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

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Good-bye, old lady

It is with shock, and sadness, that I write this post.

Georgie, one of Apifera's senior pygmy goats, died on Christmas night.

She was very old, and crippled, but just that morning I had filmed her, contently eating hay in her stall, for a holiday movie I had made for family. It's hard to believe she died later that night, for there were no signs of distress.

And it was Gertie, her compadré she was adopted with, who had fallen ill last Monday. Gertie rebounded, and we suspected an upset stomach. These two old ladies had neglected feet for years, so as they aged, their bodies became more crippled. If you take an animal that has been dwarfed, and then add a handicap of not being able to walk a lot, sooner or later, the rumen will get blocked, or the heart will be asked to do work it physically can't do anymore. We suspect that since Georgie walked very little, her body and organs just couldn't function well anymore, and perhaps her lungs had filled with fluid, and that would have also compromised her heart. There was no sign of distress that morning, no sign of pneumonia or bloat, no feed changes, no poison items about.

Oddly, when I look back on it, the day before she died, Gertie had spent a lot more time on her own away from Georgie, and even seemed to sleep away from her those last two nights. I think she knew. Animals sense death in another creature, if it is pending.

I came to the barn at 5pm Christmas night, and Georgie got up to take the handful of pellet I always gave her, but she fell, her front legs [usually her only working appendages] caved on her, and she went into a sort of a spasm. She could not stand. Within a half hour, I was able to get her to sit up, rather than lie on her side, and I massaged her sides which helped her burp. We checked her three times through the night, and all three times she was upright, looked uncomfortable, but she wasn't splayed out or thrashing. No teeth grinding. And she drank water when I brought it to her, she was not dehydrated. The only odd behavior, now sad to think about, was she kept making little bleats to me, and if I quit rubbing her head, she'd bleat again. To me it was a sign of stress or pain, but perhaps a bedside farewell to her companions. I considered bringing her into the studio where I could sleep by her all night, but I am believer that animals want to be in their familiar environs, and that large hay stall was her home, and her goat friends were there. The sounds of the sheep next door was what she knew. On my next trip to the barn, she was dead.

I believe in long weeping periods over a dead animal, if I'm so inclined. It's purging for me, and a way to show my emotional sadness at their passing. I sat with her little crippled body in my lap, and wept. Oddly, Gertie did not attend, but Old Man Guinnias did. I am so glad I spent time with her, and the others, each morning. She only had one year with us after we adopted her from New Moon Goat Rescue [where Guinnias is from too]and it was a honor to have her spend her final days here. Georgie was a sweet, sweet little goat, very kind and gentle, not bossy, not a trouble maker, just an old lady goat doin' the best to get to the feed dish.

I buried her this morning in the pumpkin patch. I saw Gertie there later today, nibbling on grass.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Part 2: We believe

Merry Christmas to all my loyal followers. And may a feather find it's way to you.
{Part One appears in the post below this one}.

I awoke early, at the first light. Itty Bitty was still snug under the covers, purring, and Big Tony was perched atop Martyn's head so he looked like a lead member of the Mamas and Papas.

I was excited, but also realistic that the cookies would be gone and raccoon tracks would be spattered around the grave's muddy site.

I went through the barn and there were my guards, still looking very serious about the task at hand.

"Merry Christmas! Did you see anything?"

Three sets of long ears twitched, urging me to "Go see."

I peered out from the donkey's enclosure, and saw no cookies. I walked with camera to the site, hoping to find evidence, perhaps a note, from the nightly visitor. There was no note, no human footprint of any kind. The area looked mostly like it did when I placed the ritual spread out. The beet was gone, the feather no where in site, but there was the egg, cracked.

And around the grave, small prints, some all clamoured together and fuzzy white.

I immediately suspected my charges had failed me and eaten the cookies. But I examined the prints, they were too small for the donkeys by about an inch.

Could the egg have been a message? I'm sure of it. I will consult Clara, she's a hen and I'm sure she is versed in all egg language. Like breaking a champagne glass on a fireplace, perhaps our magical guest broke the egg as if to say,

"Peace be with you, and here is to a new year of wonder, and breaking boundaries when needed!"

I looked for any evidence as I left the area, and looked up at the Christmas Day sky, and the barn roof.

And a feather fell from somewhere. From somewhere. A buff red feather, just like Clara's.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Part 1: The eve of magic is upon us

As a child, we always put out carrots and cookies for Santa and his reindeer. It was a kind gesture to leave nourishment and sweets in return for the sacrifices Santa and his herd were making that night. The magical feeling of getting up the next morning and seeing those cookies had vanished, along with the carrot still resonate in my memory.

I have begun a new ritual for Christmas Eve.

The donkeys are in on it with me, but I didn't share it with anyone else, not even Martyn. 

We gathered some items that we felt any visiting entity would enjoy, especially if they were going to have to fly over barn roofs which can be very slippery. I am not convinced that Santa comes in the same form every year, I think he can morph into anything he sees will be most fitting and poetic for the particular place he is delivering gifts or messages to. So with the help of the donkeys, via their astute ear language, I chose meaningful symbols to place on Giacomo's grave. This way our dear old friend would be part of the ritual. A beet from the garden represents the heart of the farm, and the love for our fallen friend, Giacomo, and all friends who have come and gone this year. A herd of animal cookies surrounds it, protecting, entertaining, communing. An Apifera egg represents new beginnings and nourishment and a herd of animal crackers celebrate with it, chanting for the new year to come. A feather, donated by Clara, will give the magic visitor better flight, even if he walks to his remaining Christmas Eve destinations.

I decided to put the offering out tonight. Rain is not forecast, and besides, the donkeys have agreed to stand guard until at least midnight on Christmas Eve. You can see by this picture they have taken this duty very seriously. I have secured the goats in other areas, for Stella and Iris are much to easily swayed by their curiosities to participate in properly.

I feel like a girl again. I can't wait until Christmas morning to see if the cookies are gone and to see if clues will be left behind helping us know what magical entity came through to gift us with Christmas love.

Stay tuned....Christmas morning will tell.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introducing: Chicken Jack

If you follow the blog, you may remember that Apifera was gifted with surprise chicks, born in the hay loft away from the everyday bustle of barn activity. While we suspected secret chicken activities had been taking place, managed by Alice Waters the hen, we were finally let in on the secret after hearing teeny weenie chirps. There tucked under Alice were 6 chicks, most likely born a couple days earlier. And that day coincided with the sad day I released Giacomo the old donkey to the skies above.

Upon seeing the little chicks, so soon after Giacomo's death, I of course felt they were a gift from him, a thank you of sorts. While we didn't need any more chickens, having brand new life to care for was healing in many ways. And I immediately noticed one chick stood out, his blackness reminded me of the old donkey I'd just said goodbye too. I always suspected Giacomo was in that chick, temporarily, just to make sure I'd be okay. So that one black chick, well, I've been watching him and was sure he'd turn out to be a rooster.

For awhile, I thought we might have 4 roosters and 2 hens. But after we lost the two small, rather sickly chicks, the four remaining grew and grew, and one day I heard an odd crowing. And sure enough, it was that black chick, practicing his new voice. While Martyn and I referred to the young clutch as Giacomo's Chicks, I named that black rooster Chicken Jack.

Chicken Jack appears to be the only rooster of the four, which relieves the Dirt Farmer immensely. I look forward to seeing him fill out in the next couple years, as it takes a rooster time to get his complete "I'm a rooster and what do you think about that" appearance. I also love the redhead, shown here, who needs a proper name soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Morning on Mud Hill

Moments, now gone, in which the essence of uncut pasture laced in weeds merged with the beauty of a face.

Monday, December 13, 2010

We call these "sun breaks"

Considering it's St. Lucia Day, a break, no matter how brief, from the heavy rains of the past days is welcome. The donkeys agreed, mud feet and all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ritual of change

Tomorrow is St. Lucia Day, a wonderful celebration in Sweden to honor the light before the dark of winter masks the earth. I've been doing a lot of thinking about ritual, and how many things in the holiday are lacking in ritual, or are masked as ritual.

Genuine rituals are important. Many years ago, I decided I would not get whipped up about the holiday, and if someone didn't partake in my life much, sending them greetings once a year just because they were distantly related, or closely related, was somewhat dishonest. My parents always went overboard with gift giving, but as we aged, I found the gifts became more and more about what they wanted me to be, versus what I was. I always loved sending cards, and still send some but I decided long ago that partaking and sharing love with friends all year was more important, for me. I was not raised a Christian, but I do believe Jesus was wonderful teacher, so a day to celebrate his birth, I think is all very good. But the pressure - usually unspoken - to partake in family gatherings with people you really wouldn't choose as friends [nor they me] - it's become a drain of my energy. I did years as the dutiful daughter, and well, I guess I gave myself permission to be rogue daughter-in-law now.

What it boils down to is that I only have so many more days in my life to create. No, I'm not ill, that I'm aware of. But I could go tomorrow, or in 40 years. Either way, it's a flash. I don't want to be in situations where I feel I'm given no choice but to partake, because I 'should'.

I realized this month I've taken a couple jobs without really thinking about it. I'm so used to being the dutiful daughter, or artist, or seller, that I took jobs that use my creative energy, but I'd rather be using my energy in other projects.

So I decided I want a new ritual for Christmas Eve. This Eve, rather than driving through fog and rain to stand for a few hours and do cocktail talk, I am staying at the farm. I'm going to commune and give blessings to my pastures, especially Muddy Hill, one of my favorite vantage points at the farm. I've written before how that spot lets me think, or cry, or feel hope, and feel like me. That hill lets me see the farm in one giant perspective.

I watched the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, a beautiful simple service filled with humor, and ritual, I thought about my family's rituals or lack of them. The memorial service itself, of sitting with the deceased body and sharing stories and shedding tears, was not something we did for my father, and I think it was a mistake for the living. He came from a line of agnostic or atheists and it wasn't that I think he wanted anything grand. But there were many people that were sad, upset even, that they didn't get to 'pay their respects'. It was my mother's call, of course, to not have a service, and it was so like her. Instead, we drove his ashes to a cemetery of white tombstones, for war vets. He was placed on a stand while some very sweet, and very old, retired soldiers played the haunting "Taps" song. It lasted about 2 minutes, and we didn't even see the ashes go in the grave. There are very strict rules at vet cemeteries- the graves must be left sparse and uncluttered of stuffed animals, pictures, and tokens. As my mother, brother and his wife got back into the car, I returned to the marble stand where my father's ashes were sitting in a box. I had brought along a feather from Apifera's hens, and I quickly snuck it into the box of ashes.

Rituals let a person partake and share, often in community. But one person's, or family's, ritual might just cause exhaustion  to another.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Motion emotion

My life is really a movie of scenes, one long road trip, I blink and a landscape appears, then another, and another. I'm always alone in the emotion of it, and that's a gift.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Itty Bitty Etta turns heads

People keep asking me about Itty Bitty Etta. She seems to have captured something in the hearts of total strangers, as well as all those living with her at Apifera. Even my 85 year old mother, an avid non-cat type, was charmed by her face and called her 'Monkey" during her holiday visit. She has also taken to playing "Tail" a magnificent game one can play on there own- with the aid of one other animal. The player jumps and leaps at any tail walking by, there are no rules, no time outs. She continues to drink Wrinkle Milk {TM}, a product unavailable at any feed store - it is a milk one can't see, and is hidden deep in the wrinkles and skin folds of very old pugs. The One Eyed Pug is still with us and continues to shine at his nursemaid tasks.

In her weigh in, I am happy to report she is now 2.5 pounds. Part of me wished she would stay 1.5 pounds, as it would make a marvelous story. Fortunately, I'm not in charge of the invisible decisions of the kingdom, and she has gained one and half pounds since I found her on that dangerous, rainy highway just three weeks ago.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Donkey Friday

With the air thawing, I found the donkeys examining snow mud, and exploring around Gaicomo's grave. A small pool developed around the rock stones, making it a serene, morning destination. The rains have returned, the water buckets are thawed, even Rogue Chicken returned to her roost.

I suggested to Pino we could be out in a group of Black Friday shoppers. I think his expression in the first picture says what his response was. We considered having a Black Donkey Friday, but the only black donkey we had was Giacomo, and we took the hoof vote and all agreed it was not proper. So, we shall just be here, where it is not Black Friday, it's just Donkey Friday.

And I'm not even going to post links to all the stuff you can buy here. That's my Thanksgving gift to all of us. That was Paco's suggestion.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Here I am

I spent the last days thinking of what I wanted to write for a Thanksgiving post. I realized that this entire blog is a Thanksgiving, and has been since Day One some five years ago when I began it.

I give my thanks internally on a daily basis. When it snows, which it did this past week, I thank the old barn, the mistress of the farm who hides her occupants in her internal corners, free from wind and water from clouds. Each night I do feedings, I am greeted by three sets of ear tips, some quiet brays and rustling of loose hay above me in a loft no longer used. The smell of the barn and her gentle moanings in a light wind are comforting, the same feeling I had as a child hiding in my sumac fort, protected from the wind, but able to feel it in drafts.

I live my life here with the same heart as I had long ago as that young girl in a sumac fort. I'm older now, with more animals, and I can retreat to the barn to stay dry. Even back then as a child, I knew this barn was somewhere, waiting for me. I am rich because of that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes your beard freezes

Old Man Guinnias sports his new frozen beard, a temporary fashion statement. The chickens are not pleased at all with the weather, nor is the resident farmer, as the water buckets are frozen.

However, I am grateful that Rogue Chicken, aka Henny Jenny, made it through two nights outside the coop. She and I had an altercation during the heavy rainstorm on Monday, because she refused to leave the new barn to go 100 feet to her coop. She also refused to be carried. After many harsh words on my part- I mean, I was extremely wet and cold after trying to catch Rogue Chicken- she fled into the icy and steep blackberry bramble. After attempts to get her, I declared it was her life and she could do what she wanted but I was not going to kill myself trying to help her. She slept in the hay barn, warm, and lived to see another day. So today, one of my tasks is to convince Rogue Chicken to get back to her coop.

More postings later today. Must warm finger tips now.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Leaves know more than I do

Post Note: About an hour after I wrote this, the little chicken died.

I had plans today. Plans to work on some writing, plans to help Martyn work on some remodeling. Plans for a long walk with Muddy and Huck.

Arriving at the hen house for morning chores, I found a listless chick, one of the Giacomo Gift Hens . The lite bulb for the young chick's roost area had burned out, and the colder weather must have caused the chick to go into hypothermia. At least I surmised this. But one never really knows what's going on with a chicken.

I rushed her to the house, put her in warm blankets and got her near the fire in a crate. I assumed she might be dead when I got back from the barn chores, but she had actually revived somewhat, and still had good strength in her feet and grip. Her eyes were open. But she was gasping. Researching, I decided it might be gape worms and I did some treatments as best I could. As I write this she is still hanging on, eyes closed, wrapped in a blanket. I placed her randomly near me on the counter, and for some reason her pose next to the brussel sprouts seemed very poetic. Perhaps it was wrong to document what might be her last day, but it felt beautiful.

I feel more and more like a leaf. I always looked to leaves as good examples of a good life. You start from a seed, and you grow. You do your best to be a leaf, even though you never asked to be a leaf. You see some sun, some rain, warm and cold weather, and as winter threatens, you feel yourself changing, crumbling, and you fall, and die. Death is just another day. I feel this more than ever.

This past two weeks has seen the old One Eyed Pug failing more, and it is unclear how long he will be with us in body. And Old Guinnias is failing to age. I've had 6 years of life and death on the farm, and while death is not welcomed, it must not be viewed as necessarily bad. It must viewed as a leaf. That is how I feel today.

But leaves have always been more graceful than I have. They don't worry about the fall. They just let go.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inspired by 1.5# creature

My days are filled with listening to the muse. If you've been following along of late, you know a teeny creature entered my world, by sheer coincidence- or by the magical hands of her guides, or mine- and her mere presence inspired me to create a felted finger puppet.

While I didn't mimic her markings perfectly, I did capture one of her many Itty Bitty looks. She is still getting her voice, and is not quite ready to meet the other puppets. But she will.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sweater weather thoughts

Every time I sit down to focus on my felted creature stories, something else takes priority. Fortunately they have all been good priorities involving writing opportunities and new work. So, here's a sneak peek at my attempts. Okay, I've been giving sneak peaks for awhile now, but like I just said to someone,

"I'm creating as fast as I can."

And on a closing note - the book was named one of Amazon Editor's Top Ten List in Photography/Art for 2010. What a thrill for me. And the puppets, well, they can hardly stand it. I'm sure Pino the puppet will be making an announcement soon.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Itty Bitty Etta love

The old and young merge together on the farm, often creating relationships that provide sustenance, or warmth and safety. The dynamic is not unlike what my grandmother's house must have been like in North Dakota. A young one came along needing a mother, and there was no reason that the senior in the house couldn't step in as nursemaid or companion.

Such is the way here at Apifera, with Itty Bitty Etta having taken to the very senior One Eyed Pug. She spends much of her waking hours near him now, searching for a milk spout, only to find rolls of wrinkled skin. Still, it satisfies her, calms her into taking a nap. So well defined are his ancient rolls of skin that her sharp teeth have not bothered him.

Senior animals require diligence and often special care taking. The One Eyed Pug had a lapse last month. We thought we were losing him. X-rays showed parts of his spine are rubbing together, from age. He was miserable, but special pills helped, and even though I was prepared to put him down if necessary, his spirits returned immediately and we could tell he was comfortable again. But this weekend, he had another slight relapse. While the pills provided relief, it appears these relapses are chronic, and there will come a time when the pills won't help.

Many have written comments about Etta, and how that little one pound kitten was meant to come into our lives. I think whether some feline god planned it or not, the experience has been rich for all of us, including Billy, the One Eyed Pug. Just as my humanity to retrieve a kitten from a busy country highway resonated with readers, this old pug's non judgemental heart resonates within me. When I brought Billy home 13+ years ago, he too was only one pound, and fit in my pocket or hand, just like Etta. Perhaps Etta is a gift from the guides of the One Eyed Pug, just to prepare us for his departure.

No matter how many more months he is with us, I find it charming that he can be a nursemaid in this his twilight years. And let it be a lesson to us all. Youth does not trump age in quantities of love it can share. With hearts groomed by years of living, seniors of all species have something to give until they take their last breath- even if it's sitting still and acting like your wrinkles are giving off milk.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Daily, nightly I know

I've never, ever taken this life on the farm for granted. I arrived here late, in my mid forties. It took awhile for everything to line up right to get me here, with the right person at the right time.

I've been writing a memoir about it, and that experience has made my love for the farm even more intense. I am not wealthy, although there seems to be a misperception by some that I am. I guess if you live on a farm, or have acreage, and you are an artist and are your own boss, you speak your mind, that some how equates to "She must have a trust fund or money". But I don't. I'm so rich though. Much richer than anyone I know. That must sound arrogant, but I feel that way.

My work has become more and more and more meaningful to me. Writing and combining it with art, inspired by the animals that come and go, it's just a good life, with or without health care insurance. Each morning, I greet my sheep, I love so many things about them - their individual expressions, the way some still leap even as adults, their eyes, the tight curl of their hair in damp weather. At night, I return to the barn, they are there waiting for me, and the barnyard chores are the way we all catch up with each other, "How was your day? It was a good day to be a sheep I think."

I like the steadiness of my life now. I feel like I get it. I'm not perfect, I haven't arrived - I just mean that I feed my sheep, I protect my rooster and hens, I make some art that shares a story, or inspires someone to do one small thing they've always wanted to do. I can make someone happy with a one minute puppet show.

This morning the predicted rains didn't transpire. Instead, I walked to the barn in a light fog, and walked with the sheep down to their field. The sun was above the fog and made small streaks of light on the damp backs of my flock. It made me beam.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Some non magical stuff

This is a very non magical post, but it must be done.

Don't forget to get your orders in for this year's holiday card- if you like blue, or stars, skies, bunnies, pony-donkeys, you'll be happy. Supplies are limited.

Also, I've added a way to buy autographed copies of my book, "Creative Illustration Workshop" at my site.

I've also added a Flickr group for the book since people wanted to share the things they've been inspired to make. Do not be shy to join the group and post sketches, ideas, sewing, knitting, paintings, collages - Anything inspired after reading the book.

I also am updating the main site continually with new work- including the Art to Help Animals section. So check in there often.

OK, enough non magic for the day!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Barnyard returns

What you can't see in this picture is the big screen television we dragged out to the barnyard for results. Not a lot of smiles, as you can see. However, life is going on here, hope still lingers in the blue sky above Apifera.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Itty Bitty thoughts

I told her I wouldn't share her thoughts right now, but they are all in her teeny head. They are real thoughts, just like yours or mine. I must let her be an itty bitty for awhile and not tarnish her with characterization. She deserves that time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010