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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Do you like Maine, they ask, would you do it all again?

M'Lady Apple from my studio
We have been here exactly two years now. In 2016, we loaded up 33 animals and headed from our first farm in Oregon to make the 6 day journey to mid coast Maine. One of the first beauties we met was an old crabapple on the property, always in my view...I call her M'Lady. She is in full bloom now and simply stuns me every spring.

I can say that as we go into our third summer here, I am more grounded than the first two. Part of that is...logistics and getting through the upheaval any move has on a household, and in our case, a farm. We had to build a barn, and are about to start the third one. We had little or no fencing here. We created our gardens and stone walls and privacy areas. The house needed little attention in the beginning, it felt perfect in many ways, small but quite open for it's size. I have since done painting mainly and have slowly been recreating the rooms to our needs. We left a lot of furniture behind. I knew it would not fit in this little house. I sadly left all my father's studio teak work tables behind but I really had no choice. I left the couches too. In fact, the one thing I can say I would do differently is the personal property we left behind, for free. At the time, we were under the gun. The first buyer, who we grew to see as not the buyer we wanted for the farm, fell through. Even though we were relieved, we had many reasons we had to scramble and do as we did. I did my best. But...the only option would have been to possibly lose the house we are now in, and lose the $3000 downpayment we had on the equine hauler, slow down the sale of the new buyers and stay put and hope for the best in finding another place that fit our needs. It was either rush around and try to sell things, or move. But...I would have insisted on a separate payment for the probably $10,000 or more of personal property, including the 10 year old Kubota. That is one thing that I still get angry about, that I didn't do that. There were other things in the sale I can't think about because they make me mad, so I don't. I can't tell you how stressful the sale was...and all the logistics of the move I had to handle with the animals.

So, it took time to resettle, emotionally and physically. But we have.

And yes, we like Maine. I hate the bugs and flies, but you could put me anywhere and I would tell you summer, despite all it's pluses, is not my season. I love the winter here, really I do. So does Martyn, he gets to be on the farm working, the summer people are gone, it gets beautiful and quiet. Back West, Martyn was driving a total of four hours a day just to get from the farm to his landscaping clients. He was home by 7:30 on a good day. He was running out of steam after running his own crew and business for 20+ years. Keeping up with his estimating and billing was really getting problematic. I sensed at some point we weren't going to be able to sustain ourselves emotionally for another 15 years when the mortgage would be paid off, and we would have been 70 by then. And then what? We saw a lot of people wait too long to sell their land and farms as they grew older, and they would get into trouble.

The hardest transition, for me, was losing the more rural feel. But now we live in what I describe as a postcard New England village setting. Old houses from the 1700's dot the roads in midcoast, the sea cove is in view, old apple trees, the smell of the sea...it's all different than the Wilamette Valley. Oddly, I've met quite a few Oregonians who moved here, some who are small farms. The appeal of paying 1/2 for a piece of property [versus what it would cost out West] here is what first intrigued us. As freelancers, especially for Martyn, at some point you might not be able to put in the hours to feed a mortgage. So we don't have one now. We live simply, and hope our health holds out, but who knows.

I miss my vets. I was warned by one of my vets out West who had hands on knowledge and experience with the situation in Maine of the large animal vet care, or lack there of. I believed him, but thought, well, that was 20 years ago, surely it is better now. It's not. Equine vets a plenty. But farm vets? Nope. I have not found a clinic yet that I can I say I honor and trust. I started working with a highly regarded place, but just to get them to the farm is $100, anything they do here, such as coming to examine a goat, has a $150 minimum. I talked to them about this, that they are treating small farms like people with pets versus herds and flocks. She understood, and I really liked her. But, that's the way they choose to operate, it's their business, not mine. I feel sorry for both new farmers and the animals in their care-the vets I had in Oregon taught me so much, over time. And they weren't cheap, no vet is. But what would have cost about $375 total the other day was almost $800 here. So I'm grateful I had 15 years under my belt and know the basic treatments and do most of my own vetting thanks to the vets I had out West.

Would I do the move again? I always find this question odd. It's like asking, "Would you be born again if I had a choice?" Hindsight is 20/20. I would do it again, but I wouldn't want to, and I would do a couple things differently. It was hard leaving my farm. That farm was my dream, a dream I'd had since my first encounter with my Uncle's farm in North Dakota. I write about that dream in "Donkey Dream". But it was not a question of should we leave or not. I felt we had to leave. I felt compelled to move, as fast as we could really, and I felt it had to be Maine. I will live by that and swear by that. There were invisible reasons we had to get out of there at that moment, and get here at this moment. I just went with that, i believed and let that internally. Martyn is so happy here. I knew his work schedule was killing him back West. Mistakes were being made too that were effecting our finances, he was just...spent. He gets up at 5:30 now and goes to work 15 minutes away, for a small landscape company. He is treated well and works with a great boss and crew. He has no ego about not having his own company, or not being the boss. He works on beautiful ocean properties and doesn't have to think about the logistics of the job, he just shows up and does what he loves-landscaping. He doesn't have to worry about billing. And I know exactly what money is coming in and it's easier on me too. It feels much more manageable.

When I had my riding accident last year, I asked Martyn, "Would you stay in Maine if I died?". He didn't hesitate, he said, really in a positive happy tone, "Oh yea, I love it here."

Martyn gave us so much over the years, and still does. I think more than anything, I love Maine because Martyn does. He deserves so much.

And I have people here, and creatures, I love now. I love them. I wouldn't want to have not met them, including my elder friends, and including M'Lady.