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

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Are you distracted?

I've been talking to a lot of people about the current climate and news cycle being such a distraction to the creative spirit. I am never in a creative flow in August, but I do start getting percolations and the itch to be in my studio once I feel autumn coming. There is so much to do on the farm in summer that my writing and art take a bit of a backseat.

But the current world situation and the constant chaos in our country right now really has a lot of people feeling agitated and ungrounded. We are charged up in many ways but I for one am now going to make an attempt to tweak how I go about the day. I've fallen into the habit of checking news online a million times a day like an addiction. This is not necessary, and certainly isn't really helping me in any way. This happened after 9/11 too and I remember people were being encouraged to step away from the TV. There was no Facebook [oh how glorious!] but still we became addicted to checking the TV to see if anything else had happened.

I am lucky I have so many chores. It grounds me to go the barn and work with the animals twice a day, muck stalls, carry buckets, look at trees and faces. Today I noticed the shifting sounds of the seasons-fall is upon us and I love fall more than any other season. The leaves sound different when the wind blows this time of summer and the insects are rabid right now-to get as much biting and blood in so they can lay eggs before dying.

The animals are not impressed with news nor do they need it. They have no idea the turmoil we are in right now. They don't fear global war or white supremacists or leaders lacking in morals or empathy. But I do. Can my art change any of it? I don't think so. I think all it can do is calm me, and maybe others. If I'm calm at least half the day, I can project the best parts of me to the world-which means standing up for the downtrodden, or speaking up when I see something that is racist or unfair. Not checking news all the time doesn't mean I will shut up. We can not be silent.

I've been doing more morning walks with Muddy. He knows when I put on my Muck boots I'm going to the barn but when I put on my walking shoes he gets to walk down to the sea's internal cove with me. He just is so happy when I put on the walking shoes and looks so disappointed when I put on the Mucks.

In this small way-walking with my dog, being engulfed in the Queen Anne's Lace, feeling the dampness of the fog-I am reminded of one thing-I'm of Nature, and Nature is not evil. It might throw a storm our way and take down a tree or flood our villages with mud and rock-it can kill us without motive or ego. But as part of Nature, I'm reminded on my walks that I breathe from the ground up, the air comes from a spiritual space and allows me to live. I do not breathe from the heart of ugly, misinformed people and I will not let their hate or bigotry drown out my creative spirit.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

14 years ago..."I do..."

It seems like a lifetime ago, but also very close to now-that gathering 14 years ago today, amongst so many family members now gone...it was a beautiful day amongst our gardens, in our side by side houses where we met one year earlier, me having just moved to Portland, Oregon. I met Martyn the first day I was in my house, he came a calling to meet me because he had heard we had the same last name. I never told anyone, I didn't even put that in the memoir, that I knew I'd marry him when I shook his hand, but I did. We became friends and then a couple within months-much to the irritation of a few people I'd met there who said, "You can't date the first guy you meet!" Um, yea, I can, sod off. We married on year after meeting, age 44. Anyway, the cake was lemon poppy seed, we had salmon thanks to my mother who insisted I could not have a hot dog machine, which was my choice. We walked into the little patio outside to canned music-Doc Watson "You Are My Special Angel". I wore sparkly $20 flip flops and Martyn had that sweet, crooked bow tie. He still fits in his wedding pants...I've grown a bit, but it's nice to look back and see that younger version of me, pre-Apifera looking so shiny.

It's been a great ride and I hope for many more years of health so I can be with my best friend. I don't take it for granted.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Animal Conversations: The llama speaks, doesn't she?

Birdie popped her head into the barn the other morning, while I was finishing some cleanup of hay spread by sloppy chewers, and then she departed as quickly as she had appeared. I took this to mean she was just letting me know she was getting out to the field again. the flock comes and goes from the larger field this time of year, they get to eat there in the day and the equines eat there at night. This time of year rotating fields is even more important with the grass beginning to fade.

I didn't think much of it. I had to water the vegetable garden so followed her outside and there she was, standing with the small flock, calmly. White Dog was already out doing his daily periphery check of the fence, his morning obsession and of course his job.

I stood and watched.

You know I have a vivid imagination–we aren't a Disney movie but I have many moments in my life including when I didn't live on a farm, where the scene in front of me comes with a soundtrack, or maybe another way to look at it is I am always seeing scenes as story with sub titles. Every minute of the day can be a story. I get great amusement out of my minute by minute stories here on the farm, or comfort, and sometimes even clarity about internal struggles. The animals I guess are conduits of perspective just like a good Shakespeare play.

The sheep had gathered at the newly opened gate, saw Benedetto had run down to the bottom of the fence line to make sure there weren't any prehistoric elephants or bears and they began to gather themselves into a tidy line, just like I used to do as I entered a subway car in Manhattan decades ago, preparing myself to get in line to get the seat to get to the office.

But it wasn't until they were in a tidy line that Birdie turned her head to them, ever so slightly but deliberately and if there had been a sub title in a Disney movie, she would have said,

"Slowly, one at a time, go on now."

And as I turned to go back tot he house I heard the faintest voice of the smallest sheep voices call out to Birdie,

"Llama! Look, I'm fourth in the line today instead of last!"

"Good work, Sylvia, good work," the llama said.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trying times for all

The sun rises and sets, still...
These are very trying times both politically and emotionally for most Americans. The underbelly has always been here, waiting to rise up without white cloaks or masks this time, and they have found the perfect moment in history to do so. I have been depressed about it all, and angry, all of it, the killing, and the racial injustices that are still going on, the threat of war by someone not capable of leading, the lack of dignity bashing us in the face everyday like the country has become one non ending blaring AM radio station.

There have been some spot on opinion pieces of late. I just hope people read them. I'm afraid we are all reading what we want to read to justify our own opinions. I wonder how the ignorance is being educated out of some people that don't know they are ignorant, and that would include this administration and his followers. Anyone who stands with this President needs to look in the mirror. Anyone who is white in this country needs to look in the mirror too, all of us.

Perhaps one of the best things I've read in the past day was this piece, and I urge everyone to take time to read it. Take some breaths. Some people will feel agitated and uncomfortable with what is said. But my hope is that in this turmoil we are in, still in and bound to be in for many months and years to follow, my hope is the underbelly of America be exposed for what they are.

But each day, for now, the sun still rises and sets. I focus on that, the nature all around me. The animals and my work give me hope when I allow it too, when I remind myself not to wallow in muck created by hateful people. But that muck abounds, and we need to stand up against it and hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions, and lack of words and actions.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Opie the Love Ambassador

Opie was in true loving form on our visit this week to our elder friends. The day was warm with a breeze and we sat outside under the tent. I have to say, Opie is presenting himself as a very intuitive therapy goat-which was what I was hoping for when I found him. He is very calm with the elders, and even almost fell asleep again with one of them. I truly believe he senses they are not as strong as other people he knows. He sits calmly in their lap and doesn't fidget. An elder's skin can be tender so I'm careful about that, not wanting his hooves to break skin, but so far he understands his mission is to commune.

I am really having a good time getting to know these people. I told them all I wanted to learn all their names better, so Thursday I practiced and now have their faces in my mind when I repeat the names: Joe, Richard, Sylvia, Evelyn, Ruth, Jean, Mary and Mary.

We also talked about getting everyone a photo of Opie for their rooms, they liked that. The people at this residence are of varying degrees of physical limitations and backgrounds. I found out that Jean is the resident dancer, even though she walks hunched over with a walker. I am going to explore that more next visit. Joe always has questions about the farm and other things-but they show a man still very engaged in the living world. Evelyn calls Opie "Darlin'" and says he's so cunnin'. Both Marys are quiet but there is a life under there, a history. Richard seems to like cards better than Opie but that is okay. Ruth is funny under a quiet front and Slyvia just is so proud when Opie sits on her lap. We all remembered last visit how Opie seemed to go right to her and he sat with her and fell asleep. Eventually, he made his way to her again this visit, and she just looked so pleased.

I do not like to talk down to elders, or talk to them like they are children, or only talk about happy thoughts; nor do I talk to children like they are invalids or babies. I'm taking my time exploring the people at the residence, but this last visit I felt we were starting to really get to know each other. I also think they realize I am committed to coming to see them regularly and that means something. The days get long for an elder, even one with a good life and caretakers.

I really loved the photos where you can see their beautiful hands. I like to visit when I'm there, and don't want to sit there snapping photos. But I had to take some, and am working on getting each of them a photo.

We also talked about making sweaters for Opie-he actually doesn't need one to stay warm, but I thought it would be fun to get him a traveling wardrobe-he is just as worthy of one as the Von Trap children, don't you think? I'm thinking an autumn sweater, and then a holiday one. I'm not one to dress up animals, but Opie is about the town now and will enjoy it I think. I know my pug does.

Apifera Farm is a non profit in the state of Maine and a pending 501c. Our mission is to not only help special needs/elder creatures but to share them with our elder and needy people that need recognition and love. You can help support our efforts here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cat Heaven

"Cat Heaven"

He found her again, looking just as he knew her to look, and now they were reunited, forever, in their own cat heaven just a leap from his old home.

{This piece is available at the shop, and I do have a payment plan}

Monday, August 07, 2017

Muddy and Kevin, or is it Fred?

You might recall last winter Muddy lost his beloved frisbee, Fred, in a snowball. It was a scary time for Fred who stuck it out until spring. Of course before the thaw, along came a gift for Muddy, and his name was Kevin.

So I don't know if this is Fred or Kevin, but Muddy still has a strong friendship with both of them.

You can see the animated movie about Muddy and his beloved frisbee friends here >

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Arms of The Sea, May Sarton, E.B. White and me

I'm finding that the Maine Apifera is so very different than the Oregon one. And of course it is, it has to be, it was meant to be different, not only for our evolution as Martyn and Katherine, but because all things have a time and place, and life is fluid.

I can't quite pinpoint what we and this place evolving into...yet. I mean, I know we will care for elder and special needs creatures like we did out West, I know I am a writer and artist and will always be an artist, and Martyn continues to landscape...I know all that. But it is different. And regenerations of self take time to show their true faces. I'm not worried. It's a nice thing of being 59 versus 44 [my age when we moved to the first Apifera], with age and the coming of the final quarter of my life comes more patience. Me? Patient? Well, much more than as a young, alabaster skinned woman.

I also remember when we moved to the Oregon farm, my illustration career was shifting wildly [as were many in the field] and I was evolving myself as an artist-it was scary and exciting. That is what is going on now. I had just started writing-in my head-and it wasn't until about two+ years into the farm that I started finding myself again, and started my blog and writing in earnest. So much happened.

But there is a quietness to this place, more so than out West. We had fog back there and I loved it [except driving in it of course] but the fog here is different. We can see the sea's beginning rivers and bays across the road and I think of the fog here as an extension of The Sea's arms, wrapping me, pushing me down to rest at times, covering my animals and barns when they need to be protected. The Sea and I are just beginning to communicate-or I am just beginning to listen to her.

I was turned on to the books of May Sarton back when I was living in Minneapolis, and I was seeking a country life-somehow. Two years later I'd be living in Portland, meeting Martyn, and then living on a farm, finally, a year later. And here I am in Maine. The other day I picked up one of the May Sarton books and skimmed some of it. Her writing had a huge impact on me-for one, it made me want to write and eventually I did. It also was giving me the inspiration and courage to keep looking for my place of solitude, my country home. May Sarton had left her New Hampshire home that she loved, after feeling compelled, pushed to by internal forces to find a place more remote or protected, and she ended up by the sea in Maine. I had forgotten she moved to Maine! And it just struck me so hard-that even back then Maine was in my front window, it was in my soul and little messages were being planted in my highway map.

Back in Oregon, about three years before we moved to Maine, I picked up a copy of a book about E.B.White and how he wrote "Charlotte's Web". I was fascinated by it because it showed how in his real life things were happening that became part of the book. To a non writer that book might be boring, I loved it. But again, Maine was in my forecast.

I also had a teeny flash as I was looking at the May Sarton book that perhaps I will end up even closer to the sea.

Friday, August 04, 2017

A blanket from the earth for Tony

I took this photo right after we brought Tony's body home. The fog had come in from the sea and it was almost like Earth was giving me a blanket for him before his burial. It was really beautiful.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

"Mama Kitty is waiting for you, be off now, Big Tony..."

We had a sad goodbye last night. A thunderous one we knew was coming.

Big Tony was ready to take his solo walkabout after being with us all these many years, the father of so many Apifera cats. He lived a long life of twenty, eighteen with us.

It is a poignant death for us and it seems to come at a time when we're being reminded almost daily that life does not sit around in the past, it moves forward, and with that forward motion comes many things, including goodbyes. Tony had a magnificent life, let's not forget that. He arrived at the old Apifera, sauntering by me one day when we had first arrived, he barely acknowledged me and seemed to have no motive for being there-he was just cool as a cucumber. It was at the same time we discovered kittens falling [literally] from the hay bales. I set out to trap the kittens when they were old enough to be spayed and neutered, but could not catch the elusive mama. She would have another litter in short course, and it was only then I could catch her too. All the cats lived out their lives at Apifera, most living past ten.

But of all the cats I thought I'd catch first in the trap, I never thought it would be that big old tomcat. I had only seen him a few times, he came and went, but when I went out the first day to inspect my trap, there he lay, completely content sunning in the cage, his Star Kist tuna fresh in his belly. After we brought him back from the vet a day later, I let him out in the barn. It was only a matter of days before he started coming to the front porch. Back then, it was pretty wild and au naturelle at Apifera, we had no screens and bats, raccoons and birds would often find there way into the summer living room. So I guess Tony figured out it was a friendly place. I first brought him inside one night while Martyn sat watching television, figuring I'd warm him up to a cat in the house. Martyn had asthma and said we could never have a cat in the house, nor did he want one. Within a few days, Tony was sitting near Martyn on the couch, enjoying PBS News Hour. Big Tony was the icebreaker for the man who didn't want cats, and in adored a one pound kitten named Itty who slept under the covers with him. He also adored Tony, everyone did who knew him.

When he went to the vet-which was often in the early years-the staff would do their best Tony Soprano impersonations and yell out,

"Big Tony!"

We called him the Millionaire Dollar Cat back then because he had teeth work and stone work done, once leaving him in the hospital for ten days-donations from my followers helped me pay those bills, as well as spay/neuter and care for the clan of twenty five cats that lived in the barns.

Tony is a survivor. How many semi feral cats get to live bi coastal in their life-and let's not forget, he saw America in that six day journey across the States, while piglets slept under his perch.

Tony is symbolic to us in many ways, much like Huck was. He represents the beginnings of the first Apifera, the energy of the beginning there, and all the serendipity and magic that just happened by opening the front door. He fathered at least 10 cats, but for sure more. In fact, we think Samuel Noel was related to him.

Tony tolerated everything-vets, young kittens, puppies, goats, chickens...he was a cat's cat. He was not cloying, he was not a lap sitter. But he liked his people, and he liked our company. We encouraged him to get a paper route because his special food we had to buy him from Canada was $58/#18 bag. He never took us up on a part time job, but he was really good at retirement. As he aged, he softened even more and began to talk more, not a lot, just greetings at night in the bed. He began to sleep on my pillow, above my head at some point, and it required me to get more pillows for my own comfort. After we moved to Maine, after we suffered the jolting, unexpected loss of Itty who chose to stay behind, I found great comfort in Tony. At night, he would still sleep above my head, but I would find him with his head laying on my hand, and sometimes I'd sleep with my fingers wrapped around one paw. I told him back then, a year or more ago, when I was struggling through the story book I was creating about Itty, a painful time for me,

"I should be writing a book about you. You're still here." He responded with tail swishes-real slow and graceful swishes-and non blinking eyes.

he had a beautiful colored nose. I had tried to capture it by mixing up my paints, but never really captured it. Somethings can only be seen as they are in real life, not through a lens or a palette. How many mornings did I wake up and see that beautiful copper colored nose, the color of an autumn leaf not quite fully browned from age.

We knew this week we would have to put him down, but gave him some time hoping he might just fall asleep. I of all people should know better. As his conditioned weakened, we made the drive last night to help him on his way, not wanting him to have seizure or any discomfort.

I took these photos of him yesterday when we knew it was our last daylight together. He used to be a twenty pounder...His face showed a cat ready to rest eternally. His hind end had become very weak in the past days, so I carried him from the bed to his favorite basket. Muddy joined in, and Hughie came by too-it was not usual for me to be there in the day where we gathered at night, but they knew this was one of those occasions where quietness is preferred and something momentous was occurring, but this something was okay.

It would be okay.

I took another photo and when I looked at it, it was so beautiful, like the light I had let come down into the lens made his body begin to fade.

I'd been telling him all month, if you see Mama Kitty, don't worry about us, just go. I like to think of him and Mama reunited. This is the human in me. He might be doing nothing, or other things that are non of my business. When we used to get up in the morning, he'd have his breakfast, and then head out to the porch, where Mama would appear from the garden, and wrap her body and tail around him. He never showed affection to her in the same way, but he sat with her, and let her wrap around him. And she never allowed anyone to touch her, in fact, hardly anyone had ever seen her but me and Martyn.

Right before he went under at the vet's last night, I said two words to him,

"Mama Kitty."

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A chat with a cat

"What will you do today," asked I.

"I shall sit here up high," the cat said.

"But what else as the morning wears on?" asked I.

"I shall sit here some more and watch clouds pass."

"But what will you do after hours of this?" asked I.

"I don't think in hours," said the cat.

Apifera has been home to more than 25 cats at once-back at the old farm. Now in Maine, we have created a special room for elder cats to live, and in time it will also include the upper loft where they can roam and at times meet visitors. We currently have three resident elders, Anna, Tigger and Yume and plan to bring more elders on board soon.