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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

In the fields and everywhere

It is a gorgeous day and I'm in at 2:30 taking a quick break. I took my phone down into the fields today while I mowed. I have to say you get some pretty cool effects thee days with phones and I rarely carry mine with me except in the car. I am not a texter or iphoner zombie and mainly use it for emergencies. However, I'm playing with Instagram and it is sort of fun. How many ways can a freelance-artist-farmer-writer stay connected? But any way to show photos of Marcella!

We are taking the plunge and mowing down one block of the lavender-the Provence variety which does not do well as a dried bundle but is suited for bud-and we have plenty of bud in the Grosso. We decided we will fence this section and re-plant our struggling fruit trees from the current Donkey Hug area. They are struggling not from neglect, but from the admiration the goats, pigs, sheep and now Aldo give them. My gosh, we have worked so hard to help these trees over the past years. They have been head rubbed by the pygmies, stood up to the wrath of Lucy the 300# pig, survived sheep and goats getting into their fenced cages...and more. This year I sort of let go, and I am finished with trying to grow things in an area that has evolved into a second barnyard for elders. The poor little dears [the trees, that is] will be transplanted and we will hope for new and continued life. I also want a Translucent apple tree for pies, and some filberts too. We decided we would do this so we can let the pigs out there at a certain time of year to eat fruit and nuts.

We're also going to plant some vegetables down there since we have water access. It will be yet more fencing, more work, but it is part of farming- evolving your needs and fields.

I think that is the biggest challenge-and joy-of farming for me. It is always evolving. It is always work, always something new to be challenged by. This year we are also going to get one of the upper fields ready for the sheep, to take pressure off the other fields. We cross pasture, but I need that extra land put to use, and now with Marcella, I feel better about having the flock up there out of my site.

So when I went down to the field to mow, there she was. She shows up out of nowhere. We call her a shape shifter. She followed me back to the barn, but before I even got there, she had somehow managed to place herself between me and the barnyard gang. She is a wonder. I loved how the light was bouncing off the barn on this photo of her, somewhat of a mystic she is.

So now I'm off, back out to the field to till the area where I just mowed, a woman and her tractor...and magical shape shifter. A beautiful day to be a farmer!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Winds and prayers meet

Some weeks ago a friend in need asked me to hang a prayer flag for her somewhere on the farm. For some reason, she felt it would help her and she somehow knew I probably had prayer flags around and would feel good about helping the wind carry a prayer for her.

At the same time an old friend confided in me his wife was entering hospice. I was also having some internal challenges of my own and it all seemed to merge on one day- all these creatures, including me, needing some wind love. And then I was reminded of an illustration I had done years ago about a 'wishing tree' where the culture would leave tokens and notes at the base of a special tree, hoping their wishes would come true.

And that is how my Healing Tree was born. It sits at the base of Donkey Hill, looking up at Old Oak to the right, and Old Barn to the left...and donkeys meandering by at any given moment, and a goat or two since Iris and Stella live with the donkeys. I like to go to the tree, still young with prayers, and breathe in and out and ask that those who need these prayers, get them.

I love the idea of the wind carrying prayers, and I find that the wind does just that. When my father died, as I wrote in my "Misfits of Love" book, he became the wind the moment he died. I still can feel electrified on certain blustery days, for it was very gusty the day I found out he died.

I have been painting and creating a lot in the studio, and it seems the prayer flags are on my mind, or in my heart. Today I found out my friend's wife who went into hospice did die. I like to think of those two white strips of cotton out there on my Healing Tree as the two of them, together in love and floating in prayer, eternally, in the wind. I do believe that if we desire to send healing to someone, it does get there, even if it is in tiny amounts-sparks of love that a person far away might feel, days later even, when the wind blows against his face.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Greetings from pig to horse

Autumn has returned in all its glory! As usual, the cooler weather combined with Payne's Gray skies has reinvigorated me in both studio and on the land. I have done more in a week than I did all of August...it seems. I feel like like a pessimistic stone has been lifted off my back. I tend to be an optimist, and to be honest, recoil from people that are consistently pessimistic–they are energy drainers. But the heat was affecting my ability to plan and stay focused, no doubt about it.

I was so busy with the farm and the barn project-and keeping water buckets filled, refilled, and refilled again, that last week I didn't get one ride in. So I was able to get Boone out in early morning for a ride. Oh the clouds, sky all came together for me! I saw my recent painting right up there in the heavens-once again art and life merged.

The only way I can get an hour ride in is to get up, grab a bite of yogurt or a piece of bacon, and leave the house immediately. No email, no coffee, no stopping. And I don't do morning feedings until my return-this creates a sea of despair in the barnyard-with so many wailing sounds and screams [have you ever heard pigs ready to eat?] that all I can do is apologize and get out as quickly as possible.

So upon our return from a morning ride, it is still only about nine-ish, and I assure you nobody starved to death while we were gone-except maybe me. And usually at the gate, my Little Big Man comes running-a.k.a. Earnest. He seems to really be enamoured with Boone and always acts a bit randy around him, letting out his little snuffles and grunts. Boone gets along with any creature no matter the size or disposition [including me] so I am always charmed by these two guys sniffing a 'hello'.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Life with a bunch of comedians

There is not a day that goes by that I see something out in the barnyard to make me laugh. It's like being surrounded by a travelling stand-up...well, somewhat crippled comedy troupe.

Even if I am deep in thought, or doing mundane tasks in the studio or farm, I get a jolt each day just by looking around-how grateful I am to have this relationship in my life-with this farm and all that entails. Life is going by so fast, faster than it seems it did in my twenties, thirties or even forties. My mother used to say,

"Once its Labor Day the year is over."

I always found that pretty pessimistic, but like many things mothers say, she was right.

I hope you have someone or something in your daily life that can bring you laughter. Feel free to share who that might be....

I have to run-I just saw a piglet run by with his little block head stuck in feed container!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Helping an old goat...why, he asked?

"Why do you help these old animals?" he asked.

I was talking to a casual acquaintance, who I'd run into at the feed store. It was a brief encounter, less than a minute, as he was on his way out and I was just at the counter.

How do you explain it in a 10 second sound bite?

"Because I need to, and want to," I said, feeling clumsy with the answer. And we went on our way.

But I thought about it a lot, how do I explain it to myself or anyone else-why do I feel compelled to help old creatures, especially the raggedy ones?

The easy answer is, because it makes me feel useful, and helping any creature, be it goat, donkey or old man, feels good. It is the right thing for me to do–to help others, somehow. And we are all able to help someone, somewhere, in small ways, or big, if we choose to. 

I am far from being a hoarder, please understand that. I am not trying to fill a hole left by a long ago wound or lack of love. There are many well intentioned people out there that get into bad situations by taking on more than they can manage, or they fall ill and things start to crumble for man and beast. My vets have told me about cases, I've seen it happen around the area, I've taken on some of those animals that came from such situations. Some of these people are mentally ill or unstable and they are doing the best they can with their abilities at the time. Some are elderly and are doing their very best. Some of them are just...in over their heads and too stubborn or ignorant to make a change.

But I started looking at the deeper reasons I am bringing on Misfits. I looked back over my life and early on, with my curly red hair and chubby cheeks [I thought] I felt ugly and out of place. I loved being at home and with my mom and our dogs, and nature. I wasn't a loner but I was very independent while at home. I would entertain myself for hours, alone in the sumac bushes or up in a tree. I was smart, but lacked confidance through my early years, and into college. I remember I would see my school chums going to camp, and my older brother went to camp too, but I didn't want to go. I wanted to be home.


When I went off to college, I chose a far away in upstate NY. They had a riding program and I wanted to expand from my family and get away, even though they wanted me to stay closer. They thought I'd have trouble being away. I had a real hard time that first year-and following years. I had friends, and had a lot of fun [it was the '70's, you know] but I always yearned for home.


I have built a solid life here with the farm and Martyn. I know what it feels like to be grounded with land...and entwined with my passion of art and writing. I know the feeling of driving down that gravel road and feeling like I'm part of it, and I'm safe, and happy. And I know what it feels like to have to leave it. I just want to help creatures that once had this same sense of home–but lost it. I am empathetic to the broken hearted-for once you lose your mother, father, child or mate, you find yourself yearning again for that far away place that brought you safety and comfort and fed you both emotionally and physically. You can feel the shade of that old tree you liked and how it seemed right. It doesn't matter that each day had its imperfections, it is the sense of those days, the essence of them, that soothes you. Some call it meloncholia. I call it a memory blanket-those senses of the past no matter how edited covers old wounds from dust in the wind.

So here I am, a happy, middle aged woman who has a farm big enough for many. And when I witness an old animal, such as Old Rudy here, settle in over the months, I feel good because I've been able to give them a place to put on a memory blanket, and take a nap in a place they can feel like they are...home.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Night time

I have been wanting to spend an entire night out in the barnyard. Martyn won't accompany me, he says, but I bet if I handle it right he would. At the same time, I think this is an experience I need to do alone-or alone with a whole bunch of low riding pigs and goats walking around.

My encounter the other night with Marcella, when we went out with flashlights, and saw certain things and creatures slightly lit up by moonlight or flash, it was mysterious and magical. This same eerie but beautiful quality accompanies any trip to the barn to help sick or dying animals, or check on new life in lambing season. I have said it before, I feel like the guest when I encounter the barnyard at night, rather than the leader, the shepherdess. Not that I fear it, but the animals are so much more aware of the night, so much more confidant in their steps. Have you ever ridden a horse in the night? They can feel the Earth long before they see it.

The night to me is a separate being than day. The air is the same, the skin of the earth remains, but it is the light of the sun or moon that creates a unique personality. Each is like wearing a different coat.

I will keep you posted on my nighttime sleep away camp for one. So much going on right now, the barn project and piglets and work-so in the meantime, I will savor the night through paint.

{This piece can be purchased as an archive print for $125.50 as a special order. Contact me if interested and I'll share details.}

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Old donkey comes to life

I've been working on some creatures with fabrics, wood and embellishments-in this case Old Mama Sugee donated some of her mane hair that I brushed out of her the other day. I had felted the head but then found covering it in antiqued, fading linen was pretty cool. I might add carved wood legs. We'll see. This is all moving towards doing more 3D work of creatures, including in clay and more wood-fabric ideas.

And of course it is sewn raggedy.

I see Old Matilda immediately in this creature. I think if you had met her, you would feel the same. have you met Matilda while on a visit to Apifera? If so, do you sense her here in these images?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wait for the inner animal to come to you

I've learned to never judge the rascals, the trouble makers, the quiet ones, the scared ones-for they all show up with their true inner selves if given a consistent environment-over months and sometimes years-to feel safe.

One of the perks of living with a bunch of elders is this-that face. And with each minute movement of his head while I sat in front of him with a camera, another pose to warm the heart and aching bones.

This is Victor, I've spoken of him before of course. he arrived with his best mate, Sophie, and the old sheep who really is a big old dog, Floyd.

While I doted a lot on Floyd that first month of his stay-there was no way to avoid this as Floyd became my shadow, my giant shadow with his back coming up to my waist. He just needed me so much. That is what i felt like and he has calmed a lot.

But Victor and Sophie were more in the background, making sure they could find places to rest without being knocked around by the younger bunch they live with–Wilbur the Acrobatic Goat, Goose, Moose, The Head Troll-and a bunch of ducks, old goose and two bulldozer pigs–they were wise to figure things out before relaxing with this new place they now call home. While I immediately saw the love in Victor's eyes on arrival, and he was very personable, it is only now I have felt a bond forming with him, and Sophie into me and my care. Sophie arrived and hung back, watching Victor and making sure all was well before she ventured around much, but she is much more self assured now. Her personality is blossoming more. She was more shy about back scratches and hugs, but now she loves to lean into the stall wall at night while I rub her cheeks. Victor was easy to love from day one, Sophie is one of those animals that as you get to know her you truly fall for her inner being, once you get to see it a few times. I've learned to never judge the rascals, the trouble makers, the quiet ones, the scared ones-for they all show up with their true inner selves if given a consistent environment-over months and sometimes years-to feel safe.

They are still very thin. You can't see it here, but they are racks, their hip areas are sunken if you felt through their soft wool. But they are gaining, slowly, and eating well and are very happy. They sleep in a large area with Floyd at night to assure they don't get played with by Marcella [although she is really growing out of this baby behavior] and to assure proper feeding morning and night. But they love their barnyard and have special spots they hang out, like down by the lower Misfit area where the shade of Stevie's hut can't be resisted on a hot day.

I am so glad I got to take these two on, and that New Moon Goat Farm and Sanctuary helped them from their neglect and matted condition. That smile, that gentle nudge from Sophie to Victor that I caught on camera, that is one of the many rewards of helping old, wounded creatures-to see them come back to life, to give them even a year or two of safety so they can just grow old and continue to be themselves as best they can, until they die.

If you like what I do here at Apifera for old creatures, consider a monthly subscription to help the Misfits, or donate at various gift levels. Details here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marcella saves the night!

Cue the spooky music.... last night about 11 PM, Marcella showed us she knows her job.

Now this particular Marema does not bark, unless she needs to send a clear message. She once barked once, then twice, slowly and I knew to check it out-and a piglet was caught in a fence. I have heard others say their Maremas bark a lot, and others who say their dogs are like Marcella-that when they bark more than a few times, you better go take a look.

I had gone to bed at 10:30 and was contently dozing off, and I had the fan on. I heard a dog but thought it was the one across the river who tends to bark a lot. Martyn came in about 11 and he said it was Marcella. He was nonchalant about it. The barking continues and I got my old self out of bed and we took flashlights out into the dark barnyard.

Now night time belongs to the creatures, I've always felt more like a guest of the barnyard than the shepherdess at night. We entered through the orchard where Aldo the llama, and his goats reside–Stevie, Scooby Keith, Raggedy man, Rudy and Professor Otis Littleberry. Adjoining paddocks there have the older ponies and Doris and June and all the piglets.

To flash your light into the dark and come upon different sets of golden eyes, all shining calmly at you at various heights is both unsettling and amusing, especially when your guard dog is sitting upright, at attention, looking straight into the pony paddock, barking.

I must say, to come upon Marcella, so white, sitting so still and strongly, attentive, was a beautiful moment. It made getting up out of a slumber in pajamas and sandals worth it. I looked into the dark pony paddock and could see in time that the two elders were near the gate, and all was well. But Marcela continued to bark.

And then I saw it. A brown mass, short and squat. Motionless, standing closer to Doris's stall.

"What is that?" I asked Martyn. "Is that a wild pig?"

Now this is a ridiculous question- if it had been a wild pig, all hell would have broken out and it would have been horrible. Wild pigs are...wild. And very fierce and destructive-but there are getting to be a lot of them for a lot of different reasons.

"It's Earnest," Martyn said calmly.

"No, it's not...is it?" I said. He looked brown, and he seemed so out of place, which he was. I called for him, and once I got my bearings I understood that yes, in fact, it was dear Earnest-and he was making love calls and actions to the ponies–one of them must have been in heat.

The entire time, Marcella stood her ground and barked, until I went in and talked to Earnest, and managed to chase him out of the pen and back to his barnyard, with Marcella helping.

I praised that dog to high heaven. I realize it wasn't a life threatening situation, and if I hadn't gotten up, chances are Earnest would have cozied down with Marcella and the goats and she would have subsided her barking. But I was just so pleased with her, keeping her Misfits in check. And I got to hear her bark and the tone of it for a non life threatening situation-perhaps some night it will be a more aggressive bark, and I will understand her call is more serious.

I really think it was a turning point.

"Now do you know what I mean that when she barks, there is a reason?" I asked Martyn as we walked back to bed.

He did. And then my flashlight shone on two sets of beady, bright eyes, one set was about a foot off the ground, the other slightly taller. A visitor would have assumed raccoons. But I knew it was Moose and Goose observing from the backdrop.

Overhead view of the land

You begin to see the land as an aerial view when you work on it. Or maybe that is because I am an artist and have always had visual movies playing in my head. Martyn has learned that when he builds something, I really need to see it structurally up to decide where I want a door or window. While my father the architect, and Martyn, were and are able to see a building project three dimensionally, I can't. I admire that skill.

But our land, I think it is is different. I can see it as if I were flying over head, each structure or shadow from a barn or pond area that forms in winter rains can become a simple shape. My perspective might be off, but I know where things are.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It's that time for pigs and pumpkins

Each fall, the delicacy fruit is shared with the beasts, and since the mama pigs need all the energy they can get until weaning time, they are first in line for this year's crop of pumpkins. But fear not, the Misfits will get their share too and I will take photos of the event. Our crop this year would have been better but a certain short, wily coyote type goat squeezed under the fence and ate a bunch of buds. Okay, it was Little Goose, followed by his always partner in crime, Little Moose.

I encourage eating with mouths closed, but as you can see from the movie, nobody ever listens to me around here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Do I have an open heart?

I recently read part of interview with Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist. He says he is always being asked what he thinks happens after death, what Heaven will be like if there is one, or what God will say to each of us when we arrive, assuming we arrive there somehow in some form.

And he feels God will ask one simple question:

"Did you love with an open heart, each day?"

And your afterlife will be determined by that answer. Not that one is punished for not having an open heart, but one might need more work on this realm or another.

No matter what your religious beliefs, I thought this a great exercise for any of us-to ask this question. So I asked myself, am I living with an open heart each and every day?

I don't think I am. I'm really wondering if I am capable of it.

I think when I am painting, or creating, or working with the land or animals, riding my horse–I think I am walking with an open heart. Especially when I am painting, for sure. I was looking at this piece of art I did, called "A Brief Visit to Heaven" and I thought what a childlike heart I had to make that painting. I think I've never lost that child part of me, and I'm glad. But children are human too, prone to mischief, desires and selfishness.

I think the reason the question he put to people struck a chord with me is I was thinking with a bit of envy about someone. Someone I don't really like, a person I've never met but is all over the media and internet. And I wondered, if one is honest and knows they feel they don't like someone, is that living with a closed heart? If I looked at that same person with an open heart, would I like them, or would I empathize with them always, never taking the road of criticizing or judging them? If we live with an open heart, we see each individual blade of grass that comes our way. Is this possible? I barely can keep track of each beautiful feather I see falling from my chickens.

I very much respect Paulo Coelho, but I'm wondering if God asks anything, let alone this. Isn't he asking us stuff all the time, each day, by putting us in Nature, in front of beauty, and sometimes non beauty?

I do think I will keep this question with me, so that when I feel anger or resentment about someone, I will ask myself,

"Am I looking at this with an open heart?"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Progress and Old Mama Sugee naps

Martyn got a lot of the shelter winterized and we will finish it this weekend. Or he will. I am not much help on some of these things. He is more of a perfectionist on building projects [thank goodness] and he always kindly suggests I do something else while he builds. I am not much for straight lines, as you know, so another job we are tackling this year is straitening anything I might have rigged up in the past 11 years-hey, sometimes I had to build quickly on the fly, it's part of a Dirt Farmer's life.

Anyway, it gave me time to spend with the piglets and Old Mama Sugee, who is still with us. As you know, I had a period this summer where she was having regular seizures. I haven't witnessed one in over a month–that doesn't meant they aren't happening, but I haven't noticed any cuts on her from falling. And she seems to be eating faster, like she has more stamina. The heat has subsided, so perhaps that has something to do with it. She is old. When you get to 40 as a pony, your days are numbered, especially since she survived such neglect in her elder years.

So is good quality of life for an elder pony just laying around in the sun? That is pretty much what Sugee does. I feed her in the morning in a contained outdoor stall so Wilma can't eat her feed. That takes her about 2-3 hours to finish 3#. Then I go out to feed the pigs at noonish and let Sugee out into the main pony paddock with Wilma. She usually does a few rolls, then naps. Sometimes she naps laying down, sometimes standing up. The panic I felt in August about putting her down as subsided. My vets agree, it doesn't have to happen today or tomorrow. And we are all prepared with the details should I have to act quickly and of how to cremate her.

I think the trick with working with elderly animals is to not be too much of a human. You have to acknowledge what animals like to do to be happy and feel safe. They want to know they have food and water on a consistent basis. They want to feel they have a place to rest, unencumbered by noise or nuisance. They want to know the herd, flock or pack is near, and that threats will be averted consistently. And they like to nap. Even the younger animals do a lot of laying around. Sometimes I take photos of Sugee and am almost hesitant to put them up-simply because she has a sort of Eeyore look, a sad look in some photos. But I have come to believe that Sugee has what she needs right now. She's not looking for much else. She got to spend this last year in a safe place, with food, and with her daughter. If she can't sustain this weight going into winter, she will need something I can't give her-youth and new blood cells and stamina. If this current elder quality of life suffers further, I will act for her.

Until then, her soft ear less head is something I love. One of her ears is totally closed shut after the ear was removed. But one is a tiny stub, and it moves just like an ear when she hears her name. She whinnies to me each morning and night when she knows food is coming, and I lead her around by her mane due to her blindness. She is one heck of a survivor.

She has put on weight since June, and I am looking at getting her a coat for fall and winter. Some of my followers are donating their old dog coats for the elder goats and if you do donate-in return I'll send you a book. I will buy a filly blanket for her, but if anyone has one-feel free to donate it if you aren't using it anymore-and I'll send a book too.  I can always use dog coat with the elder Misfits!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Win a book!

As a way to thank the many of you who subscribe to my newsletter, you now have the chance to win a free book with each issue. If you subscribe today or int he future, you can win too. Here's how: Each time you get the new issue, simply email me and say you want to have your name put in the pig bucket-then in 2-3 weeks I'll pick a name.

Every time a new issue comes out, the same thing-and each issue will have a book winner.

Hopefully the pig won't eat the names....I will take measures so that doesn't happen.

The new September issue is out today-so subscribe if you haven't, or join in the fun!

Raggedy sewing just for you

I have been spending time getting some Raggedy Sewing done. So stop on over to the shop and pick up some whim-these are all stuffed with Apifera lavender and are nice accents to the bedside or closet drawers.

What is "Raggedy Sewing"? I close my eyes and feel the wind and listen to the birds, turn and spin a few times, and then sew. There are no straight lines on these items, and they are all just a bit...raggedy-but isn't anything made with a pure heart and child like touch?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Another crippled elder wins the heart

Victor arrived this summer, with his pal Sophie. He is crippled in the spine and hips making him walk very oddly, and he never completely puts his hind feet down, so when he walks it is like he is going to tip over. Sophie has the same deformity, but is much better off and it is less noticable. When Victor lies down, it takes him about one minute of posing in the position you see in the photo below, and then he somehow gets his legs down.

But he such a sweet guy. So is Sophie, but she is more shy and less personable [now]. Victor on the other hand is not afraid to get right in there when something is going on. He realized right away that I was the one that would protect him if there was too much gang activity going on...um, that would be Marcella and Wilbur...and Earnest.

Sometimes I'll be doing something and a soft white mass shows up at my side, and I assume it is Marcella, and it usually is, but right behind there is usually a Victor.

They arrived horribly thin and they have put some weight on. They sleep in the same area as our beloved Floyd-who is also doing royally and continues to be a big old dog.

I think what is interesting to point out about Victor and Sophie is that they are starting to blossom. They have been shuffled around a bit, landing at the goat rescue up in Washington, and then down here. They most likely think this is the way it goes, we'll leave again, why bond with anyone? But animals settle in pretty well with a solid routine of eat, rest, play, eat again, rest, play, go to bed. They know they have clean water and shelter from a storm, and a herd. The herd might be made up of a grumpy pig and a bunch of short statured goats unlike any they've seen-but it is their herd now.

It's always rewarding to watch an animal regain some physical strength through nurturing, and watch their true personalities come out over time. Each day they gain confidence and get more relaxed with the new environment. I was worried about Victor when he arrived, and winter is coming so who knows, but I am relaxing my worry a bit. He and Sophie still need a lot of weight and he does have so many physical issues. But right now I'm just glad I took these soft, gentle souls on.

If you like the work I do here, buying my art or cards or books helps me support The Misfits. You can also subscribe or donate.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Anything for the old llama...and a note about out of line crowd sourcing

Martyn built this shade shed this spring-yet another one- for The Misfits. He says it is no longer a barnyard, it is a village. I like this thought because it is a village-full of activity, gossip, comings and goings of individual characters and cull de sacs of friends.

We put sand in this one and Aldo and Stevie just love it. Not only does it provide a soft cushion for achy joints, it helps them stay cool, and I also think it helps avert flies. The minute we put that sand floor down, there was Aldo, just as I had hoped. One farm in Texas I read about actually lays out sand in the heat of summer and sprays it down with water, so the llamas can lie in it for cooling. I tried this and it worked like a charm, so we decided to add sand to this hut.

And today, Martyn is beginning the task of winterizing it. You can't have enough huts, I say! So thankful The Dirt Farmer knows how to build-what a true blessing. We could never maintain this place without his skill as a builder. I always tell people that want a farm-you better be handy, and if, have the means to hire handy people. I'm grateful to have Martyn's unwavering generosity and skill.

I walked out this morning to take some photos of him working, and there was the poor man surrounded by crippled goats, wandering pigs and dogs, and a very stoic llama. It was amusing and endearing. He wasn't even complaining. I took some pity on him and took most of the gang up to the goat barn to give him some space.

I have been seeing a lot of over the top crowd funding requests lately-people asking for money for all sorts of things that they simply can't afford-or don't seem to have the patience to earn over a period of time. If you can buy a horse, it seems you should first know you can afford to pay your mortgage! If you can't afford a vet for the sheep emergency, seems you shouldn't be buying pigs-that sort of thing. It seems like it is becoming almost a rip off for some artists-blogger-writers, and I'm feeling more and more queasy about keeping my donation page up. But I talked to some valued, loyal readers who think I'm over worrying. I guess I go through this a few times a year. So to be clear, this farm and this artist will continue because we work hard and are very wise with the money we do earn through self employment. When people want to share their appreciation through subscriptions or donations, it is so helpful, and used wisely for The Misfits. But basically, it is my art and books that maintain the Misfits. So when you buy my books or art, you are helping me, and animals.

It's a fine line, isn't it-asking for help, and taking advantage of good hearted people? I was raised to be self reliant, or not a mooch. And maybe this is why I get queasy about the donation page-why should anyone support me with money when it is I who choose to adopt these creatures, knowing full well they will need more food and vet care than most? I guess people share money at times, because they can, it feels good, and just as I said in the beginning of the post-this is a village. The new barn we are building is a labor of love. The initial stage will cost us $7,000 out of pocket to have the trusses, posts and roof put up. The we will side it and build the walls, doors, windows and floor ourselves over time. I must have put the barn donation page up, and then taken it down, several times. It is my choice to build a barn to help with my Misfit work, so is it right to ask others to help if they can? Maybe the fact I question it periodically is a good thing.

I have a handful of people that subscribe at various monthly levels [thank you!]-this really helps with the feed bill! And no matter how much you choose to subscribe each month, once you hit $50, you get a book [you can decide which of my 2 books]. And there are other reward levels too.

Now, will one of you please pay my mortgage this month? Oink, squeal, snort, hoof stomps-that was a joke sent in by The Head Troll.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Old donkey thoughts

"There will be more time to think, and garden," the old donkey thought.

This original and many more are available at the store.

Friday, September 05, 2014

When striped shrews meet striped donkeys

They met by chance. The donkey had been living alone a two mile walk up the hill, in the forest, alone. Donkeys do not thrive being alone and perhaps the stress of this turned the grey fellow into stripes-anxiety can turn us gray, so it makes sense to me.

Little shrew was born striped, he told me. He lived away from the other shrews-due to this abnormality. At least it was considered odd by his clan and he had been hoping to find others of his kind, to no avail.

He saw the donkey and watched him for a long time-being shy, and also scared, since he had little experience talking to donkeys-or anyone for that matter. But he was yearning for companionship after all these years and he decided that risking death was better than living another day alone. He rushed out from under his leaf and yelled to the donkey,

"Striped donkey! I am striped too!"

Startled, the donkey was stopped in his sad, slow foot steps.

"I am on my way to the farm house down the hill. I hear there are misfitted creatures there of all sorts and it is friendly. Hop on my back and we'll go there together."

And so it was some hours later, they knocked on my door. I had no qualms to take them in and they slept on an old sweater in the studio.

So I am busy making them a bed and proper pajamas. I will update you as things progress.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

To harvest...to butcher

Take note: this is not a prompt to debate eating meat or not eating meat in the comment section.  You can do that on your own blog.

Yesterday was butcher day. We harvested three ewe lambs. The angry non meat eaters that troll the internet looking for places to get on a soap box want me to use the word, "butcher"... So this is for them-we butchered them. It was a good, quick death. I know this because I watched it.

Some people get uncomfortable reading about anything to do with killing an animal, and I understand this. When we knew we were moving to the farm, I decided if I was going to continue to eat meat regularly, I owed it to myself and the animal to be present with it at its death, as well as it's birth and in between days. I am not judging anyone who eats store bought meat-not everyone can live on a farm, or chooses too, and not everyone wants to raise animals. And we do eat meat from time to time from our nearby store or local butcher, or other farm friends.

But I don't want to debate where you get your food, or what you choose to eat. That is all up to you. I want to describe what it is like to be present at butcher day-and what goes into the routine of the days leading up to butcher day. Of course this has changed since eleven years ago when we had our first group of sheep butchered. That was a very uncomfortable day–and it still is. It will always be uncomfortable-just like taking a dying animal into be euthanized-you know, and they don't. You question your motives, as you should-or at least I do year in and year out. But I come back to the same decision each time-I am part of Nature, not above it. I choose to be within the food chain, not standing outside it. I think Nature has given me a pretty good path to follow-just like it gave all the other creatures a path to follow to survive.

{Graphic statements follow in this paragraph}
I researched through my vets, hunters, butchers, farm friends, what and how the animals should be killed. Different animals are butchered differently. The sheep have their throats cut-right through the vertebrae. It is over before it starts. They feel nothing and are instantly dead. But I question this every year, and every year I ask my vets again about it. Would it be better to shoot them in the head first? No. Sheep have small heads, the bullet can easily go astray, causing more panic and injury to both sheep and butcher [A sick animal is another story]. If done properly, the throat cut through the vertebrae is instant, and it is over. I couldn't watch it the first few years. It is a process one goes through as a farmer-the butchering. I've heard this from every farmer I know. But I just feel I owe it to them to be there, present.

We are lucky to have a mobile butcher who comes to the farm and does the butchering here. If I had to haul animals to a butcher facility, I'm not sure I would raise animals for meat anymore. I do everything in my power to make the butcher day seem like normal. I separate out the few sheep we will harvest from the flock-often if they are rams they are separated out at 3 months, and harvest happens at 5-6 months. The week before the butcher date, I bring them in at night into the same stall that the butcher will enter to grab each sheep. I have a morning routine with them, and on the butcher morning, they have the same routine. My main job before the butcher comes that morning is to be calm and create a sense of the ordinary for the animal-making it as stress free on me, and creatures. If I am stressed, they are stressed.

I hang white prayer flags in the stall, and the night before, I sit for a very short time and thank them for their good work and sacrifice.

The week before, I am always agitated. I was talking to another farm friend who said it would be the day she wasn't agitated that she would be upset with herself. I know I will always feel anxious in the days leading up to the slaughter. The actual day-it is so fast, and they are gone. It also helps to have a butcher you can talk to and feel confidant with. He too wants a quick, smooth kill. These are good, hard working people. They love animals too and want to do their best. Interestingly enough, my butcher doesn't eat much pork-because he says he kills so many. But he hunts deer and eats lamb and beef. So everyone deals with their own individual nature as they see fit. Everyone comes to that individual nature by years of experiencing their own life.

The first years, I didn't look much at the dead animal. But that has changed. I inspect the skin and certain organs out of curiosity. I am the one who cleans up their blood. It is a very beautiful, bright red and it coagulates quickly. And then the chickens eat it.

This was the first year that we had Marcella during a harvest day. She was behind a gate with her goat and pig clan and could hear the butcher's voice as he worked and talked with Martyn. She was not afraid, but she paced back and forth quite a bit. I sat with her once all the sheep were dead-it is my job to help the butcher catch each sheep-when that is over, my job is done. When the butcher drove off, I watered down the area where the blood was, and then let Marcella out. The blood leaves a smell for a good couple of days- I'm sure longer for her. She came out and really checked out the entire scene and the barnyard. But while the butchering was going on, you could tell she sensed it. There is no sound of distress during the butchering, since their is no distress as the animals die instantly. I realized if there was a predator somewhere, she was going to smell it. It just was an example of how smart their noses are, and their instincts.

I have cried on butcher day in the past, when it is over. But now I usually have a day of tears in the weak prior. So it is on my mind-it is a conscious decision I make to kill an animal to eat it. It is a conflict to love animals, nurture them-and kill them. I get it. Because I live it. But its a conflict to raise a puppy and send it off with a stranger. I don't judge any kind of eater-be it lion, dog, coyote, hawk, cat, worm vegan or meat eater-for killing another creature-either vegetable or animal. When I was a vegetarian for about 7 years, I began to feel that I had actually judged Nature. I had taken myself out of her perfectly sound and wise food system. While I realize I am currently at the top of the food chain, I don't take it lightly, and never will-and that is why I go to the extremes I do before, during and after harvest day. That is why I always check in with myself, asking

"Do I still want to raise an animals this year to eat it?" I hope I never stop asking it.

It is our ritual to eat the fresh liver of the animal the night of the harvest. We sauté it in butter with onions and salt and pepper. It is the smoothest, clearest liver I've ever seen. It always has been since our first harvest. There is an overwhelming pride that comes over me when I hold the liver, and then eat it. I am not eating it alone, it is in partnership with the animal that sacrificed it. Years ago when we first started farming, I heard a Seattle chef on NPR talk about how cooking with a meat you have reared and killed is a different kind of cooking. I understand that completely. It is a feeling of pride, reverence and gratitude-and yes, joy. A celebration in the meal, a ritual of a toast with wine to the animal, and to Nature and the land for feeding that animal so we can now eat.

A very angry internet troll wrote me once, anonymously of course, and told me they thought I was a hypocrite, helping old animals and then eating young 'baby' lambs [they never get their facts right]. She told me I did it out of 'greed' [this was laughable-we are lucky to break even on the small number of sheep we rear to eat or sell]. They demanded I post photos of the slaughtered lamb. I am not PETA, posting such photos would do meat eater or vegan no good-it would not help a person come to an educated understanding of what harvesting an animal is really like. For it is not just the moment the throat is cut-it is the combined moments leading up to its death- the birth, through its growth and the eventual day of butchering that lead to what it feels like to look down at the same animal bleeding out. When we first started, I couldn't look. It is a process of understanding, acceptance and realizations of life and death within the actual hierarchy of Nature that allowed me to look. This same troll said they prayed that someday a pig eats me. I said I'd be honored. Why waste my meat? The worms or someone will get me, and her, sooner or later.

Death is not necessarily a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Crunchy earth

It's that time of year when it feels like the grass will never return. But the smell of the air has changed, and the crunch of the earth will soon smoosh underfoot. I know there will be days ahead where it will be wetter than a bathtub, but I am so ready for the rains and cool air. The fields are dormant on top but I can feel the earth below craving some water.

I've been seeing the barn swallows lining up on the wires above, and have heard several groups of flocking geese. That sound of honking always brings up a swell of meloncholia but also a feeling of comfort-perhaps because flocking geese are leaving one home, but they are also on there way to another one. We're all just coming and going through life.