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.