crabapple on the property, always in my view...I call her M'Lady. She is in full bloom now and simply stuns me every spring.

I can say that as we go into our third summer here, I am more grounded than the first two. Part of that is...logistics and getting through the upheaval any move has on a household, and in our case, a farm. We had to build a barn, and are about to start the third one. We had little or no fencing here. We created our gardens and stone walls and privacy areas. The house needed little attention in the beginning, it felt perfect in many ways, small but quite open for it's size. I have since done painting mainly and have slowly been recreating the rooms to our needs. We left a lot of furniture behind. I knew it would not fit in this little house. I sadly left all my father's studio teak work tables behind but I really had no choice. I left the couches too. In fact, the one thing I can say I would do differently is the personal property we left behind, for free. At the time, we were under the gun. The first buyer, who we grew to see as not the buyer we wanted for the farm, fell through. Even though we were relieved, we had many reasons we had to scramble and do as we did. I did my best. But...the only option would have been to possibly lose the house we are now in, and lose the $3000 downpayment we had on the equine hauler, slow down the sale of the new buyers and stay put and hope for the best in finding another place that fit our needs. It was either rush around and try to sell things, or move. But...I would have insisted on a separate payment for the probably $10,000 or more of personal property, including the 10 year old Kubota. That is one thing that I still get angry about, that I didn't do that. There were other things in the sale I can't think about because they make me mad, so I don't. I can't tell you how stressful the sale was...and all the logistics of the move I had to handle with the animals.

So, it took time to resettle, emotionally and physically. But we have.

And yes, we like Maine. I hate the bugs and flies, but you could put me anywhere and I would tell you summer, despite all it's pluses, is not my season. I love the winter here, really I do. So does Martyn, he gets to be on the farm working, the summer people are gone, it gets beautiful and quiet. Back West, Martyn was driving a total of four hours a day just to get from the farm to his landscaping clients. He was home by 7:30 on a good day. He was running out of steam after running his own crew and business for 20+ years. Keeping up with his estimating and billing was really getting problematic. I sensed at some point we weren't going to be able to sustain ourselves emotionally for another 15 years when the mortgage would be paid off, and we would have been 70 by then. And then what? We saw a lot of people wait too long to sell their land and farms as they grew older, and they would get into trouble.

The hardest transition, for me, was losing the more rural feel. But now we live in what I describe as a postcard New England village setting. Old houses from the 1700's dot the roads in midcoast, the sea cove is in view, old apple trees, the smell of the sea...it's all different than the Wilamette Valley. Oddly, I've met quite a few Oregonians who moved here, some who are small farms. The appeal of paying 1/2 for a piece of property [versus what it would cost out West] here is what first intrigued us. As freelancers, especially for Martyn, at some point you might not be able to put in the hours to feed a mortgage. So we don't have one now. We live simply, and hope our health holds out, but who knows.

I miss my vets. I was warned by one of my vets out West who had hands on knowledge and experience with the situation in Maine of the large animal vet care, or lack there of. I believed him, but thought, well, that was 20 years ago, surely it is better now. It's not. Equine vets a plenty. But farm vets? Nope. I have not found a clinic yet that I can I say I honor and trust. I started working with a highly regarded place, but just to get them to the farm is $100, anything they do here, such as coming to examine a goat, has a $150 minimum. I talked to them about this, that they are treating small farms like people with pets versus herds and flocks. She understood, and I really liked her. But, that's the way they choose to operate, it's their business, not mine. I feel sorry for both new farmers and the animals in their care-the vets I had in Oregon taught me so much, over time. And they weren't cheap, no vet is. But what would have cost about $375 total the other day was almost $800 here. So I'm grateful I had 15 years under my belt and know the basic treatments and do most of my own vetting thanks to the vets I had out West.

Would I do the move again? I always find this question odd. It's like asking, "Would you be born again if I had a choice?" Hindsight is 20/20. I would do it again, but I wouldn't want to, and I would do a couple things differently. It was hard leaving my farm. That farm was my dream, a dream I'd had since my first encounter with my Uncle's farm in North Dakota. I write about that dream in "Donkey Dream". But it was not a question of should we leave or not. I felt we had to leave. I felt compelled to move, as fast as we could really, and I felt it had to be Maine. I will live by that and swear by that. There were invisible reasons we had to get out of there at that moment, and get here at this moment. I just went with that, i believed and let that internally. Martyn is so happy here. I knew his work schedule was killing him back West. Mistakes were being made too that were effecting our finances, he was just...spent. He gets up at 5:30 now and goes to work 15 minutes away, for a small landscape company. He is treated well and works with a great boss and crew. He has no ego about not having his own company, or not being the boss. He works on beautiful ocean properties and doesn't have to think about the logistics of the job, he just shows up and does what he loves-landscaping. He doesn't have to worry about billing. And I know exactly what money is coming in and it's easier on me too. It feels much more manageable.

When I had my riding accident last year, I asked Martyn, "Would you stay in Maine if I died?". He didn't hesitate, he said, really in a positive happy tone, "Oh yea, I love it here."

Martyn gave us so much over the years, and still does. I think more than anything, I love Maine because Martyn does. He deserves so much.

And I have people here, and creatures, I love now. I love them. I wouldn't want to have not met them, including my elder friends, and including M'Lady.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Conversation of The Secret Sisters...chicken speak

The Secret Sisters are the clan of Buff Orps that live at Apifera. They have separated themselves out from the Barred Rocks who are under the domain of Father, the Rooster. The Secret Sisters now live with Opie in the front of the barn, away from the constant demands of Father. 

"No, really?" the hen said.

"I kid you not," said the other hen.

"He really said that?" said the first hen.

"Quiet, here she comes," said the third hen.

"She does't speak hen," a chicken said.

"Oh, yes she does, I converse with her all the time."


By the time I walked by the hens, they had repositioned themselves near Opie, sprawled out on his lawn chair as if he had just worked a six day week. I went onto the barn.

"So tell me again, what did he say?" I heard a hen ask.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

She emerged like Grace Kelly and took over the room

If there was ever a day I wondered if I do enough, if I'm doing it right, if my animals and I are a team contributing to this community, all I have t do is look at these images and my heart feels just fine.

Today we took Opie, Pino and Birdie over to Inn Along the Way to have an "Opie Day', where some of the residents of the local elder communities could enjoy the energy and warmth of the animals. If you have been to either of our farms, and were lucky enough to be in the presence of Birdie the llama, you know the impression she leaves can last a long time. And while she had been involved in all of our past farm days, and did fine, I had never taken her out into a public setting before. The Inn was a perfect, safe place to test Birdie out as an ambassador of love. I knew she would do fine, but was curious to see if she would shine as she does at home.

She emerged from the trailer like Grace Kelly walking onto the red carpet. That is not an exaggeration. It was as if she was in her element. Now, llamas are not all like Birdie. Anyone that knows llamas will tell you that. She was love from the day I picked her out. Even her breeder said she had never seen a llama act the way she was towards me, and suggested if I wanted a true guard llama [which was her first purpose], not to take her. But I could not NOT take her. I knew she had other purposes at Apifera. Now in Maine, I guess today was a turning point.

Birdie greeted everyone, she swooned her neck and batted her eyelashes. She kissed people, some on the cheek, like a peck you give an acquaintance, and some she swooped in and laid her head on their shoulder. The woman in these photos was smitten with Birdie, and I think you can tell. The gentlemen was visiting from Houston, and as you can see, the two of them seemed to have an intimate encounter right before our eyes.

She's special. I always knew it, from the day I found her. I was really proud of her, for just being her. She will be having other days of Llama Love, for sure.

Opie stood back most of the day. He was quiet and calm. Pino too, stood his ground in stoic donkeyness like he always does. I know when we quit doing Pino Pie Day a few years ago [we are reviving it here in Maine in October of this year] I told people that Pino had done his part, he had sold aprons for his cause, delivered pie to nearby neighbors, got lots of mail, shared his wisdoms in many ways...but I felt back then it was time for him to just be a little donkey, Pino. He is still an ambassador to love, but he has help now. And I sensed that from Opie today. He knew what was going on, he knew he has his own stages to shine one, but he gave the light of the room over to todays' intended star, with her grace and exotic appearance...Lady Birdie.

{Do you like the work we are doing sharing our animals with elders, then please consider a donation to our 501[c][3]. }

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sometimes humor inspires giving

Ollie's procedure went just fine, he is disbanded and banded now and he came out of his sleepy time medicine bouncing and ready for a bottle. One of the things we have found, and I am still getting used to, is the vet costs here are almost double from what we are used to. Today's vet bill was over $700. We also gave equal shots and rabies to the equines only-the other Misfits get rabies shots in the fall.

Please consider a donation if you can. Thank you.

Help Opie console Ollie

Today is a big day for little 3 week old Ollie. He will lose his baby makers, aka testicles. No easy way around it, no matter which procedure we do it will be uncomfortable. The vet will be doing it as I stink at it. He's had a hard enough start in life I don't want to add to his trauma. It will be over quickly though. We will also assess if it is too late to disband him humanely. If not, he will keep his horns.

Opie has begun to take a shine to Ollie. At first, he was unsure of what hewas, as far as I could tell. He seems to be more of a chicken man. But once he realized Ollie was not taking his place, and that he got just as much attention with Ollie or without, he seemed to figure out that Ollie could be sort of a fun buddy. I even saw them running together.

"Look, Ollie, just don't look, no matter what you do when the vet comes, just don't look. Think of the best thing in the entire world,, and think about really hard."

"The best thing in the entire world, what would that be, I've hardly been anywhere," Ollie said.

"What is the best thing in your day?" Opie asked.

"My bottle!" said Ollie.

"Well, just close your eyes and think of your bottle then, Ollie. And remember, it will be okay."

{It is always helpful to get donations incoming when we have a vet visit. It keeps the cash flow of the 501[c][3] healthy, which is important to all of us. Please consider a small donation in honor of little Ollie's big day. Matilda and the donkeys will also be getting an annual visit from the vet today and shots}

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What do you say when a friend's mate dies...with open ears and heart, I say, "It will be okay" {somewhere in time}

I went for a ride this week, placing dandelions in Boone's halter after the ride. It was a beautiful, perfect day. I had no complaints, really. And my husband, my best friend, was alive. Every thought came back to that.

A day earlier I had heard the shocking news that a friend of mine lost her husband, who was only in his mid fifties. He had lived with the consequences of seizures his entire life, and knew the ramifications but always had a wonderful attitude about it. He had a seizure, fell on the open stairway and suffered a brain injury that he could not recover from.

My friend tells of how she awoke that morning and was a bit sore from her long walk the day before, and her time in the garden. Her husband said he'd give her a mother day massage. They had no children, but loved their dogs and they were family. I imagined all the people who have woken up to normalcy, and hours later, they are living in between two realms.

It is normal and human to think of our own worlds when we hear of a sudden death. We are not only shocked and sad for the survivors, but it knocks you between the eyes that life is life, death is death and the two are intertwined every minute–you don't get to choose which one you want, it's not an a la carte menu once you are born. One false step, one fall off a horse, or stairway, and it could be gone, poof. All day after I heard, literally everything I did from making a piece of toast to working in the garden, I thought of my friend. I thought of her lying in bed the first morning after he'd died...the shock must have come back in starkness that first morning. Sleep might have given her a reprieve, but upon waking...

Oh yea, he's gone. What? No!. Yes, he's gone.

Later that day or the next day I forget, I was planting my sunflower seeds. I always plant sunflowers, such joyous, magnificent creatures, I call them Goddesses. My friend's husband loved to garden and be in Nature, and he had a garden he considered his sanctuary. He had been working on it for 14 years or more. It is where the family and friends will gather to celebrate his life, honor his next journey, and sit amongst his energy enmeshed in every living thing he nurtured there. I was on my hands and knees, using my bare hands to till the already prepared bed of dirt. It was quiet, even on the front road. I could smell the salt air of the cove. An occasion animal sound wafted from the barnyard.

My husband is alive...

I thought. And then I saw my friend's husband's face, smiling. He had what I would call a gentle smile, like Martyn's, a smile that had no ego, no slyness to it. His face stayed in my mind like that for some time.

I wrote to my friend later, by email, wondering all day-what words would be best for her right now? I knew she had many details to deal with, I knew her family was with her. I only wanted to tell her her when she was ready if she needed, I was there with open ears and heart, to listen. I told her about her husband appearing to me as I gardened. They were very connected to the Earth and Nature, and were spiritual too, as I am. I knew it would have meaning to her. We are both of the frame of mind that energy does not disappear. His energy is just not in his body anymore, so magnificent is it now that it can zap around all over the place. She wrote back, and liked the story.

It will be okay, is the prayer I send her. It will be okay. He is okay.

It might not be okay as she has known, but it will be okay in a different, at-the-moment-unimaginable-way. For me, this is what I can tell people in grief. I was told this by a friend when I lost my mother, the day or the day after when I was still hardly breathing, when I was not of this realm, I was so ungrounded from her death that first few days. And my friend who had lost her parents called me and immediately said,

"Your mother is okay."

It was simple, and direct. I believed it. And I needed to hear it, and wanted to hear it. It was not a lie, it was not sugarcoating the truth. You can either walk into grief thinking it is not okay, or having a compassionate source that tells you it is going to be okay. I prefer to be that source for someone. It might not be okay today, but it will be, in a different way.

My mother would say, "It will be okay," when I was in dire straights. It was always okay, she was right, but I always needed to hear it. Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones who had that grounding of a mother that instilled that in me, perhaps there are people out there that truly do not believe in bad times, challenging times, that saying "it will be okay" is realistic, or fair.

I disagree.

It will be okay. I will share that again with my friend, after I listen to her, in time, when she is ready.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Always learning, and doubting, then not doubting..me and Opie carry on

Joe always has a smile no matter what 
Opie and I went to Wiscasset today to visit our friends. It was the first day we could all be outside which was welcome...and a lot easier since Opie didn't need his indoor attire. He did a little weeding while he was there too.

Opie needed this as much as we all did. I think he has been confused by Ollie's arrival, he has not been acting his usual vim and vigor self but he is starting to play with Ollie. So today, he was back in his natural form, just sharing himself with the elders.

I sensed today that Jeanne was tired. I wondered if it was a shift in her journey. Best not to play universal detective, but I am always so relieved to see all their faces. Jeanne is 97 and such a nice woman, always dressed with colors and accessories. Opie is totally into buttons and beads, so today Jeanne thought she had outsmarted him by not wearing her usual necklace of beads...but she had delicious, enticing leather buttons on her self-hand-knitted sweater. What is a goat to think when he sees a line up of leather buttons?

When I look around their little garden area, I so want to go buy a bunch of stuff and come landscape it with Martyn. One of the assistants was planting some annuals in pots, and we were talking about the worn out grass, needing lime and seed, but lack of sun makes it hard. She mentioned they'd like to extend the patio area. I just immediately thought,

Oh I have to make this happen. How can I make this happen?

It takes money. I am still learning what works and doesn't, what projects I can pull off at this early stage of our 501[c][3] and which ones I can't, and...which ones I should take on in my heart. I realized I need to let this grow organically. And it will.

Another thing I'm learning is the realities of what the staff can do. We had invited all the Greens residences to a morning visit with Opie, Pino and Birdie, and we are having it at Inn Along the Way next Tuesday. Initially it was a way for me to introduce myself to all seven residences and I thought it was a fun outing for all the people to be together. The residences are spread around midcoast, and there are only two vans, and only one has a lift. Each residence is in charge of their own small staff and the logistics of going out to an outing with support staff, and still having someone at the residence is a challenge. It is also impossible for everyone to get there do to the lack of transport.

This is one of the reasons we have created an area here at our farm for the elders to come visit, in small groups, or even one person at a time when the care managers have the staff to bring them here. My Wiscasset friends are excited about this and we hope to make that happen in June for the first time. I realized too that, and I never asked any of them, but I don't think it is important for them to be together with all the other residences. I think getting out is healthy, but sometimes, or often, just sitting out on their chairs in their own residence on a nice day is plenty for them. And these folks have plenty of activate too, bingo, puzzles, they visit gardens....

My mother loved to sit. She played golf and got out and of course drove right until the end, but more and more as she aged, she was content to sit, chat a bit with a guest, but she really loved to sit and listen to the birds...look around at the flowers. I'm the same way. I think I miscalculated this upcoming get together. I had my heart in the right place, but I think I have always been more inclined to be in small settings, one on one, and the plan to have people come here in small batches, or even one person at a time, is the right path for us, and in the long run, a better thing for the residences.

{If you like the work we are doing with animals, and people, please consider a donation. Thank you!}

Jeanne in her hand made sweater she knit years ago
Mary holding Opie

"I really want to eat her leather buttons"

Ruth got the 'happiest socks" award today

Wisdom of the cat

"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, 
than be crowded on a velvet cushion."
- Henry David Thoreau

Well, when not in pumpkin season, we will take a box.