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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Did someone say "Peep"?

Once again, the beauty of random life has entered the farm. Going out to start morning barn chores, I walked to the chicken house, remembering that it was exactly 21 days since I placed some fertilized eggs from another farm under my broody hens. Being a novice chicken owner, I was perplexed when they had suddenly quit laying about a month ago, but appeared healthy. As usual, I consulted my plethora of chicken books, online sources, and friendly chicken freaks [as one of my farm friends said, 'Chickens are almost a cult" - this appears to be true]. I learned quickly the traits
of a broody hen, and I had 4 of them. So what the heck, I gave them what they wanted, eggs. I guess many of us ladies at some point in life, have that instinctive desire to curl up and nurture an egg, protect it, and hatch it. I confess, I like children, but the gotta-have-a-baby thing never clicked on me. I'm grateful, as I am a much better mother to sheep and rodents and weeds. If I forget to put Rosemary in, she would head to the barn [I have never forgotten to do this by the way], but if I forgot to put the baby to bed, where would it make a nest? In the corner near the blanket where Huck often settles?

So, it was not a surprise, but it was a surprise, to open up the chicken house to see a teeny little head. Then another, then another, and another. "My God!" I gasped. "It worked..." I actually gasped this to myself... I was so excited I dropped my morning donkey carrots, and fled to the house like a school girl on the run for pancakes, ran into Martyn's office and said "Chicks!"...

I spent the rest of morning panicking. I had read - and read - about what new chicks needed, but had just not really expected any chicks...This is referred to as "Unexpected New Chick Syndrome"...Fortunately, after several emails to Whitey, an experienced broody chicken herself , and a call to the woman who gave me the fertilized eggs, I quickly created special little holding areas out of dog crates within the chicken house, so chicks and hens and remaining unhatched eggs are safe, and able to have water and feed.

I am now in the stage of "Post-Unexpected New Chick Syndrome" in which I am assuming all the eggs that are going to hatch, have. This is somewhat irrational, as there are 4 chicks, and 8 more eggs being sat on. I am praying for mainly girlie chicks.

One day you have some hens, the next day you have hens and chicks. Let's hear it for Henny, Henny Jenny, Henny Penny, and Zucchi for their setting skills. If I were lost in the woods, and I was really teeny, I would want one of these hens to keep me warm -have you ever felt the underbelly and chest of a mother hen? You must.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Breakfast with a Pygmy

I took my morning out near the barn and sat with Frankie while she ate her breakfast. She reminded me that during harvest, one must stop, if only for 20 minutes, catch one's breath, and actually relish the bounties we have before us. Frankie lives for two things, maybe three - scratches between the two horn stumps [left by a long ago owner who didn't remove her horns properly but just sawed them off], breakfast, and thirdly, dinner. Dining with her this morning gave me a fresh perspective on the day ahead in the lavender field.

We worked until 10 pm and have another 800 or so bundles to bring in today. The skies are overcast, perfect for my Irish skin, and the temps are cooler. We should be done with the main Angustifolia variety tonite, a day's rest, maybe two, and then the Hidcotes should be ready. Then the Grossos and Provences.

I wasted a bit of time last nite when we were hanging the bundles up in the drying area in the house [we still hang 300# in the house until the drying room is done]. When you bring in the freshly cut bundles, little bugs, mostly beneficial bugs, fall out onto the counters. Tiny little bugs. I decided this year to take time to try to sweep them gently into a box and release them outside. This brought much angst, as they are so tiny, many probably were half killed by the sweeping action, which made m me worry the ones I released were most likely suffering and I should have just killed them in the first place. Man's place on Earth, and our activities, unfortunately, kill many of our tiniest companions, I surmised, and I fell on the couch and had some wine. I decided I could figure out the tiny insect-saving-technique as I lay in bed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

This particular time

The bees have once again returned to the fields, telling us it is time. "Buzz. Buzz. Prepare your cutters." The lavender harvest has begun. I always forget - even though this is our 3rd summer- how huge the lavender harvest week is. It pretty much commands one's attention and requires much more than just cutting the stuff. This season, the first 1500 plants we put in the ground in late '04 are now nearing maturation, so our bundles are greater, which means we had to create more drying room - a 10 day process. Last year we were able to put 300# of stalks on the ceilings of the kitchen, this year our yield will triple at least. We took the old milking parlor of the old red barn and Martyn created these wonderful wooden doors - DUTCH doors, the kind that make us ladies swoon [why is that?]..So we are ready. We learn by doing each year.

This is the first summer here where I feel I am the farm. I am not who I was when I left Minnesota anymore. Nor am I the person that moved here in 2004. I want to be in the field - at least in the early morning or evening. I'm always ready to leave the field, mind you.We creek back up to the house and collapse - Martyn and I are doing all the harvesting this season - and our hands are tired too from clutching and cutting the bundles - but never tired enough to hold a glass of red wine at 9pm, or hold the Pug with one eye, or feel the ears of Huckelberry Pie.

Meanwhile, art gestates. June is a good month for me to allow the art and ideas to be within me, percolating while my body works on the farm - and later, when I'm ready I'll visit with it in a tangible form. I try not to get restless, and just let myself partake in full speed ahead mode with the farm and land. Sometimes, voices creep in - my own, or, often people on the outside who want me to be making art, want me to focus on what they want me to focus on - and I have to remind myself, I chose to live on a farm for a reason. The last two summers, I have fought this, always caving in, torturing myself that I should be painting, or working on something to get this kind of work or that kind, keep up appearances, keep up with the Jones. Something turned in me recently, good friends abounded with their thoughts and wishes, and I worked through it - I am done with that.

Whatever work I am doing in the field, or on the farm - there is a reason I am doing it - it may not present itself clearly to me or others at this moment, but there is a really valid reason why I am farming right now in my life. While I made a choice to move here, I really believe I was led to this particular farm with these particular animals and this particular mate at this particular time. Perhaps my medium will change, perhaps my output will lesson or focus on one book, perhaps I will choose to create with words only. Whatever it is, it's out there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Go on now...

I went out to the front garden area this morning to check on a certain plant I am trying to identify, and as I stood examining it's leaves, found a wounded woodpecker right there at my feet. It's one eye was still blinking, and I had hopes it was simply stunned and would recover. After waiting a few moments, I picked it up to examine it, and found a contusion under one wing area,swollen, most likely the victim of a tooth wound of one of the cats. His right eye was shut, but he was still breathing.

I took him in my hands and went to sit with him in the shade, hoping perhaps in time he would recover. He still held his head erect, and was still blinking. His wings were fine, and there was no open wound. His little right foot was able to grab on to me. But after witnessing the slow 2 hour death of Tucker the chinchilla two years ago, I knew that certain body contortions meant death was progressing. I just told him to fly, go on now, just go, it's OK. Soon after he opened his beak and took a final little gasp. I hope if any of my animals are ever wounded I can be there to help them on. It makes a difference in one's day, life, to witness a death of any kind, even the death of a small bird. Any death, even of a bird only held for 30 minutes, can be symbolic of many deaths past and future - and one should stop, pay homage, and then rejoice at all the life still surrounding. But always, stop, shed a tear, treat it as a gift, pay homage.

I created a little death portrait of him, and buried him in a muslin bag with daisies. When I sat the little headstone down on his fresh grave, I heard coyotes in the upper hills. An unusual time of day to hear them, but a greeting, I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In the eye of the beholder

One of the best things about living in the country is that people swap a lot of junk. Or bring you a lot of junk. Perhaps I have a reputation of accepting stray animals and stray machines parts - things always come in handy. As long as I can keep a certain amount of order to the junk, it seems a win-win situation. The other person cleans up his place a bit, saves gas by not having to haul it to a dump, and we get...a piece of junk to fix.

So, when our neighbor drove up with this beauty hitched to the back, I at first thought he needed his mower back we had borrowed. No, he had forgotten about this trailer that was overgrown with weeds and wondered if we might want it. "Needs a little work" he mused. I wasn't listening to him, I was too busy imagining the little cart all painted red, with lavender and pies in the back, hitched to a donkey, or with a donkey...."So do you want it?"...I came back to present tense - "Yea, sure"...He was thrilled, and I can imagine he and his wife laughing at the dinner table - 'Boy, that old Katherine, she'll take anything"...When Martyn drove home, I happily showed off my new, completely free, catch. I eagerly told him how easily it would be transformed into Pino Blangiforti's Pie and lavender wagon, and that if we got to it right away it might be ready for blackberry pie season, or at least apple pie season..."It won't take that much, do you think, just some paint..." Martyn put his arm around me and walked me into the house - I know this means my idea will sit quietly with him, and that eventually when he sees me with a red bucket of paint, he will come out and try to help me, before I create more chaos, or paint over already rusting bolts. In fact, I have some red paint, I always have red paint - it's essential.

Imagination is more of a blessing than a curse, for some of us anyways.

Friday, June 08, 2007


What I really love about life on the farm is that there is consistency. It keeps a person in line, reminding them that while the world can swirl around out of control, each morning certain things are going to happen pretty much like they did the day before. I suppose it is like the office worker picking up the danish at the same corner shop and heading in on the same train to the same cubicle with the same people and their same habits. For me, it's much more pleasant hearing the donkeys bray than the guy in the corner cubicle slurp his latté. Morning means a bit of yoga and Martyn doing the dishes [Yes, ladies, he cooks and does the dishes in the morning...he came that way]. It means Huck thrilled just because, and a line of sheep descending from an old barn - usually in a pecking order that no one would notice except the shepherd. Morning means carrots for the donkeys, and to watch Pino Blangiforti eat his morning carrot is worth the mortgage. He does not simply eat the carrot - he 'smokes' it, like a fine cigar. I have seen him hang onto his carrot for 20 minutes or more, and then, s...l...o...w...l...y eat it, never dropping it, but chewing off one bite at a time while holding the carrot in his mouth. His father Angelo actually brays with his carrot in his mouth - like Art Carney screaming with a cigarette dangling off his lips.

There are some exciting new things happening around here - but I must run. I will share the newness in a soon to be post. And if you are having a bad morning, or a dull morning, perhaps you can just think of a little donkey smoking his carrot. Surely that is something to hold onto...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Walk with a daisy

We spent time meeting with some Riparian Specialists this morning as we are enrolling in a program that offers incentives and some paybacks for restoration plantings and clearing we do to the land on our parcel by the river. We will be planting about 400 trees, eradicating noxious weeds such as blackberry - all the while helping the river by giving more shade for it's waters. It's a really wonderful little parcel of land and we have thought of all the things we can do with it, but helping the river and water was always our main goal. It's choice soil, but putting animals in it would mean more erosion over time, possible issues with manure runoff into water, and it would mean a lot more fencing and out buildings.We hope to also build a little sitting hut where we can sit on hot nights, fish from, dream in...The daisies are growing there, the grass is above my ears and it felt like a giant fort. Little paintings were all over right in front of me. Take your hands and put them in front of your eyes and create a little square frame - look out from where you are, move your perspective at will, and you will see little abstract pieces all around you. And how can a daisy not make a perfect companion in one's morning.

There's is much happening on the farm and in life right now - I'll soak it all up for now and write later. And painting is the all week agenda.