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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Donkey bunnies and moth escapes

We were going to all dress up like bunnies for you - but really, even The Head Troll felt it was just too much. And with the donkeys nearby, there is never a shortage of bunny ears. The May show is keeping me hopping and it's going to be a wonderful group of paintings, if I may say so myself.

I am not a religious person, but the holiday of Easter is a wonderful time for renewal. While we don't have lambs this year because I wanted to make room for working on the solo show, there is new life all around me - buds, bugs, tree sprouts, worm trails, lambs and calves in other farmer's fields, baby birds - some will live on to old age and some will not, but I am taking notice of life this Easter. I am at an age where people begin to crumble around me, some quickly and some in spurts and stops. Teachers of yesteryear, parents and relatives, cronies from high school and college dying too young, mentors and people in the public eye who have inspired me for years - they all are leaving the stage. It is happening, the next one takes their place on the great mandala and you have to get on board, you have to.

I helped a moth out of the water bucket, only to be eaten by a chicken. I do this continually, saving bugs in water buckets. I think it is wrong in a way, as their death is only prolonged, and water logged they are perhaps suffering longer if I pull them out. But I imagine they are screaming, just as the bugs and roots suffer when a human rips up a lettuce head to carry it back to the kitchen, like a lion and her prey.

Before something lives, something dies.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sitting with royalty

The days are longer now, giving the earth more hours to suck in the warmth, leaving the concrete wall by the barn the hot spot to hang out and commune. It is the water cooler of the barnyard where small statured goats can collect and look out at the lower fields. Who knows what they think when they go into a zen state prior to their cud chewing. I have conversations with them, of course, and share them in story to relay my feelings of the day, but their inner thoughts are as private to them as mine are to you. Nobody ever really enters that sanctum of any of us - and this is good for all parties.

These first days of spring are so pleasant, before the flies and bugs arrive with the warm air allowing a shirt without sweater, and rarely does one break into a sweat.

It's just another day on the wall with the goats, hanging out, all of us in our own thoughts. They stand on the wall not much wider than a balance beam, looking right, left, then right, like royalty in a passing car. But these goats don't need a palace - not with the warm wall and a stall of straw to bed down in, the moon leaking in through a hole in a tin roof.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I say, I say, THIS is a chicken!

The always lovely Henrietta, whom I took home after I met her in a box at my feed store. She was raised by a little girl, but as an urban chicken was having boundary issues with the neighbor, so the father brought her in hoping to find her a home. And there I was. A match made in heaven.

Henrietta is one of many animals helped by Apifera who will live out her days here. If you'd like to help us help her and the many Misfits, visit this blog page.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't ever try to outweigh a horse's head

Last night was the first warm dusk, the kind of night you just don't want to retreat from the barnyard. The animals shared my contentment with the weather and napped outside with the white moon forming over the farm.

I spent time with Boone, my partner in equine crime, who never ceases to walk to a fence line for a scratch or two. This time of year the shedding has begun and he really loves to have a good forehead rub down, to the point where I have to remind him of his manners. As a wise man once taught me years ago,

"Don't ever try to outweigh a horse's head."

Boonie, Booner, BOONE! I'm so glad we got together. Such a series of events had to transpire for the meeting to happen on that very hot July day some 6 years ago, that we can only assume our muses were involved.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fog covers, comforts and chills

It is an entity here, the fog.

It usually arrives early in the morning or in the late day. Today it was breakfast fog, covering me and the flock as we wandered down to the field. I always find the fog particularly comforting after a death - the whiteness is pure and covers my eyes from the real world, even if just for a morning.

The barnyard is so different without Lofa. It always takes some time to readjust the energy after one of the creatures moves on, and today I found myself stumbling over names - called Raggedy, "Lofa" then turning to see Stevie, I called him "Rags". The stall I used to put Lofa in for feeding now has Raggedy in it, and Professor can eat where Raggedy ate so he doesn't get head bashed by Wilbur. Stevie stands the same ground and loving old Rudy waits as patiently as ever for any hugs or food. And the pig? She is always there to make me happy with her grump grunts, pink smile and 'pig sit' for treats.

So the little black birds sat all lined up on a wire, waiting for the right moment to ascend into the white. I guess it's kind of like the barnyard up there on that wire, they have a morning routine too except they start out in a lovely little line, leaving out the bumping and rushing. They posed politely for me and sat still as I walked past them to be with my sheep.

I heard a smattering of duck squawks that made me turn only to see the little birds scatter, flying chaotically to different places.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Goodbye, my little Lofa

I screamed.

I had just turned on the barn lights to do morning feedings. It was the first day of spring and the rain had just broken into clouds with sun breaks, the air was warm enough to be coatless.

I turned my head to the right, and there as usual in the first stall, was Stevie, on his crippled knees looking content. Rudy was to his side, looking brightly at me, but down to the left was a little black body, wearing a warming jacket. Without even touching him I knew he was dead. It was Lofa.

That's when I screamed.

I screamed in shock, like a person walking in on an intruder. I cried and wept over that little dead body, I'd really grown fond of him. There had been no warning he was dying, or in danger of going into a bad state. I've worked with enough of these elderly goats - or goats who came from malnourishment or needy situations - to know that they can take a turn for the worse really quickly. But Lofa had been eating well and was active. I always checked his eyes and gums daily when I'd give him his morning hugs, just as a precaution to see if he was getting anemic. The night before he died, I said my usual good nights to him - he just loved to be hugged, and would lean into you and rest his head in your side. It was supposed to rain, so I put his little jacket on him for some extra warmth, even though he showed no signs of shivers.

There was no sign of distress in his body, except for diarrhea. I can only make assumptions and it is always hard to not know exactly what killed an animal in the end. I often said that Lofa was not a very strong goat. We'd had a scare with him not long after he arrived last June, where he was really sick, and the vet concurred it was anemia. I had dealt with this before with Aunt Bea and knew how quickly they can die if they don't get treatment, so I got him rebounded in a few days. He wasn't as old as Bea so that helped. He might have had blockage in an intestine from a thorn, glass or any small object he picked up while eating. This happened to a yearling sheep and the vet did an autopsy where we found the blockage - but we never could determine what caused it. And that sheep became ill two days prior to her death.

It is what it is.

When I got to the barn, the animals were as stoic about another death as I had seen them in the past. They mourn in different ways than we do. They move on much more elegantly too. The rains returned, and I turned a bucket upside down, took a seat near Lofa, and watched the animals eat their hay while chickens scattered in and out of the barn. It never ceases to give me comfort when one of the animals dies - how the barnyard goes on. My good byes to Lofa were weepy, he was such a special little fellow. Lofa was a talker, no matter where he was in the barnyard, if I entered at the gate, I knew exactly where he was because he'd start talking. He was bowlegged like no other and his front teeth always protruded a bit, sort of like he had dentures. He reminded me of a little old man in Florida, walking the beach all bowlegged with skinny legs and mouth slightly ajar.

When I got to the barn and found him around 8 am, his mouth was still warm. This killed me as it indicated he had died shortly before I got there. My heroics might have only prolonged what nature had in store. His little body did what it could. I buried him with a sprig of daffodil and some pussy willows to celebrate spring with him.

As I walked back to the house, it dawned on me that five years ago on this same day, early in the morning, my father died. He was in home hospice and had told my mother he hoped to live to see Spring. And he did, if only an hour or so of it. Perhaps Lofa was ready long before this too, and knew this first day of spring had significance on many levels for so many.

Little Lofa, you never gave any trouble to anyone and were such a joy to have with us. You gave Rudy comfort too after he lost Teats, and your friend Raggedy was able to gain courage at your side. I will miss you, little man!

It all seemed extra sad and heavy today.

Lofa arrived from a neglect case, along with Raggedy Man, in 2012. He had first been rescued by New Moon Goat Farm Rescue where many of the goat Misfits have come from.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Prepare a "Raggedy Crust"

If you've been reading this blog for awhile you have heard the word raggedy often. Raggedy is the way my braids look mixed with snippets of hay, raggedy is how The Dirt Farmer dresses, raggedy is a Apifera love in motion. Many have asked me for specific directions on how to make my infamous raggedy crusts. It's an intuitive process and difficult to capture in a step-by-step recipe, so I crafted this wording for you.

Before you begin the crust, go outside and run, skip, or walk as fast as you can. Don't wear a hat or hold your hair back by braids or bands.

Don't worry if it is raining or snowing.

Return to your house and look in the mirror. Relish in the sight of your hairs all randomly arranged. Do not brush your hair. If you have long hair you can braid it, but do it fast with your eyes closed.

Prepare your pie crust and fruit filling as usual, leaving dough for the top. Roll out dough for the lattice. Close your eyes, think of your hair and how it felt in the wind. Slice a long 10" piece of dough. Do not partake in internal banter such as, "Oh dear, it is not straight." Cut many pieces like this, quickly, with passion.

Place one strand of dough on top of the filling. Twirl yourself around twice and place the next piece on the pie. Repeat until all the dough strands are on the pie. If you feel dizzy, for heaven's sake, sit down and rest.

Do not weave the strands together, just let the strands be themselves.

Excerpt from "Raggedy Love" an illustrated memoir by Katherine Dunn of Apifera Farm. Interested publishers may contact Katherine for a complete manuscript and art samples or to discuss this project in detail.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Floating abstracts

This time of year the sheep shed and specs of fluff whirl and twirl landing at will. The white moon appears often this week in my work, I don't know why.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pie and donkeys are comin'

Time to get excited about the annual day here at Apifera where pie and donkey merge with guests from all over the country. The Misfits will enjoy treats and brushings from all ages, my homemade pie is shared with all, lavender and aprons are for sale, as is some of my art - all proceeds go to help us maintain our adopted barn creatures. This year Pino Pie Day is June 15, Saturday, so mark your calenders!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pussywillow returns

Each Spring we wait for them from a distance, hoping Stella and Iris in their older age will not destroy all the buds. For within the bud is held a fuzz so soft, it is like a stem of tiny bunnies to rub on one's face over and over.

[This piece now available at the Etsy shop.]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gifts for the old goat

Yesterday a package arrived for

"Rudy, c/o Apifera Farm"

The first and former old goat of Apifera, Old Man Guinnias, often received packages from afar, as he acquired a real following of girl friends from all over the country. It's been some time since we lost him, so to see the 'new' old goat getting mail brings me happiness. And Old Rudy is so sweet, so gentle that he deserves this gift.

A woman saw me mention on Facebook that I planned to make a top coat for Old Rudy later this year and that I wanted to use olive colored felt as the base. Voila, she just happened to have a couple yards that was not the right color for her project and she wanted me to have it. She'd had it sitting in a box just waiting for the right opportunity - and then my old goat came along!

So thank you, Sharon G. from Alabama, for thinking to give this to me, and I know I will put it to good use. There is enough fabric to make outfits for the rest of the barnyard or the puppets - perhaps traveling clothes just like the Von Trapp family singers [I was enthralled as a child that they had traveling outfits!]

Stay tuned for my sewing endeavors later in early autumn. I took the picture below near Miss Peach, to show how lovely a red animal will look in a dapper olive coat.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Love notes for puppeteers

There was a crudely wrapped box waiting for me on the counter top yesterday with a simple note,

"To The Puppeteer,
Love, Martyn"

It was my birthday you see, and The Dirt Farmer is not one to waste energy on fancy ribbons. I usually get something live from him - a tree or plants for example - and when he didn't arrive home with something in the back of the truck, I mused he might have forgotten. I am one of those people that celebrate all week for my birthday, not lavishly, but I tend to indulge in small ways - going for that extra trail ride, having that second helping of soup, sleeping in, etc, so any cards or gifts are frosting on the cake [and thank you for those of you who indulged me with that icing!].

We've never exchanged lavish gifts. Not only is it not in the budget, it's just not us. We are both content with pretty simple celebrations - bounties from the earth of food and wine, a chair by the fire with good music and conversation, sharing ideas and projects we are working on or want to work on - that is what makes us happy. The birthday symbolizes a marker in one's life, and it's a celebration in and of itself to just get there in one piece.

Each day I can do what I do here, share stories and art, go for a ride on my horse, help a little creature, bake some bread, watch the field change color over the day - daily gifts. I sleep well. I do my best and trod on with all my imperfections.

I'm 55 now. It feels very solid. It feels different than 54 or other ages I've been. I feel like I have now leapt up to the opposite shore. I don't feel old, but I don't feel as connected to my past ages. I relate more to my comrades who are 55, 60, 70 and 80. I'm not interested in drama of youth. I'm not inspired by people who aren't bringing the jewel back from the forest and sharing it with the community.

I've shifted. It started happening probably a few years ago. My desires are different now. My fears aren't the same fears of youth. I worry less, but am human so when worry comes it rolls off differently because what really matters is I'm breathing and walking amongst trees. There is an end but until it comes, I'm dancing as fast as I can. I have stuff do do.

So, when I opened the package on my birthday, I swooned. It was a Dremel power tool - something I've been wanting so I can start wood carving puppets and....things. I hadn't really talked about it much to Martyn, he just knew it was a gift that would help me take the next creative step with these inner muses that keep coming back and poking me. These puppet muses are speaking very strongly to me.

"There's a comet in the sky tonight, makes me feel that I'm alright, I'm moving pretty fast for my size."
Neil Young.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Rides with Boone

There wasn't much that could have made my afternoon better, I was after all, on my horse. We rode over to the flat stretch of an old railroad that is now a car route, flat the whole way and looks up at the foothills. It was our first solo trail ride of the season and what a difference riding 2-3 times a week in the winter makes. The road is perfect this time of year for light trotting and the cars are minimal.

The sound of the clip clop horse shoes on packed dirt, with an occasional pebble being tossed by a toe...that sound just is the best thing I could hear today or maybe any day. So thank you, Boone, once again you have accompanied me, carried me, listened and we enjoyed the earth's warmth today...together.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A love story of mice

I wrote this love story some years ago, but it is worth repeating.

"I love you," he said.

That is the first thing Juanita would hear in the morning upon waking, and the last thing she heard at night before falling off to sleep. No matter how busy his day, how horrible the winter weather, how many cats had almost killed him while he hunted for her - nothing stopped Pédro from saying those three words to Juanita. And they were not spoken lightly or in a routine manner out of habit. Each time he said them, they felt very large to her, like the way the people's feet looked when they walked by the kitchen cupboard where Pédro and Juanita spent their nights.

They were distant cousins living on the same farm in adjacent hay bales in the horse barn. They met in spring under dire circumstances. Juanita was quite a bit younger than Pédro and less experienced around all the various obstacles in the barn - cats, owls, dogs.

One morning she was making her way to the cracked corn bin, a usual routine for her, when one of the 20 barn cats swooped down on her, placing his paw over her tiny body. She froze -and eeeked.
 But she was released and each time she felt she was going to make it back to her hay bale, another cat would fly down on her, batting her back to another cat, or toying with her while she aimlessly scurried here, then there.

From a corner, Pédro had entered the barn just as little Juanita had taken her fifth or sixth batting by a cat, and he mindlessly went to her rescue. He scurried onto the cats back, sitting on its head, eeking loudly, so the cat stopped to swat her head, and Juanita could get away - he then leapt into a crevice between hay bales where he was safe. Eventually he was able to make his way through the intricate tunnel system his clan had created under the hay bales, and back to his hay house, where it is said that his tail had turned white from the stress of his encounter.

It was not long after that, days perhaps, that the two mice became constant companions, and then, as is only natural, lovers. They were married in June, before the hay was cut so their wedding was safe from large tractors and well hidden from lurking cats and coyotes. By fall, they had moved into the Big House, in one of the lower kitchen cupboards where flour and sugar was kept. There were no cats inside and the dogs were all harmless and crated at night.

Things for the newlyweds went well through the winter. Soon, Juanita announced that she would have babies, and this made them both start hunting more and bringing as much into their little living quarters as they could. Pédro had discovered good things on the counter top each night, including a pan of bacon grease and a mousetrap of peanut butter. Now all experienced mice, and Pédro was experienced, knew what a mousetrap was and they knew that humans had figured out a mouse's one addiction - peanut butter. Juanita begged him not to go near the traps, saying she did not have to have the delicacy. But Pédro -who once carried a walnut 300 feet in the rain for her dinner-felt he had the experience and skills to outwit the trap in order to bring his beloved such good nourishment.

And on a night like any other, Juanita watched her Pédro go out for food, and minutes later, she heard,


small thrashes, and then...nothing.

She raced out to see Pédro dead, his neck crushed in the trap. She caressed his cheek, kissed him and quietly said, "I love you."

She lingered, but only for a second before a light in the adjoining room came on. Her thoughts were a mixture of grief and fear as she scurried in the dark to get back to her cupboard. And then,


crisply rang out to her little ears.

And she thought no more.

As the trap crushed her neck, she was immediately lifted up into Pédro's arms, and she heard his voice say,

"I love you too".

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Spring conversations

The sounds of the seasons are again shifting, leaving the silence of the fog blankets for the slightly louder orchestra of birds, some just born, some busy remodeling nests from last year's windfall.

I never tire of spring, and as I age spring always reminds me of my younger springs. Autumn is the same way for me - perhaps Summer and Winter slightly dull our senses into sleep, and both Spring and Fall awaken them, along with the nerves of the soul.

Growing up in the Midwest, I'd wait months for Spring, so when it came it was so invigorating one could go crazy in lust on the first real warm day. But the sounds were different back there, with the trickling of ice heard melting underneath footsteps while the top layer crunched with each step.

One of the things I loved about my first visit to Oregon - which was in March of 2001 - was that the ground was soft and I could feel the Earth under my feet. I'd left a frozen tundra and it felt decadent to think of a land where it never froze hard. But Spring here, especially on the farm, is full of wonder, birth and renewal. I saw the first baby snakes int he wood pile - many will be eaten by the cats, but many will make it too. The owl droppings begin to appear below the old hayloft, encasing the remnants of vermin perfectly preserved - Life and death entwined everywhere.

One sees birds in the fields, picking at the left over seeds that fall out of the sheep's back hair [our sheep are the Katahdin breed, a smaller hair sheep so there is no sheering of wool, but they do shed each spring]. While one eats the grass, the other eats the worm. The sheep fertilize all our fields naturally and the birds benefit, as do we.

We are hearing the first frogs - so loud around dusk it is like a rock concert to the fields.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Papa Roo on the mend

About a week ago, as I was putting the barnyard to bed, I found Papa Roo in the goat barn, huddled head down in a corner. Not a good sign. Chickens will go into almost a death position when they are sick. I've seen them recover, or not. When I saw his mass of feathers in the corner, I let out a sigh of, "Papa Roo..." thinking he was dead - he is after all over ten which is a good old age for a chicken, especially a rooster.

But I picked him up - another sign of how sick he was, as Papa has never tolerated being caught or held - and saw his whole head in blood, and all his beautiful neck feathers soaked in blood. When a chicken has been pecked or attacked on its comb or red waddle, huge amounts of blood come out.

Having been through it, I remained calm - which wasn't the case the first time I cleaned up a rooster attack. It's very hard to tell where the worst wounds are on a bleeding comb, but he had several huge tears. I cleaned him with warm water and doctored him up, and hoped for the best but expected the worst. I enclosed him in the Old Man Guinnias suite for the night - or so I thought.

I saw Chicken Jack on the way back to the house ad saw he had some blood, not much, so he was obviously the winner of this rooster pecking order challenge.

Arriving the next morning, I peeked in the stall, prepared for a funeral. But...no rooster. My heart sunk as I thought a coon might have snuck in there and got him, but there was no sign of distress. And then I heard a muffled rooster crow.

I searched each stall thinking maybe he was under hay and was too weak to get out. I went on with feedings, perplexed as to where he was. Sound travels oddly out here due to the coast range and the way the barns are situated within hills.

As I walked to the sheep barn, there he was, crowing near the hen house. Inside the coop was Chicken Jack, crowing too. They were not done with their disagreement. I was pleased though how strong Papa looked and the gushing blood had stopped. Chickens love blood and will peck at a wounded chicken for the red protein so I was concerned where I could put him for the day. I decided to get it over with and let all the chickens out, and Chicken Jack. Chicken Jack is about three and has been no problem here, he has always deferred to Papa Roo who has been here for a long time and has always been the patriarch of the hen house. But just as a young ram can turn into a different personality at two or three, I've seen roosters do the same thing.

It's the changing of the guard.

Chicken Jack came out with his fighting gloves on and the two roosters came together right away. I broke them up immediately before anything happened. I decided to sit in the barnyard for a half hour or so and commune, and watch the two roosters. It was obvious that Chicken Jack had won the first battle, and was now positioned higher than old Papa Roo. The hens - even the original hens who came with Papa, were hanging out near Chicken Jack, whereas they used to avoid him. Kind of sad, but it is the way of the barnyard.

Papa Roo seems to have mended up well. Papa now sleeps in the hut with the girls while I have Chicken Jack sleeping in the goat barn with Stevie, and whoever else decides to sleep in the Old Man Guinnias suite. I find it amusing to see how the goats go through periods of sleeping in one spot, and then move to another for a period of time.

During the day, so far, the two roosters seem to be staying out of battles. I will hope for continuing rooster tolerance, but the barnyard - just like the back woods or the river bottom - has its own laws that I am not in control of no matter how I might think my interfering will help.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

And now...the real Wilbur

Since I allowed us all to have a chuckle over Wilbur's head in a bucket episode, I thought it only fair to show you his real face. He is part monkey, part boy, part bully, and he is the youngest of the Barnyard of Misfits. I wanted to have one youngster in the mix to even out the elders. He must be around seven now.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Oh, that Wilbur!

I told him not to put his head in a bucket, especially the tall ones with handles. But nobody ever listens to me.

"I'm stuck!" he cried.

"I realize that," I said calmly. The goat had both front legs stuck, extended to a point where they were stiff and useless. His head was down in the bucket with the handle snug around his head. I tried in vain to pry him loose - it was like pulling a lamb out backwards. He screeched.

"Look, you're pretty much stuck," I said.

"I realize I'm stuck! Get me out of here!" he bleated.

So I went to the barn, amused more than upset, to look for wire cutters to cut through the bucket. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a brown form, two hind legs and a tail, headless except for a bucket, banging around the barnyard. We are not prone to bully behavior here, but this particular chap can get pretty pushy with the elders at dinnertime, so I didn't blame the barnyard for snickering from the sidelines.

As tempting as it was to leave him there to stew over his predicament, I once again came to his rescue.

I was able to pry a leg out by bending it inside the bucket so I could pull it out first. Finally his head was free. What happened next warmed my heart, and amused it too. He just stood there, his head at my knee, resting. Not one to get cuddly, Wilbur the Acrobatic Goat needed me, and it was his way to thank me, I guess.