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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A fond farewell to Ragweed

Yesterday we all gathered to bid a fond farewell to Mr. Ragweed [the brown ram on the right]. Ragweed will be living about 10 miles from here with a very nice young shepherdess and her young flock. It always helps when the buyer shows up and you like them. I had gathered the young rams in the morning, and explained to them for about the 10th time that Ragweed would be leaving us to live with his new flock of girlie sheep. But they never listen. When the the time came to take Ragweed, he was very cooperative, until his feet made it outside the paddock gate, and he did a four-feet stop - "Wait a minute, missy, this doesn't seem right." Daisy, Ragweed's mother, was in a nearby pasture and bleeted to him- instant recognition of her son- and he recognized her bleet and returned a farewell. The donkeys stood by with that Eyore look - "Here we go again, we're losing another one - 'Be brave, young ram! See ya! Nice to have spent the first 7 months of your life together!"

You can say all you want about not putting human emotions on to animals or livestock, but when you separate them from their own, it's gut wrenching. We got almost to the transport van without much trouble, until he got near the car and he went down on his side. He'd had enough. "No thank you, I don't know these people, I'm not getting in that van...I'll just rest here while you people work it out". With that I let him rest calmly for awhile - first time I've ever had a sheep just lie down and rest - even a foot prod didn't budge him. We eventually just picked him up and put him in the van. His little face was pressed against the window as I stood and chatted with the new owners. "You'll do great Rag," I said through the van window, "You get to make babies now! "...."Babies? I am a baby," his facial expression said back to me.

One day you put two sheep in a pasture, 5 months later you get another sheep - that's the story of Ragweed. He's just a ram going off to make sheep of his own now, as it must, and should be. But as I walked to the barn last nite and witnessed the beauty of the ice and fog landscape, it was apparent Ragweed wasn't there. Each animal has a distinctive energy - felt when they are there, and recognized as gone when they leave. The nightly feeding of the donkeys made me glad to be me - have you ever fed hay to a donkey and then leaned down and put your arms around their belly to listen to their tummy rumble and heart beat? It's a nightly event here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Huckleberry Pie declares farm snow day

I awoke feeling like a child again. I knew we were to have rain storms, but when my eyes opened it was to the 100 year old Doug Fir tree out my bedroom window, its arms draped in heavy snow. I sort of had a moment of confusion, as it felt like I was still in my old homeland of Minnesota. Waking up to the 'sound' of snow, it has a silence one can hear, and I just felt like I was back home. Huckleberry Pie and I [we both enjoying saying this over and over] declared it a farm snow day, Billy seconded the motion, and so after a few quick yoga poses, coffee and yogurt [due to the 3 pounds of extra material in my body consisting mainly of pecan pie], I did barn chores and took my camera. As usual, my camera didn't capture what I saw. The sky had this silver tone in the background, with layers of fog on top of it. There was some blue early on, but the silver came back. Beautiful.

Since we rarely get a lot of snow here, I had this naive notion that the donkeys would be out frolicking like dogs in their first snow. I made them, along with the young rams, eat outside, like donkeys must do in Minnesota, so they could experience the joy of snow. The goats were somewhat perplexed, unimpressed really. But Miss Pussytoes the cat was up early, playing with little snow globs. All the fences, all the manure piles, all the posts created new patterns with snow - I will play with some white on white patterns today, I think. The new bamboo screens Martyn just made looked nice too.

Our Thanksgiving was relaxed. We had dinner in town at Martyn's family's but were home by 6pm, allowing us to take naps in front of the TV before going to bed. The next day, we worked in our garden which was so nice, and then took time to take Pino and Paco for a long walk. We made a visit to our favorite winemaker to buy some of his Pinot to enjoy with our first meal made of our own lamb meat. We had lamb chops, and they were wonderful. I was so proud. I wonder if other farmers shed a small tear the first time they cook something they raised - not out of sadness, but pride for both the animal and the farmer. I mean, I was just proud!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving thanks

Giving thanks takes on a new meaning this year, as we eat our first home grown meat. Martyn and I will prepare a special meal for each other on Friday, of lamb, our own vegetables,and homemade pie, of which Billy Baker the one eyed pug still fancies. I'll use our own walnuts this year instead of pecans. We will go to our favorite local voigneur and buy a bottle or two of his Pinot, and drink it with our paté appetizer.

I had heard a chef on NPR who started growing her own lamb because she couldn't find any in her area that was organic. She said that cooking took on a different feeling for her, that after raising the animal, the cooking prep was still like having a relationship with the animal. Cutting the meat, seasoning it, all were acts of respect, and thanksgiving.

I will be missing my mother's cooking on Thanksgiving Day though. She makes the same menu every year. A couple times we suggested she add this or that - absolutely NOT - why mess with the perfect meal? How many times did I awake in a nearby bedroom, only to smell the stuffing being prepped in the morning? Or how many times did I get to test the pie crust with her pie crust cookies? How many times did I hear her say after the meal was over, "Oh, the gravy wasn't that good this year", when of course, it was perfect. Food and cooking smells can take a person back to other times, and pleasant memories - in that way, food is a thread to all our friends and families.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all beings - little pugs, donkeys near and far, old dogs gone, families gathering, or not -it is a day to come together, and remember where you came from, and where you are now, and hopefully somewhere in the day you will share of yourself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kisses to share

Lest anyone think I have completely loss my sense of humor or whim over the past few entries, I treated myself to the joy of making some new holiday designs for cards, honoring some of my muses.

The last weeks have been full of county politics - a bit too much for my sensitive little heart - and animal passings. While 10 of the latter were cows going to feed people, and two were mice murdered in my kitchen, it still seemed at times a bit heavy around here. And thank you to all the nice messages and emails from so many compassionate farm lovers. Like I Heart Farms, one of my favorite farm blogs, loaded with information and wonderful things.

So, to remind myself of who I am, and where I am, I did two things for myself this morning. I took some white gesso and painted "Neil" on my jeans, to remind myself that if there are answers to be sought, or air guitars to be played, I only need turn on Neil Young music- yes, and you people that follow my little world know that the Neil Young music must be played - LOUDLY. The second thing I did was take Pino Blangiforti for a walk [for those who wonder where his compadré Paco is, he is still in halter training, and sometimes, a girl just wants to be with one donkey]. We walked down to the road to visit with a neighboring horse, Rudy, who stands alone day and night in his field, sore feet and all. The local horse people have been keeping tabs of sort on him for years, and we all give him treats. He is lonely I think. So I took little Pino down there, and he reached cautiously up towards this HUGE head of Rudy's [he is exceptionally big, bigger than Sky even]. The two of them gently sniffed, although Rudy has been known to show his stuff, so I was cautious and ready to step in - one large bite and Pino could have lost a nose. But instead, the sweetest, most gentle demonstration of 'nice to meet you' transpired: Rudy took his lips and just puckered, and gently engulfed Pino's muzzle - not a rough equine play nibble, not a dominance nibble, just a gentle little kiss. A soft little kiss like two little butterflies would give each other upon greeting in spring.

We all need little kisses like this. So, the rest of morning was spent kissing everyone. All because of one old lonely horse and one little donkey. So 'pass it one', and write to me and tell me who you kissed today. I will share it with Rudy when Pino and I walk down to greet him again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The quest for comfort

I was lucky to attend a very good school as a child, and from that school and those teachers I learned the value of seeking knowledge - get all the facts you can by reading, exploring, researching, asking questions - and then you will have new knowledge, and a new comfort level abut the subject, or task, at hand. Approaching challenges and new things this way through my adult life has helped me work through rough roads.

When we first began raising sheep, I was like many [I am told] novice shepherds. "Oh, we'll just raise breeding stock, and the other sheep will just stay on for pasture maintenance. We won't do meat." Early on, a very seasoned shepherd and farmer said, rather tongue in cheek, "They all say that in the beginning". "I'll show him..." I mused to myself...And so began my quest to seek that comfort level I had always found I could attain simply by asking enough questions, reading enough books, gathering facts. For the past year, I have been preparing for yesterday's slaughter of some of our lambs. Many of my wiser and more experienced shepherd compadrés - from Vermont, to Minnesota and Missouri, and throughout Oregon, have helped megrapplee with my discomfort in taking the lives of these animals. I sometimes yearned to just wake up and be like them - they seemed stronger and more practical about dealing with a basic fact in raising livestock - some of them have to die. I began to doubt my ability to sustain this lifestyle year in and year out. After all, I am the person who saves flies and puts as many outside as possible. In the beginning of my quest for knowledge and facts, I asked generic things of farmers, like, "What age is best to butcher them?" or "Do you have a butcher you prefer."

I mean, they don't have long chapters about your first slaughter in the sheep books, and they should.

The more I asked the basic questions, the discomfort starteddissipatingg, and I ventured on to asking even grittier details about the actual process. I labored over articles about the pros and cons of taking ones animals to a slaughter house, versus having the mobile slaughter unit come out. I tried to interview the local rendering house, much to their dismay - 'a city nut, a farmer wannabie', I imagined them all whispering. In the end, I decided having a mobile unit come to our farm and kill the animals here was the least stressful for the animals, and that was therefore the best for me too. I had witnessed the shootings of the cows next farm over, and saw how professional, and fast it was. After gathering all my facts, and picking the butcher that would do the task, I rested a bit, convinced I was hard as a rock. After all, we were growing food for others, and ourselves, a good thing. We raised the lambs in sun, on grass, with no hormones or over crowding. They came into a small to medium flock where they were given attention, the comfort of a barn and ample room to romp and grow. Yet, with all my facts in my bag, as I penned the meat lambs up in a stall to have their final night of sleep, I didn't feel bad, but I didn't feel good. I didn't feel comfortable at all. I thanked them for giving us food, and I assured them the next day was going to go quickly and smoothly.

We had planned that the day of theslaughterr, I would stay in the house, and Martyn would show the butcher the barn and answer necessary questions. The butcher arrived 2 hours early and Martyn was off the farm doing errands, so I ended up showing him where he could set up. I am so thankful it happened that way. Highly recommended and used by several of our farm friends, this man did not make me feel like a newbie, or a city farm-girl wannabie. He reassured me it would be fast and no one would suffer. It was helpful to meet him, and know he was in charge. The reality of the soon-to-happen event came home though, when he asked me if I wanted the livers and organ meat. Gee, I hadn't thought about that. I went back to the house, expecting to hear the shots in about 5 minutes, but none were heard. When they kill the cows next farm over, it is loud. I took to pacing around expecting to hear the shots, and finally thought, this is stupid, I have to get on with the day, so went to my studio which looks towards the barn. I hadn't realized he had moved the truck there, and from a distance I could see him sawing. I could see the other lamb bodies.There had been no shots, it was over. Martyn drove up at this point, went out to meet him, and when he returned to the house, he had a baggie with livers in it. It was sort of surreal, but it was a turning point for me - And that was when I realized how special this all was. As I held that liver, I realized I knew exactly where it came from, and what foods did and didn't go into it. I felt very respectful of what I was holding - it is just so different than anything I have ever experienced.

I felt relieved, and workedquietlyy the rest of the day in my own thoughts. All my months of fact gathering had come to a close, and another new experience from living on the farm was under my belt. Next year, I will know more of what to expect, and while the discomfort of the day will probably never completely go away, I think the respect for the farm and our animals and what they bring to our lives will only grow each year.

Look closely at your food tonight. Ask yourselves where it came from, who cared for it. Did it suffer through life in a stockyard, was it treated humanely the day it's life would end so people could eat? Seek out locally grown meats in your area by visiting Local Harvest and ask your grocery stores to support their local farmers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Really, the emperor has NO clothes

Despite the gloomy weather and flooding ravaging some areas, the donkeys are celebrating after I explained to them that donkeys have taken over the House. To honor the new wave of optimism, I plan to read 'The Emperor has No Clothes" to all the animals later on today. It's always difficult getting them settled in one area, but is worth seeing their faces as I read them good literature.

It's been very, very busy here. Working on illustration pieces, improving the portfolio, and working on the appeal that our neighborhood group will bring to the County about the proposed sub development up the road. The latter has taught me a lot about local politics, not all of it pretty. Some of it I knew, but seeing it in your own backyard is always depressing. So the election last night at least made me feel like people got mad enough to vote, and speak up at the emperor . I mean, just vote, people. At least do that. You can bet that if voting rights were stripped form people, there would be an outcry. Many of those voices would be from the ranks of those that find many excuses not to vote, I am sure.

So, since perhaps donkeys will see some resurgence in the marketplace, I am thinking my new little children's book might be good timing. This is not why it came to me last month, but I have had two ideas about a children's book in my head. One is on paper only, no drawings, and the other I am playing around with the art first, with the plot evolving. In a nutshell, it's about a little donkey who lives happily, accompanied by his best friend, a brightly colored beach ball named Ball. Together they play and romp, until one day the little donkey decides his ears are different and odd and he wants new ears.

Pino of course thinks he is the donkey in the book, Paco thinks it is him. I told them not to buy new halters for the Oprah Show just yet.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rain on a barn

The winter rains, thankfully, have come with full gusto. It was a long hot and dry summer, people's wells went dry, we lost a lot of plants and a second hay crop seemed to fade for many. I worked in the rain all morning transplanting and reworking our beds, and the soil is still like dust. Funny how even though summer ended not too long ago, one can still have a flutter in the heart thinking about the plants, and how they will do next season. Gardens are hope.

I had a nice morning. It was raining a lot, but was warm. I did my barn chores and then spent time just hanging out and putzing around the barn. I love that rain on that tin roof. All the animals inside munching on hay, some at your feet. Martyn built Sky Flower the most wonderful new stall. I always say, it is the nicest room on the farm. Now she has access to come in and out of her stall on her own from her pasture, and I can choose to lock her in at night or not. Before, I haltered her and led her in to her other stall. Her new stall has an overhang with a tin roof too, and she can hang out right outside the stall and still be dry. Because the barn sits up on a hill, she can see everyone coming and going on Tupper RD, and she also can join in barn activities by just sticking her head out the stall door or window. The barn cats sleep nearby on the hay and she has them for company. So this morning after chores, I just hung out with her in the stall, grooming her, watching the comings and goings of the neighborhood.

It was hard to pull myself away from her beautiful head. "See you later most beautiful horse ever", I say as I leave.

As I walk back to the house, I hear three shots. The neighbor's cows were being harvested. I just kept walking.