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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A face to love, and a monkey cage

How could a shepherd painter not be filled with comfort when this is the face I see first when I walk in my studio? The head on that dog, I want to touch it - certain things of beauty I want to touch, experience deeper than is physically possible, and this is when one is inspired to paint, or write, or create perhaps, when the physical just can't be consumed by simply sitting in awe.

The weekend was filled with a bustle of farm activities, not to mention my matey's birthday [spent having a lovely dinner at french restaurant Cuveé with chef fantastique, Gilbert Henry in our own little Carlton, Oregon - a gem in the middle of farm/wine land. We are so lucky to have it]. We spent most of Saturday gathering materials from Wilco for our vegetable garden, and more posts for the orchard area to keep out Fred and Ethel, and Fred and Ethel's many relatives. We went a little more in debt by buying a new compressor and super dooper framer nail gun, which I am afraid to load or touch because it's the size of my head. But the best part of the weekend perhaps was building another....monkey house, or in this case, a monkey cage. Yes, I know some of you have been waiting for more, and now you have one. This bamboo cage is just one of 5 that I'll make for a some scattered fruit trees we planted, that aren't part of the other little orchard area. I don't think I can bear another spring of seeing their little leaves chewed down. The beauty of these cages is that when Fred and Ethel see them, I think they will appreciate them as unique sculptures, and leave them alone. If they do venture their head in, they will get their head stuck in part of the interior monkey frame, and it will be so confounding, they will back out nicely and move on to grass and weeds. There is, I suppose, a chance they will become entangled in the cage, and carry the entire monkey cage with them when they run off. I am also going to hang little poems and windchimes on them to bless the little trees and give them instrumental music to go with the bee and bird sounds.

The only downer of the weekend was we left Huck in one of many pastures while we worked. Huck lives for three things, 1]food; 2]us; and last but not least, 3]poop. In fact, I think he would re-arrange the order of that list and put the latter in first place. I do not worry about poop-eating beasts, it is what it is. But after three hours eating mud and sheep/goat droppings, well, you know the rest. Fortunately, we own 3 shop-vacs, and fortunately the poor old guy was saavy enough to do the deed in the studio and not the living room. Lesson, do not put poop-eating beasts in poop infested pastures of other beasts for three hours.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mlle. Helen Von Stein

In keeping with naming all animals on the farm after plants, we named Rosemary's little ewe "Mlle. Helen Von Stein", which is a variety of Lamb's Ear. This picture [she is on right] doesn't do her justice or show you her beuty, as she is gazelle like - I tried to find a Grace Kelly name derivative of something, but Helen Von Stein is quite lovely I think.

It is quite clear we need a new ram to mix into our line, along with Joe. When we got into this, I read as much on genetics and breeding as possible, and talked to many breeders of all levels. It gets confusing fast, but basically we need to skip a gneration each breeding. I will probably get people telling me not to worry, or to do it another way, but since we are raising primarily breeding stock at this point, it seems prudent. I don't relish keeping two rams, but, my goat breeder does it successfully in one pasture - and if you can have two of those big boys around, it seems I can handle two rams. Besides it gives me another reason to create yet another....MONKEY HOUSE!

My next learning curve is ear tagging. The rams will have to be tagged. I've registered everyone, and anyone leaving the property or being sold needs one. I think I've practiced on enough oranges. It seems cruel, but it is the law and needs to be done, or as they say, get off the pot.

I had a Neil Young dream last nite. But I can't totally remember it, and this bother's me, as when Neil appears in my dreams
there is always an important message to me. He never speaks, or speaks little. But the message is powerful. I'm disappointed in myself I can't remember it.

My writing is sloppy today, disjointed. I apologize. I was sick all week, and there are some things going on that are distracting me. I will clear my head today, I hope. Now, I must go feed Mlle. Helen Von Stein and family. And greet Old Oak who is one of many an Oak clan that lives near Helen's pasture. He is covered in moss right now, his winter attire, and he looks lovely next to blue sky.

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." Muir

Monday, February 20, 2006

Everyone needs a hat made of a bucket

I love hats, and last week made some pieces based on unique farm hats - I can't wait to make them in 3-D and offer them at the local farmer's market. I just think farmers can use more options to seed hats. In the meantime, you can buy these pieces online.

I awoke at 2am with chills all over my body and a fever. I haven't had the flu for awhile. I think I'll curl up with a pad of paper and revise for the 100th time our farm goals. We had a local lavender grower stop over yesterday to look at our antique seed cleaner gleaned from an old farm up the way - He has about 500 plants, compared to our 4,700, and gets a chuckle out of our non-weed barrier, non-spray approach [another thing on my list this week, getting our organic status started]. A nice man, and has been very generous to share his growing experience. What I walked away from after our meeting was: 1] We have a lot of lavender 2] We have more plants in ground than any local grower - most have about 500-1000 3] We need to find some big companies 4] If we do, things will be fine 5] We will. Somehow, I feel calm about it.

In the meantime, it is one more cold day - for Oregon - and one more day of hauling water to the barns in buckets since we turned our pump off so as not to bust it. Hauling water is not pleasant, especially with the flu. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and this is weeny, as today I could fall on a rock and die, so I should enjoy this one too - funny how the day after you feel lousy though, you feel so darn good.

If you want to lift me up, treat yourself to some online items newly loaded on the farm site.- like these sweet little sachets. Tell someone you live on a 22 acre lavender farm in the wine district and are an artist and grow lavender and sheep, and they make all sorts of assumptions about your income. We live month to month like most everyone. It's tight. But we scoped out our vegetable bed on Sunday, and we hope to be more self sustaining by fall. I just don't know if I'm up to culling out some meat lambs - yes, the re-occuring challenge for me - Eating my own livestock. One friend recently shared what an old farmer had told her : "If you have live stock, sooner or later you'll have dead stock. " I'm too tired to write about this eloquately - is that spelled right - too tired to spell right. Buy something or tell a friend to. Reach out through the lines to a shepherd girl all sick and feverish.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ode to Clayton

I love this photo of my Unlce Clayton, taken back in his 20's - Everyone needs a real life hero, and my Uncle Clayton is mine. He used to say to me 'You're either born horse or not, and you and I are horse'. Horses and watching him be with horses was our bond.

His farm was like a magic fairy land for me, full of the right smells and sounds that I found dreamy and juicy. Uncle Clayton was a natural horseman before they wrote magazines about it, a man of few words, calm, with real dry North Dakota humor.

Once he carried on a joke with me for a day before he let me in on it - We were sitting at the kitchen table of his farm looking out at the pastures, and he said, with toothpick in mouth and seed hat cocked to the left, "Well, looks like that old haymaker is out again", I looked out and saw an old antique farm machine in field, and agreed, "Yea, I see it too." He carried on with me all day about that 'old haymaker', until finally, he let me in on it that the haymaker was the sun.

I think of him more than ever now that I'm on a farm of my own- he died in the mid '80's at 62 from cancer. I don't think we necessarily had a spiritual connection on a soul level, but we did have a human one, and many times here on the farm, especially with the horses, I wish he could just come and stand by me and watch - he would know what to do when I wasn't cuing Sky right, or he'd guide me on how to help that sheep in labor. I just assumed he knew everything, and of course he didn't, and learned what he did know from years of living and working his North Dakota land, the hard way. His 100 or so acres are still there, and Aunt Emily still lives there, near his daughter, my beautiful cousin Connie. It's just down the dusty road of the now defeunct town of Akra, where my mother was born along with Clayton and 5 other brothers.

Every time I hear Iris DeMent sing "Our Town" I well up with tears. To watch Clayton work a horse was like watching grace and dignity in two living beings, coming together in one dance. He was a natural and always was. I was able to tell him, about two years before he got sick, that he was my hero - it just came up naturally one day out in one of his barns, I can't remember how. It was sort of one of those awkward things you say to a relative, mumbled, like I was talking to a movie star, but it came and went - and I'm so glad I said it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Life is here

Rosemary did a lot of standing around Sunday, not leading her small herd to usual feeding spots. I knew Sunday nite sometime we'd have lambs. By 5pm, she was hanging out by one of her stalls, as if to say, "Would you get me in there, I'm ready to blow". We had a big burn pile to burn, and I had made a picnic of wine and snacks so we could sit by the fire under a full moon. I got all the animals settled and had Rosie in her lambing area. When I checked on her 20 minutes later, her water had broken. I let her be for 30 more minutes, and when we went to check on her, she had two absolutely beautiful, big, chocolate brown lambs - a boy and a girl. Both are gorgeous. Dark stalls with a flash make lousy pictures, but here they are at less than a day old. I was so proud of her, she is such a pro at all of it. Much more matter of fact and business like than any of our other sheep - dependable with her role as herd boss, I look to her for support, as she acts like a shepherd dog for me, getting everyone going in the right direction. I am confidant we can sell two of the three rams as registered breeding stock, as the breed is becoming highly popular nationally, and I plan to bring in another ewe from another line, so I can breed the third ram so as not to over inbreed - the gentics is all new to me, but I'm learning how to avoid three headed sheep.

I have to admit, I'm proud of myself for knowing she was ready to lamb - And I wasn't half as giddy this time. What mother in labor wants a giddy shepherd around anyway? So far, we have been blessed with healthy stock, and good weather.

Little Weed 2 [the chocolate ram out of Daisy] is growing well, and I haven't given up on keeping him...
Little Weed 1 has the longest most gangly legs around, and reminds me of some kid I knew in junior high who's legs obviously came from a different parent than his upper torso.

It dawned on me this morning as I worked with Sky, that my life on the farm is less about what's happening externally on a TV, or in a paper or magazine or a store. My life happens right here, with many moments strung together as I walk around the property. It is not really about setting goals as an artist, versus feeling driven to paint or sketch or create something in gratitude for what those moments happened to be on a particualr day. I also have this undying rumbling to create three dimensionally, and I am harkening back to my ceramic days, thinking maybe of getting some clay to handbuild. I feel like making...ok, crafts. God, I know, but the textural quality of working 3-D seems to be poking me constantly and now that I have another new working table, I am inspired to start some new ideas, of what I'm not quite sure. And I'm going to start that story based on the animal cemetary here and all the animals that come and go, and sometimes stay. I'm not sure what it will be or become, but the land and my time here is grabbing me, telling me to go this way, don't be afraid, just let it roll..."There's a comet in the sky tonite, makes me feel that I'm all right, I'm moving pretty fast for my size"...Mr. Young...

Friday, February 10, 2006

In honor of love and lambs

In honor of new life and love in all forms, you can buy anything on the art site or our farm site and take 10% off through February 14th - this includes items on any sale pages. You'll have to email me and notify me so I can send you an electronic invoice that refelcts the 10% off, which you can pay electronically or via mail.

Rosemary has still not had her lambs, and today is her offical due date. She is annoyed that I am constantly checking her rear
end and udder for variations of any kind...She is still eating well, so I haven't seen signs that today is the day. The Little Weeds are doing well, and I put them out in a sunnier pasture yesterday with the whole flock, on fresh grass. They ate their hearts out, and did the little lambie jumps, a good sign. Even little chocolate's ear is now up, and I'm skeeming like Lucy on how to fit him in to our breedin program...Martyn said, "You can keep him if you find a ewe to breed him to..." And I replied, "So, did you just give me a green light to buy another ewe?"

It is sunny, again, and for the past week I have been working Sky Flower in a short workout on the ground. We are working on basic commands and ground rules, and I am thrilled at both of our progresses. It dawned on me that working with a horse is so similar to the training I know and feel comfortable with for the dogs. It made it so much less intimadating to think of it
this way. I really love working her on the ground, and the bonding between us is growing. She is a pushy mare, so this has worked wonders, even in a week. I have now elevated myself to a hgher position of herd boss. But I think Sky might always challenge that position, only time will tell. Fortunately, she has a loving nature to go with her feistiness...hmm, perhaps this is what my husband thinks.

And if you like these faces, have a teeny bit of money to spare, read on.

Joe, the neighboring farmer, got his cows moved into one of our adjoining hay fields. I like looking out at them, but I must put up a boundary around them in my head and heart, most will be slaughtered in fall. It makes me hold my goats close at nite when I put them in. When you eat beef, or chicken or anything, remember someone is raising it, and caring for it, and most likely not ever taking their role as slaughterer lightly. I have met no farmer who relishes that aspect of raising livestock.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sweet Little Weeds

Shockingly, we have twins as of Sunday 5pm, a week earlier than I expected. And even more surprisingly, it was Daisy who lambed first. Sunday was one of our first sunny days in a long time, and warm. I noticed her lying down in mid afternoon in pasture, but wasn't concerned as she does this in warm spring days. She was soon up grazing again, and I hadn't noticed some of the more usual lambing signs - pawing at ground, up and down - so when I went to do my normal barn chores around 4:30, I couldn't believe that Daisy was lying in the lambing stall [good girl!!] in labor. I rushed back to the house shouting to all the cats that we were having babies. It was fun that Martyn was home to witness this time too, and by the time we got out there, she had one lamb. Withn 5 minutes or so, out popped lamb 2, a tiny chocolate brown/black footed lamb. Last year, I witnessed no births, but arrived for Daisy's within 20 minutes of birth. This lambing was a good experience for me, as lamb 2 came out and just lay there. Daisy was intent on licking off lamb one, a good thing, but I was worried that lamb 2 was getting no attention. I didn't want to mark my scent on it too much, but it was chilly after sun was down, so we toweled it off and made sure the membrane was off it's face, it was breathing well. We put it to Daisy's face and she started licking both. She is a good mother, and it was amazing how fast they stand. I was sure Daisy would have 3, as she stayed on the ground for a good 20 minutes after pushing lamb 2 out, and she still looked huge. But she did get up, and within 30 minutes had passed the after birth sac which I buried quickly, and well, to prevent coyotes and dogs from finding it.

Both lambs appear healthy on day 2, and I hope I can get them out in a little dry sun tomorrow. We name all the animals after plant life, and since our ram is Joe Pye Weed, the rams must be named after weeds, such as Pokeweed from last year's crop [who is now spreading his seed in southern Oregon]. However, since rams pose a dilema - you don't need more than one or two, and the reality is, many end up as meat lambs. This is a reality of raising livestock, even in small flocks. It is my biggest struggle and challenge, and I already am thinking of reasons to keep the chocolate one - who is very small and has a floppy ear so might not be good breeding stock to register and sell...He is the first lamb I actually helped out and along. And I can't help but think of him as "Daisy's son" - good grief. No, it does not help, as many suggest, to name them things like "Lambchop" - I find that cynical. Instead, both rams will be named 'Little Weed", until their true fates are known. And until that time, they will be cared for with respect, and sheltered and helped along, and I will thank them for helping maintain our pastures...Stay tuned. Rosemary is as big as a house and Feb 10 is her due time...Pray for girls.

Friday, February 03, 2006

This is Where I Belong

Sometimes life just reaches out of the fog and says, 'How did you get this lucky?". I don't believe in luck really, but I do believe in relishing the many moments in life that make me think "How did I get all this? Wow, cool." As I type this at 5pm on a Friday, many of you are glad to see the work week end, and are partaking in your favorite things to do on a Friday after work - a toot at the pup, and walk with your dog, getting a movie, having a second date with a keeper, a hot bath and glass of wine...what ever it is, we all have them. And I spent time with my growing flock - two of whom are due in a week or so to lamb. I have been adding feed for Rosemary and Daisy who will lamb first. Rosemary already has the sunken hip look, which I learned last year as a total novice [now I am a second year novice] that sinking hips mean,get the baby booties knitted.I had been planning on Feb 10th as the first arrival, and Rosemary might be earlier. She's bagging out [a term I never knew until I had my first sheep rearing experience] very well, and each day this week her udder has been sweeling up. Daisy looks 2 weeks later, but last year, she deceptively looked smaller than Rosie, and lambed 3 days later with twins...

I think blogs are suppose to be honest, so I will say in writing, I love the looks of these sheep. I think they are the most beautiful sheep in the world, perhaps in the whole history of sheep. I am sure of it. I could have posted one or two pictures, but I like all these pictures. Selfish indulgence. But if you just could spend time with Rosemary, I think you would agree with me...Beauty like this comes once in awhile, like with Grace Kelly or Isabella Roselinni. So, gentle readers, be patient with me in the next two months of lambing. For shepherding the world's most beautiful sheep is a huge responsibility.

I did put myself through the torment of reading my sheep books again, brushing up on what to do if anything goes wrong, and of course, pretty much terrorized myself. I even added scalpals to my emergency lamb kit, but not sure what I'd do with them. If I need a scalpal, chances are I'll need a vet the first time around to use it. Last year, I lucked out, two sets of twins, healthy, didn't do a thing. Rosie had them safely in her stall at nite, and I got Daisy in her stall after her water broke around 4pm, only to come back in 20 minutes to find healthy twins at her side. I was so proud.

So, stay posted. In the meantime, my week ended like they all do, surrounded by animals, and art. Martyn will be coming home soon so we will sit with red wine by the fire and talk about the work ahead this weekend on our growing farm. This is where I belong. Sweet dreams.