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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Little Mice Tales, and His Highness on the Loose

All heck broke out about an hour ago, when a startled shepherd looked out to see his royal ramness, THE Mr. Joe Pye Weed out of his regular pasture, and grazing in the front lawn area. How did this happen, you ask? Because the same shepherd left the ram gate open. This is one of those 'slap your shepherd hand into your shepherd head' moments - this is not a good shepherd thing to do, leaving gates open. So, a bit of a ram wrestling match proceeded for the next 30 minutes. Fortunately, with a lot of ear twisting, ear pinching, rump holding, and throat strangling - and the luck that there was a 100 feet of pasture fence on hand, the shepherd was able to get Mr. Pye Weed into a grassy area to graze for the day -until she risks her limbs and life again to get him back in his Royal Pad. This the same little Weed I used to hold and kiss - but as you mothers out there know, "they grow so fast', as you see from these pictures, Mr. Pye weed is no sissy - [watch for father's day t-shirts soon]...

On a nice note, I had an early morning work out with Sky Flower, riding her on the roads and practicing some of our recent lessons together. Their was a light breeze, and her mane was blowing, and the English Daisies were blooming. It all smelled so good. But now I must paint - which is good, as I am full of Apifera.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A proper place for little souls

Today was the first real spring day, the kind of day that makes gardeners get twitterpated. The kind of day that makes you forget it ever rained. I could actually hear things growing, really, the grass makes this sound when it grows - at least the grass on Apifera Farm does. Huck and I drove into town to pick up feed, and on the way home I couldn't resist stopping at one of our local small nurseries and buying some more honeysuckle, and chatting up with the two owners. Just seeing the plants and feeling the warmth of the sun made me change my plans for the day. Painting could wait until tonight - 65 degrees and sun were my muses today.

I indulged in working in the garden, and got all wrapped up into re-configuring my entrance to the Apifera Farm Small Rodent and Bird Cemetery. I'm quite pleased with myself, and even though my stone work is always crude, it brings me pleasure. I laid some old split rail that we brought up from the cow pasture, and created a series of 'rooms', one area for sitting near the cemetery. So now one can sit and visit with all the little souls buried there. And later in spring or summer, I will be able to expand the burial area. As I lay the split rails out in square rooms, it reminded me of being little and how we would make rooms out of leaves, piling them up to create walls. It was magical then, and it was magical today.

I must say, I do spend quite a bit of energy and time on that cemetery. I chose to hand paint the headstones and varnished them for protection. But each year I have to repaint them. I wish I knew how to etch in stone - but goodness, this would be a little time consuming. "Oh sorry, I don't have time to do a gallery show this month, I am busy etching bird tombstones..." Still, the quite of working under the two Redwoods while I care take the little cemetery is very soothing.

We had a wonderful weekend combining a lot of work [including hanging the door to our vegetable area which is now protected with deer fence] with a pleasant meandering journey over to a nearby Mossback Farm, owned by a couple we met recently. Val and Rich are so kind and gentle, very informative, from diverse/creative backgrounds and very busy reworking their farm to be more fertile and productive. They used to raise meat chickens, but cut back for a million reasons [their blog is very informative about agriculture and small farm issues] They have some sheep and a cow or two and are doing all this without any out buildings or fencing - they use temporary electric fence allowing them to rotate pasture. It was so good for us to visit another couple on our playing level, so to speak, doing the work bit by bit themselves, on a shoestring I assume, as we are, but enjoying it, and believing that they are making a difference for the land. I really felt good stuff going on there. It made me love our farm even more as we drove back home, and I heard the familiar sound of the driveway gravel under our car, and heard the sheep bleat and saw a swish of a palomino running up the hill to our barn. Home.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kind little moments

When I finished these yesterday, I thought they were too kind, not strong. But today when I put them up on the store, I felt different. I commented to someone recently that I found it odd that I am in the middle of some conflicting feelings about some things, yet my paintings still seem peaceful, calm, optimistic, mystical, hopeful. It is as if I make a safe, ideal world in a 2D space, a space I can retreat in, or perhaps actually live in. Perhaps, as I walk in this world of war, financial uncertainty, separation from old friends and family, the shocking realization that people actually do die, and the anxiousness of a new shepherd's impending culling of some animals she now feeds and shelters - perhaps these little paintings are my ability to see one quiet moment of beauty and peace, and that is what I prefer to recognize consciously at this time. I choose the latter observation. Painting can help uncover on a conscious level, what the subconscious already knows - for me anyway. It might take days or months or years to see something in a painting that you knew all along, you just weren't ready to accept it, or announce it to yourself. So perhaps these paintings also hold secrets I know deep down, but just don't feel like seeing 'out here'.

I'm glad I'm the age I am now. I couldn't be thinking this way, or doing any of this farming stuff, in my 30's or early 40's. I wasn't ready to leave the world of 'revolving things' quite yet. That time was great and all, it was just so much more self absorbing. We're all self absorbed in certain ways, and an artist has to be, but then it was constant analyzing of one's self, looks, every word out of your mouth "what does that mean?', reading countless books on inner peace and soul finding missions, looking for signs in so many things, sharing way too much with way too many people, never getting filled up with any of it, and always looking for the upswing, caring too much about peripheral objects and about what people thought. Yea, my skin was firmer, but it's still skin that functions as it should and that's all I need.

I have all these creatures to care for now, 22 acres that gets carved out bit by bit, an old barn that is being helped by our hands. A marriage that caresses me, a husband that really likes me even after a 'crabapple moment' as we call them. I looked at a magazine the other day at the grocery store which I haven't done in ages. It showed the new trends in handbags. At a time in my life, this would have been stimulating, now it isn't. I'm stimulated by what's right in front of me. And when I need more than that, I just have to turn in 5 degree increments to see another view. OK, I would like a donkey. OK, I still get turned on when we get to buy new lumber...Hmmm..I guess maybe I am self absorbed, but it is in daily moments, not personal motives, career moves, award shows, clothes, makeup, trends, new restaurants. The lumber will help the barn or make a house for the goat. the donkey will protect the sheep, and ...play with me. I can dress him up in fun outfits. It took awhile to get here, I bought a lot of clothes and shoes and stuff too. Didn't need most of them. And I do need a new pair of shoes because Huck ate my favorite studio clogs. But it's been 7 months, and I just didn't feel too rushed to get them, I will, sometime.. "I used to have a treasure chest, got so heavy that I had to rest. I let it slip away from me, didn't need it anymore, so I let it slip away...." ...you know, Neil.

Oh, and Coral Bell had a beautiful, chocolate ewe lamb last nite at 5pm. I was so proud of her. New mom and all, she did it all with such dignity. And In keeping with naming everything after plant life, I have officially named the little ewe abandoned by her mom " Meadow Rue" . She reminds me of little Roo from Pooh Bear, as I hold her in my jacket while I feed her the bottle.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Honey, shouldn't we bring her in the house tonite?

On Friday at 4pm Lewisia Pinkie gave birth to twins. It was not a smooth process from the start, as she is a new mom and the most timid of all the ewes. Around 3 pm, I saw her standing and grunting and I immediately went out to gather all the ewes back to to the barn from the pasture I had them in that day. This meant shepherding the flock over some of our property, from one fenced area to another - usually this is a smooth process with Rosemary leading everyone in orderly fashion. Of course, the one day I needed to get a ewe in labor to the barn NOW was the day that Rosie just had to have some of that spring grass, and once Rosie gives up order, all hell breaks loose- Lambs running all over, Lewisia Pinkie running around with two little feet sticking out her rear. I fortunately got her in to the lambing stall soon after, but she did a fair amount of running around and I was sure that baby was going to fly out of her for an airborne delivery. When I got her into the stall, it was only a matter of minutes that she lambed, standing up. All appeared fine, she did everything just like a pro, licking the newborns, her teets were giving milk and she was feeding both. When I checked on her Friday nite, again, all was well and the ram lamb was big and tall, getting milk; the little ewe was smaller, but looked good. All that calm would soon change.

Saturday morning it was immediately apparant something was not right. The ram lamb was quite listless and just didn't seem with it. But more disturbing was Lewisia had now taken to head butting and very aggressive behavior towards the ewe lamb. She was not allowing her anywhere near her. We watched for about 20 minutes, but her behavior was so aggressive, we put up a wire fence to separate mom and baby ewe, but mom then just tried to crush her in the fence. So we caged the baby ewe and got the bottle out. I immediately consulted all my books about this, [and got loads of support from fellow shepherdess over at Donkey Dan's], and it is not that rare for a new mom to reject a twin. We tried rubbing the lambs together to reintroduce her scent, we checked the mouth on the lamb to see if she could be causing pain in sucking, and Lewisia's udder was fine. We forced Lewisia to stand still to let the ewe lamb get her milk that first day, but it was too dangerous we felt - too many big feet around little heads. We kept trying through the first day to re-graft her, but Lewisia was just freaked out by her.

So, it was feedings every 2 hours for a couple days. It was little naps in my lap and nite time lullabys. To say I am in love with this little ewe lamb is an understatement. She now comes to me across the pasture, responds to my voice, and likes to be held in the sun. I have her in a sunny little fenced area I concoted for her, so she can be next to other lambs and ewes, have sun, but separate from Lewisia.

The boy lamb had is own problems for that first two day period. His listlessness got worse, and even though Lewisia was trying to get him to feed, he just didn't do well at it. Within the mid part of the morning, we saw him really decline. So we interfered and fed him bottles too - By the midnite feeding, he was so much stronger. He now appears on his way and his running and jumping, so is over the hump.

I am afraid I am a little bit like those people you see in the movies, who have calmly prepared lists and read many books on the baby's arrival, but when the moment comes, they walk in circles... I am getting calmer, and relize with each lambing I know more than the last, signs to watch that are good, or bad. But still, when the initial moment of apparent labor starts, I can't contain telling all the barn, "We're having a baby!!!" [as goats, horse, ram, ewes, and cats say 'here she goes'] and my pace quickens, I do a few circles and start grabbing useless things, like, empty buckets. One can always use an empty bucket though, I've found.

And after all calmed down, including me, especially me,
I was able to show proud Papa, Joe Pye Weed one of his daughters.
Amazingly, I got something that can melt any shepherd's heart,
a kiss from the old ram himslef.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A flock, and some cat scratches

If you happen to be in the mood to go to Astoria, Oregon this Saturday, the "Flock" exhibit opens at RiverSea gallery. It's a nice little group show of 9 artists, including yours truly. I was pleased with the pieces I did for it - how could I not have a nice time painting birds. Someone told me if I ever painted a red cardinal to let them know - and it made me miss the cardinals of Minnesota, and I think I will have to do a painting of one as a tribute. A red cardinal on fresh white snow - it's a lovely, crisp site. Although out here we have the magnificent magpies and stellar jays, which some people hate, but I find them wonderful.

I am just settling down, after a rather, hmmm...traumatic morning of cat wrangling. I was suppose to take the last three cats in for neutering. After 17 trappings in the past 2 years, I am hoping this is it. These last three, Pumpkin Head, Little Orange, and Blackberry eat and sleep on the front porch - away from the cats in the barn. They are much more domesticated, and I have been holding them and even bringing Little Orange in on occasion to sit with me. They follow me around and garden with me. I thought this 'wrangle' would be easy. So confidant, I only got out one cage, and sat it in the inside of the house by the front door. When I went to do the morning feeding, I swooped them up easily, all three at once, held them, calmly brought them in and got them in the cage - but Blackberry got out, and ran to kitchen area. They are very quick, and until you do this, you just don't know. So I retrieved Blackberry, just before he was about to freak out and jump in the kitchen cupboard of china. Martyn was there, as were Huck, Billy and Big Tony - and at this point things were still relatively calm. So I had Martyn open the cage door, with the other two cats still in it- and I gave him all sorts of directions, as he's never caught any of the cats before and I knew he had no idea how rascally they are - well, he didn't act fast enough, combined with the fact that suddenly Blackberry freaked out and put all four clawed feet INTO my arms [if this has ever happened to you, you know that those claws do not come out, the cat just leaves them in you and you can't even shake that cat off of you] This is precisely the point where the morning went haywire. Martyn's reaction was to help me, so the cage door flew open, Little Orange and Pumpkin Head went skidaddle out of the cage and proceeded at a full cat frenzy into the living room. Meanwhile, Blackberry dislodged himself and went with them - as did Huck and Billy and Big Tony to get in on the action. Ever hear of what a squirrel can do if it gets in your house? Well, three semi domesticated kittens is worse, I think. Within a 2 minute range they had literally climbed up the curtains, knocked bowls and vases off the shelves, and even broke a window. Martyn was able to grab 2 expensive pieces on the ledge, fortunately. Meanwhile, I had no choice but to ---scream! And what did I scream? "OK! Everybody out of here" Oh, yes, that was intelligent. That made sense to cats in frenzy, a chocolate lab who thought it was a new action game, and a one eyed pug who just stood in the middle of it all watching blurry things zoom by. And then there was my pore, kind, gentle husband, who would move the ocean to my doorstep for me if he could, and the look on his face, which suddenly fell into the palms of his hand, as he heard things breaking as cats were fleeing...

Well, they all got the front door, and the damage was done. I was able to get Pumpkinthe Head soon after. And Blackberry came out to the barn for my barn feedings and I was able to grab him. I have cages all over for trapping, so there was one handy. But Little Orange was not to be seen, and as of this writing, he is in hiding. I am so upset with myself, that I put him in such distress. He of all the cats should have been the easiest. I shold have put them in one by one in separate cages. I thought doing all three in one swoop would be less stressful, but I should have know better.

At least two are getting neutered today, and I'll be able to do Little Orange more easily, if he ever comes out of hiding. I feel just horrible for him. The new holes in my arm were washed and dressed, I think I'll live. But my cat wrangling pride is hurt. I hate putting animals in distress, and trapping is always traumatic, but I really botched it.

Fortunately, I did a lot of work last nite, and there are new originals for sale on the online store.

Come home to me, Little Orange...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Drop by drop comes wisdom

I am in a passage of late, a passage from early adultness to mid adultness, a passage that sees many faces leaving this realm onto the next one - faces one has known all their life. I've talked about this in recent posts, I think. It is a passage that causes me to think things like, when I see the face of this little Norwegian girl, "Let's see, she would be about 30 now.". I took this picture in 1981 when I spent 3 months studying and traveling in Norway - all the children seemed to look like this there, especially once you got out of the cities into smaller towns. Photographs have a way of capturing a moment, but it is a myth really, that photo is a myth. Each person that looks at it will create or conjure a whole story into that particular photo, and it might not have anything to do with what was really there. Just like we look at Garden Design magazine, see a farm somewhere, and conjure up how those people live, act, are. But it's just their persona on print. You don't know someone from a magazine, or a blog, or a series of movies. It takes a long time to know someone, and all their folds and crevices.

So, I go on my way happily, and in this passage, I play games in my head like, "When this tree is 10 feet tall I will be 75 and my parents will be gone and so will Martyn's and Huck and Billy our dogs will be gone, and all the sheep too."
If I get particularly wrapped up in this particular game, all played in the safe confines of my head - and not shared - I can proceed to freak myself out. Not because I am afraid of aging, or death. It is the idea that the world as I know it now, will be so drastically different from the perspective of the 'group on top" so to speak - I'll be entering another passage where my turn to explore in the next realm will be the next big road trip. Hmmm. So this passage I am in now, is so much more juicy than the 20's or 30's or early 40's. It is better. It gets better every year. It gets bigger and more safe in a way, understanding it really will all end 'here, as we know it". No time for whiners. Everything coming into my life seems to be sent to me to help explore and prepare for some huge losses to come. Like the CD "Magic and Loss" a '91 release of Lou Reed - man, I love Lou Reed. Or Roseanne Cash's "Black Cadillac" [a beautiful tribute] which on the liner notes shows a photo of something she scribbled on the wall - "and drop by drop comes wisdom through the awful grace of god"...

So turning 48 on Friday was wonderful. It was a perfect birthday. I did what I felt like, which is pretty much what I do everyday. But I indulged in baking my favorite cake. And enjoyed a longer moment in the barn. I got a few surprise cards and a beautiful 5 foot tall trumpet vine from Martyn, along with my favorite dinner - HOT DOGS!! Yes, I really love hot dogs, even though they are pretty crappy, I know. That'll send you to the next realm quicker, I guess. And our weekend was so full of hard work putting up our vegetable deer fence and giving shots to lambs - AND, thanks to the encouragement from Donkey Dan and his mother over at Farmgirl Fare, we managed to find the courage to ear tag the three rams {Thanks you guys!}. It wasn't so bad, for them, but I didn't like doing it. It just had to be done.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Snow on a pumpkin head

We awoke to lovely huge flakes of snow. It reminded me of years spent growing up in Minnesota, when you awake and there is that silence, but yet you can sort of hear the snowflakes. It is so different than the rain, gentler. We don't get it often and it'll be gone by night - although the mountainpasses are socked in with 12 inches. I am always amused that in Oregon when it snows [there is maybe a 1/2" on the ground, none on the highways] the whole place stops. Schools are closed, things cancelled. My husband took a snow morning and lay in bed much later that normal-we lay there being goofy and singing made up italian opera to Big Tony the cat who sat on our chests.The goats walked out of the barn and stopped dead in their tracks, "What in the world happened here?" they asked me. But it was Mr. Pumpkin Head who caught my heart with this picture moment...

I just posted this piece on the online store. I was going to put it in the upcoming "Flock" exhibit at Astoria next week, but held this one back to sell myself. I like this one immensly for some reason. I am in a 'protect our fruit tree" mode, as we posted the little area with our fruit trees, along with our vegetable bed, and we will put up deer fence this weekend. A harbinger of Spring this Sunday was three barn swallows - "Swoopies", as I like to call them - were back in the horse barn, ready to make nests. Let the shows begin, of nite time swoops and acrobatics that are wonderful to watch with a glass of Pinot and your honey by your side [and dogs and cats drifting amongst your feet].

I have been running Stella and Iris the goats with the sheep. There was some head butting the first few minutes, but all is well. Morning breakfast can get complicated, as Stella is such a boss, and so is Rosemary the head ewe, then add the three boy rams who shouldn't even be in there, but I get tired separating everyone out and sometimes a shepherd just has to say, "Oh well". It still brings me much amusement, delight, joy, glee to see a group of faces like this - the goats especially are such charming devils. One shepherd tip - while walking in mud covered with slush and holding three buckets of feed while you are in front of your small flock, proceed gingerly, as it is very easy to get "swept" through the gate onto your butt and then head licked by goats and ewes. But even that is not so bad if you get to have sheep and goats, and horses and cats and dogs. And my new fantaasy - a donkey.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Paw prints of the heart

Today is the birthday of my old friend, Louie Louie, who left this realm in '04 at the almost age of 14. My companion and road trip warrior was consistently feisty with a touch of tenderness.

Some animals, like people, leave bigger prints in your heart than others, and there are huge ones all over my body from Louie. I get death, but the idea he would actually die on me seemed more fantasy than future reality.

I use to have this irrational fear. When Lou and I would go on our annual spring trek to Colorado from Minnesota, always through our beloved Badlands, I would envision getting into a car accident and as the ambulance pulled me out of the car, Louie gets out and gets lost and I can't help him. It never happened. After I put him down, I had similar irrational thoughts of him, somewhere, needing my help.

This dog could have had his own talk show or at least written a good memoir. He got out of a motel room once - by a maid's hand - while I sat eating dinner in the motel cafe. As I went back to my room, I passed the front counter.

"Hmmm, that looks like Louie, " I thought. It was. Louie was working behind the front motel counter, helping the motel clerks check in new customers.They found him a natural at customer service.

They say you don't fully understand a death until new life comes along after grief. On the farm, the lambs bring new life. Death walks side by side with birth here. The cycle of life and nature is natural and death feels like one stage of it rather than a jarring interruption. The body is just the holding tank like the water in the sheep trough that overflows and meanders to the river below. Louie's going on and on too. Somewhere.

I still would rather have his curly head below my feet as I type today, and a look up front his sleeping spot, as if to say, "What are you doing next?"

When I moved to Oregon in '02, Louie was already failing, blind and mostly deaf, loosing teeth, arthritic, and had had one minor stroke - but he was still
present and happy. He still loved my voice because it meant what it means to me when I hear my favorite person's voice.

I took him to the ocean for the first time. He probably could barely hear the waves, but as we walked on the beach, he trotted along like a kid, and as always, kept looking up at me every minute or so to say, "Isn't this great?!" When I look at this photo taken that day, I can just feel his course coat, and see his whitened, blinding eyes looking towards my voice.

His ashes are still in the box that I picked up from the vet that day. I hadn't intended to keep them. I planned to spread them on the farm he hardly got to know, so daisies could grow from him, and for me. But I can't bare to spread them as I'm afraid I might scare him.

"Where are you?" he might cry out to me.

It seems safer to have him by the nightstand, in his little box, with the lid closed, where I know where he is dry from the winter rains and safe from irrational car accidents.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The silent cloth

I am in a state that I have learned will pass, but I recognize it by it's silent cloth over my senses.

As I did barn chores, the banter I carry on with the animals was not present - I worked in silence. It was replaced with background chatter in my head about the ways to bring in money, the ways to keep going and make a living and not get sucked down by taxes, mortgages, equity line payments, heating bills, insurance payments, child support, old cars about to die, fencing that hasn't been bought yet, how to market lavender in an industry I am stumbling through, how to create art that is art and not a commodity from inception. This chatter has been present for me since I began as a freelance artist 10 years ago. I've survived by allowing the chatter to come, make a plan and keep doing it. If one thing doesn't bring money, flow to the next. Keep going. Never be through. Don't sit down. Never settle. Keep selling, selling, selling. It's exhausting. I'm exhausted. If I were a millionaire, would I be an artist? I have absolutely not one doubt I would be. I have always done art, even as a child, as a way, a desire to communicate something - usually a communication with myself of course. But would I have an online store, full of greeting cards and any other way I could think to sell my art simply to pay bills and survive? This I don't know. Maybe the selling of a piece is part of a final circle in the making of the art, an approval thing, that I need. Or enjoy. Of course it is a gift to make art that some people really respond too - to find out there are people who have watched your work for 10 years and get joy or an emotive journey of their own through it. That is one of my jobs here in this realm. It's my work. I take it seriously in that way. But today I don't feel light, I'm exhausted by it lately - the running of the machine. "The medium I've grown to like best is leisure and doing nothing. I'm in turmoil continuously with that side of my nature that requires leaving a record of my desire for order and for communication. The urge to communicate in a tangible medium is all tied up with urges of personality, ego, ambition, economy - Why do I send paintings off to a gallery except for those reasons? Otherwise I'd be free to let my life be a trackless medium." [Morris Graves as interviewed by Katherine Kuh]

I had a desire some weeks ago, inspired by old books on sun prints of plants, to make sunprints per se, by scanning all the various dead plants and weeds I find around the farm. This was the first one, of a dead/dying camelia branch. It pleased me, and still does. For two weeks or so it has sat unpublished from the internet, not seen by anyone. And for two weks I gave it the grace to just be itself, without thinking of way to try to sell it. But now, as I look at it, I can hear the chatter again, "This would be lovely series of prints - who can I show..." On and on, on and on.

And when I'm not getting sales, even teeny ones, I get down. I feel a bit invalid.
So that is how the silent cloth can shroud me.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Animals speak one by one - listen

I have been saying for awhile now that I want to write the stories of the various animals that come and go, often stay, on Apifera Farm. And now I have begun, finally. I created The Animals of Apifera blog that will have individual stories, some told directly to me by the animals, of the particular animal's life, or how it got to our farm. This is a long process - there are many stories to write and many more to come. I am already hopelessly behind, as the Apifera Farm Small Rodent and Bird Cemetery already has about 10 lost friends to honor. I will also be adding a map of the farm, and other facts and trivia about the animals. The first story is up - and I can't guarantee when the next one will be up. Be patient. It is especially difficult to write the stories of those that have passed, as I wrote those stories down on burlap and scraps of seed bags as they came to me in the wind and through bird messengers.