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

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Birthday of a Dirt Farmer, and one little goose, er, goat

Let us all stand now and shriek to the sky! Happy Birthday, Dirt Farmer! Happy Birthday, Little Goose!

You might not know the story of Little Goose's arrival here. Back in 2013, my mother died. It was sudden, even though she was 87. It was a huge loss leaving gaping holes in my daily life. At the same time, we had the usual losses on the farm that come with having elders. I also had to say good-bye to my old One Eyed Pug two weeks after my mom died.

I announced to Martyn that I wanted to get a little goat that was young and vibrant, for my own selfish needs, a goat that wouldn't die right way, what a concept. I felt I needed it and deserved it. He agreed. Without knowing it, sometime soon after that, Martyn found out one of his clients had a little wether goat that she was happy to send to Apifera. And it just so happened, said goat and Martyn shared a birthday. Behind his back, I had found a little pygmy too, the adorable, tiny and still tiny, Little Moose-and he was born on on my birthday which is March 10. Martyn and I always have had this ongoing 2 week celebration between 2/26 and 3/10, for it is the only two weeks of the year that we are the same age, then I get older than him.

I can't keep secrets from Martyn, just can't. I was dying to tell him, and spilled the beans one night that I had found this goat and the woman and I had already made plans for delivery. He thought that was fine, except he too had found a little goat and we just thought,

The universe just showed us two goats, with our same birthdays, there is no use asking any questions, it is a gift and it is meant to be.

And so Moose and Goose came to live with us and brought great delight to me and the barnyard that year of such great loss.

The Dirt Farmer is aging like George Clooney. I am the lucky one. I find his face stubble and raggedy locks like looking at a swan or any other creature of beauty. I can be out in a field and see him at a distance with a hammer in his hand and I see the same man I met years ago-hard working with absolutely no ego. I am so grateful for his birth, as it allowed him to grow up into the person he is and somehow we were able to be brought together in our mid years. I know I often say I am the lucky one, but I know Martyn is blessed to have...well, moi! We are a good match. We are best friends.

I will do the birthday boy cooking. Since Martyn is the true chef in the house, I will bake one of my standard chicken breast recipes my mother taught me years ago that I always manage to do perfectly. I bought a special bottle of wine, some asparagus and mushrooms. I might make a lemon pie. We will celebrate with friends and family Saturday and he will cook some Apifera lamb. Our two week celebration of birth and life has begun!!

As for Goose? I held him tightly this morning, which he still tolerates, and told him why it was such a special day. He listened, then grabbed some of my braid and took a chomp, as he is prone to do. I took it as a compliment and he scurried off to the barn.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One year ago she entered the barnyard

I am once again amazed that...it has been a year. A year since Marcella landed in the barnyard. No other animal I've ever lived with has been so challenging to understand-only because these dogs are not bred with a pet mentality. I have learned, and relearned things about Maremmas as I work with Marcella. I won't say she is smarter than me, but she definitely is clear on where she lives and her instincts are keen.

When she arrived, it was the first time in my life I ever left a dog outside to live. All my dogs, even our labs, are house bound. The labs do not mingle in the barnyard, by our choice. So I have a very different relationship with Marcella than Huck or Mud. That first night was chilly and I put her in pen, within a closed stall. Some goats were with her, but she had a contained area to herself. The breeder told me that when one of these dogs wants to get out, they'll figure out a way. By the second night, she had dug under the fence and was happily sleeping with the goats. It was me that tried to 'keep her safer' in an area, but she didn't need saving.

Marcella the pup who of all the animals in the barnyard to buddy up with, from day one, was a pig named Earnest. To this day, I don't think I've more tender photos of two creatures. They still are buddies, but it is more like two 13 year olds, one can over doe it or vice versa, and words are exchanged. Earnest is still very tolerant of Marcella who occasionally lets her pup spirit out, by grabbing his tail, or pulling his leg. Earnest could put a tooth in her if he needed to, and it has happened on occasion, but they have learned their boundaries. Sometimes at feedings, she and Earnest will both find a fleck of grain and a mini squabble starts. You just do your best to separate all the creatures well at feeding. These dogs are very protective of their food, or anything they deem as their food. I learned it the hard way with a bad bite, and the breeder had warned me and helped me through some incidences and how to show my alphaness.

I continue to learn. Perhaps the biggest lesson is letting go of some control with these dogs. I have not been able to fully do that, especially with Benedetto. I think if it were just Marcella, it might be different, as she does not stay from her barnyard long if she does get out-but when Benedetto is along, she runs a bit farther, but always comes back. We haven't had any escapes of late, but as warm weather approaches, and Marcella turns a year now, she will need to begin more in flock training. Sometimes I feel I've botched it, but I see her instincts and I think its just a matter of separating her some from Benne and making her be with the working flock 24/7 for awhile. If not, she will be a guard of the barnyard, the latter result is not the end of the world. We have not had a raccoon or hawk since.

Thank you, Marcella, you are a wonder. I will continue to work with you and do my best-I know you are doing yours, even if it is not with the flock-yet.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The semi private suite of The World's Grumpiest Pig

It is time that I bring you up to speed on The World's Grumpiest Pig.

One of my jobs as steward of these animals is to accept that on any given day, things can change, without my advice or control. I have seen this happen many times in my eleven years here-one day an animal that liked sleeping in one spot for 5 years just decides to move.

I've changed bedrooms many times in my life, why wouldn't they?

So it happened with Rosie, our resident curmudgeon.

One late afternoon on a cold rainy day, I went to do barn chores and there was Rosie in the rain, alone, shivering. This of course was Atypical with a capital "A". She was up by Old Barn too which was not the norm. All the other animals were in the goat barn dry and warm. In order to get her inside ASAP I opted to lead her into the old barn as there was an area full of warm straw where lambs once lived. Getting her to move in my direction was not easy. Rosie does not do anything easily. She has been a grumpy challenge from day one, and I have to admit to you now-she's getting grumpier.

So I got her into the barn, carried more straw in and once I saw her bedding down, I covered her with straw. She continued to tremble on and off, and I feared poison, although, there is nothing that I could imagine anywhere in the barnyard. Her one eye was not well-she has a chronic eye issue, as many pigs can, so I felt she had discomfort leading to trembling. By morning she was better.

Now, the other part of this story of bedroom shakeup is that the working flock broke into three groups over the past year. This happened sometime when Benedetto arrived. There was a bit of chasing going on and Old Papa Roo-who is ancient by now–took some hens and started sleeping near the donkeys which is by Rosie's new chosen suite. I have since reunited two of the hen groups back in the coop, but Papa and his 4 hens remain in Old Barn. I do fear an owl will get them one night, so I plan to capture them and relocate them back to the hen house. But this Great Chicken Relocation Scheme deserves an entire post sometime soon. Stay tuned.

So, back to the World's Grumpiest Pig–I think that deserves capital letters too. After about a week, her eye seemed better. During that entire week, she was so very grumpy. Grumpier than even her grumpiest days, which I assumed was because she was uncomfortable. Rosie is practically impossible to treat-my vets do their best when they come here, but it is a real challenge even to get wormer in her or do her toes and shots. She is one lucky pig to have landed here, because I don't think a lot of people could handle living with the World's Grumpiest Pig. I take it in stride.

"My, we are very grumpy today,aren't we!" I say to her in these extra grumpy spurts.

So after about a week, her worst grumpiness had subsided, and I was able to clean her eye better. She was eating better and returned to her normal grumpy level. What a relief to have a break in the extra grumpy behavior! So, at some point, I encouraged her to come back out to the barnyard and enjoy her spot by the cement wall for sun.

"Hrumpfh. Nope, not interested, please leave me now," she said.


I continued to leave some food out for her to entice her to the gate in the days ahead. Rosie's eyesight is obviously not very good, and I wonder about her hearing too. But she just isn't interested in leaving her suite. She is not bothered by Eleanor or Earnest, or the White Dogs, or flying monkeys,um, Moose and Goose. She has a clutch of hens that dine with her, and the donkeys eat breakfast and dinner with her, in their own dining room of course. She has sunshine that comes in and she doesn't even have to leave her grumpy little suite to nap in it.

So do not fear for Rosie or feel badly for her. When she arrived at Sanctuary One, as some of you might remember, she slept with Stevie the crippled goat, because all the other animals avoided her grumpiness. When Stevie and Rosie came to live at Apifera, that sleeping arrangement continued for a couple of years. But in time, Rosie began sleeping in different places, sometimes away from Stevie. I like to think that Stevie gave her the confidence to know that she was safe now, and even though she didn't have a real human bed of blankets and pillows like her home with the elderly woman, she had warmth and dryness and fresh air. In time, Stevie moved down to the lower Misfit Village, as he was having a hard time with the new pup back then, and was tripping a lot. He loves it down there and whenever a new goat arrives that is a bit depressed, weak or fragile, I have noticed they always go to Stevie for safety. In time, they get their confidence up. That is Stevie's gift here, one of many.

So, The World's Grumpiest Pig now has her own suite. She will be turning seven this spring. That's seven years of fine tuning her grumpy state. I love every grumpy inch of her.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Victor resting

Victor has not been putting any weight on his front foot. His foot is not warm but his knee to upper leg is. I am thinking he strained it somehow. Poor fellow. When you are already pretty crippled having one less leg is problematic. He still gets around but I'm trying to arrange things so he is staying at rest.

But he still loves breakfast!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Letters from Mother Katherine

For some months or longer, I have been corresponding with Mother Katherine of Zoar Farm, located in Otego, New York. Mother Katherine works and lives in a monastic community for women of the Orthodox Church in America.

But what brought us together is our love of sheep, and shepherding them. This is her in this image, which is on a card she sends often wen she writes.

And in many other ways, she shepherds me in our now frequent correspondences. This is the part of the internet that is glorious, open hearted and can inspire and teach.

Mother Katherine and I are currently having an ongoing discussion about taking sheep cross narrow foot paths and roads, and how they might perceive darker shades of ground differently than we do, they might perceive a drop off when there is none, for example. The farm also has two guard dogs-Great Pyrs- and we have shared discussion on that and she has given me a couple ideas about my White Dogs .My post this week on boundaries sparked some interest, but it led me back to her site where I read an essay by one of the other Sisters on boundaries.

When I get an envelope from Mother Katherine, I am touched to see a couple of $5 dollar bills tucked in, sent with a simple, "Mother K". The humble offering of a shepherdess to another shepherdess. Such was the case this week. Mother Katherine is guardian to her working flock, but is also caretaker to many elderly sheep there. We have many back and forth stories with one another about the heart break, hard work-but good work- of caring or these elders.

My father was a letter writer and into his last years in his eighties, had letter writing friends all over the world. That was back when a stamp was your app. I love getting mail, infrequent as it is, but I also love corresponding in genuine ways like this with people like Mother Katherine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I stop here, you start there

We all need to walk out our days on a path we feel fits our own footprints-not that of another's feet.

I was thinking just the other day that the world would be a lot better off if people wrote this on a piece of paper and tacked it to a wall, or shellacked it onto their iphone case:

You are you, I am me. I stop here, you start there.

I get to choose my path, you choose yours. You might be inspired by my path, or it might make you scratch your head. Could be sucking lice, might want to treat that. You might not bother to notice my path, or I yours. Some might want to jump onto my path, or yours, thinking it is just what they want-the path seems so perfect for them. I find this latter group of people, often nice people, often project onto my path what they want to see, not what is actually there. About twice a year, I get an angry letter from someone shaming me for not clarifying I eat meat, or that we butcher some lambs. I've never hidden this fact and have written about it over the past 11 years. It is clearly stated in many places what our farm is, and isn't.

It seems I am not pro-animal enough for the extreme vegans, I am awfully strange to some farmers around here and elsewhere, and I rile up the pig sanctuaries because I choose to help some pigs and eat another. But I've never hidden any of it. So when someone comes to me, and shames me, for 'hiding' these facts, I get riled up. And that riles up the barnyard, all of them.

I used to be afraid to write about this. And its not like I had some 'incident' in the past days. I just felt like writing about it, unafraid.

Because I stop here, you start there.

I have a wonderful diverse farm. I have a working flock that provides fertilizers for our fields, a small amount of meat for our chosen diet and field maintenance-the latter that has helped see this once neglected farm improve its soil/grass quality. I have some working dogs in the barnyard [in training, lets not get to carried away with titles yet, I warn myself]and some chocolate love machines laying on the couch. I have chickens of all ages since I never cull any that give us eggs-and also provide The White Dogs and pigs with ample surprise snacks. The old goose is so old I've lost track but she and the ducks are entertaining, and horribly messy. I have one very grumpy pig adopted from a sanctuary, and two more in the barnyard that will make piglets- some of those piglets will be eaten. I have old, crippled goats that I've chosen to adopt, because I can, and I want to help them, and they help me in many ways. And no, we never eat elderly, crippled Misfits - yes, this was asked of me once by a vegan–some people really need to learn more about animal husbandry. I have old donkeys and little ones, and earless ponies that are blind and a fine pleasure horse I can ride and work.

That is the diversity I choose to surround myself with. It might not be the diversity some would choose. Some will judge it. But that is not a problem.

Because I stop here, you start there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Land dwellers

I am not going to apologize for this weather streak we are having. Sixties, sun, spring flowers popping–it could be gone tomorrow but so could I so I am relishing every moment.

We worked more on the new barn, happy the mud was at bay-rare for this time of year. All around, white spots flecked my fields, some were ruminants chewing cud, others were White Dogs examining far off shadows, sounds and sniffing what the breeze brought in. The breeze–it always takes me back to two things: my sumac huts when I was a child, where I'd nest, listening to the wind outside my protective den-a natural womb for the little land dweller I was; and it reminds me of the days after my father died, as he had become the wind, it was clear to me then and still is. Perhaps even as a child I had an innate sense of the comfort the wind did and would bring me, even though with it also would come the visceral connection to endings-be it a human life or a tree's limbs.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old Mama Sugee's progress

I wanted to share this sequence of photos taken from fall 2013 to this weekend. When this near 40 year old arrived she was a bone. She did not put on weight well and last summer in the heat she was also having seizures. I changed her feed and was really happy to take her winter jacket off and see how she has put on good weight. Yes, she has her hairy winter coat still, but when you feel her, her ribs have fat and her hind end has filled in a lot. This is gratifying. She has not had seizures [that I am aware of] since last summer.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Here's love for you

I like Valentine's Day. I always felt, even as a child, it was about love for everyone and everything-not for lovers specifically. When I lived in NYC and worked at a large well known ad agency, I always gave out valentines. They seemed to look at it as a Midwest kindness thing, but everyone, although surprised, enjoyed them. How can you not?

I had so many Valentines greetings to make today between Martyn and creatures, that it took an entire day, while I worked on fencing. I'd stop and enjoy time in the sun with whoever chose to come my way-be it caprine, sheep, porcine or rooster. It was over sixty degrees and sunny. How can one not feel the love of the ground and sky- like something good must be happening in the world for this beautiful day. While others might be suffering in the cold, or in war or sad conditions-I could not dwell on that. i selfishly soaked up each second of my manual labor, watching my main valentine work on the new barn, but watch step was so decadent in that weather. I can not take it for granted–the weather or the life.

Here are three valentines to you-glimpses of the love that was all around me–An old pony once so lame she couldn't get up now runs; a raggedy little goat who once shied from touch now poses in a bucket waiting for a back rub; and a flock of sheep on Muddy Hill graced with morning light and fog.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Morning ride with Boone and fog

Boone and I rode in a blanket of fog with Boone's buddy, Tong. The trees were dressed in white and beige sheer silks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Benedetto's big walk about

Over the weekend, Benedetto found a hole under the old barn and got out, taking off for the upper sheep fields-the same place he has ventured in his past few jaunts. Marcella stayed behind, which she is prone to do now-her breeding is good and she was raised here as a pup. She is maturing, almost 1.2 years now, and when Benedetto does get out, she seems to stay with her barnyard now. That is the good news.

The bad news is Benedetto went much farther this time, or maybe he went as far as he did the last time, I don't know. But I do know that he did not come back, hour after hour. I was in the midst of dealing with Ezra that morning, hospicing the old soul, and had to focus. I knew Ben would eventually come back, or he had in the past few outings. But I wasn't happy. I wasn't mad, just...crushed.

A few hours later, up comes a woman from the drive, with Benedetto on a rope. She and her mate live about 1/2 mile from here, maybe less, but they live across the open fields, and if you stand on our upper pastures, you can see their place. The scary part is it sits on a very busy road, one I refer to has Pet Cemetery RD, for obvious reasons, which he had to cross.

Firstly, he couldn't have gone to a better house. This kind woman took a lot of time out to walk up and down the roads, hoping to find an owner, asking passing trucks and such. She said she almost didn't come up our road, but I am so grateful she did. They would have taken him to get scanned she said, so that is a relief too. I asked her what he was like when he showed up at their place. First he came bounding out of their back field, and she said he looked joyous. I can just envision that look, because I see it here too. But when he came around to the windows, he was friendly, but seemed lost. Selfishly, this made me feel better.

After she left, I couldn't stop thinking about it all. I spent the day making sure the lower barn holes were closed. He'd found one where the wood pile had been depleted in the last few days after we had fires, and smooshed under there. This breed can do it if they want. When he was back in the barn, he immediately fell asleep.

I am the first to admit I'm way too attached to this darn dog. The woman said that he obviously really wanted to come in the house. This is exactly what he did when he showed up here. I figured he'd return to his own home, since he was a valued guard for someone. But he looked longingly into the windows. He slept on the porch that night. The couple times Marcella has gotten out and veered to the house, she goes submissive, and doesn't stick around, heading back to her place.

I have decided I am not going to pressure myself, or Benne, to be a flock guard. That is what we got Marcella for. He is a wonderful barnyard guard, and can guard the center fields that have stiffer fence. I am not going to risk my heart and his life for this. No advice please.

But, I am thinking-and might have mentioned it before-that I had an inkling on his arrival what a great therapy dog he would be, or already his. He certainly is to me. But when this kind woman brought him up, she told me how much they fell for him and were ready to keep him. The next day, I took them lavender as a thank you. We visited a long time and we are all so glad Benedetto brought us together, as they are newer in the area. We decided that already is one good job he did.

Could Benedetto's purpose be to unite me with others, including maybe the ailing or hurting at an elder care facility? I am percolating this. It is a time commitment. I am also thinking of adjusting Benedetto's time in the barnyard, so that some afternoons he can come into my studio with access out back, then return in the late day to be in barnyard.

But here is one thing for certain: this dog is special, is loved and wants a bigger job. But I don't think guarding is it for him.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Creatures coming to life

As you might remember I have a solo show in September in Astoria, Oregon. I will of course have a lot of paintngs, but I am also finally starting on ideas I've had for a couple years-making creatures come to life in clay and other materials. I've done needle felted figures and these clay pieces will-or it's the plan-incorporate fabrics and felt, wood...who knows what else.

I started my art career in college as a ceramicist. I really loved it but didn't want to be a starving artist, or an artist with a day job [because as a ceramicist, that is what I had to do!], so I veered into illustrating which led to books and painting. It is like going home to feel the clay again. I'm finding it incredibly therapeutic, not that I'm in a state of misery, but I know it is something I need right now. Forming faces in 3D is so...I don't have words for it. I will work on that, as it is something I need to explain. It is slightly different than painting and bringing a finished piece to view.

I plan to have backdrops painted for some of them. I envision them becoming stories in and of themselves.

I have a lot of work to do before September!In some ways I have no idea what I'm doing!

These two pieces are green ware, unglazed.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Ezra finally lets go

Ezra's body took a long time to shut down.He passed around dusk yesterday. His stimuli and reactions showed a body without a spirit, and for a body that was so malnourished and elderly, he hung on much longer than any other goat I'd witnessed die in my eleven years here.

It was an uncomfortable few days for me and took its toll. While I feel his spirit was not there, it is hard to watch the silent struggle. If I'd known what I know today, I might have acted differently on Friday. But I am not going to beat myself up-I did my best for him. He was really not present for the past 24 hours.

I sang him my standard, "Over the Rainbow" but also opted to sing some "Felling Groovy" renditions. Sir Tripod Goat and Old Rudy continued to eat normally by his side in the duck hut, and in a strange way, Sir Tripod Goat seems to have warmed up to me more over the past weekend, perhaps he senses for real now, that I am caring for them all.

I think Ezra and Mrs. Aster, and the entire herd that was taken off the property where they had lived for their entire lives are the saddest cases I've dealt with. But this morning I think there is something nobody ever really said, and I feel it strongly. I always felt Ezra arrived here a broken man. We all surmised how hard it was to lose his herd, slowly, through neglect-some died in front of him, some were put down later. One by one, they died or left. But, perhaps the real loss for Ezra was when the humans who cared for him physically failed. At one time they truly care for the herd. They had grown elderly too and suffered with dementia. The caretaker did not understand how to care for the goats. Who knows how long that went on, I don't, nobody does. But it was evident inside the home the herd had been loved and cared for once.

I think perhaps that was the first huge loss for Ezra, when the elderly couple failed. Ezra's sense of everyday normalcy was lost.Animals like and need consistency in their environments to feel safe. When the humans got dementia he lost that daily safety net.

I think Ezra was tired and worn out. His body was ravaged of nutrition and spirit for enough time that he couldn't pull through. If I could get him to the spring and get some weight on him, I thought. But that was not the way his body dealt with it.

Even in the end when he was still aware of me, I sensed a goat that was wanting to let go, but had had to let go so many times, and just wasn't sure if this letting go meant he'd end up all over again in a new place.

I am just so relieved for him. And Martyn is relieved for me. He watched me all weekend, in and out of that hut, reassuring me I was doing my best.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The usual suspects

Transported with old goats in a duck hut

Yesterday Ezra was clearly declining. He did manage to come out of the duck hut to be in the other shelter, but lay down and never moved. He continues to not eat and has physical symptoms of a life ending. By day's end, I cleaned up his soiled bottom and carried him into his duck hut. He likes it in there and always has, it's intimate and safe, secluded without being out of eyesight of the others.

I did feedings around five yesterday evening. It was pouring, has been for days. I crawled into the duck hut to be with Ezra. He was reclining, not cast, but definitely in a position not normal for a healthy goat. He was very calm. His heart beat was very erratic. Every now and then, his hind legs would kick out, a sure sign of the body shutting down. But his kicks were very weak.And he would let out little sighs about every ten minutes.

Within time, Sir Tripod Goat came in and sat to our left, and Old Rudy came in and went to my right. The hut is about 6 feet long and 4 feet high. It meant a lot that Tripod came in, as he is still figuring out who I am and if he trusts me.

So there we were, the four of us, three old crippled goats, and one middle aged lady goat, sitting under a tin roof in the rain. It was so peaceful. This is how death should be I thought, but rarely is.

I asked Ezra if he had seen Heaven yet, or his old mates. Then I asked him to look for my parents. I think the feeling of being in that hut, in the rain, cocooned and dry while the outside world got wet and went on and on without me in it, I think that just took me back to my little fort in the sumac bushes in my old homeland of Minnesota where I grew up. I would often go to that hut, on my own, maybe take the poodle, and sit for hours. But I had a warm house and dinner or cookies waiting for me when I was ready to go back to the house. I think that duck hut, surrounded by my current mates, reminded me of that.

When I left the hut, I said my good byes to Ezra. I really felt that was it for him. But I felt so relieved he was so calm and peaceful and did not appear to be in discomfort, no teeth grinding, or moving about. I went and checked on him at 9pm before I went to bed and was surprised he had repositioned himself to be more upright. I was really shocked.

I expected him to be gone. But this morning he was laying upright, in a pretty normal position. He still was all messed up and I cleaned him up again. He refused water and food, all day. He has not moved all day from that spot.

I am once again reminded that death can take time. The body has to shut down, often slowly. I know when a person is in hospice they explain to the family that the dying person often rebounds a little, and you think, "Oh, maybe he won't die," but they do a day or days later. I think of the body as all these little bits of energy getting turned off one by one as we die. When my father was near death in home hospice, my mom said he sat up one morning and said, "I'm still here." He died a few days later.

So I won't make a prediction. But Ezra is lowing checking out...it appears.

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Ezra struggles

Well, dear old Ezra is struggling.

When he arrived from New Moon Farm, what, a month ago, he was stronger although not very well off due to the neglect. He never ate well here, but did okay with hay-and he was and is very thin-which can take 6 months or more to get on one of these old guys.

But he always called out in the morning and anytime I came to the barnyard. He has not really bonded with anyone yet though, even when Mrs. Aster [one of his old herd mates from the same neglect case] arrived. Once Mrs.Aster was failing, he seemed to distance himself from me a bit. He always seemed to have a 'shark eye' , somewhat distant. It is easy to put human emotions and spin on an animal. I do it in story and art, but in my caretaking and hospice work here, I try to step out of the human head, and be an animal. My sense with Ezra is...he is tired both physically and emotionally. He has been through so much upheaval in the past few months-losing the home he had, losing the humans he had that had dementia and couldn't care for him, watching two herd mates die there without care, then seeing another herd mate die shortly after at New Moon. He arrived here, and we brought home Mrs. Aster one of the last of the herd that was living [still one left up at New Moon] and he watched her fail. He knew. He knows now, I just know it. He's not afraid of "it". He is afraid when he falls and can't get up, which happened yesterday twice.

I've got him on probiotic this week and some vitamin regimes I do, learned from my vet. It's the same routine Aunt Bea got, or all the others. But in the last two days he's had horrible diarrhea. His hay eating has declined. Sometimes the damage even on a young animal from starvation can't be overcome, add to it his old age and his body might be ready to switch off. I clean him up and sit with him a while, try to sense him. I sang him a song last night, told him the herd was up there when he was ready. I suppose you can call me dramatic, but I just don't think he has it in him. But he until he is either in complete distress, or he takes his last breath on his own, I'll keep up the regime. He has his little duck hut that he feels safe in, and usually in the morning Sir Tripod Goat is there. I asked him last night if he could make it to spring, and warm sun, it might help. But he just seems to be losing his touch with the here and now. It is as it will be.

How am I doing?

So I have a question for all of you- to be answered here or on Facebook [I've given up trying to get people to only comment here on the blog, it just is the way it is!]

The question is:

How do you all think I'm doing? You know, in my work with the animals, my writing, my art, my tone, my sharing of story that might inspire or bring comfort-or bring a smile?

I thought that question was a good way to start a conversation, and request, about and for donations and subscriptions. You might know I've always had a strained relationship with 'donations'. Last year, I decided to deliberately pull back from asking for donations too much. I decided I should let people feel propelled to donate on their own, but only after they saw over and over my work here, work I've been doing at Apifera for 11 years now. I would go about with my writing, painting, and sharing story through books and the blog, and let donations come as they will without my asking. I put up a GoFund page at the beginning of the year to help with our new barn project-which will help house elders and make some hospice work easier for me since it will be right by the studio. But I took that funding page down, it didn't feel right. That barn was paid for out of my work, and the second phase begins this spring.

When I did my year end books this past week, I felt pretty good. I've been a freelancer for 19 years, without the aid of a loan or trust fund [some people seem to think I am rich, perhaps because I went to a private school and live on a farm with a horse and make my own schedule-in fact, my architect father worked and sacrificed to put me through school, as did my mother who worked in retail until her 70's-I am so blessed for that gift! And I didn't get here overnight!].

But at the same time, I don't think I give myself enough credit. I perhaps might have gone the opposite direction, in that I'm not asking for enough help. I put links to support pages but I feel awkward asking for donations all the time, straight out. Someone told me about a writer who is constantly asking for money to pay for things like her truck expenses, and late mortgage payments. I cringed. It seems to be an ongoing thing for this particular freelancer. I do not, nor will I, become dependent on another's incomes to make Apifera run, or to help my Misfits. Obviously emergencies can arise-and people ask for help these days through crowd sourcing. I have no problem with that, for the record. But some people do seem to be using their social personas and bad business skills to get money.

Perhaps this is the old Minnesotan in me-asking for money outright seems rather....non Minnesotan.

So looking at the year end numbers, while my art/book income looked okay, I realized that donations were almost obsolete, because I just didn't promote them. My feed bill has gone up a lot because I've switched to a better feed for the elders and am also buying better hay. Would it seem silly to tell you that I also noted my 'entertainment' total for 2015 in my books was...wait for it...$75. I'm not complaining, working here on the farm, and my art and writing-it is my entertainment. But there were no vacations. There is no running out quickly for a lunch. And again, I'm fine with that, I have what I need to be happy. So today, I just want to give a bit of a recap of my work here.

Current Misfits: 38 [this does not include my horse, my sheep, working pigs]
Resting in Peace: 24
Annual Misfit Feed Bill: $4800-6000
Annual Hay Bill: $2400
Vet Bill this year: $4500
New barn: $12,000

These animals are not just thrown hay. I think you all know that. They are communed, with me and others. They are shared with outsiders to benefit animal and person. They are healed, hospiced and buried. I clean up there loose bowels and give them shots, trim their feet and try to put weight on them-the slow way- with care and love. I have laid with them, carried them, and sung to them. I do everything I can for them and that is just a wonderful gift I am able to give them. And I get to be with them, a gift for me-which I try to return to you through books and art.

So, the question again,

How am I doing?

And one more-are you able to give or subscribe? [a huge rush of discomfort just flew over the room].

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Stella collapses Stella rises

It's been one of those weeks. A thought crept into my head a couple days ago,

"They are all going to start going now," but then I pushed it aside.

"They" are the first arrivals to Apifera, the goats, sheep and chickens that came here before the first Misfits. For before I knew of New Moon Farm Goat Rescue, I acquired two Boer goats and promptly named them Stella and Iris {Wild Iris, which could not have been a better name]. I paid a lot for those goats, thinking I should have good stock just in case. Well, I don't regret it. Stella and Iris have not only been my muses over the years, they have done the job they came to do-eat acres of bramble. Martyn claims it saved us about $5,000 in clearing costs. He also will point out that if you deduct the labor and money of fixing fences over 11 years, and the damage and replacement to trees, roses and other things they consumed along the way, it might be a wash. C'est la vie de goat.

But I can't imagine Apifera without Stella and Iris. But that day is coming.

I write a lot about death because it's here and there and over up on that hill. I am not 'used' to it, but I don't fear it like I might have once. I don't really fear losing my elders, I just am very aware it is always there walking with me, and I'm aware that there are good deaths and not so good deaths, and there are aftermaths to all deaths for the living. And that is why my life is worth suffering in, because it's life, not death. It's all I have.

We are going on our 11th year here at Apifera. When we lost Henny Penny yesterday, it was a real time marker. She was our oldest hen, and there are others that will most likely follow soon. It is just like any other village, the elders take their place on the mandala, as do I, as it should be, as it must and will be. But drive through any village and there are so many that came before with so many stories. Who will know them now?

So, when I found Stella unable to get up on Sunday, I knew the time was approaching for her. She is 10+, getting up there for a big goat. About a month ago, I decided to remove Stella and Iris from their home of the donkey pastures. This was mainly because they have been breaking out constantly. I wouldn't care that much but they had ventured through the back woods and over to a neighboring farm, where the owner is someone I'm not fond of for various reasons. He kindly let me know about it, and I retrieved them from his cow pasture. But that was my sign that it was time for these two to retire into the main barnyard. I also had been trying to put weight on Stella who has gone a bit ribby on me. She has barely a tooth left and I wanted to be able to supplement her better.

She was able to sit up like a dog, but couldn't get her rear up, and when she did try, it looked like her hips and hind legs were flattened and paralyzed. When I got her up, she was okay and stayed up most of the day, and each morning I have had to help her up. She is eating fine. I figured it could be a pinched nerve.

This morning, she was standing and I was not only surprised, but relieved. We will see if that continues. I had a sheep once that looked paralyzed in the morning, and was fine at night-I think the pinched nerve idea might be correct. I'm grateful she isn't casting herself-that's a death sentence. I've always been much closer to Stella than Iris. Iris won't mind me saying that, it's her own doing and she has had a marvelous time with me, always asking important questions, like,

"How did you get here? Oh yea, this is YOUR side of the fence, oh heaven's, I'm practically in your garden."

I have also had worries about Ezra. He is not doing that well, despite my efforts. It might just be his time after all he has been through. But I really hoped to get him through to the warm weather-which can do so much for the elders in strengthening their body and spirit. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The smallest Apiferian dies

I found Henny Penny today, her little body was lying in Old Barn in the hay area where Rosie has been residing this winter. A couple days ago I noted in y mind I hadn't seen her for a couple days, but she was one of our most active setters and we'd often find her sitting on a hidden clutch somewhere.

Henny Penny was well over 12. She had a perfect life for a chicken if you asked me. She free ranged, lived a long life free of being hurt by predators, had roosters that protected her and didn't bully her and she had an old barn that was her partner in crime-stuffing eggs there to roost on, always looking for a way to have more chicks. Let's not forget it was Henny Penny who became the surrogate mother to the one surprise chick that hatched from another hen's egg-that chicken was named Una but later became Uno, when it was apparent Una was an Uno. Uno the rooster was part of Henny Penny's tribe in Old Barn, and he was there this morning when I made the discovery.

It's always shocking to find a body. When I first saw her, I did let out a soft gasp,

"Henny," I said.

With the pig snorting down food in the background, and the donkeys relishing morning hay, life was already going on as usual all around me. Animals and the farm are the perfect teacher of one of life's most important realities-nothing stops for anyone. I first examined her body and was given a wonderful gift–she had clearly died of natural causes. There were no wounds and no signs of stress. She was old. She died amongst her flock and in a warm barn. Selfishly, she died where I could find her and know how she died. This is often not the case with chickens and cats. We wonder if they suffered or were half dead out in the bramble, waiting for death. So to know that this little hen died a good death, was a gift for me.

And she was the smallest member of the farm. She was a Bantie hen and the funniest little character. She had little tufts on her feet and the prettiest markings. A fierce setter as I said, she also was very independent. It would drive me mad that she'd find roosts high up in the barn and not come into the hutch at night. But now that we have the dogs, the raccoons don't go into the barns and I'm a bit more relaxed about it.

You can get attached to chickens and Henny was special-her little waddle, due to her small size, brought a smile every time. I've held other chickens and wept. Often I'm weeping for the past month or year's losses, that were stuffed inside a zip lock bag somewhere, waiting for a good moment to express some pain and move on. I didn't weep with Henny. She had such a long, good chicken life. But I did sit with her for the longest time this morning, holding her tiny body. I told all the hens and Papa Roo she was gone-but they already knew and were busy scratching and pecking for breakfast. I'll bury her in the pumpkin patch today.

I'm so glad I included her in the new line of postcards. And for the record, I found her with clean underpants.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The chocolate elder ages

Huck turned ten.

It is like living with any elder, you see the changes in their appearance in spurts, but you quickly change your thoughts to something more comfortable. Aging is like that–even with all its benefits and wisdoms it also comes with bouts of realities that hit you hard-like the fact that your dog is entering his final years.

Ten is such a solid number and makes you look back at the past. I remember driving up to get him, with the then Two Eyed Pug in the truck {those two eyes would become one soon after due a complete misunderstanding between pug and pup}.We had lost my old friend Louie Louie the terrier who was my one and only sidekick for fourteen years and came to Oregon with me, got me hooked up with Martyn and then the farm, and then he went on to the next realm without me. It's how it works, dogs help you out their entire lives without complaint and then they get to go a big amazing walk-about. I liken it to a parent getting their kids out of college and saying, "OKAY, I've done my best for you, now flourish on your own while I go out and explore." The dog is the parent to many.

Huck is a Buddha. He always has been. This is a dog that from day one asked if it was okay to enter the room. In fact he rarely enters our bedroom or bath-unlike Muddy who barges in every morning with complete joy,

"It's a new day!!!!!!!!" Yes, Mud, it's another new day, let me sleep until seven.

Why would you want to sleep until seven, he thinks.

Huck is the one on the outside of the door way, sitting quietly, waiting, really wishing he had the guts to bash through the door like Mud, but, he never does.

He has become more arthritic this year, and while his chin has been grey for awhile, little white flecks are appearing over those deep brown eyes-those eyes-the ones that suck you in at any time, anywhere and say,

"Is everything okay? Are we okay?"

Huck now has grandpa privileges. He gets to sleep on our couch and watch television with us while Muddy sleeps on the other couch. Don't feel badly for Mud, that is the couch I paid-well, more than I can imagine paying for any piece of furniture ever again, but I was single and plusher then without a hay bill and elders stcked up in huts outside. I have such a different relationship with Huck than I do with Mud. Both are solid and good. But Huck is more my right hand guy in the studio. He worries for me. He speaks with his lips and contorts them in different ways when he is trying to communicate with me. Between his lips, eyes, and tail, we communicate just fine.

So I'm raising a glass to a chocolate lab tonight. He has brought me his velvet ears every day to touch, and a nose that never ceases to make me sigh. He is Huckleberry Pie.