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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, September 11, 2015

My gentle kissing giant has died

It caught me completely off guard. You'd think that wouldn't happen any more after these many years of living and caring for these special needs souls. Surely, you're thinking, I should not be shocked to see one of them lying dead.

But, it was shocking. I had just carried down night time feed to the pig pen, and looked up to throw hay over the gate, and there he was. I knew he was dead, but for seconds my intuition had me believing he was cast and I could help him. It is odd what your impulses can do in dramatic situations, especially when you are an optimist. I dropped the feed, with piglets swarming around me, and rushed to him.

I'll admit. It was all dramatic. I often have written that when an animal is dying the last thing they need is a human dramatically weeping over them. Showing sadness is one thing, creating drama for them is just stressful for them. But he was dead, and I was shocked, so I held him and wailed to the sky.

Birdie and Marcella came to me. And little Sir Tripod Goat came over too, for seconds. The other animals went about with eating their hay. They had accepted Stevie's passing immediately I suspect. I've seen that over and over here-they recognize death, but move on.

In true Stevie fashion, a goat that had no ego, he had not just picked a proper day to die, but a proper hour of the day. We will be heading out to Astoria on Saturday for the show, leaving a trusted farm sitter, and he died on a day that allowed me to be with his body, mourn, and bury him properly with dignity, without rushing. He also timed it so he didn't die hours before I had to leave, and he waited until the cooler part of the day, when Martyn was only ten minutes from the farm so we could dig a grave in the still crusty dry soil.

You might think I'm creating this all in my always active imagination–but I do believe he knew I would take care of his body properly, and he wanted me to do it. I believe animals that have bonds with us as caretakers are intuitively connected to things we don't give them credit for-because most of us have lost that intuition we had millions of years ago. I have no proof for this. But I believe it, because it happens over and over with my animals here.

Stevie has touched so many people all over the country. He was a magnet for love and a vessel of unending reciprocal soul healing. He retained his dignity even with the most crippled body that has arrived at Apifera. When they found Stevie and his herd years ago, he was living in muck and mud engulfing his limbs. His feet were so long and curled he had been living on his knees to move around, which eventually made it impossible for him to stand. His herd was confiscated, and Stevie was singled out as the worst off, and also the most endearing character. He was given a very expensive operation thanks to the Humane Society in Southern Oregon and a vet who wanted to help. They operated on his ligaments so he could at least stand to move, and eventually he went to Sanctuary One where Apifera adopted him, along with Rosie the grumpy pig.

When I first met Stevie and saw his condition, I wondered if the operation had been the right thing to do for him. I see animal advocates all too often stepping in and no matter what it takes to save an animal from euthanizing it, they do it, without always looking at the way that particular animal lives in natural situations. There are worse things than death. I continued to wonder this for days after he arrived at Apifera. But as I got to know him, watch him, and understand him, I am grateful they gave him a second chance at life. Stevie arrived with the world's grumpiest pig-he had allowed her to sleep near him at Sanctuary One when no other animal would tolerate her grumpiness. They arrived at Apifera together and within months, Rosie grew more independent, and confidant, and often slept without Stevie. In time, I moved him down to the lower Misfit Village because Marcella the pup had arrived and was a bit overwhelming for him.

When he moved to the Lower Village, he really began to blossom. Perhaps not having to caretake Rosie was one factor, but he started to walk around more and graze.

One of Stevie's most endearing qualities, was that when another new animal arrived that needed some emotional protection, they sensed Stevie was their Go To Man. I saw it happen over and over, a weak newcomer would sleep near Stevie for days into weeks until they sensed they had the confidence to venture out more. And when Stevie had a bout of falling and casting a couple years ago, and we really worried we were losing him, who took care of him? Our beautiful elder, Aldo, the Great White, the llama who also had spiritual qualities much like Stevie.

Many have said that Stevie taught us lessons. There are books galore about how animals are our teachers. I have heard a lot of people say they prefer animals to humans. I don't agree with the latter opinion. I think there are some jerks that are people, and some animals with damaged personalities that I won't bond with. I think putting animals above people is against Nature, and is a flawed view of what true Nature is and always has been. And I think one of the things Stevie symbolizes is just this. He was not better than you or I. He was not more worthy of respect than any of the other animals here, or in the woods, or in the ground. He would not seek that adulation. And I will not place that on him.

But what he was is clear to me, someone who had the privilege to live with him all these years–he was a symbol of dignity, doing what he could to keep going with what he had. After all he went through in his former life, he still loved people. He didn't just show up to a person to get a treat, he enjoyed companionship, and kissing. Those kisses. If you were blessed to have one from him, you understand. Martyn and I were pondering his life and we both felt the best thing I gave him these past years was a way to share himself with people, he got a lot out of it and gave double in return. On the day he couldn't share any more, his body stopped, but his soul reached out into the fields and all over, and grabbed people and said, "I'm okay, thank you for helping, thank you for the food, thank you for coming around to see me."

We buried Stevie in the lavender field, next to Stella. I buried a copy of "Misfits of Love" with him so he'd have all his buddies with him, including his old friend Rosie. I had just trimmed his feet this weekend and was glad he went to his grave in the best possible condition he and I could muster.

And Rosie, you ask? Does she know? Yes, I told her this morning. What I found rather interesting, when I went to feed her in her private suite in Old Barn, she was still sleeping, which is unusual, as she is normally up and anticipating her favorite thing besides sleeping-food. I watched her for a minute, said her name, and she continued to sleep, letting out little dream grunts, still deep in her sleep. I wondered if Stevie had passed through her, just like my father, and mother, and many others have passed through me the day before they died, or the day of.

I patted her head to wake her, she rushed to the feed dish.

"Stevie is dead," I told her. Instead of being all grumpy as usual, she was very quiet while she ate and I rubbed her belly. Perhaps it was was her homage to her old friend, staying ungrumpy for one or two minutes in his honor.

Stevie is dead. But I can assure you, he and I have plans. I already discussed it with him. When I get up each morning, I can see the bottom field where his fresh grave is. Just like when we laid our old friend Stella to rest there, it gave me comfort to look down and see where he is buried. I know exactly how I laid the body in the grave, his head wrapped in cloth, his book laying at his heart. His head faces the river where the eagles land on snags.