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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Don't be afraid to make a big change

Five years ago we landed in Maine. This is still one of my favorite pictures of Martyn. I took it the morning after we arrived. We had arrived the night before at 10pm in the dark so the next morning was like Dorothy stepping out of the house to Oz. The grass was tall and lush. There was one little barn and none of the gardens or fencing you see now in my photos. There was something really vintage about the fact the house looked out on a sea of grass. But we of course had needs with the animals, so Apifera began to take shape with lots of fencing and outbuildings and barns.

I think back to that trip-six days and five nights-driving from Oregon to Maine, to a house we'd only seen online, to a town we did not know or a state we had never ventured too [I was there once in college somewhere]. It was courageous, people said. I guess it was. But it was not the first courageous thing I'd done and I knew that even with moments of fear, even when leaving a wonderful home or life, the next stage opens up even more remarkable encounters, sometimes in ways one can never imagine. 

I remember one person, I hardly knew her, only online through my blog, questioned me when we announced we were moving. "You said you'd never leave your farm, Katherine,"she wrote, and I felt a bit of resentment in her tone [part of the problem of online conversing, there is a lot of room for misinterpreting one's intended thought]. She had always wanted what I had, and here I was leaving it after 15 years of blood, sweat and tears. "I'm leaving here, I'm not leaving Apifera, dreams evolve," I told her.

I was leaving the land though and the friends scattered under the dirt in the land, and Old Barn, the one who had spoken to me when we first looked at the property in 2004. It was all a collaboration then, between me and Martyn and the animals, the land. It was so important, that time in my life. To be a shepherdess and learn good animal husbandry was so helpful to all I do now even though we no longer raise sheep. The zero supply of farm vets here in midcoast-real farm vets, like the ones I had out west who also farmed- I am grateful I had a lot of basic skills before getting to Maine. I was warned there were not vets in my area for livestock, and it is true. Lots of equine vets, many who say they know pigs or ruminant or camelids, but they really don't. I think that is the one thing I miss about the west, my farm vets.

But back to change. I felt compelled to move. I remember when I first knew we would move, and it was something I had not even asked Martyn about, I just knew in my head and heart we were going to, and it would not be down the street. I knew it would be far away but I did not know why or how or where. It took me a couple months to even ask Martyn about it. At that time, the thought of leaving my farm made me sick. but one day, I asked Martyn,

"Would you ever move to Vermont with me? I asked.

"Sure!" he said.

And that was the beginning. At the same time a good friend was moving back to her original homeland of Maine, and said we should check it out, that the prices were much lower than Oregon. And they were, which allowed us to buy our house. 

From the minute Martyn said that one word, Sure! I was on a mission, and it went fast. I had many moments of fear, and heartache-I knew the flock could not come with us, and I had to leave much behind, including my riding buddy and 83 year old friend and mentor. She died a year later.

But every time I got scared, I would get his very strong, positive message, "You have to go, and you have to go now, as soon as possible." I think within 6 months from Martyn's, "Sure", we were on the road.

The first night on the road, sleeping in a tack room at a farm, I think in Idaho, was cold and scary and unsettling. All the animals stayed in the trailer except the three dogs. The next night was more comfortable and a sweet little barn and by the time we got to the next two nights the anticipation of arrival was rabid. Entering the part of the country that felt like New England was just so wonderful we were both meant to be here. We were meant to be back there, and alsom meant to move here.

I had a list of homes as prospects, but many were in slight different areas. They had to have a barn even if it was too small. And the house had to look like Maine-those were my requirements. When our old farm sold, some of the places I had found were already gone and that was a scary moment. But I looked at the realtor sites constantly and had email notifications set up, and one morning, bingo, I saw this house. It had literally gone on the market that morning. I could feel sensations looking at the photos, I knew it was our house, it had to be. The house we found-I had seen it the morning it went online, and called the realtor and put an offer in on the phone-could not have been more perfect for what Apifera was about to become. There were rough spots-the busy road was something that depressed me immensely in the first year, but my mentor pointed out "You need to ask what the road can bring you." She was right. And we have since done lots of privacy upgrades.

It was a lot of creative thinking to get here-how to pack the animals in the trailer, all 33 of them, including 4 surprise piglets born to Eleanor four days before we left. The equines left a month before us, and stayed at a stable until we got here. That was hard, but they got here safely.

I was telling a friend I've known for ever that my life here is like all the things I did in the past 30 years in both my career, and my life, it all came together and was wrapped in a bow when I arrived. The work I wanted to do with elder people out west never happened-we were way too far out in the rural area and there just was a different mindset to what I was trying to do. And where we landed in this part of midcoast is so perfectly entwined with our mission, it is kind of a miracle.

I think I am doing my most creative work, in both art and writing. And while I don't crank out paintings as much as I used to, I feel the work is stronger than most of what I did in the past. I have reached a point in my art career where I can say 'no' and I do say 'no' and mainly paint and create what I want. I have no patience for impatient deadlines, I've been there, done that and I did it well which is why I am able to do what I do now. I paid my dues over and over.

The non profit takes a lot of creativity too, but I like that. I love it all. I love my elders-both human and creature.

So, if you feel a rumble inside of you, a voice saying change is coming, listen to it, don't fear it, just remember change expands things...it can be unsettling and exhausting, and yes, scary, but change will settle and you think, "I never knew I would be doing this, here, and I never knew it would be so good or better than I already had it, but it is."