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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, July 31, 2020

When you lose a dog...explore the spaces that are left-that is where the healing and opportunity lies

Some followers are wondering out loud if Bear needs a new dog friend. Perhaps in time. But right now, it is my time to be with Bear. Bear and I were just beginning to evolve into what ever our partnership was meant to be, back last winter when he arrived as a pup. Then the virus took over everyone's life. I am so grateful Bear and I went out right away when he arrived and did therapy visits at Cove's. Our time their together was so important to us, and of course the memories of Bear and John and all the others is a warm spot for me. I've written before, there were times after the virus arrived when I wondered if Bear's main purpose at the time was to befriend John in his final months.

So, back to getting another dog–I expect someday there will be another dog. But right now, Bear and I are exploring the spaces created by Muddy's departure. After someone or something departs, we survivors have to feel the spaces, spaces that are both physical and emotional. It is often painful. But there comes a time in loss when one can see those spaces as opportunities for new encounters, new adventures, new friends...and yes, new dogs.

Bear had a lot of good training early on. He was a smart and calm pup when he went on therapy visits, everyone commented on that, and even I thought I had truly found a born healer. Once the virus took over, Bear was not out socializing with people, he was home with me and Mud, being a pup, a dog. And then at some point, Mud was diagnosed with terminal cancer with weeks or moths to live, so my focus shifted to Mud. While I didn't neglect Bear, I most certainly was heart pointed to Mud, and Bear knew it. So did Mud. I think Mud wanted me to be focused on Bear, so he could let go. At some point I discussed that with Mud, and told him not to worry, that Bear and I would rise again to do good work together.

If I went out and got a dog now, spaces would be filled for Bear, and me, by another dog. Bear and I need to fill the space first.

I've been doing a fun training game with him. Our old house is unusual in that, despite it being built in 1760, each room has two doors, so you can do a complete circle from room to room. So I make Bear sit and stay in a room, then I walk to the next room where he can't see me, and make him wait for my 'come'. It's sort of more like a game this way and is fun.

Bear still becomes the pup I brought home that day, the pup that clung to me with his front legs for many days if he was scared. Bear will still sometimes come to my side of the couch and try to get in my lap like he did as a pup. I tolerate it so long to show him comfort, then make him stop. He is learning to be outside for longer periods while I do chores inside. Initially after Mud died, he got scared. I mean he is only 6 months old.

Bear is allowed to do night chores in the front barn with me. It is is the barn that Marcella lives in and although she can't see Bear when he is in that barn, she knows he is there. Bear can not go in and out of the barn at free will, only if I am there. This is the first house dog I've allowed in a barn like that. Bear can also nose White Dog on the other side of the fence. He has goats, a goose, a Pickles, and he has me and Martyn. And he loves the house cats and often goes to sleep near them, or lick them.

So...that is the update. There are spaces to feel, and we are feeling them. So there will be no new dog for now. Unless, like I said, there comes a knock on the door and a blind one eyed pug with a suitcase shows up.

Monday, July 27, 2020

When animals leave me, total strangers leave too, but I'm still here

Muddy in descent
"Spitting in the wind comes back at you twice as hard"
Lou Reed

I always resonated with that qoute from Lou. It can be applied to many things we do in life, or others do. But it also reminds me of the process of grieving–don't ignore it, don't toss it out because you want to move on to joy again...or it will come back twice as hard.

Whenever I have a wave of animal death, and they always seem to come in threes, I notice I usually lose a smattering of followers on the Apifera FB page. I don't necessarily know who they are [ nor is it a concern for me], and I probably don't even know them in real life, but it seems to be a consistent action some people take. I post pictures of beauty and life, and that includes the curve of life, the depths of life which includes death, and grief. It is not only how I process any moment I feel I need to process, it is a document of my life here. That's all it is.

Years ago, I asked a follower I hardly knew, point blank, why she unfollowed. She was embarrased and I realized it is not a question I have to ask, nor do I anymore. It's her choice and I realized I put her in an uncomfortable place. But at the time, I was surprised, and she told me she just got attached to my animals and then they would die. And she couldn't take it and needed a break from it. She has every reason to caretake herself, and step away from what makes her sad, that is her duty to herself.

A break from the death of my animals...I suspect that is why some unfollow after a string of deaths at Apifera. I never get to step out of the grief part of the work here, and have never expected to. I've never thought to myself, I have to step away from this part of my life, this death part and I'm grateful that somehow I'm wired like this.

Don't take this to mean I never cry, or ask why to the sky. I do. But instead of trying to walk away from it, I just walk through it. I write about it, I take photos to process it.

Do you know one of the beautiful moments with Muddy when he died, was holding his beautiful head in my hands, my face pressed up into his chocolate velvet ears-the ears I kissed evey morning when he walked into the bedroom. I said 'bye'...and he released. I could feel it.

For me, to not participate in the death of my animals, is cheating them and me. I mean, why would I write about the joys of birth, or the joys of the arrival of Pickles, but hide everyone from when one of my old soldiers finally falls? For me the mystery of birth is right up there with the mystery of death. Our society is very good at cutting them right down the middle, which is why we have elder people shut up in buildings right now-nobody wants to deal with it.

It is sad to say goodbye. But my writings and photographs and art are entwined with both life and death. If only our society could be entertwined with both...our elder years would be very different.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Muddy leaves a hole but Bear and I shift

Bear and Mud the night before he died, constant mates
If you follow us on social media, you know of our hard loss yesterday, which we had planned for. Muddy was helped out of pain at one o'clock. I was grateful the vet agreed to come to our farm to do the procedure. We were able to hold him and I lay with him in the garden before and after.

I won't rehash the day. I documented it in earnest on Instagram, something I felt compelled to do, from the night before, to the morning of and then through the burial. I always say, for me, it is important to share the sad with the joy, it is the same balancing act we all face daily in our own lives, it is the human condition, it is Nature's law book. I had not told people what day we were going to put him down, so those that tuned in saw the lead up to the moment, through emotive images of Bear and Muddy. I think some or most had a sense of the buildup I was feeling on the death day. It was not a comfortable feeling and I was emotional much of the day. I tried not to be gushy in front of Muddy, but I shared a lot of things with him in the final week.

I really wasn't sure how Bear would respond once the burial was over and we returned to the house, without his buddy. He definatly knew Mud was gone, in the grave, he saw it and smelled it, he got it. Animals know. But sitting in the garden at night with us, he kept smelling the air. He sat by me most of the evening, in the house too. I know he was a bit aimless.

This morning, he was very quiet, rather than vocalizing at a certain point in his crate to 'Hurry up, I want to get up". He was fine, but he was less puppy-like-squirmy. We've been working on that. He also shifted his position on where he would lay down, and has been laying down nearest to whereever I am.

I told him this is our restart together as a team. We bonded from the moment we met, we really did. And we had our early training at Cove's Edge where he was just a super little therapy guy, calm, smart, fearless, quiet. I've been a bit short with him in the past couple months, since I was overprotecting harm to Mud and his bone. So now, we can work again together, we did some obedience work today and he was fine, he knows the commands, we will get that down quickly. He just needs to know I'm here.

The lead up to the event was worse than the finality of the burial. Yes, I miss him so much. But when I walked out this morning with Bear, I was relieved for Mud that he didn't have to limp out with me, put on his wagging tail face and feel the pain that we knew was only growing. We had two extra months with him and are grateful.

But there is a hole.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sir Tigger's big journey...sweet passage, old man

Sir Tigger as he begins his solo journey last night
Sir Tigger has died. He was 20+ years old.

Tigger was an important cat to me and I told him this often this week because I knew he was getting ready to go on his journey. He came to us from the shelter in 2016 and along with Anna and Yume were the first cats we adopted out of the shelter. He was important because when we arrived in Maine I was excited but was also mourning my old Oregon farm -having Tigger in the barn felt like home and he truly helped in my transition. He also looked like Big Tony who came with us from Oregon and went onto live another year. So after Big Tony died, Tigger also helped me.

Tig started failing this year and a couple days ago it was clear he was dying. He was in no distress and yesterday morning I held him and knew he was hardly there. I put him in a basket and checked on him all day. When I left him at dinner I said goodbye knowing he would be gone. He died shortly after from all indications.

Tigger came to us after his elder owner went to a home. He lived another 4+ years and had a peaceful passing. He was his own cat, never one for snuggles, but accepting scratches and a hug or two. In the end,, he was so tiny, he was like a wisp of his former self, like little old men you might see walking who barely have a waistline anymore. I am grateful he could die in his own terms-that is so him, to be on his own terms.

Sir Tigger last year

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Twinky Twinkles arrives

The new elder, Twinkles, on top, and Fuzzy on the bottom
We took on another elder into the elder cat suite and she is a dear. She is 18 and I'm told to consider this a hospice case. Twink was living her whole life with a couple, who grew older, but they had taken her to the vet right up to about 6 months from her arrival here. I can't go into detail, but there was some real drama and trauma in those last 6 months or more in her household with her people. The husband died, and the woman had to go into a facility.

It is believed she has stomach or intestine cancer which has been causing diarrhea, and she is on a steroid. I have not witnessed any, so let's hope. But no matter, we will take care of her. She is very lady like to get her pill so that is good.

I spoke to her on arrival and told her I knew there had been traumatic events in the house. Who knows what parts of those events she witnessed. But I wanted to acknowledge them.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Pickles, pickles and more

Here is the current column from my "Tails & Tales" which I write monthly for the Lincoln County News.

I was having a coffee break in the garden near the barn when I heard approaching hoof steps. I saw little Opie the goat peering between the picket fence at me.

“Mrs. Dunn! Mrs. Dunn! It’s Pickles, she’s stuck!” he said.

I took a breath, counted to three and headed to the barn where I found a bunch of small, wide bodied pygmy goats staring into a corner.

“Pickles, what have you done?” I asked as I pulled her stuck head out of an opening into the hay area.

“It’s another pickle for Pickles!” said Henneth the blind hen.

Pickles is a baby pygmy goat that we brought home a couple weeks ago, along with two elder pygmies to add to our herd of elders. I wanted to add some youth into the elder mix. I thought Opie would enjoy a youngster to get old with too.

“I told her not to do it,” said Ollie, “but she never listens to me.”

I pulled her little head out and held her for a bit.

“I’s sorry, Mrs. Dunn, can I go now, I’s busy!?” said Pickles. And she ran off.

“Nothing to see here, everyone, move on,” I said as I returned to my now cold coffee.

Opie followed me to the gate, “I think she gets in more trouble than I did, Mrs. Dunn.”

“I think so, Opie. We might just have to pickle Pickles if it continues,” I said and chuckled. Opie looked at me perplexed, and returned to the barn.

Later that day as I began chores, I heard deep sighs of worry, and chattering in the barn. I looked in a side stall to see Earnest and some others gathered around little Opie, who was doing all the sighing. They had a cook book opened. How do they find these books, I wondered.

As always, I kept my ears wide open while I worked.

“Now, Opie, Pickles is not a pickle, she is a goat. Mrs. Dunn was employing what we call satire when she suggested she would pickle Pickles,” Earnest the pig said.

Henneth the blind chicken chimed in to console Opie in her own blunt manner, “Pickles wouldn’t physically fit in a pickle jar, Opie.”

Just then, Ollie the goat appeared, out of breath, and said, “Pickles is in another pickle, Mrs. Dunn!”

I looked out to see Pickles in the pumpkin patch, on the wrong side of the fence of course, but she could’t squeeze her wide belly through the picket fence to get back in. She was crying out to the herd,
“Help, I’m in a pickle!”

I climbed over the fence and lifted her out.

“I don’t know how I got in there, Mrs. Dunn, it just...happened,” said Pickles.

She is so irresistible so I held her, secretly smiling. She put her head into my shoulder, and whispered in my ear,

“Mrs. Dunn, please don’t pickle me.”

“I won’t,” I said.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Burial: a farewell evolves

Burial is an important ritual to partake in with my animal work. Until the body is in the ground, everything feels unbalanced. Moose was put down on Friday, a hot, humid day. I knew where we'd bury him but had to wait for Martyn to help with the grave. So Moose resided in the feed room. Every morning I'd open the door and there was his little body at rest. It was always sort of a surprise...oh yea, Moose is dead.

So today we were able to put him to rest. I laid a daisy on the dirt. I like to be the one that places the body in if I can, and place their head properly.

It just feels better when you know they are safe, in the ground, they are on their way to feed the worms and the spirit is completely free. It must be horrible to not have a body of a loved one that dies in war or other circumstances. I would think it hinders the realization the person is truly dead. I've seen so many dead animals now that it just is part of my moving forward with my work. I also know that not being there for an animal if they are put down is something I never want to do again. With my first cat, Gracie, I chose to let my vet put her down but I was afraid to be there. It was the first animal I owned as an adult and Gracie had been with me for 18 years. I got her at a shelter in NYC and she lived all over with me. I was a different person then, death was much more of an intangible 'thing' that wasn't comfortable to think of. I loved my vet and it is not that what I did was cruel, it just was something that did not help me in my grief, to not have been with her. It did not help me visualize her reality-that she was gone.

Farming out west for 14 years was one of the biggest gifts I have had in my life. It taught me so much about where I stand within the earth, the food chain and it taught me about my own boundaries with animals. There were conflicts I had with raising sheep, I wrote at length about it back then and have no need to rehash it all. But I would never trade any of those experiences, it all brought me to this point, where I continue to learn not only about other spirits and creatures, but about myself.

But I would trade a day to go back and be with Gracie on her final day.

Perhaps she looks down from time to time and acknowledges I just wasn't coded then to handle it.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Goodbye Moose....

Taken last night...the last photo of Moose
I had to say goodbye to a friend today. Moose is gone. On the one hand I’m relieved for him, on the other it is sad it came to this. Once a spitfire of a little goat, he got through goat polio in March but was never quite the same even though he responded to treatment. Then two weeks ago it was like he relapsed and we treated him again but he did not improve. He was neurologically damaged somehow unable to do basic things like eat, backup, drink normal and he was constantly grinding teeth a sign of pain. He gets stuck in corners because he couldn’t figure out how to back up. My vet and I assessed it all and we had run out of realistic options.He might have had a brain tumor that was causing the symptoms. So I let him go. It was sad.

Moose came to me as a baby...my mother had died and I wanted a baby goat in the mix that would grow old with me...so I secretly found one, and at the same time Martyn found one for me. Moose was born on my bday and Goose was born on Martyn’s. Moose was such a personality that his last months were hard to watch. The herd knew he was damaged and he was getting pushed around a bit more. We put him down outside under the lilac. I sat with for awhile after he died...and I noticed that the goats were not that interested in viewing the body as is the ritual here. I really think they knew days ago Moose has already left...he was not the Moose they had known. He is pain free for that I am relieved

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