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

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©Katherine Dunn.

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.