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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Midnight at the annual spirit festival

To be honest, I was not looking forward to the annual midnight festival this year. It didn't help that it was pouring rain last night. But I didn't want to break tradition, and I knew that leaving that gang alone in the pumpkin patch graveyard without me could lead to a lot of mischief. While teenagers without manners might go to a cemetery and tip gravestones, my group of hoodlums would do worse–eat too many pumpkins that grow out of the dirt graves of former Misfits–that wouldn't be that bad, but it would lead to overzealous grave digging by Earnest and Marcella which could mean skeletons appearing all over the place the next day. Way to scary for the tenderest of Misfits, such as Paco.

So I put on lots of rain gear, and a big straw hat to hope my glasses wouldn't get all wet, and headed out to the barnyard, in the dark. I could see a faint light at the pumpkin patch. I'd left a flashlight there covered by a bucket so that I could make my way with some guidance.

The animals were already gathered–except Rosie. As usual the World's Grumpiest Pig did not come to the festivities. But of course that is no surprise-she hates rain, and crowds, and festivals.

Almost the second I got there, The Head Troll appeared out of the dark mass of Misfits, whose only body feature I could see were their eyes if the light caught them right. I could see Marcella and Benedetto pretty well due to their pure white coats. In fact, Marcella came to me, keeping any mischief from me. The candy corn can get some of those guys a bit wound up, combined with the mulled cider. The donkeys stood off to the side of the barnyard, as Paco gets very scared at these things and we have all decided, including Mother Matilda, it is best to let him watch from a distance.

Around the group the Head Troll went, holding a stick over each creature's head as she passed, much like a dowser looking for water. When she came to me, I felt something, kind of electrical. Marcella sensed it and became agitated. The stick began to shake rapidly, up and down, and The Head Troll was hardly able to hold it in her hands, but she did.

And then it stopped, and we all sat in our dark group, occasionally batting an eye, but still as a pool without wind.

It was getting cold, even after only about fifteen minutes. We were all waiting for something, anything to happen. Even with the rain, I had so many Misfits on my mind, the ones we had lost this year.

Maybe Stevie will come. And Aldo, I thought.

But it appeared this year it was not to be. Even the spirit of Old Man Guinnias did not rise for us, nor did I feel Floyd or any of the others buried under our feet and hooves. I suppose I was disappointed, but I was also wet and cold. The Head Troll left the pumpkin patch, and everyone followed. The White Dogs followed me as usual to the barnyard gate and I climbed over it to return to the house. I could see light coming from the living room fire, with Martyn in the rocker–no doubt with Big Tony in his lap.

I was startled then to hear the honk of a goose. It had been months since Old Priscilla disappeared, never to leave a trace for me to know what happened. Of course she was over twenty, but I never found her body, not even a feather. My ankle is pretty good after I turned it a couple weeks ago but still gimpy, and I misstepped on some rocks. I fell to my knees. Marcella barked, and I swore, and I yelled to her,

"Good work, Marcella, I am okay!"

But I couldn't get up. Not because of my ankle, or my body, but because something was holding me down. And the more I tried to get up, the heavier the pressure was that held me, keeping me in this spot. In seconds it was as if a huge oak tree had taken each branch and twig and was applying pressure on me, and in seconds that pressure began to feel like an embrace. I was confused, but not scared.

White orbs beginning as mists grew bigger and lifelike and the embrace I had just received began to pull away from me, but as it did I saw faces, familiar faces, surround me. I was lifted up and carried to the house, and set down gently by the door.

"Wait!" I asked, "stay with me!"

And the white mist creatures formed into one cloud of white the size of a balloon, and I held it in my hands. I felt a peck on my cheek, a gentle kiss. And then the white mist evaporated into my skin.

I went into the house, and took off my rain gear.

At my feet was a white goose feather, a bit of white llama wool, and some deep brown goat hair.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tonight at midnight

I had to pull out one of my favorite photos of dear Paco, our little worrier, our poet. He used to guard the pumpkins, or so it seemed, perhaps worrying they might hurt when bitten.

But I want you all to know that tonight at midnight we will celebrate as always in the Pumpkin Patch of Old Souls where so many former Misfits are buried. It has become an annual tradition, and always seems to bring out a good story to share, usually one that raises a hair or two. So check back tomorrow for my report of the evening.

And wish me luck, I'm hoping I don't get egged like I did last year as I left the barnyard.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When you give orders to short statured goats

"Come on, line up! In order of height, shortest first!"

I had no reason to make them line up, it just is something we practice now and again, you know, just in case it lends itself to be helpful in an emergency.

They never get it right, but they get an A for effort on keeping it a straight line. And of course, Moose thinks he's bigger than anyone so perhaps in his mind, he did get it right.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Announcing: Emerging Crone Workshop [Doll Making and Sharing Wisdom}

Been a long time coming-this workshop idea has been in my head and heart for a couple of years, and now it will happen! As we grow old gracefully–or not–emerging out of youthful skin into our middle age and older forms, we have new wrinkles that are ripe with wisdom and story. As we sit together, gathered in the barn, we will use our hands and inner muses to create wisdom doll-perhaps emulating a favorite elder we know or miss, a crone we wish to be, or a spirit animal that acts as crone. It will be lambing season, so new life will be around us, but so will the retired matriarchs of the flock, and other wandering Misfits.

Read all about it here. If this class fills up I hope to add another.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

I got lost in the future but the old donkey pulled me back

This morning I was on the tractor and caught this photo on my phone of Mother Matilda, grainy but a dreamy image that captures the essence of that second. And then I had this epiphany–I remembered where I am and that everything is okay.

You see, last week when I hurt my ankle, I sat on a chair in the living room immediately after it happened, and it really hurt. I actually went into a different place, like I went into the future time zone somehow. I got a bit depressed because I shocked myself into a future reality that may or may not happen. I began to question if we should stay here as we age, I imagined all sorts of scary scenarios that could happen if one of use fell ill or broke a leg. I have seen farms fall apart like this. I have seen farmers and animal caretakers grow old and the consequences to them and their charges.

I was very out of sorts for a few days, and I realized it was because of what would have to happen if we were to leave the farm in the near future. It was the animals, the responsibility to the animals-all of them, including my flock, that got me over thinking. Some farms would take a flock to auction if they had to move quickly [assuming they could not find other farms to take them]. I have never been to an auction and will never go to one. My practice and covenant to myself and my animals is nobody goes to auction, even the non working ewes, or ewes that become disabled in some way. Everyone dies here. I have two retired ewes right now, Daisy and Lilly, who are living with The Misfits, and they will be there until they die. There are thirty other sheep behind them. I choose to farm this way, it is not necessarily something that other farms-or most-would or even could do due to economics, space, paddock use and manpower. I get it, I also respect it.

But I went forward to a place and time that did not exist. A time where I had to leave the farm and rehome as many animals as I could, and make hard decisions about elders.

This morning, my ankle, which I injured 6 days ago, is starting to come back to normal. I was able to put my Muck boot on without the Ace Bandage today. It still is limited in quick movements, or certain positioning so I am still being very cautious with it. But as I got on the tractor and witnessed this beautiful autumn morning, on our land that we love, I remembered an important fact-

It's today–

not next week or next year, or twenty years from now. Don't worry about what hasn't happened a wise person once told me. It's a waste of energy.

While I need to be aware-as does anyone of any age that moves to a farm and has a lot of creatures-that there are many responsibilities that are part of this life-physical, financial and emotional. While I don't put the animals above me, I do consider them to be individuals that need my constant attention–when something goes wrong, that becomes the priority, not what I'm having for lunch. That is perhaps the part of doing this that many don't realize-the wear and tear to one's inner head. The responsibility to each animal-what is best for them today, and tomorrow and their entire lives-is always there. You can't shake it.

But today is today, and so far this morning, all is well. And as I took time to stop and visit with Matilda, I found this tiny leaf on her back. Definitely a message for the moment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Poem for Sugee art for you

Paintings are really just poems without words. I made this poem for Sugee, who we put to sleep a couple weeks ago. Old Mama Sugee was forty the story goes, and one of my vets rehomed her from where she and Wilma were living-due to neglectful conditions-due to dementia issues in the home. Sugee and recently had her ears chewed off by a dog, and was also blind. That is why the vet was called, but upon arriving, she helped the people understand it would be better for the ponies to live elsewhere, so they ended up at Apifera.

It's very different without Sugee. She was a very independent animal, a survivor for sure. She was easy to handle, and I never had to put a halter on her, she simply let me put my hand on her ncek and she followed my lead. Her daughter is another story but is improving as her confidence grows–now that her mother is gone, she has to adjust a bit.

I sat down and made this painting-poem of blue and white for Sugee. She has ears now, and large wings to fly around, or a rug cloud to take here here and there.

This little painting is available at the shop-as well as lots of art cards, books, journals, postcards, prints, raggedy sewing and more for the upcoming holidays–can it be upon us already?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poetry in a moment

The beauty in the emotion of fog at dusk; a horse stands by; a white dog runs; sunflowers prepare for winter as they still stand tall over old Misfits lying below in their graves.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sheep breaks a leg, shepherdess sprains an ankle

Yesterday I noticed Opal, a young ewe, still laying down on the upper hill, unusual because her flock had already come down to the gate to be set free for grazing. As they fled in their protective herd amoeba, Opal came running on three legs, her right front forearm swinging like a rag doll.

I've never had to deal with a broken leg here, so my skills were increased to include splint building. I watched a quick You Tube video and whipped one up. It was not difficult and fortunately I had all the vet wrap and other items to make one. The poor thing though, it was very stressful on both of us getting her to the infirmary ward. It took some time, and effort.

She has been a good patient and I'm grateful it was the forearm as I think it will eventually heal, maybe not totally straight, but she can now become a Misfit if needed. She is on pain meds for awhile but is able to lay down and stand and hop, and while I'm sure it does hurt, the pain med is helping her, and she is eating hay and drinking. I guess it will take 3-6 weeks to heal but I hope to see improvement sooner. Hoping I can put her down with Daisy and Lilly in the Lower Misfit Village with that gang of the most crippled residents.

So its ironic that today I hurt my ankle–badly. I do remember thinking I broke it as I felt the pain, and I also remember thinking,

OK, thanks Universe for making me have a parallel experience to Opal. This must be part of the overall plan for continuing education of a shepherd.

Martyn heard me crying out in pain and came running, not knowing where I was because I was in the ram stall behind a door, on the ground. He found me in my pathetic position writhing in pain, crying. I've never broken anything so do not know what that feels like, so I thought it might be broken. Martyn has had really bad breaks, from a car accident in his twenties that almost killed him and had him in an induced coma for days, so he has some experience with pain and broken bones. He is always my calm voice of reason.

I had wrangled up the rams, as I wanted to do the daily cleaning and a shot for E.B. White's head, which he mysteriously wounded on Thursday, causing me to give penicillin and topical meds. So I had them gathered in a corner, a good way to grab one animal as sheep tend to herd and stay in a group for protection. They are well mannered rams, never giving me trouble, but Walter decided he was getting out of there, and fled, and the two others fled with him in a panic, causing me to trip, fall over my ankle as they swept over me. It didn't help that I had on my 'clown boots'-which are a men's size too big for me. I often buy men's boots but bought them too big by accident, and then they wouldn't take them back because I'd worn them twice. It's been a year of my little fairy feet [I have really small, high arched feet] sloshing around in them but money is always tight when I think,

I have to get a new pair of boots before I kill myself in these.

I guess the Universe was giving me a memo-get the boots already!

In my optimistic way, I figured I'd just walk it off, but Martyn urged me to go sit for awhile and see if it swells up right away. I just got done sitting for about thirty minutes, it is swollen in areas, but more than that, now when I do certain movements, it really hurts. Going down the few stairs is problematic. I will need a cane to go to the barnyard for sure.

I got sort of instantly depressed sitting there, with my sad old foot thumping in slight pain. I just thought how quickly a life can be turned upside down, and this is nothing compared to the injuries that can occur on a farm, or anywhere.

I was going to go try to recover the rest of the day's chores outside but that might not be doable–and I'm really looking forward to red wine by the fire for natural pain management. But maybe until then, I'll hobble up to the kitchen and make cookies. Raw dough always helps [no lectures, please].

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It has been written...the costume choices of Misfits

You know the routine by now.

The scurry of hooved feet getting closer to the house. A brisk, deliberate knock, knock is heard at my studio. A piece of paper is slid under the door.

And here it is, the costume choices for some of the barnyard. The Head Troll gathers the costume desires every October for Halloween. In some ways, it is flattering that they all think I am capable of making such things. I had the same optimism in my mother, who loyally made me a witch outfit year after year, and a red devil suit for my brother. No store bought outfits for us...at least for a few years anyway.

I will do my best and report back. I'm thankful the flock is sitting out this go around. Last year they requested outfits so they'd all look like mimes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Squirrel, Writer, White Dog travel on parallel planes

Squirrels have entered my head, and heart, and book...and life I guess.

I believe we travel along life in parallel planes-while one thing might be happening miles away to a creature or person, I am here having my experience only to realize some time later-maybe years-that their experience was connected to mine. This is an underlying theme of the new book I've just begun [10,000 words of a goal of 60,000 have been written-how much of that will end up in the final manuscript, who knows].

Last week I wrote about how rabbits have been entering my life, coming to me in odd ways-in my head, out in fields, in images I see online or in movies. Let's all keep in mind that that is what happened way back when, donkeys kept appearing in my world, and we all know what happened with that. Mainly, I've been seeing a lot of rabbits. Just a few days ago, a new neighbor contacted me wondering if I had lost a white rabbit. No, but I knew it belonged to someone down the road. I saw that same white rabbit again today, too far from it's real home, just about 1500 feet up from Apifera. I'd like to believe the bunny is coming to me, being a spiritual white animal, but it might be more that the house it keeps hopping too is raising rabbits.

But this first part of the book which is written in Benedetto's voice also has a squirrel. I love squirrels, we don't have enough here like we did in Minnesota. We don't have the big grey ones so much, more the little Douglas Red Squirrels, which I love too.

So I'm writing away yesterday, completely enthralled in the story and my writing, and I'm expanding on the relationship between White Dog and this Squirrel. I made a note in my head to do more research on these rodents, but continued wondering if it was right to have this Squirrel enter the story. I kept writing, knowing in time it would become clear to me.

Later that day, I took a break to visit the front gardens, which are standing stalks of dead stem and brittle rose petals on entire bushes of brown leaves after the summer draught. The fennel, God bless it, still has much mustard yellow seeds combined with the browner spent plumes. I went over to visit the graves of the Old One Eyed Pug I, BW, Samuelle, Ward the Rooster, Pumpkin Head, Louie and Gracie, and some of my mother's ashes too. It was such a perfect day weather wise-warm in the sun, crisp in the shade-perfect for a sweater and pleasing for a fair haired ex-Minnesotan. The graves sit under some Locusts and Lilacs, and there within sight lay a little red squirrel. He was laid out very neatly, his long red tail in a straight line.

He was freshly dead, I could tell by the feel of his body, and because his eyes still had some moisture. In fact, I touched him gently before picking him up. But he was gone. Such a sweet little fellow with and beautiful red autumnal markings. I could find no punctures, no blood, and his neck seemed unbroken.

I carried him inside to pay homage to him in photos.

Within about two minutes, as I moved his body a little to position him, fresh blood appeared, quite a bit of it, and I carried him to the sink to wash it off, as I was curious to see where the wound had been. There was a pin sized prick hole in his side. Too small for a cat, and cats usually leave two marks. Sometimes cats break the neck first, but his neck seemed unbroken.

I returned him to Earth, burying him in the garden, under the walnut tree.

As I returned to the house, I thought it ironic I had just been writing about a walnut tree and the squirrel in the new book.

I suppose you could say, coincidence.

Or you might argue that I create it and due to an overly stimulated and optimistic imagination, everything I create seems to come to life. But maybe it manifests in my art because I've already lived it in the subconcious world, through a creature who is now a muse in a story, and he is living parallel to me. Maybe that dead squirrel is poking me, keep the squirrel in the book, or stick with the rabbits.

I hope I haven't made your head hurt pondering that.

Monday, October 12, 2015

I dreamt of my father's shirt and I think it was the fog

Last night I had an unusual and moving dream. I dreamt I was in what was my mother's house, although like the sets of most dreams it did not look like any of the homes she had in her living life. In the dream, I was in a room where there were still items of my father's. I was alone. I was thinking in the dream how it must be hard to live with these reminders of him so fresh after his death [my father died in 2008 but in the dream last night we had just had dinner with him at a nice restaurant].

Then I came to a shirt on a hanger, hanging all by itself on the wall, almost as if displayed there like art. It was the shirt he had just worn nights before in the dream at our dinner. I held the shirt and cried, and as I caressed it it became very fluid, almost wrapping around me, or petting my head with the sleeve.

It has been seven years since I saw my father alive, and two and half since my mother died. While I do not weep about it any more, I think of them everyday. I still carry that quiet little sack full of inner feelings, sometimes sadness.

But the dream left me feeling rather melancholy this morning, ungrounded in some way. I sensed last night that Martyn was melancholy too-his father died a year ago, his mother was just placed in assisted living, his family is changing and evolving too in uncontrollable ways. We are in the stage of life where many people we've known all our lives are dead or soon to be gone. Elders who used to keep in touch through a parent or aunt are unable to do so-the family and circle of personal community begins to shrink. Things that seem to be rocks in one's life crumble-maybe a couple you thought would never part end up separated, or the teacher that gave you wings dies.

When each loss comes, another thread in our life's coat comes loose, tearing a should seam or pocket.  That coat that kept you warm so many times, or dry from rain or snow has a life too, and an unravelling like any life.

Melancholy is different than grief. It is the younger sister to depression. I know a few people who are really battling depression, and I would never what to say or write anything that might diminish the agony they are in. Depression separates a person from the living world I think.Depression must be the opposite of home. Melancholy still has many glimmers of hope.

I always feel I will work through melancholy when it comes. And I always do. But, some days, I can get stuck in it. I guess I feel that pull today.

I am blessed to have a routine that requires me to get outside, no matter what, and interact with Nature in all forms. It helps melancholy to be sent to the backseat of the morning.

The fogs were here when I awoke. It was almost like my father's shirt had come out of the dream from last night, and become the fog-both a comfort but also a veil in front of me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Breaking News! Raggedy Man on probation!

"Did you hear?" asked Professor Otis Littleberry over morning hay. "He's on probation."

"Thank the Barn Gods! It's hard enough walking on three legs without him banging into me all the time," said little crippled Sir Tripod Goat.

"I won't miss him," said Sophie, "He got way to big for his beard after Stevie died."

Meanwhile in the upper barnyard....

"I did nothing wrong!" Raggedy Man pleaded as I led him back to his former stomping ground. "I demand to talk to my representative!"

"I'm your representative," I told him, "and you have been too rough on Victor and Tripod and need a time out up here to remember how to have manners."

Along came Marcella and the Head Troll.

Raggedy let out some distress bleats, and then a long sigh.

"You again," he said to Marcella.

Marcella was delighted. She has another Misfit to romp with even when he doesn't want to romp. But between her and the Head Troll, Raggedy will get a taste of his own medicine.

Raggedy took a sudden behavior turn after Stevie died. He just got a bit pushy around feed time, smashing too hard into the crippled Misfits. This is actually normal goat behavior. There is nothing wrong with it. But I decided it was time to put him back in the main barnyard with younger charges-and some Misfits who won't take his gruff. I see this happen all the time–one animal dies and the hierarchy is shifted.

Raggedy is just a wonderful little chap. He came here skinny and stinky having been recently neutered, and as you can see he has added plenty of weight-which is another reason he is being moved, he eats too much of the feed. Back then you could hardly get him to enjoy a gentle touch or back scratch, now he understands the pleasure of it-cookies or no cookies.

Please know that the upper barnyard ain't too shabby. In fact, it has its benefits to the Lower Village, so do not for one minute think Raggedy is suffering. I wouldn't be surprised if he protests if I put him back int he Lower Village.

Earnest the pigs yearns for a....

...pumpkin flower. I explained to him big boys must accept the concept of delayed gratification or their lives will be one frustration after another.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Meanwhile, a pig named Cornelia expands her horizons

Cornelia is taming up and now sits for me. She also allows me to plop her on her bum so she is sitting up in my arms while I rub her belly. Day one of that produced much squealing, day two–less, and on day three she started figuring out that all this belly rubbing stuff was pretty nice.

Marcella seems to have an affinity for pigs. Just as she did as a pup, gravitating to the then young piglet Earnest who became her buddy in crime, she seems to enjoy the new piglets too. She came to sit with me the other day while I had a coffee break with the pigs and she sat down with all the piglets about her, sniffing, poking, and climbing on her. She just sat and took it all in like a doting auntie. I caught this image of Cornelia giving her what appears to be a kiss, and it is of sorts, but pig kisses also come with the question,

Is there anything to eat on your lips?

Festive aromatic lovelies

I put up some new lavender stuffed items in the store. I'm smitten by the Sweet Dreams with wings-so simple and perfect for bride, baby or any one walking this life who needs a respite. I won't say the "C" word...okay, Christmas is coming! There are plenty of art cards for all occasions too, including Santa times or peaceful wishes you need to send in the coming months.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

White Dog will speak, with rabbits I think-the new book begins

"Something told me that if I didn’t break free I would perish."
White Dog. 
The first sentence of my next book.

I have begun my new book. Its been rattling around in my head for many months. I'm not going to say much yet because it is just beginning and evolving. I always get excited to share new projects though. I guess that is true of many artists, especially ones like me who live in the middle of the country and communicate most of the day in a studio with gassy labs and a blind pug, only to be serenaded at lunch by pigs and small statured goats.

So I will share a teeny bit. I know what the book will look like on the outside at this point. I want it to hearken back to my childhood reads, with a linen fabric cover-one color ink drawing on the front. Inside will have mysterious little black/white images, and maybe a center color insert. There will be mystery in this book. Is it non fiction? This is hard to explain. I suppose tot he traditional publishers it would be called fiction. But I prefer to say it will be Apiferian-real stories with eccentricities and possible magic mixed with Nature's spirit.

The physical qualities described above will help begin the initial feel of the writing, and White Dog, aka Benedetto, seems to have the lead voice right now.

But rabbits! Rabbits have entered into me and I have been seeing them all around. So I think they will be pivotal to the story somehow.

This is why writers tend to go mad, I guess. I'm lucky, or maybe cursed, to have to see things in images and words. I sometimes think it must be such a relief to be a writer who never gives images a second thought-in that they know their book will be all text without art to worry about. I thought about making this all text, no art, and who knows...we shall see. Maybe rabbits will do the art for me.

I'm playing with drawing styles as I have time, but must focus on the writing.

Focus? But there is so much glory in the fall air, so many beautiful distractions all around me! I am lucky to be able to have a mid day coffee break amongst so many Misfits, white dogs, wandering pigs and eccentric llamas.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday Smile Parade with Victor

Victor just smiles, all the time, I can't explain it. But considering his past, it is inspiring that this very crippled goat puts on the best smile voguing show every day for me. I spent time this morning with him, he loves to have my company away from the maddening crowds.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Paco's wings

I don't really feel comfortable explaining what paintings mean-but, I do understand that people like to hear if their is a story behind them. The painting shown here is 'Paco's Dream'.

I have lived with Paco now 9 years and watched and helped him go from misunderstood and non confidant donkey to a little poet. He arrived with a pushy side stemming from lack of handling, and no confidence as he lived in a huge herd of Jacks. Arriving here, he pushed everyone around–me, the animals, the farrier and vets. But I knew there was something yearning to be touched and understood in there. It took a long time, but Paco grew wings. He found his place.

To me, Paco has always been a poet-he writes up in the hidden loft room-The Barrow of Love- of Old Barn that only me, Martyn and two others have been allowed to see. It is wall papered with 1950's pink rose petals.

So his poetry is in this painting  {currently available through RiverSea Gallery.