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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

White creatures arrive for many reasons...like the cat that is a nurse

I have had a number of pure white animals come into my life-usually with magical stories that capture all of our imaginations and leave us pondering their initial beginnings. Often in the past, when I've written about them individually, someone always pops up and says,

They came for you, they are there to help you.

And this is a comforting thing to say, and hear. And I feel I can say that in each case, it has grown to be true-they do help me in ways I might not have predicted.

Of course, one of the more famous white animals to arrive at Apifera is White Dog, aka Benedetto. The story on how he got here has taken many twists and turns in my imagination, and yours. I have written about it many times so won't go into details on this post, but I can say that I do know without hesitation, Benedetto was meant to come to us for himself, to save himself...but he has also become intwined in our lives, and I rely on him here for many reasons. The obvious is he keeps the predators at bay, which right now means eagles that fly over head-he goes nuts ever since one took one of The Bottomtums. But he has another job, and that is to be pure in his intent with me.

I can't hide anything from Ben. And his eyes, don't hide much from me.

We have a ritual I've told you about-I look into his big dark brown eyes, and I say,

"Everything is okay, it is okay, right?"

I started this before we moved to Maine, during the weeks leading up to what would be a traumatic yet exciting move for all of us, and I was supposed to be the leader. I actually think I was a good leader for the animals, and Martyn, and I dealt to every detail of the trip, the move and the packing. But I would look White Dog in the eyes, and tell him, "It's okay, it's going to be okay, you'll see." I said it because I meant it, and I also knew that he and the others could pick up on the tiniest of sensations I might be emitting about stress over the move.

Now that we are here, it is so clear to me that one of the gifts I've given Benedetto, is Maine. He loves it here. He truly is in his element-the cold winter, less rain,, more snow...and he now has his area to protect, and Marcella has hers. They still come together when I let them have wolf play dates, but he is much more his own man now.

All the worry I had, wondering if White Dog would try to find a way to escape once in Maine...is gone. He has never tried, and out West, he would occasionally bolt on us. Not now. I would not put it past him, but he is just more settled here. Perhaps it is just the time has passed-we still don't really know how old he is so maybe he is just more mature. But I believe he is more,

in and of himself, something any of creatures wants, and needs to blossom and thrive, and be at peace.

And there is Noritsu. I saw his face on the shelter's website, and I couldn't shake it. He was actually at a shelter slightly farther away than our local county's shelter where all the elder cats have come from, so I pushed it out of mind. Then a couple other cats came our way, and I thought, okay, Noritsu was not meant to be with us.

But I went back, maybe two months later, and there he was again. And I felt compelled to adopt him, and I did.

I'm so glad. Because Noritsu has a very important job-he is a nurse. Not only does he nurse the cats that I must nurse by standing with me and reaching out to them, but he nurtures me. As I sat holding Laci as she was clearly dying, he came to be with me, immediately...Nurse Noritsu.

Oh I can hear the naysayers. He's friendly. He'd come to you no matter what, he just likes people.

No, it's more than that.

We don't know where Noritsu came from, we don't know anything about his back story, except that he is elderly. Perhaps he nurtured an elder man until their death...perhaps he had other elder animals in the house too. But when he came to Apifera, he checked it all out, sat for a couple days to get comfortable, and then...he just started being a nurse.

I like seeing an animal's true purpose coming through, and being utilized even in their older years.

My sweet nurse, Noritsu, you are very important to me. And you, White Dog, it is okay, isn't it?

Noritsue comes to me, as I hold Laci 

Always the nurse to me, Noritsu as I hospice Laci

Another elder arrives at Apifera

Introducing, Miss Spring
I brought her home from the shelter yesterday and so decided her name will be Miss Spring. It seemed fitting, not only because of the calendar date, but because she now will begin a new life here, new chapters to her long life. She is over thirteen but is in very good condition. She was loved and cared for. Her former owner died recently, and it turns out she was a hoarder, a sad situation for anyone to be in. But she did care for her three cats and one dog. They were pretty well fed and are very sociable and people loving, so that owner loved them, and I'm sure those cats brought her some peace. Hoarding is a tragic situation and is misunderstood by many people. We must not shame these people, they need help and understanding.

So when the owner died, the neighbor alerted authorities there was a dog, which they had found [he has a new home] but there were also three cats. It took them awhile to discover the cats under all the debris.

I had been told about Miss Spring about a month or more ago-she has been at the shelter since about January. But I was focused on Laci, who I knew was on her last leg of her journey. I am glad I listened to my instinct. The minute I got Laci home, I knew she was not going to be with us long. She seemed to have given up. Sometimes this can be a medication issue, an imbalance in the thyroid meds. But Laci had been checked many times by vets. Her intake papers say she was brought to the shelter at her elder age because "the landlord would not allow cats". It is easy to judge, I catch myself doing it. It is easy to get frustrated with human beings, and assume they are the bad guy in these cases. For all we know, the owner was elderly, or poor, and really felt the shelter was the only avenue.

But I do wonder if Laci just wanted to move on. And she did. She slowly became more inward, and grew into that distant gaze look I've seen many times. Last week I knew her final day had come. It was not a vet intervention situation, it was a hospice situation. I spent a lot of time with her, as I had been all month, but that final day I held her a lot and talked to her a lot when needed. She was pretty much mentally gone, but her body took time to fully fade. I am glad I could be with her. And that is why I had held off on bringing Miss Spring home. I wanted to dote on Laci.

But I am so glad she is here now. Miss Spring is a sweet old girl! She has acclimated very quickly and is getting along fine so far. Of course Noritsu was the first to introduce himself. Anna let Miss Spring know she is top female, and Miss Spring kind of did a "Meh."

I love Calicos. You all might remember the elusive Mama Kitty, mother to most of the old farm's feral clan? And Yume seems to recognize,

"You have spots like me."

I hope she has many months, even years to come. She has no known medical conditions, and was right up on the breakfast table this morning.

Now let's hope Miss Spring will see Spring soon [as we await yet another Nor'easter tomorrow]. Sigh. Meh.

Yume thinks Miss Spring looks familiar

And of course, Noritsu was there to make introductions

Monday, March 19, 2018

And we have barn cats

I have been waiting to write about this because the situation kept changing, but I can now say with unabashed truth that we now have two barn cats. I contacted a feral cat society nearby that traps/spays/neuters and vaccinates feral cats they trap, then they rehome them to barns. I have really missed having barn cats! As you know if you have followed Apifera for a long time, we took care of twenty five at one time at our old farm out West. When we arrived at our old farm there were two litters within a short time, and other young adults, and we trapped for over two years. All those cats, or most, lived well past twelve, and Big Tony, the sire of most of them, came to Maine with us. When we left, there were only two cats remaining in the barn. I knew I could not take them, they were at home there and would not have done well in a move. And they were twelve...but I think of them and wonder if they most likely have died.

The arrival of the new barn cats had a bit of drama. They arrived in small carry crates, but the feral society were good enough to leave the large crate with us, so we could acclimate them. We also immediately created a five by five area, completely contained, within the barn. We left them in the main crate for two days, and then we put them in the enclosure, with the intention of leaving them in there for at least a couple of weeks. I checked Martyn's work on the enclosure and there were a couple spots I feared they could escape, and we fixed those. There was also a spot in the back where Martyn had pressed chicken wire into a small area, and I did not thoroughly check it-I assumed it had been nailed in, but it was pressed in. One day later, I arrived at the barn and they were gone, they had escaped out of that area.

We were miserable, to say the least. I felt very responsible as did Martyn. The weather was cold and snowy and I really feared we had lost them into The Wood, for good. For three or four days I put out canned food for them, in the area they had first resided in, in the crate, away from the goats. I sprinkled flour all around the crate to show any foot prints.

Three days went by without a trace of them.

I had enough experience with ferals to know they can disappear for a long time, and show up out of the blue. I had no idea the background of these two, and we didn't know how savvy they were or what their survival skills had been, if any.

And then one day, foot prints! I was so excited. I knew if they were still there at this point, they would probably stay. They began eating the canned food and licking the bowls clean. I still had not seen them though.

Finally, after two weeks, I was cleaning the equine area, and looked up and there he was, the male. I nearly exploded with internal relief and happiness.

It would be another couple weeks before the shy female would appear, and they really look alike when they aren't side by side. But the male is much larger.

After another few days, the male was coming down a bit closer when I did morning chores...and then the female too. I have started climbing up a couple of bales, and sitting, not looking at them, just sitting. I really want to get their vet collars off, fearing they could get stuck on something-but since they are staying in the barn for now, I think in time I'll be able to get close and get them off. I do not want to trap them at this stage to do that, as it might spook them.

They have not spoken. However, I finally heard their names.

Introducing: Stanley J. Catfish, and Janet Jane Josephine.

Friday, March 16, 2018

We did it...and then some

Many of you have already heard on other sites, but we made the barn goal and we are funded! But what is even more wonderful is The J&J Stanley Foundation is matching that $10,000 we raised.

And it still gets better.

Yesterday we were $1000 from making our goal. The Foundation informed me that if we reached our goal by the end of March they would 'sweeten the pot"and add tot hat $10,000. While The Puppet was hoping that meant cookies, I knew it meant money. So I put out the word. And many people came through yesterday, and even still today, and we reached our goal by late afternoon!

And then...I got the word that The Foundation would be adding another $5,000 to the already $10,000 they are matching.

Pretty darn sweet, I'd say!

I have thanked everyone a million times. But it is so gratifying to have made this accomplishment. And it is also a relief [probably for many of you too]. Now we can go to the next step of getting the barn started-which should begin in June-if the snow is gone! Hah!

What a wonderful way to end the week. Thank you one and all, no donation was too small, and all donations and shares did not go unnoticed. I am leaving the Go Fund up for a couple weeks to make sure all money is cleared into the account. You can always make donations here at the blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned-there is lots percolating here!


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"How many times can she photograph my snowness?"

I can't resist it, every snow day presents photo opportunities galore with White Dog. I've become like those people on Instagram that can't simply live and enjoy moments with their child, they have to IG everything.

No, I really haven't.

But I am glad to photograph him. There will be days ahead I will want these photos to hold onto. I know, because I have photos from the old from I hold onto of the animals I've had to say goodbye to over the years. I never want to Benedetto to die, without me. But of course he will, or I will. Until that time, he is a loved subject of my lens.

How much snow can a donkey shovel

It snowed a wee bit. Just a tish. Then it snowed a tish more.

Or as we say in the barn when it's just us Misfits,

"That's a ##$%^##@ lot of snow."

I must follow my own code of ethics–no weather whining [unless it involves biting flies, then I can whine because I am usually bleeding from wounds]. But, even us winter lovers do get worn out this time of year when these storms keep coming back to back...to back.

But, oh it is beautiful.

This morning I stopped midway to outer barn, just to look. Imagine, I thought, if you had never seen snow and you woke up to this?

Imagine, if they told you today is the last day you will see...or hear the way the snow sounds as it lands...

I had planned to be in the studio which has sorely missed my presence, as has my bunny studio mate, but the time I got done shoveling in the front barn, I was already sort of pooped [for the record Martyn was good enough to shovel all the way to barn for me, since it was well past my knees, usually I just trudge on]. I arrived at the outer barn, and I let out an expletive-in amazement. Then I counted heads to make sure all Misfits were accounted for.

The way we positioned the barn means the exits are under the metal roof, and sliding snow creates mini avalanches. I will say last nights snow off the roof created a great wind barrier for the donkey stalls. And it was pretty cool, it reminded me of when we had so much snow in Minnesota as kids and we would carve out forts from the huge snowbanks.

I am getting a bit worn out, but it is better than ice storms, or earthquakes. Or...you know...biting flies.

Being the eternal optimist and lover of all things Nature has to teach us, I took today as a sign to slow down, enjoy time with my flock and Misfits after all the shoveling. I was rewarded in many ways...including with llama love. Birdie followed right behind me as I shoveled out the avalanche on the sheep side of the barn. She was very concerned I think.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Art meshed with land and life

Guarding the Pussy Willow and Rat
The brush piles all over the farm at this time of year are like evolving sculptures to me, and in winter snows they become even more pronounced. In certain month the sheep are in the fields before we have picked up wind fall branches or pruning from the trees and they move the wood around with their heads, creating a living sculpture area. I hat thinking we will burn these pile, but many will be burned. We try to use as much as kindling as possible, and leave some fro woodland critters, but many must go or they create trouble when the grass begins to grow.

I did a painting a few days ago, with Marcella guarding the home of a little rat. The photo was taken at dusk after last week's storm [another on the way tomorrow night]. All around me life is going on and it ends up often in the art, especially my brush piles.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

That's me-can you see her?

{Thank you for all the well wishes, everyone. And thank you to those of you who recently donated to the birthday fundraiser to try to get the barn funded. Only need a bit more.}

So I turned sixty.

I like to think of myself as this creature, in these photos, the soul of this youngster is still with me. There I am pointing out to something that enthralls me, makes me happy, makes me look out in wonder as I stand in my little hand made sweater.

I noticed a difference in my perception of myself in the past months leading up to sixty. You hear women say that as they age they may lose youthful looks and pure, alabaster skin but they gain wisdom and peace they never had. I think this is true. I have now become that woman, but I am also the woman that catches a glimpse of herself in a store window and wonder, "That's me?" When I do the latter, I will now think of the little happy face in this picture above.

My optimal years in the looks department are gone, they occurred in my forties and fifties I think-it was when I really came into myself professionally but also as person. Looks are also about how we perceive ourselves, I think. That old saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," is true.

I was talking the other day to my old, wiser cousin [our term of endearment for her] and we were talking about our youth driven culture. I made a statement that I think is true-as a species, for survival, we sought out youth, we sought out younger looking creatures-they would be the strongest and most fit to carry on the species. Even I, if I'm being honest, prefer the way I "looked' in my forties and early fifties, to now. I can't lie about that. And I think it's because we are engineered to innately feel that way. But would I give up what I know, feel, and experience now in my personal evolution just to 'look' that younger way....no. And nobody is asking me to either.

I had a nice couple of days of honoring this transition into this new decade. Nice notes, some phone calls, good wishes from many near and far. I missed my parents this time around. But then there they were, the dove couple in the apple tree. Later in the afternoon, we went to get some groceries and..wait for it...buy new socks...and there was a dove couple on the roof of the building. So they were around. We had another wonderful meal by Martyn, I made the family recipe white cake with chocolate frosting-the same recipe I've made probably sixty or more times. As I stirred the batter of the sturdy white cake, and folded in the egg whites-the aroma of ingredients just carried me to my mom. I could hear her telling me to fold them in, not beat them in, just as she had taught me when I was little.

I made a pan cake this time. And when I went to cut a piece, I cut one out of the center. This is sacrilege in our family, but I rarely eat sugar stuff anymore, and knew this was my chance to eat the piece I really wanted. But I could hear my parents laughing.

Martyn presented me with a beautiful black cherry burl, that he had sanded down so we can use it now a cheese board. It was from an old black cherry that fell in one of the storms. It was a perfect gift-something from our new land here in Maine, new to us, but so old and having given so much over the years to her owners, since well before 1760. It was a seat gift from the sweetest man alive.

I should also mention, Moose turned five. Sharing my birthday with a goat is a perfect fit.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

We love it, we lay in it, we walk in it, we do not complain, we live

Today we awoke to another Dorothy-enters-a-winter version-of-OZ, the 12" of snow from last night's Nor'easter blanketed the land and encased the fences and trees. But White Dog was there to simply be what he is every day, White Dog. And Marcella joined in.

A day with snow is a day without flies, that is our motto in Maine. It is a beautiful snow, a bit heavy, but there is no more wind today and it's still coming down.

It is hard to resist taking any photo of something snow covered. So enjoy these photos. I hope you can feel the silence of the earth below the sound of the snow...and the contentment of two White Dogs.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

After the Spring Wind

"After the Spring Wind" now available
I was doing my usual barn chores yesterday, after my morning walk with Muddy, thinking about The Wind here. It was very windy, and about 38 degrees, so chilly, but nice. Spring chill is much different than autumn chill. The temperature of the ground is still cold in spring so it can be biting, but then you also get hints of spring smells, like the ocean. And the sounds of spring are emerging.

I came back inside after chores still thinking about The Wind. I've said before, it is different here than in Oregon because it comes of the coast, and The Wood is situated differently here. I was inspired to paint the feeling I had that day of The Wind...I did all sorts of squiggles and abstract blasts of color, and ended up painting over all of them, ending up at the end of the day with this piece.

In some way, I thought I had failed the initial inspiration-to paint what The Wind felt like that day to me. But, I realized when I titled this piece, "After the Spring Wind" that it accomplished what it was meant to. The calm the in between The Wind gusts, even if for seconds, is what I feel in this piece. The little bits of spring are emerging too.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

"The barn is open to you," I told two cats

Cats with Moon and One Star
Last week, two ferel cats arrived. They had been trapped by a ferel cat organization, spayed, neutered, and vaccinated. They arrived in carriers and the organization lent us a very large crate. We put the small carrier cages inside, with food, and made sure everything was secure.

We had cared for a colony of 25 out in Oregon, and gained experience working with them over the years, including letting them acclimate on their own terms. But these two cats were not born in our barn here, and I was really anxious to do the right thing by them, to get them comfortable with the surroundings. The next day, we created a roomy area, totally enclosed so they could not escape, so we could get them out of the crate. We really were vigilant on securing every little nook and possible escape hatch, even hauling in stone to line the edges. When Martyn finished it, I found couple things I worried about, and he added some more wood to those areas.

But I neglected to see one spot that had chicken wire, and it had not been nailed down-Martyn had instead pushed it back into some wall boards in what he felt was secure. If I had known that, I would have nailed it down. But I should have checked, and he should have known better.

The next morning, they were gone. I was crushed. And Martyn felt terrible too. I feared even though they had some time with us, and had food here, they would flee. I put out canned stinky food, and sprinkled flour all around the cans in hopes of seeing their prints. Three days or more went by, no prints, and no food was eaten.

I knew cats could find lots of hiding areas in the barn. In Oregon, we literally had cats living in the hay bales-finding areas they could hide in between the bales. Litters were hid there too.

On the day I found them gone, I went to my studio and painted these two pieces. I wanted to send my intention out to them again-that we are here to give them food and shelter. But I also know I had already done that on their arrival, and I had doubted myself after they fled. I blamed myself and beat myself up. But in my heart, I found a little light burning inside me, that encouraged me to think of my intention I had given them.

And then yesterday, paw prints in the flour! I was so excited.

And all the food was eaten, the cans had been licked clean. So I put out two more cans last night, and more flour. And this morning, more paw prints and both cans were licked clean. If the old barn cats out West are floating around me, seeing these guys getting canned food, they will be rolling their eyes!

I talk to them briefly each morning, and always say goodnight to them too. I am not sure when they will appear, maybe never, but they are there, they have food and I think it will be okay. I hardly even know what they look like except they are black with some white. We don't know how old they are but most likely young, around two. One is male and one is female and they assumed they might be siblings. I was able to touch the nose of the female the first day, but did not try to touch the male, he gave me clear indications he was not ready for that.

I am glad they stayed, and glad I found my inner light. That inner light is always burning, but sometimes I forget that, which leads to doubt. Whenever I doubt my intuition, suffering happens, and I am not the beacon I can be.

Cat Eyes in the Woods

Friday, March 02, 2018

Reinvent yourself...the culling of a life leads to more

Jeanne's 97 year old hands hold Opie
There are so many reciprocal generosities going on in my work with the animals and elders. Just as much as the animal visits to them brings them happiness and comfort, a break in what might be a routine day, their presence also is helping me to evolve into this next reinvention of myself. Just as I am getting to know them, they are learning about me, and since I'm in a new land it is like they are bringing out a clean slate of me. My work with them is grounding me to this place called Maine. Yesterday Opie and I went to see our friends at Wiscasset. I found out Jeanne is 97, and Evelyn just turned 93, Joe is 87 and Sara is 85...We talked about me turning sixty this coming week, and it seemed like a lifetime away for them. We all agreed their is no standard image for 97, or 60. It truly is a number.

We all have 'stages' in our lives. I have had three major reinventions of myself in the times since I became an adult, and am entering my fourth. These reinventions are not eradicating everything from the past, but they are a culling, and an expansion on the things left behind after the culling.

This current reinvention is sort of a surprise for me and as I sat paining the other day, I had this clear sentence pop into my head,

You are reinventing yourself again.

When we got to Maine, I thought, Okay, I am me, painting, living and working with animals and now I'll be adding elder people into the mix. It still felt like I was doing basically the same thing as when I was out West.

But it did feel different. And for awhile now I think I wasn't completely letting myself go with the flow. I guess it looks like I'm moving fast and free here, and in many ways I am. But I think I was still hanging onto the Western Katherine. I think that is one reason I stood up from a chair last summer, walked calmly into the bathroom, and chopped about 5 inches off my hair clumps. It just felt like something I had to free myself of-those hair clumps that were prominent in so many paintings of the last ten years, hair clumps I started wearing at the old farm. I always wore my hair down before moving to the farm.

When I started working on my first illustrated memoir, which would actually become the second, not first book I'd publish [Misfits of Love was the first], I worked with a respected editor that used to work for Chronicle. He was excellent and really helped me with my craft, and helped me shape the book. He also pitched it to about 10 publishing houses; it got good feedback, but nobody felt it was going to be a 'big' book, and passed on it [a 'big' book is one that will become a huge seller]. One even said it was too inspirational. Gee, thanks. I then went on to try to find an agent, which was more painful than finding a publisher. One agent was interested, and she started throwing out ways to appeal to publishers and within six months she had still not taken me on. I began to feel like she was shaping me, or trying to, to fit her client list and her needs to sell to a certain base she knew she had, not an audience that might respond to me-as-me.

As much as I always wanted a book deal, and wider audience, I don't feel that way anymore. It would be constricting to me. I'm a free bird, I don't do well over time being caged.I am proud of my books, and I am also proud of my art, and the way I've shaped a life of the past twenty-six years merging them altogether with my other love-animals.

I don't want to be a persona, and there were years at the old farm where my blog began to feel like one-because I was playing the game of seeking an agent or publisher. Martyn was referred to as The Dirt Farmer in Oregon. It made sense. We labored in the dusty fields of lavender, and arrived at the house covered in dust. We loved a song by Levon Helm that had come out some time around then, called, "The Dirt Farmer" so I started calling him that. At the time, it was genuine, but as we were entering our final years there, it all began to feel...not us but like a tactic to tell someone else's story. In Oregon, Pino had began wearing aprons in my illustrated stories because in real life, in my then-reinvention of myself, I had begun wearing aprons when we moved to the farm–and Pino in effect, was my voice, we were the same creature.

When we moved to Maine, I remember saying to someone, something like, "Pino just wants to be a little donkey again, and Martyn wants to be Martyn."

So when I heard my inner voice say, You are reinventing yourself again I was pleased. it was as if I finally was accepting that I am me, and not a persona. I still have things to do, and share, and write about, but I don't always have to hide behind a girl flying with braid clumps. That girl was and is wonderful, and she is part of me.

But in this reinvention, I am me, Martyn is Martyn, and Pino is his own donkey.