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

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. #EIN# 82-2236486

All images

©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A real cat now

The final Apifera Farm cat has been neutered. Little Orange took the big step yesterday to neuterdom.We told him what we told all the cats before they were caught and brought in to the vet -"You're not a real cat until you take responsibility for your reproductive organs". They always listen intently to the speech. Little Orange, being the most teeny member of the Apifera Farm possé,is also one of my favorites. Perhaps it was the fact he was born in a wood pile in the middle of winter, or that he is the teeniest little orange thing, or that he still kneads the ground wherever or whatever he is doing. He joins me in the front garden to weed, he loves to be held, and he is the only one of all the cats that does not go to the big barn for feedings. He entered that barn once, and looked so proud at the accomplishment, but I guess he only needed to do it once. He prefers the front deck, where he can sit on wicker and have his very own garden which to this day he firmly believes was created just for him. When I brought him home from the vet, he is the only one of the cats that didn't leap out of the cage and take an hour or two to be alone in the safety of the blackberry bushes. He chose to sit in my lap, kneeding, and looking at me every now and then as if to say, "I'm REAL now, right?"

In his honor, I made greeting cards available on the store under "Farm Whim" section.

The road to total Apifera neuter/spaydom has taken 2 years. I am relieved it is over, for now anyway, until someone dumps a cat and it wanders up to heaven on the hill. And the word is leaking out to all ferels in a 20 mile radius -"Apifera - go there- warm barn - good food- safe- woman nice-husband harmless" . Trapping cats is stressful, for me and the cat. I hate it. I hate walking out to the barn that day knowing I am going to trick an animal that has learned to trust me over a few months, into crawling in a cage for tuna. Some I was able to touch as kittens, and hold, so trapping was easier, but never as easy as you think to get a cat in a cage that is used to living under the stars. Anyway, it is an important thing I want to ask you to do - please spay and neuter your animals. If you are feeding them it is your responsibility. I was blessed to be raised by a family that always had pets, and understood that responsibility and passed it on to me.

I am still working on a way to set up an escrow fund for donations so that cats in the area can be trapped and then spayed/neutered at my country vet. I have had one talk with the bank on how to set up an escrow, but don't know legal ramifications and details yet. So it is taking time I just don't have at this moment. But I will. And again, to all of you who have donated over the last two years to help me defray the cost of 20 spay/neuters [4 were nearby barn cats I helped]- it is greatly appreciated, by me and Martyn, and Lavandula Angustofolia [Gus], Miss Prairie Pussytoes, Mr. Bradshaw, Hazel Nut, Sweet Pea, Mr. Tomentosa, Big Tony, Mr. Pumpkin Head, Blackberry, Mama Kitty, Mr. Plum and Mr. Quince, the Late Mr. Weed, Little Fig and Teasel.
And last but not least, Little Orange, who is very real indeed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

When home is a field

Like I don't have enough baby animals to fret over, I now have three more. Less than an ounce each I suspect, baby sandpipers.

Saturday as we were tilling in the front lavender field, we were careful not to disturb the ground nest of the mama sandpiper. We had found the nest over a week earlier, and marked it with stakes so we wouldn't hurt it by mistake. The three small speckled eggs had survived another week, and we kept on with our work after we checked on the nest. About two hours later, I checked the nest again before a lunch break, and there was a brand new baby, who looked so much like the egg - survival of the fittest in action, the speckled baby looking just like the egg, blending in so perfectly with our speckled ground. By the time we came back from our picnic on the tailgate, all babies were born and amazingly mature looking within an hour - again, survival.

Thanks to the way we are maintaining our fields naturally, the left over green mulch allowed the nest to remain safe, or as safe as can be. I thought later how if we had put down plastic ground cover, we would not have had that experience with those babies. It made it feel like the hard work was helping three small little beings.

That night, as we sat on our favorite sitting spot now that the warm air is back, looking up towards our hills and hay fields where the neighbor cows are pastured, we saw the newborn calf out in the field for the first time. He was frolicking like a lamb, going to all the cows and introducing himself, then running back to Mama. Then back again for more introductions. It went on and on. Babies on the ground, babies in the hay field, babies in the barn. Babies everywhere. And I worry about each one, not every minute, but I worry the gates are closed after I drive off, worry the dog up the road will get in somehow and work someone into a frenzy, worry the hawk I love will pick the baby birds up. It's a relief sometimes to go inside.

So this morning, as Huck and I returned from town errands, I came upon those three baby sandpipers - There they were with mama, on our gravel road, making their way towards the stream. They were remarkably larger even after 3 days. Three days they have lived, in a 700 square foot area of land at most - a trip across the driveway to the stream must be pretty exhausting. And confusing. I stopped the car so mama could gather them to safety, but one little guy panicked and ran the opposite way, back to the pasture he knew. Huck and I must have sat there for 20 minutes, waiting for that patient mama to gather her family, which she finally did.

Between the warm air on my skin and the sound of the babbling stream, dog at my side, it was 20 minutes well spent.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Moo decipherings

I took a break from painting yesterday to work in the lavender field for a couple of hours. It was our first real summer-ish day, and being inside all day wasn't possible. It was perfect temp to work in the field, new enough in the season that being a bit hot felt so good, and no bugs yet to spit out as I worked. As I was working, I could hear one of the near by cows that are kept in our adjacent acreage. It was a different kind of moo. I stopped to watch her at a distance, and as all the other cows were off grazing, she was standing, head up, very still a long way from the herd. I knew immediately she was most likely in labor. It dawned on me how I have learned a lot about the nuances of animal sounds and their different meanings since moving to the farm. I was pleased when later on, I found out she had been in labor. I think it is safe to say I know more about pregnancy in ewes and cows now than I do in humans. I would have no idea what to do with a woman in labor, perhaps get them to a near by barn and prepare a bucket of warm water with molasses, check on them every half hour or so.

She's my favorite cow of the herd, the only red one amongst the black Angus group. She has incredible eyes, and I have told the farmer who owns them I think I want to buy her. He chuckled. He has learned that although we are new at all this, we try our best, and work hard, and that is what proves you out here with these crusty guys. He once said to me, "I could spend all day watching my animals"...and I agreed. That is our common denominator. We have gained his respect as he has watched us in rainstorms and heat waves working on the fields or putting up cross fencing or redoing the old barn. He comes over sometimes to check up on the electric fence or something, and he often will stand around for an hour telling me animal stories. Sometimes, I've heard the same story a million times, but I never let on. They seem to get better with each telling.

This picture is of the same farmer's bull. One day when we first moved here, Martyn got up and causally said, "Katherine, there's a bull in our field". It was Hotshot. He was standing so pristinely in our front field, surrounded by dog fennel weeds. As far as bulls go, he is well mannered. For much of the year, he is kept separate form the herd and brought over at breeding time. It was so heartbreaking to hear his wailing when he wanted so much to be with his girls. So I would visit him through the fence and give him carrots which seemed to please him so much. When he ended up in our field this morning, I replied in a sleepy daze, "He's here to have carrots with me"...Later we found the area of the fence he had mangled to get through to our side. Some might assume he was trying to get better grass, or get a little closer to view his far off herd, but perhaps his inspiration was my carrots and companionship.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

It's raining mamas

I'm surrounded by good mother figures and milk producers out here, well, except maybe Lewisia Pinkie who abandoned her little second born twin, Little Rue. So for mother's day, you can overwhelm the mothers in your world with must-have items from my Cafe Press shop. I mean what mom doesn't want shirts and mugs and such with this little face on it. After spending the week painting abstracts - which I love, and this week's finished piece just sent me to the moon and back, it rewards me so much - I enjoy making these silly little items which hardly anyone buys, thanks to my lack of marketing them. But, that's ok. It's chilly and rainy, I banged my knee on the way to bed last night and my shoulders are all cramped up from reaching high to paint the 48" canvas - so, I have this hankering' to bake chocolate chip cookies and sit by the fire. Before I know it, it'll be Pinot Noir hour...It's been forever since we were both inside on a weekend not working on some farm project. Spring is stopping and starting here. I read that California growers are really suffering this spring with the rains, unable to get their crops in. Some will lose their first planting. I am a mother of lavender, I guess, and witnessing their tiny little wet feet in the overly soaked ground makes me want to gather them all up and bring them in for the nite. Just like I tried putting a little dog rain jacket on Baby Rue today - she loved it, but the other sheep all fled her in a panic, and then Rue followed which made them run from her more - it was amusing, but I called her in and took it off, which calmed her flock. I even left the goats in, they hate the rain, and even Sky Flower hung out in the barn all morning. I took the time to just be with her, brush her over and over and over - each time I went to leave, she'd knicker, and I'd blow in her nostrils and rub her eyelids which she loves. It's hard to walk away from a barn full of love.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wolves Will Not Eat Me Again

With the lambs safely born and under the wing of their mamas, I can focus again on art. I've been painting, but in broken up time frames. Now, I'm revving up for exciting new things - like painting for a new gallery in Atlanta that opens May 5th called Dalton Cowan Gallerie. [I will post their info when their new site is up soon] I have known the two owners for a long time now and I am so happy and jazzed to have my work there. Rob is a woodworker and artist and Stephanie is a renowned artist in her own right. The Atlanta market is a strong one, and I know they are going to soar with this gallery. "Teasel Weed and Dirt Greet Spring", shown here,is one of the pieces I will send down there. A lot of people ask me what teasel is - it is one of the most magnificent 'weeds' around - Tall, strong stalks, it grows anywhere and anyhow. It gets a cone-like flower on top with purple prickles that browns out and makes a lovely dried flower. I hope to harvest them this year and sell them for the farm. Most people out here would call that nuts, but I know there are some kindred souls out there that know the beauty of weeds such as these. I have teasel friends all over the property, and I appreciate how they feed the finches, and they also make wonderful hair brushes for all my little elf and fairy friends that live in the oak grove on the property.

I am feeling re-energized after a topsy-turvy business week. I am pulling all my work out of the Santa Fe/Santa Barbara outlets for business reasons. When one door closes, many more open. Within a few hours of the my decision, I was freed up to do some little abstracts instead of falling into the old mind frame - 'let's see, that guy only likes it when I do red ones, or women with birds." Sometimes an outlet gets hung up on what's selling, and they don't allow the artist to expand and flow where their muses want to take them. They are scared they will lose income or customers. They want you to do want is safe for them, and cloth it in words like "I really think that type of painting is your best, do more, they sell quickly". You get caught up in in it. And to qoute my guide Neil Young, "'People want to know why you don't make your most famous record over and over again,' he said. 'Because it's death.'"

Trusting oneself is one thing. Finding other people you can really trust to talk about your art in a helpful, guiding manner is another. While in the end it is me, the artist, that must listen to my own voice and trust it, it is also very helpful to find certain guides in one's life that can really help you through the muck of your process and path as an artist. Sometimes you think you've found one, but often it is wolf in lamb attire, calmly and Buddha like holding your hand, and offering you trinkets and gold coins to keep you going when you need it most as you the artist make your way through the forest.

This week, I was reminded that besides my own inner voice to trust, I have the wisdoms of some wonderful artist compadrés to back me up- they know who they are. I have some loyal customers that buy pieces some wolves leave on roadsides. And when I look at a painting like the one I have shown here, I say, "Bring it on wolves, you can't eat me."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Woman Horse, Horse Woman

It looks like one of my paintings today, a soft fog over the hills and pastures, and as I poured coffee into my cup, a blackbird flew and landed on the top of young tree. Perhaps it is like an old episode of Outer Limits - at the end of the show, our little farm is just part of a large painting.

I now have acquired another handy skill - banding, or as I like to say - castrating. No one says 'castrating" , but why sugar coat it - I have now altered the life of at least one small lamb who's destiny is now set. He will be butchered in late fall. The process itself was not that bad [for me anyway] and I was prepared for the lamb to get down afterwards and flop around -thanks to a heads up from my wiser shepherd sister over at Donkey Dan's place - but he got up and just sort of went on his way. Afterwards, I had a cast of something hanging over me - -I felt uncomfortable with being master over this small creature - I am in fact making decisions that will end his short life. Perhaps too, it was that I thought I had put up a boundary in my heart and head between the three rams to be butchered, and have not touched them much - but this morning I had to hold one in my arms and soothe it while we did what we did. He had a heartbeat, and warm little head and long eyelashes. He was not any less cute than any lamb, yet he had been designated, by me, as a meat lamb. I hate this. It has made lambing season different for me. If I live on a farm and raise livestock, some of them have to go, some of them stay. Some of them become trouble in the herd and are time and energy draining, some are just plain mean, some are dangerous. Those decisions seem to make sense. But when it's a tiny lamb, it's a conflict.

I was supposed to go down to the front lavender fields and weed for the morning, but instead I felt a strong need to be with Sky Flower, my horse. What was going to be a short 15 minute workout on the ground, turned into a trip down the road to my horse neighbors, and then a 2 hour trail ride with them. Being with the animal that I have worked so hard with for a year and who has come so long, along with me, is rewarding. It is even magnificent. A 1500 pound animal that has the ability to crush me if she chose too, yet agrees to work with me to learn subtle cues like 'cluck' means take one step, not two steps, Sky, but one step. And now she does. So she and I, we learn together even though it's not always pretty, or graceful. I was feeling tired before the ride and almost didn't go, but I am so glad I did. Sky and I had a good ride, and we got one more inch of trust built up between us - after all it is just as much about her trusting me not to lead her into danger, as it is me trusting her to believe me that I won't lead her into danger. She went down roads she had never been, and saw scary rocks that looked like trolls, and heard waterfalls that sounded like oceans and walked over bridges that made strange echo sounds that sounded like cannons. And through it all, she responded to me, and carried me home safely, where a flock of sheep stood on a hill, and a man worked in a field, and two goats greeted us as we neared the barn.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Today it was so blatantly Spring that even the dirt could be heard singing. Huck and I drove into town to go the feed shop for horse bedding and sheep vaccinations [where I resisted for the third week to buy spring chicks], then stopped to do our weekly shippings and then onto the grocery store for a quick shop of essential food.

As I walked into the grocery store, one of the regular employees , who is mentally challenged, greeted me at the door by stating "It's Spring! And the flowers are springing!" And then he laughed, and I laughed, and the more he laughed, the more I laughed. Two kindred self entertaining units, we enjoyed the moment. He also told me in a much more serious tone that the flowers like spring because they get hurt when they are in the dirt too long, which seemed like a very wise observation. This encounter, though brief, was one of the bright spots in the day. But there have been so many - like watching Huck's lips flap in the wind as we drove home with his head out the window. Between watching that in my rear view mirror while watching the coastal range out the front window, all the while listening to the new Ray Davies cd [loudly], well, spring had definatly sprung for this old farm girl and her hound dog.

Getting home, I was pleased that my temporary -monkey-cross- fencing in the yard area had held up, and there wasn't a flock of sheep meeting me on the main road. Yes, you people that know me or read this journal regularly know that I have supernatural skills building "monkey houses'. If you don't know what a monkey house is, you must first read some former posts on them [visit the December 12, 2005 entry]- but this picture is a perfect example of cross fencing done the 'monkey house' way. I wanted the sheep to mow down the grass in about an acre of property that is between our barns and house, and give them some nice lush grass to eat as the pastures are bare, or just sprouting. I had just enough pasture fence to get from the vegetable bed door to the other pasture fence, about 40 feet, but had to come up with ways to hold the fence up, since I had no posts there. So, my monkey-house-fence consists of a garbage can with wire strung to the fence and a ladder stuck in the fence, and some sticks and wire and wire around the sticks attached to the ladder. It works. I don't think it would make Martha Stewart's 'it's a good thing' list, but then again, none of this farm would [and for the record, I have nothing against Martha Stewart and consider her a genius in styling and propping a 'mythical life'].

I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting some teasel weed, which I'm determined to sell to the dry floral market. It has to be stripped of it's thorns, and is labor intensive. We have tons of it, and it is considered a weed of course, but like an artichoke or thistle has such magnificence and stamina, how can anyone not want it all year in a vase filled with yarrows or other dead weeds?

So, that is all. It is warm, it is windy.
It is Spring.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Combined dreams set free

What can I say, this is my man. Somehow, after years of hooking up with selfish, immature, moochie boys dressed sort of as men, I was given the wisdom to see what a gem this one was. I knew the minute Martyn knocked on my door 4 years ago that he was a kind soul, and that we would be friends. I quietly knew more at that instant too, but didn't share it with anyone, not even myself, and experience has shown me that when one has a knowledge they don't shout to the word, it is usually a solid knowledge based on real inner understanding.

Our story is worth repeating, only in that sometimes I forget how nice a story it is. I moved to Portland in 2002 from Minnesota; I grew up there, had lived many places, but after 15 years in Minneapolis, decided I needed a big change of terrain and lifestyle. I looked for two years at small country towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin, California and finally visited my brother and his wife in Portland, and the minute I got off the plane, I just knew. Less than year later, I packed up the car with two dogs and a chinchilla an headed west. I've never looked back.

I had found a sweet little tiny cottage in a nice neighborhood, and as the moving van was unloading a man knocked on my open door. I can still remember exactly how his voice sounded as he stuck his hand out and said, "Hi, I'm Martyn Dunn and I had to meet the new neighbor with the same last name as me." Yes people, we had the same last name, and in Minnesota there are not a lot of Dunns. it seems in Oregon there are quite a few. Upon meeting, I learned he was a landscaper and we shared a passion for gardening and growing anything from the start. He lived right next door in a postage stamp size cottage which was the cutest little gem in the woods you've ever seen. It had a lot of charm, he'd done a lot of work on it, but perhaps what I remember most from the first visit is he had his living room full of tools for his business. We became friends, were the same age, had both been single quite awhile and were not daters. When he told me he was an avid fisherman, my little mind became engaged even more, as I had always wanted to try it, and had vowed too ever since I saw it in Colorado. He had drawers full of feathers and things for flying ties, and soon he taught me how to fish. I got to see parts of Oregon noone else had even heard of because of those fishing days. On one very hot day, over 90 degrees, I could hear a lot of rustling going on his side of the fence, and could see trees shaking. About 30 minutes later, he showed up at my door with a bowl of freshly picked cherries which he had gathered by climbing up his own cherry tree. It was at that exact moment I let myself in on the secret I knew on the day I met him - I would marry him.

So, after we were sure we weren't related, we were married in our own gardens that we had created. We continued to live in our two houses, and eventually had to move. So we took the plunge and went for our dream - a farm where he could build a little nursery and I could have animals and raise lavender and stuff. When we would go fishing we'd always see places with riverfront property and I'd tell him we would buy some riverfront so he could get up and fish on his own river, and I'd make him pies of berries, his favorite. And here we are.

Pictures are good at making one slow down a little and remembering all that's happened, and all the little surprises that led up to taking that picture. So if you have a dream, let it grow on it's own but set it free too.