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

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. All images are ©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

In the flow...new work

"Moth out of fog over the peonies" 48"
Summer is usually not a good creative month for me with painting...there is the garden to tend, vegetables to grow, pastures to maintain...and...well, the flies and heat. Maine is much more tolerable than out West [except for the bugs here] and we usually don't have days in a row of heat or humidity. And I do have an AC unit. So I was asked to get some new canvases going and it inspired me. I haven't worked on big pieces for awhile. My studio is so small making it hard but I'm really enjoying these.

I plan to have 5 more or so done by end of July if all keeps flowing like it has been.

The second piece might go on the shop if you are interested.

"Dragonflies over daisy field" 14" on wood

Work in process 4*" canvas

Monday, June 29, 2020

The gift of the 103 year old...the most meaningful of gifts

The birthday boy shows his pony bells through the window
There was a very special birthday gathering at Chase Point this week. One of the residents, David  turned 103 years old with his daughters and family members gathered outside a large picture window as David sat inside, looking out. Due to the restrictions and CDC guidelines due to the COVID 19 virus even family members can not visit inside.

But the birthday boy had another special guest–Harry the llama.

David loves animals and back when he was 101 he first visited Apifera Farm where he met all the animals including the llamas. He was able to visit again when he was 102. But this year, due to the virus everyone is in lockdown. When I heard David’s birthday was coming up, I immediately wanted to bring Harry to the gathering and contacted David’s daughter  to confirm a Llama Birthday Window Walk with Harry.

I was going to try to do a daisy chain for his neck, but opted to decorate him in bells [these were gifted to us last year by a follower who had collected them during her many travels.] Now I realize picking the bells was one of those divine moments.

When David saw Harry’s bells he was delighted. He started to talk about the pony bells he had hanging in his room. It’s hard to hear through the window,  but the staff translated, and his daughter explained to me how he loved his pony bells. The staff went to his room and brought the pony bells down so everyone could see them through the window. David had found them long ago in his travels to India and where ever he lived he always took his pony bells. Then he asked the staff to take them outside so I could see them closer, and I was thrilled to ring them and show Harry. Through it all, David sat inside smiling through the window watching his favorite pony bells being rung. Minutes later, another staff person came out and said David wanted me and Harry to have the bells.

Verklempt moment.

I just welled up with tears, I looked at him through the window and patted my heart with my hand, and he mimicked me. It was probably the most caring, beautiful and most meaningful gift I have ever received.

As Harry and I  left with our new special bells, the family was able to visit more with David outside, under social distance guidelines. There were no hugs allowed or birthday cake, but there were smiles from David.

My birthday wish for David is he gets to be with his family up close...soon...very soon. And when we all get through this lock down, I want to get David out to the farm, and we will ring those bells.

And a postscript...It had slipped my mind...but this was also Birdie's birthday. I know she was present. She probably helped me find Harry.

Harry looks in at the birthday boy

David meeting Birdie the llama when he was 101
Katherine wearing the pony bells with honor

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What should we name her? And Opie's special request.

Joliet and Auntie Bea the elders, and the baby
We brought home three more goats. Two are elders and I treated myself to one of the available babies. I like to balance out elders with youth, just like it should be in life [and I wish our elder care system in USA was more like in Europe where nursery's are housed near or within elder homes]. I am expecting some losses this year, hard losses. I don't tell you everything...that is a burdone I don't think you need. But I wanted a youngster to add to my mix....selfishly for me. So there.

But I haven't named her. It takes time sometimes, but I do need a name. She is active, pretty fearless but not a boss mare type [yet]. She is joyful. She is a delight to watch romp and twist and I'm soaking in those moments since they don't last. I hope Opie will play with her. he is surrounded by elders and I also thought a young girl would give him some fun in coming months and years. I picked her because I loved her markings. In show world-something I am not opposed to but never had any feelings towards- I am told that due to the fact her 'belly band' is not what it should be she would get marks against her. But I love it, especially now as we face, as a nation, a crucial time in understanding our black brothers and sisters and all people of color. It should be equal, like her little body of black and white, but it isn't...yet.

And then the elder two. Well, the black one came with the name Joliet and I like that. Joliet is so sweet. She had to be nursed back to health due to rotten teeth and that is why she is quite personable. In fact on arrival, she kept by my side as introduction were made, and still does. She is not a bossy girl at all. I like her already.

The buff elder came with a name I can't even remember but did not resonate [no offense to the past names, I just feel an animal takes on a new life and for me the naming is or can be symbolic of that if needed.] This old girl bred out babies her entire 10 years. That's a lot of work for a little body like that so she gets a nice retirement now. I had picked out the name June, sine it is that month.

But then Opie came to me, quietly, away from the earshot of the others.

"Mrs. Dunn," he said, " I was thinking."

This felt like another Andy of Mayberry moment [he is named after Opie in case you missed that].

"I know this is my herd family here. But I did come from a mom. And she had a sister. Since I'm the littlest one here, and the youngest, sometimes I wish I had my mom and Auntie around," he said.

"I know that feeling, Opie," I said.

"Really? I was wondering if we could call June something else...like Mom, or Auntie?" Opie asked.

I thought for seconds. Years ago we had an old goat that fell ill, I loved her a lot, and we tried in vain to save her over a month long bought,  and she fought so hard. I had named her Aunt Bea.

"How about we name her Auntie Bea?" I asked.

"Okay!" said Opie and he ran off to the barn.

I turned to go back to the house and aw the new arrivals out in the orchard, and Opie was running up to who had once been June and he said,

"Mrs. Dunn says you can be my Auntie Bea!"

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Wrong Side of the Fence {A philosophical discussion between goats}

Cheese on the right side of the fence
“Out of there, right now!” I said as I came out of the barn to find Opie and Cheese, two stout pygmy goats, with their heads squeezed into the garden fence.

“My head is stuck!” said Cheese.

“Like Pooh!” said little Opie.

I pulled Cheese with gentle force and he popped back out.

“You have all that grass and clover out there, you don’t need to eat my garden,” I said.

“I have clover for breakfast, and grass for lunch–I like daisies for an afternoon snack,” Cheese said.

“The daisies are on the wrong side of the fence,” I said as I huffed back into the barn.

I was working for the next hour in the barn loft and I kept my ears open for any suspect behavior below.

“She sure gets grumpy about her daisies,” said Cheese.

Just then Ollie bounded in and said, “DAISIES?! Where?”

“You can’t have any, they are on the wrong side of the fence. We are on this side, and the daisies are on the other side,” said Cheese.

I came down from the loft just in time to partake in this philosophical discussion.

“How do you know what side of the fence is wrong, or right?” asked Opie.

Just then Earnest the pig sauntered into the conversation.

“We are on the right side. Whatever side we are on, is right, or we would not choose to be here,” the pig said. “Therefore, the daises are actually the ones on the wrong side and can be eaten,” and he left to take his usual afternoon nap.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Let me put it another way– you are not allowed to eat anything past the fence, period. That’s my garden and my flowers.”

“You can’t own the flowers,” said Opie. “they are of Earth, they feed the bees too.”

“Which is why you should not eat them,” I said.

“I have many bee friends,” said Opie.

I walked through the garden gate to go back to the house, and cut some of the daisies closest to the fence so the goats wouldn’t eat them.

“My God, you wacked there legs off!” cried Opie.

“I am making myself a bouquet, to enjoy in the house. It brings Nature inside and makes everything better, it makes me happy,” I said. As I shut the door, I heard Cheese say,

“Cutting the flowers makes her happy, but we can’t eat them, makes no sense really.”

A few hours later, I stepped out of the house, and could hear little feet scurrying away, rapidly. It was Opie, running out of the garden. At my feet on the stoop was a haphazard little bouquet of daisies and buttercups.

“I want you to be happy!” said little Opie as he ran for the barn.

How did they get the latch open, I wondered. And then I saw Cheese pushing an old apple crate from the garden gate.

I sniffed my bouquet and was happy.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

If you aren't afraid of where you came from then fear not where you go after death

Muddy yesterday morning
I've written about a friend who was diagnosed with ALS, a very cruel disease. She shared a thought she had read by Parker Palmer about dying, from his book On the Brink of Everything. He didn't fear where he came from before he was born born so he realized he should not have fear where he was going after he died.

I thought this was a very wise statement and made much sense to me. It also resonates with me because it shows the continuum of life-but that life is entwined with a million deaths and rebirths. We are constantly dying–our skin, our hair, teeth and bones....we walk around living but are dying passively. The flowers in the garden are alive now but are on the path of death. If we can see death as a partner in life -for me, it helps.

But goodbyes as a human are hard.

We ran to the vet on Friday for more pain meds for Muddy who has been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer at the age of 10.5. So we have been ruminating on how many more days is the right number of days for him. We are of course hanging on to each day, but it is exhausting carrying the power around of being the one that holds his final number of days in my hands.

I've done this long enough to know that things can seem manageable in pain and pallitive care one day and then the next day they aren't–and that creates a rushed, less peaceful end for both human and animal. There is nothing we are doing that is treating the cancer we are simply hoping for painless days. But on Friday he showed signs of more pain, and we added another pain pill into the mix. It seemed to help a lot.

But we are still left with the duty of asking, and answering how many days? What is one more week for him–is one more week for him as important to him as it is to us?

And so...I thought of this statement that my friend shared. She too is facing an earlier death than she had imagined due to the ALS. But if I don't fear where Muddy was before his birth, I won't fear where he is going.

Muddy and Bear yesterday

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

The gardens of a landscaper combined with a weed caretaker

There really is no flower called a 'weed'. A weed is simply a category to lump a whole bunch of beautiful natural growing specimens into a negative label.

When I got together with Martyn, I had started my garden on my own in Portland. He lived next door, we met and began seeing each other, but more than that we began the first of our three gardens. Each one is better than the next, each one I've cried when we had to leave but then the next garden is born and I wouldn't go back to the last one if I had to leave the present one.

Back to weeds. When we started our combined gardens, I learned a lot from Martyn. He is after all a horticulturist by education, and had landscaped professionally since he was a young guy. There were so many new plants to grow in Oregon, versus my homeland of Minnesota where I had left to live in Portland. MArtyn would spurt out the Latin names. He still does this. I found it endearing then and still do.

We had to learn to mix our gardening styles. I like prarie free flowing gardens. I don't like things lined up in rows and then little plants in the front. And I love to add in what most consider weeds-buttercup in spring, Queen Anne's LAce mixed in everywhere, and clover. I introduced a really beautiful buckwhaet this year by mistake-oh the color! But I pulled it, knowing it would take over.

Martyn has learned to leave my weeds, or make 'suggestions'. He knows he must never, ever touch my Queen Anne's Lace. He has even become fond of my knack for growing clover as it is so lovely right now, but I've learned to pull it earlier than I use too.

Martyn is pretty much in control of the front gardens, except for my hollyhock grove and coneflower area. He does whatever he wants in his garden and I don't interfere, I just admire it and ask questions. About this time of June he can get a bit bossy about my weeds. Yesterday I found him in my weediest area, laced with clover and Queen Anne's Lace, and he was pulling stuff from the ground. Not so fast Charlie. In fairness, it was a heavy rooted grass, so I forgave him.

Everything is popping, each day something changes. We noticed last night how the little daisies -all planted from seeds and transplants from the fields- are so sweet and pretty even though they have not quite opened becasue they look like little white lights at dusk. The peonies -oh I can't wait, salivating to see them.

Having a garden together is probably one of the most fun things we do as a team, and enjoyable. We never consider it work. It rewards us in so many ways.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The long goodbye...but what a gift

Muddy and Bear, yesterday
At a routine vet visit on Tuesday, I found out the Muddy has terminal bone cancer. I had him to the vet to see about getting stronger arthritis meds for him, but the vet immediately looked at his new bump on his front leg elbow, which had come on about 3 weeks ago, and wanted to do an xray, and I assumed it was all arthritis related since that was his gimpy leg. I knew by his face when he came out with the xray.

The option of putting a near eleven year old dog in surgery and removing his entire front leg right up to the shoulder and then doing chemo, all to get him another 6 months [some live a year or so]...well, I didn't even question it, I was not putting him through that. The vet agreed. I know there are examples of pets making it another year or more, but I want quality not quantity for him.

I'm heartbroken. And shocked. Just envisioned another couple years of Gramps and his puppy friend.

I asked my vet if it was his dog [he has a lab] would he put him down right now? "No, take him home and let him live his days out...but you guys have to prepare yourselves."

He said it could be a week or weeks or maybe a couple months. He didn't seem to feel it would be a year. He said that in most cases [most] when the lump is visible it already means the cancer has spread, and the next organ effected will be his lungs.

I've never brought a dog home to live out the final days or weeks. They have always failed and needed to be put down for one reason or another. I have never had the uneasy feeling of waking up each day and looking in the big brown eyes and knowing what I know..."You my friend, are dying."

Its like one long goodbye without an end.

I remember when my father was in home hospice. He started hospice in January. He died in late March. Leading up to the final days, I remember my mother -who I talked to every day- saying,

"It's time."

It was time for him, but also time for her.

I think in my experience when I know an animal is failing, and I keep trying to help if at all possible, there is a point of clarity that you have done all you can do. The animal has probably let go, and it is time for you to let go.

If I see anything compromising, I will act. Any breathing problems, any signs of depression...for now, I love on him double. Muddy always comes into my room after Martyn leaves at 6:30. He makes these sweet talking sounds, always has. I smoosh him, his chocolate ears are so soft. I tell him I love him, he knows. Then he follows me into the bathroom, more talks...and on and on. At night we help him onto the couch, he can still do it but he's getting the royal treatment.

He still is eager to get up. He still loves his baby bro. He still can be Muddy.

When he can't be Muddy, he will cease to be himself.

But it is a long goodbye.

Just as I feel Bear came to me to help John, the elder gentlemen who got to be Bear's first and favorite therapy contact at the elder home [he died in March], I too think Bear came for me, for us, not only to be a transition after Mud's death, but as a transition for Muddy. When Huck died at age 12, we had only been in Maine less than a year, we still had a younger Muddy who then was only 6. Muddy was vibrant and alive, and even though they were blood brothers and it was hard to lose Huck, Muddy helped. He played, and cared for old blind Hughie. In a very short time, Muddy took on the role of elder. He seemed to age overnight, about a year ago, his face greying earlier than Huck's did. Now I wonder if he had the cancer even then. He couldn't do his moves with his frisbee, and now plays tug of war instead of running. He sleeps a lot.

It also does not go without noticing that about a month or so ago, we noticed that The Goose was pecking and preening Muddy's feet and legs. I thought it was The Goose noticing the arthritis, but now I think he could sense the cancer, or at least the pain it must give Muddy. The Goose is after all our resident intuit.

Long goodbyes are especially exhausting, for everybody. They are limbo land. But, if you told me I could have had another month or so with Hughie to ease into a goodbye, I would have taken it.

This is a gift.  Even though we new Muddy would not live forever, the knowledge that his days are shorter than we thought means each day is like a new theatrical play you have been waiting to see forever come to the stage. Each day, he will show up and I will watch him like he's Marlon Brando performing at his peak. Standing ovations each night.

So I will relish, although with a lot of sadness, this long goodbye....with my beautiful chocolate boy. And he has taught Bear a thing or two. And Bear will stay on ...and run and jump and do all the things we have watched first Huck, then Mud, do. The chocolate legacy.

The Goose is a fine tuned sensing machine-we take him seriously

Sunday, May 31, 2020

What would you notice...if you couldn't move

I was sitting one night listening to music, looking out the window into the front garden. It is where I usually sit on cooler nights, or in winter, near the fire. I can move my position to see something that intrigues me, a bird maybe, a new flower blooming or the animals in the outer field.

I can't remember what song I was listening to, or who the singer was, but it put me in a certain frame of mind, and I took this photo. I remember thinking that if I was bedridden and could not move, but I had a window, would I notice things with the same wonderment as when I am free to move around?

The reflection of the spring trees were in the window pane as the sun was setting on them, it was really vibrant.

But if I was incapacitated, unfree to move or even ask for someone to help me, would I see this sight and be grateful, and enjoy it, even for minutes, or would that be the complete end of any joy?

Do we reach a point in our life where silence and sleep are more appealing, or a long adventure to who knows where seems more understandable and the right thing to go towards?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Busy as bees

Harry and The Haircut
My blog is where I now choose to write more lengthy ponderings. I seem to be much more prone to being a photographer right now, but I still have many thoughts. I find that I have less inclination to share them all to the public or followers. Maybe I've been doing this long enough that it seems I say,

Who wants to hear all this anyway?

I am definitely in some kind of grand shifting. I suppose being 62 does that.

So I tend to come here on the blog with things of more depth or pondering, and Instagram is everyday, and that is then shared on FB.

I'm just popping in to say I do have some things to write about, but May is a very busy month on the farm-getting the vegetable garden up and going which means getting the watering system working well, llama haircuts, sheep haircuts, spring shots, the perennial beds and we also have the new Healing Hut or whatever it is I will officially call it-photos soon as it develops more, it just arrived and I love it.

Arlo's poof needs some layering

Friday, May 22, 2020

Listen in on another animal discussion...I always learn something

Harry looks across the bay to Damariscotta that he was about to visit
{I write a monthly article "Tails & Tales for the Lincoln County News, this is the latest....enjoy}

“What did you see this time, Harry?!” asked little Opie, very excited, as Harry the llama and I returned form our outing.

“Many things of interest,” Harry said. “Many things. Some beautiful, some strange.”

Harry and I had just returned from one of our Window Walks to a nearby retirement home where we go regularly. Because of the The Covid virus, we can’t go inside, or be near the elders or staff, so I came up with the idea to do Window Walks. It gives everyone a smile even though we wish we could all be outside together.

But on our way home, I stopped in our little village of Damariscotta with Harry. I wanted him to hear and see new things, it would be good for his therapy training. The minute we stepped out of the parking lot, people of all ages were flocking to Harry. Shop keepers were coming out of stores to take his picture, cars were pulling over and windows were being rolled down so children could pet Harry. Even our gas station guys had to meet Harry.

“Did you get take out at Eider’s?” asked Earnest the pig.

“No, Earnest, I’m afraid not, maybe next time,” I said.

Earnest walked slowly back to his hut, head down like Eeyore, muttering, “I really would have enjoyed a grilled cheese and cucumber sandwich again.”

I let Harry into the paddock, and the donkeys and horses all gathered around him in a circle. I proceeded to do night time cleanup, but kept my ears wide open to the ongoing conversation.

“Tell us everything, Harry,” said Captain Sparkle.

And they all closed their eyes tightly, and listened to Harry as he described in detail all that he witnessed.

“There was an ice cream shop. They put ice cream in mobile little things and people walk about and lick them as they walk. Very odd, to see creatures eating and walking. There were signs everywhere! And lights that blinked. It’s not like here, the roads are black with yellow drawings on them, and the cars go both ways. All the windows have pretty things in them. I saw lots of beautiful children and they all touched me and looked at me like I was a God of some sort. And did you know that people buy little statues of lobsters and put them in their garden?  Very perplexing.”

Paco the poet donkey opened his eyes and asked, “When you were amongst the buildings, could you still see the sky?”

“Oh yes, but it felt lower, and more cramped,” Harry said.

“I would like to talk more about the walking ice cream,” said the Teapot, the resident creature with a bit of a weight problem.

I was done with my chores and started to close up the barn. As I left, I heard Harry say,

“I have no idea what makes me so attractive to the humans. I’m just a llama,” he said.

“I bet it’s your haircut,” said The Teapot.

Monday, May 18, 2020

It's Harry again, I can't help myself

We started our outing at Lincoln Home to see our elder friends
I can't get enough of Harry. We went to Lincoln Home elder residence which sits right across the bay from the village of Damariscotta, our go-to town. I had been wanting to do an impromptu walk with Harry through the village, for training but also for fun. And oh it was fun! Every shop or business owner came running out to take photos, cars pulled over, it was so fun, and so joyful for all of us. It was sort of like our own private parade. I think I will do it again.

I am trying to work in studio, and I am, sort of, in mini spurts, but am finding the warm weather, garden, Harry and all of the glories of spring are keeping me out of focus with art. i always have to stop and remember how creative my life with the animals is, as I'm always thinking and recreating things, and the garden too is like a giant painting to birth. I'm actually doing soem needle work. I just sort of feel a shift coming one, it is both unsettling and a glorious mystery...or maybe just a phase.

Octavia was pretty excited, she forgot to put her mask on, but that is ok

Harry made it on Eider's page. He's a star now.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Me and Harry...a surprise relationship...and we want the elders to have emotional healing too

A year ago, we lost our beloved Birdie, a natural healer who had just begun her therapy work with me. I knew I'd never replace her, but set out to bring more llamas to Apifera. First came Arlo the youth and old Luna. Then I was to get a baby girl with her very old mother [I agreed to take on the elder] but the baby died before getting here.

And then, I remembered a beautiful white llama named Harry who I had found in my early searches, but decided to keep looking.

I'm so glad I returned to him and brought him to Apifera. I kind of had a hunch about him and possible therapy work. But I was really focusing on training Arlo. So, it was one of those universal surprises...the universe stepped in and helped me out with my hunch while I was running around finding llamas, Harry was waiting for me.

As Harry got used to Apifera, and me, I took a leap and tried him on a window walk. The first thing I had to do was let go of the idea that he was going to be like Birdie. he is not, and it took him a couple months or more to accept my neck rubs. On his first therapy visit, it was clear from the get go he was pleased, and he listened to my commands, and was calm. He seems to really understand he is there for a reason, something all good therapy animals get. He is on the job but not being forced to do anything he doesn't want to. Opie is the same way, he knows when his halter goes on it's show time. Not every animal, or person, will be like that so when I find one, it's a blessing.

SO Harry and I are bonding. This photo was taken by one of the staff yesterday, she told Harry to smile and he literally leaned into me! So sweet, I like to think it was on purpose.

Yesterday we visited Cove's Edge again. I'm getting more and more impatient with things. So are they. Cooped up, no family visits. I just feel we have got to get testing to a point so these people can have emotional well being as well as safety from the virus. I understand the concern, I really do, and am not criticizing the current lockdown, but what quality of life is it if they can't touch, feel, and sit by loved ones.I don't think I'll be able to resume normal therapy work inside or even in the garden in the coming months, maybe mid summer, but so far it is not going to happen except for window walks, at least at this facility.

We are not allowed in of course, we walk by the windows. Sometimes they have their windows open, it is so hot in there. Yesterday my contact was scolded for allowing the windows to be open with Harry outside, and me in a mask. I thought that was a bit much, but I will do what I'm told.

With the windows shut, I can't hear the residents, and they can't hear me. I can't really see in either, but they can see out which is the most important thing. But I feel our conversations are as important as the seeing Harry. Some of the residents are sharper than others and they want to talk. It makes me very sad I won't be able to have long talks if the windows are shut...but Harry and I will do what we need to do and what is required by the current rules.

So my wonderful contact there suggested we try Facetime with Harry for some of the residents. We tried it and it is not the same, but, it works and we will continue to use Facetime in some situations. We also are going to try Facetime with the other animals here at the farm. I am not that familiar with it but this way Bear, and Opie and the others can beam in to the Cove. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

One doesn't fear the seasons, don't fear death

Luna one of the elder llamas
I think a lot about death, not in a morbid way, but in a curious way. I have said it many times, I am not afraid of death. In fact the last thing I want is to live too long. I always felt like 78 to 82 is a good time. I know, it's not my place to pick the number, but if you gave me the choice of living until 85, in assisted living or unable to be with the animals or Martyn, or dying at 78 on the farm, I'd take the latter.

I think because I have been so entwined with Nature much of my life I have looked at death like you might look at a season. Most people don't dread seasons, but many dread death.

I have a friend who is in her early seventies and was diagnosed with ALS last year. It stinks. To see her lose her ability to use her arms, drive, have strength to do simple things like pick up a book on the floor-it is hard to know she is going through it. But she is stoic and practical and a hero in my eyes the way she is dealing with it. I think when one is confronted with something like that-a disease or illness that is going to pretty much be the way you will die-it is different. In some ways, knowing how you are going to die could be a liberating thing. Dying when you are not ready, to me, is like being at a great family party, and you're just not ready to go and you are enjoying the company and you want to see how the party plays out, you don't want to miss one song or toast.

So when I say I'm not afraid of death, I am aware there are many things that are worse than death, like suffering, like pain, like abandonment at an old age, like losing total independence, like losing your mind...like falling on a hike and being lost for weeks and not being found-what are those last days like?

I think of death as an experience. And a surprise really. I imagine, or I often ponder this, that if you are aware you are in your last moments, it must be really a surreal experience. I wish we could know what people are thinking at that moment. When you are born, someone is there to catch you, hold you-you are not alone. You are not alone in the womb either. But when you die, chances are you can't communicate what is happening, you are alone with your thoughts.

The latter is interesting. As someone who writes and shares story and feelings, knowing I won't be able to share the last moments in a story seems challenging and isolating. On the other hand, I was thinking that because you are alone in your thoughts when you die, it must also be a beautiful gift to the self.

People talk of a good death. A good death is important to me as I care take my animals. I always strive for it, or yearn for it, and I'm always questioning if an animal needs to be helped on, or not. A good death is not always a perfect death. We are presented with things in life that might effect our death. But a good death I think must include awareness that is an experience of the self and soul.

It is something nobody can take from you-your own individual death.

When I watch Luna get older and older, she arrive here old and is now 22 or so, I want her to have a good death. I think Aldo had a good death, up on his hill. I hope for this for Luna. I don't tell her this, but I look in her eyes more of late and tell her that way, that I'm here and I will properly care for her body. To die under the old apple tree, that would be a good death for her. And it will be her experience.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The old llama...is it her final spring?

Old Luna sits under M'Lady Apple this morning
In the past weeks I've felt a shift in Luna. She is not holding her weight well despite eating supplement to her hay. I've fed her more than any elder llama I've had and I think when she is sheered in coming weeks she will be pretty thin. I check her ribs and such, but when winter coats are taken off it shows reality.

More than that, she has been up and down more which can be a sign of fading. She has fallen pasterns so it probably could be part of it. But she is also separating herself a bit more than normal from her current herd. Usually she kind of sticks close to Luci when they graze-and let's face it, Luci isn't exactly Miss Congeniality.

I like Luna. She is not an overly friendly llama, but she is not unfriendly, she is not as feral as Luci. Luci is just sort of a pill. She just doesn't seem to warm up despite my intentions. And she is very bossy with Luna. Luci is the old llama that was bred, and I was to take her and the baby. But the baby died at about 2 months old, it was very sad. But I agreed to take on old Luci so Luna would have a herd mate since Arlo had to be separated.

So I know how this can go with llamas...we went through it with Aldo, our first elder llama out west who came to us very thin, and he was already 20. The vet said not to expect him to live that long. I think he lived another year and half. But one day, he died, far up on his favorite lookout. He was legs up when Martyn drove off to work that morning, and the yellow jackets had already devoured his entire head. I'm sorry, but that is the reality of having animals. It's not all pretty Instagram photos. In some ways, in most ways, the fact he died up on his lookout, his head close to the sky, was beautiful for him...it was beautiful for him. But I had to get help to drag the body down about 3,000 feet. It was about hundred degrees that day, the yellow jackets were everywhere...I was trying to save his skull as we dragged the body.

I'm telling you all this because when you do this sanctuary gig, you have to be part of all aspects, not just the fun part of bringing home an animal. You have to think all the time about demise and burial or what paddock is best for an elder. Sometimes you guess wrong.

I was thinking of letting the sheep and Luna and Luci go into the far field. But then I already was thinking if she went down in that field, it would be hard to get her body up. It's still very wet there anyway. And to be honest, Luna does a lot of laying about as in this photo so i think shade and warmth and water are her choices she wants right now.

Luna has really beautiful eyes, and when I came out to the barn late morning to work on some fencing, she was alone in the shade of the barn. She didn't get up. I talked to her.

I always look for her now when I'm out and about in the field or gardens. I know what it looks like when a llama is down, and gone.

I may be wrong. But whenever she goes, I hope it is peaceful and maybe under the old apple.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Styes, oh why, I know why

In the past couple years, ever since my riding accident I seem to develop styes in my right eye. Sometimes they are worse than others, sometimes months go by without one, sometimes they are not very bothersome, sometimes they are. I'm convinced they began after I went to this eye doctor near by, I will not name the person, and I mentioned I had some floaters. She began to do this 'procedure' on me, without even telling me what it was all about, but it was like she was putting spoons up under my eyelids. It was painful and uncomfortable, and at one point I thought I have to get out of here.

{When I got home I researched what she had done 'scleral depression' and it simply was not needed with my eye history or 'symtoms' I came in with. I think she just wanted to try it out.}

But it got worse, when, she poked me in the eye with this blunt but pointy object! The she proceeded to tell me she would look at that eye again to make sure she 'hadn't damaged it". She proceeded to tell me I had a tear in my retina-something I'm well versed on the seriousness of-and that she could do surgery right then and there. I said, "No, I need a second opinion."

What I should have said was,

You just poked me in the eye and you want to do surgery on me?

I proceeded to get the heck out of there, and went down to Portland to a reputable long time eye care clinic. There was no retinal tear or issue. Without mentioning the doctor, I asked them about the draconian procedure I'd been put through, and wondered if there was any need for it with my floats and eye history-there wasn't. And these guys are specialists.

Ever since her draconian procedure, I have had issues. I thought of writing a letter of complaint. I've never sued anybody but I thought what she did was not only unnecessary, it was botched. And at least she should have explained what the heck she was going to do. Nor did I write a public review online anywhere, the latter is not something I think is always fair or good. She tried calling me twice, and I never answered her calls. But she never billed me. Wise move.

For almost a year it was like my eyeballs would ache. To this day, I can 'feel' my eyeballs at times but the aching is pretty much gone or only comes intermittently when I rub them. It might be unrelated, but I continue to believe her poor experience -she was only in practice for two years- was the reason.

And, soon after, I began to get styes which of course is a virus but I 've always wondered about the utensils, and the poke in the eye if that was part of it. I've noticed her name is no longer on the door of that eye clinic but I haven't looked to see if she was still somewhere practicing.

So I was talking to Martyn last night about it, and he said that stye rhymes with eye, die, tie, and why. We both thought of Paco the Poet. But I decided not to tell him to write a poem about it, because he is so sensitive.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The old horse

Old Honey gets a brushing during shedding season
I had put weight on old Honey after her arrival last October and was feeling good about that. But around February I could see her weight was down. We did a Cushings test last week when the vet came and I suspect she has it. If not, I think we will just see how she does with some changes to her diet. I thought I was giving her enough-she has bad teeth, many were pulled on her arrival-so I had added soaked alfalfa pellets in her feed for fat. It seemed to be working until it wasn't. The vet had me up her intake by another 2#.

I don't know how long we will be able to keep her going. We know she is at least 28 but we suspect she might be over 30. I will not put her through another winter if we can't get weight on her. I also notice some muscle wasting. It can be a very hard call to put an equine down. I know the last owner struggled with it, which is why she is here-they were older and had medical issues, but the owner felt Honey still had some life in her and felt she couldn't do it-it was eating her up. When I met Honey, I agreed she had some life and took her on. She is a sweet girl, she isn't any trouble and she talks in little whinnies which is sweet.

She is here and safe in the herd and enjoying sun and warmer weather. She loves to be brushed this time of year, as you can see it is shedding season.

One of the reasons for the current Spring Fundrasier is to gather funds to cover the $1300 vet bill of last week, plus more funds for future teeth work we will do on the equines. Thank you to everyone who has helped. Three of my art prints will be given away too. You can always donate here too on the blog and I will add your name into the bucket for the print give away.

The Fundraiser ends May 15.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Her name is Fuzzy but she is not a wuzzy

Fuzzy, a new arrival, is 18
My contact at the shelter asked if we had room for this sweet old lady, Fuzzy. She had been lingering at the rescue because she is old, but also because she has a cauliflower growth on her ear and a bleeding cyst on top of that.

She is the sweetest little thing and despite her grumpy look she is a lady. Although you can tell when she is a bit low if the cyst flares up. I've been holding her and she is doing fine.

It is rewarding to take an elder in that lost his or her elder human. It is what we humans all hope for when we die-that our loved ones and animals will be cared for. I like to think that the people who pass know...I will believe they do, as I hope I will when my time comes.

The world continues on in its madness and the farm keeps on going day by day, watching spring so slow this year, it seems. But everything is a bit off kilter, for everyone I guess. I have not really had the focus on the blog to write intelligently about any of it. I sort of feel like I have lead shoes on some days.

But I can not complain, I have work outside, and inside, and while money is not flowing in we are not desparate like many find themselves...who knows what the future holds. I worry that the tourists will come into our villages...too soon...and puts us all back months. I feel for everyone especially those unable to see loved ones, or hold the hand of the sick or dying. So many stories out there-the graduating seniors of high school and college that had their final months together at school taken away. It's not the saddest thing of course, but I feel sad for them, that is an age of great emotion and of a time where intense friendships are formed.

I really hope I can resume my animal therapy sooner than later, not only–selfishly–for me, but for the elders who have been cooped up so long.

And so, bringing on another old cat is rewarding and comforting for me, especially now. I feel useful and I feel like it is a step forward in my passion and life's work. I've really waited my entire life to have my passion for animal and elder and art and writing all mesh, and here it is, and I am grateful. It could be gone in a heartbeat, and I cherish each day, each new photograph before my eyes. Each day with Martyn is a blessing too.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Harry keeps walkin'

I was asked if Harry could do a Window Walk at Lincoln Home and after consulting Harry we obliged. They have really long windows, and no screen so we were able to see in well too. Harry had to figure out the refection and of course he's no dummy, but it did occur to him that there was a really handsome llama looking at him. He touched the glass and figured it out.

And Harry got his first look at the cove, and the little village across the bay.

Harry is proving to be a real trouper. He does everything I ask of him, calmly. He is just a wonderful Love Llama. We will see how he interacts with people when there isn't a window between him and them.

I want to take Harry into the village and just walk hm around, before we are all out of lock down. It will be a good experience for him. I don't think there is a law you can't walk your llama in town, so hopefully we won't get arrested. but if I have to get arrested, I'd be proud to do it with Harry.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Hands reaching out a window-the tradgedy of Covid

I had a really wonderful, engaging visit with Harry at the Cove on Friday. It was a truly special visit. I was told that there would be hearts in the windows of the residents who wanted a Window Visit and when I got there I became teary eyed when I saw all the hearts. It was wonderful My contacts are inside and they go room to room, and then I follow the hearts, it works great.

On top of that, they all had their Harry buttons on. Oh so sweet!

The staff also gets so much out of these visits. I am so happy I can share llama love with them especially in these times.

I think it is so hard especially on elders who already face challenges of isolation and fear of dying alone or unremembered. My goal is to always make them know I remember, even if with the dementia people it might be a fleeting thought to them.

I know how much the visits mean, and it makes my role all the more rewarding.

I just feel like we have to come up with a better way to deal with this for the elders, and patients in hospitals. I do not have the answers, but I do know without tests we will get nowhere safer than where we are.

To see the hands coming out the window, wanting to touch Harry. Wanting to touch. To touch– such a human need, to be touched, to touch. I do not of course touch anyone on visits, and to be clear, nobody could touch Harry at this point. The windows are opened so some residents can get a better look. I have a hard time seeing in due to the screens, but with the open window we can all talk back and forth, from our usual 6+ feet, with masks.

"I love you, Harry," old Sunny yells out to me. And then a resident tells me she has not seen her husband in 4 weeks [I think longer to be honest]. I try to be optimistic, but realistic with them. I don't lie, I don't tell them they'll be outside tomorrow. But I do tell them it will end, and we will all be together outside.

"Cooped up like inmates," one gent said in humor. He was there for rehab and would be going home, which is wonderful.

My visits with Bear and Opie are on hiatus and that is hard. If you read the last post, you know Opie wants a parade when this is all over. I agree. With pot banging revelers too.

These elders have been through many challenges in their lives. They are not sissies. Old age is not for sissies. And as one elder friend added,

"Life is not for sissies."

Friday, April 17, 2020

Opie Misses Cove’s Edge {And the animals have a plan}

{This is my monthly column for Tales & Tails for our local Lincoln County News paper}

“What’s an optimist?” asked Opie the tiniest goat of the farm.

“An optimist makes your eyes clean!” said Ollie the goat.

“That’s an optometrist,” said Earnest the pig. “You’re an optimist when you see that the glass is half full, not half empty,” Earnest explained.

“What’s a glass?” asked Opie.

“It’s a people bucket,” said Henneth, the blind chicken.

“The point is, Opie, you have to look at the situation with optimism– someday you will be able to visit your elder friends again at Coves Edge,” Earnest said.

Just then Harry the llama walked into the conversation.

“I enjoy looking into their windows, they smile at me,” he said. Harry has been going to Cove’s Edge to walk by windows so the residents can see him and wave.

“I’m too short to walk by the windows,” said Opie sadly.

“You need a ladder like the one in the shed,” said Earnest the pig.

“That’s a great idea,” Opie said. And he scurried off to the main house. In minutes, he returned, forlorn.

“Boss lady won’t let me use the ladder,” Opie said.

“You can’t visit your elder friends right now, Opie, but maybe you can make a gift, and then when you do get to go back to Cove’s Edge, you can give it to them,” said Earnest the pig.

Opie thought for awhile.

“I know, we’ll have a parade!” said Opie.

“Fabulous idea!” said Earnest. “We’ll need a marching band!”

Ollie ran in with a stick and began twirling it. “I saw a girl doing this in a parade on TV. She had white boots and fringe on her shirt. I will need a costume,” and he ran off to the house.

I returned with Ollie to the barn to find that the animals already had a sign up sheet on the wall. Earnest had been nominated as Director, Producer and Location Logistics Manager. Henneth the blind chicken was in charge of instruments.

Old Friede came out, she was one of the elder, crippled goats. Friede is very quiet and shy.

“I would like to be a clown,” she said.

We all grew quiet because we were surprised Friede would even want to partake.

“You will be the most wonderful clown!” Earnest told Friede. “Will you be a happy clown, or a sad clown?”

“I will be sassy and laugh out loud and twirl and dance,” said Friede, “just like when I was young.”

“We need someone to lead the parade,” said Earnest.

And everyone looked up, to Harry the llama.

“I’d be honored,” said Harry.

By the end of the day, the donkeys had been chosen to take up the rear of the parade, the ponies would carry flowers to be tossed to onlookers, and The Goose was also asked to take care of crowd control.

“And Opie, what will you do in the parade?” I asked.

“I will run up to all the people and tell them I missed them and that it is a wonderful day,” said Opie.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Old men are just like old trees

When my father was in his final year, he was 82 and his heart made it inevitable he would not live much longer. I was living on the farm out West and I always thought of him when a storm would come through, breaking off branches of old trees, but the tree would usually make it another day. And i'd think of the tree as a soldier of life, battling so many wars, just like my father had.

And then one storm comes that the tree, and the man, can't withstand it.

So I thought of my father again, now twelve years since his death, when we had a heavy April snow on Thursday night, knocking out power for the region for days and damaging trees and power lines.

Our old lilac took a real beating and this old maple suffered, but is still standing. The tree is compromised, just like my father was. The tree had damage at some point to it's truck, making half of it precariously held together. The roots were most likely hurt when the barn was put in in 2005. My father was held precariously together too in the final couple of years, suffering from diabetes issues and heart related symptoms. He hurt. When hospice was brought in, he told my mother he wanted to wait to die until spring. Of course we don't get to make that choice, but my father was stubborn [I have inherited that] and he held on until the day after spring arrived.

Perhaps the trees ask for one more spring, to be in their glory before they fall, full of leaf, baby birds and flowers.

There are limbs now hanging, waiting to fall. And we are looking into taking the entire tree out since it is near the front barn, but the cost might be heavy. Meanwhile heavy rains fell all Monday, over an inch, and it was warm but so wet. The world just felt bleak for all sorts of reasons...I don't have to explain that to you, I'm sure. But Marcella went through all of it in her Grace Kelly pose.

But old trees, old men...they stand until they can't.