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

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©Katherine Dunn.

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