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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Olive Oil has died peacefully

Olive Oil calm, quiet, and safe as I say my good byes and stroke her cheek

I had a very tearful goodbye yesterday. The little runt triplet of Apifera's first mother-Rosemary-died last night.

She was born on a spring day and immediately won my heart, as runts often do. Skinny as a rail, I named her Olive Oil. She was spoiled by me from the get go, but a shepherdess has to indulge in some of this. As she grew up, I never intended to breed her due to her size, but I never would have culled her either. Some of you may know, culling my flock is not my greatest suit, something that I can say I consider a failure of sorts.

Olive Oil had a friendly disposition, just as her mother, Rosemary, did. Daisy is also out of Rosemary, and the two of them have the same expression and coloring. In time, she was added to my muse list, and joined Stella and Pino as a visiting puppet. Now that Stella is gone, and Olive, I can't bare to take their puppet selves out of the box. It saddens me, but for now, that is how it is.

Like I said, Olive was never meant to be bred. But one of our first rams, Mr. T, was a fence jumper. We had never had, nor do now, a fence jumper, but he won a blue ribbon in that category. It happens. So not only did he breed with Olive once in 2010, but again in 2012. The latter occasion, I made a note of it in my calendar, "T jumped fence" but I forgot about it. And come Pino Pie Day, my friend was visiting from NYC to help me bake pie, and Martyn came into the house and said, calmly,

"There's a sheep out there with two new lambs."

"What? Who?!" I asked.

"I don't know her name, she's brown, and little."

Olive, I thought. We went rushing out and there was Olive Oil with two healthy ewe lambs. My friend got to hold them and it was a memory I know she'll never forget. We put Olive Oil and her girls in a shady spot, safe behind fencing, so the guests at Pie Day could see the surprise. She had not even looked pregnant.

Olive, even though slight, was strong too. And she was my girl in many ways. There are several ewes that are closer to me than others. They are personable with me, they seem to respond to my presence, not just for food, but for quiet sit downs. Olive was one of them.

She had become thinner than normal, but with the torrential rains this winter, and wet fields, I wasn't too concerned - until her body began wasting even with supplement. I did all my normal things that my vets have taught me over the years, but it was clear she was fading and weakening. She fell on her side two days ago, and I had to move her into a stall in the new barn, where she was side by side with her flock, her daughters, and Otis, but was safe. She did not appear to suffer, although, a sheep that can't move and is down is suffering since they are a flight animal. But she was going pretty fast, her body was clearly shutting down and she was not fighting it. I always sing a little song to a dying animal, and I told her,

"You'll see Rosie, your mom Rosie will be there again for you."

I thought of this later in the night-whether or not we do move on to another realm-which I believe we do, as energy and spirit, but even if we don't, when I lay dying, I would be comforted at the thought of seeing my mother again. If there is nothing after we die, it doesn't matter, we are dead. But it is the empathy we can give to the dying person or animal-to give them that thought, I will see my mother again now.

We buried her with her mother, who died in the horrible Spring of Death-a learning year for us. Rosemary was my favorite ewe along with her daughter Daisy who is still with us at 13, so losing Olive Oil is like losing the original Apifera. That has been happening all this year. It has too. You raise sheep and they get old. And now that we are moving to Maine, I feel their are invisible hands that are helping me let go-in a variety of ways. I can't help but relate everything that is happening to Apifera as a demonstration that there are multiple goodbyes for many days ahead. It has to happen. There are lessons for me in each goodbye though-including lessons on what changes we will make to the next Apifera in Maine. Just as my sheep are aging, so am I, so is my back. I have to deal with it, and I am, and I will. There is no terror in this. There are just some shifts that are and will happen.

As I sat with her last night before she died, I took the photo, my hand a blur as I say my final goodbyes, stroking her soft cheekbones and eyes. Her face was calm. Her breathing non labored, her body was still without fight. The rain was falling hard on the tin roof, the flock was all around eating and I could see out on to the lower fields. I cried, not so much for Olive's death, but because everything is a good bye now. Every day, there is something that moves me and I know I will be leaving it, I will have to let go. It is a process, Martyn told me, there is no other way through it. Martyn will easily walk away from here to our new life-that is okay, he has told me so, and I know this is true. But I have my animals-some of them won't be coming, there will be some partings, either by death, or because as their caretaker, I will have to think about what is right for them. And I will also have to think about what is right for me in that equation, something that got a bit lost in the past few years with all the care taking.

When we wheelbarrowed her body out this morning, the sheep went about their business, all but one. Alma, one of my pregnant ewes who will lamb in March, looked so intently at me. She is a beautiful ewe and one of my favorites, out of Edith. It was as if she said,

I see what you are doing, caring for her body.

A shepherd friend told me, they watch you and know that you will care for them that way too.

Olive Oil was born a runt, and a triplet

Olive Oil's first surprise lambing

My friend Cathy from NYC partaking in Olive's surprise lambing.