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Monthly Archives: June 2008

Llama Trauma

I feel like I’ve been in a motorcycle accident. Actually, it’s just a bit of llama trauma. I’ll explain.

Summer is in full swing now so I really had to get my momma llama sheered before her baby comes (July 13). Wool is so hot that if you don’t sheer a llama before the worst of summer, they can actually expire from heat stroke. It’s only been 9 months since my animals were sheered last, because last year I couldn’t find anyone to do the job until fall. Usually, sheering is done in the spring, but this year I waited in hopes that Dali would magically show up to get this haircut too. Once I found that animal pelt in my driveway,  I decided to go ahead and call Don, the fellow who owns a llama farm in Hiawassee. I hated to ask him to drive 2 hours to sheer one llama, but he is the only person I know who has the skills to do it properly, and I knew he’d help me if I asked.  At her advanced state of pregnancy, Pulani must certainly be suffering so it was time to get her on a correct schedule. Don agreed and we scheduled an appointment. This meant I had to catch my belligerent female llama and have her secure in the barn before he arrived.

When faced with this kind of trial, I turn to my son. He is at all times, a congenial and thoughtful guy, and as I expected, he agreed to help me catch Pulani.

Now, this llama of mine is a very evasive, impersonal bitch who often strokes my ire because she’s bossy with my beloved Dali. She takes his food and spits at him, giving my dear donkey a hard time too. I’ve always had a tender fondness for Dali, but Pulani has had a bad attitude from the beginning. I only keep her as company for Dali and for bringing new llama’s into the world. In all fairness, I haven’t bothered with her for a full year, so I’m guilty of indulging her bad habits which makes her even more difficult.  I’ve talked about selling her all winter, but haven’t done so because I thought I should wait for the baby to be born first.

For an hour and a half, Kent and I chase this llama. We have a system where we both hold a long rope, stretched out between us as we approach the llama. We try to corner her so she has to run into the rope, then we quickly change sides so the rope winds around her neck, enabling us to move in and correctly loop the lead around her neck, or even better, get a halter on. We had her once, but she went wild, flinging her head in circles to unwind the rope. She is smart. Mean, but smart.

Finally, we had to admit that we couldn’t catch her alone. She is nothing like Dali, who acts a bit standoffish like most llamas, but is gentle enough to catch. Once Pulani understood our intentions to catch her, she was determined to evade us at all costs. She charged from one end of the pasture to the other, jumping the creek and hiding in the ribbon of trees along the perimeter of the pasture.  We followed her around, but it was soon obvious we needed a third party to chase her into the rope. So I called Mark and talked him into coming home from work at a reasonable hour to help. As we were leaving the pasture, Kent convinced me we should try one more time, so we wouldn’t have to  admit defeat. We sneaked into the woods after her and stood a few feet away, talking about our strategy, when all of a sudden, Kent starts screaming and flailing about like a mad man. He runs out into the open. For a moment, I thought he was kidding around, but then I saw that he was covered from head to toe with wasps.

I chase him down and brush him off, but he was still yelling in a panic and in pain. He had stepped on an underground hive and it only took a moment for the wasps to attack. I was standing only two feet next to him, but not a single insect bothered me. Weird how fickle nature can be.

Kent was stung 15 times, on the face, legs and arms. I felt horrible. Pulani watched from the woods, smug as always, probably thinking we got just what we deserved. Damn llama.

We went to the house and took care of his stings. A few hours later, Mark came home and we had to go back out to catch that llama again, and Kent, good sport that he is, was willing to give it another go. Now there were three of us (and Neva trying to help) but still, we couldn’t get close enough to Pulani to catch her. I made a pact with Kent he wouldn’t have to go into the woods, so every time the llama walked into the trees to avoid us, I had to charge in making noise to chase her back out. I figured I might run into the wasps myself, but what choice did I have? It is, after all, my llama.
Pulani would see me, run out and jump the creak to go to the opposite side of the pasture. I’d walk another five minutes, fuming, to get near her again.

As we were jumping across the creak to get to the other side of the pasture, Mark said, “What’s that horrible smell?” He looked down and jumped back. “Um. . Honey, I think I just found Dali . . . or what is left of him. Stay back, you don’t want to see this.”

Of course, I ran over. I needed to see whatever it was. Closure, don’t ya know.

There in the creek, in my very own pasture (which means Dali was killed inside by something big and mean and very near all of my beloved animals) was a llama skull, ribcage and residual fur. It was horrible.

For some reason, this made me even madder at Pulani. I was thinking  “Why couldn’t it have been you the attacker ate instead of the good, sweet llama.” Of course this wasn’t fair at all, and the fact was, Pulani’s preservation instincts and sour disposition are probably why she survived.
We chased her for another hour, my heart heavy because all I could think about was Dali’s last moments – if he was frightened or if he suffered. And my anger towards Pulani was escalating, because she really didn’t have to be so difficult. We were trying to catch her for her own good, so she wouldn’t suffer in the heat and to assure she would not be out there like bait for the llama-eater’s second course.  

A car came sputtering down our road. It was the neighbor’s kid with a friend. He was trying to learn to drive a stick shift. They stopped and apologized for driving on our land, explaining they didn’t know how to turn around yet. I said, “No problem. Hey, want to help me catch this llama?” 

Sixteen year olds just can’t say no to a question like that, so the boys joined us. Now we had 5 people after that llama. We caught her a few times, but at three hundred pounds and in a sour mood, she pulled the rope out of everyone’s hands every time. I was getting so pissed I was ready to shoot her. Really.

“Without Dali, who needs her anyway,” I grumbled. We’d been out there three hours now and were no closer to catching her than when we started. My attitude had gotten as bad as hers.

Finally, I said, “Give me that rope. I’m getting her this time, and unlike you wimps, I WON’T LET GO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!”

And we caught her, and I didn’t let go.

Unfortunately, this meant she dragged me about 15 feet over the rocks, like I was the stunt man in some kind of Western Movie. In the end, I had to let go. The skin had been scraped off of the entire right side of my body. My right breast looked like something out of a horror movie, (not that I flashed it to others, even though I wished I could for sympathy and so I’d get extra credit for sustaining injuries in the line of duty). I also had a bruise the size of an open hand on my right hip. My knuckles were bleeding and swelling and there was a scrape on my chin and under my eye. Ouch.

The boys couldn’t help but laugh nervously at this woman who cusses at llamas, is willing to get dragged in the dirt to prove she is master of the beast, and who had just gone around bragging about how she wouldn’t let go, then paid for her folly.

I rolled over and sat in the dirt, wanting to cry – not because I was hurt (though I was) but because I was so mad. I brushed myself off, dabbed at the blood and said, “Well, I didn’t let go.”
“And you expect us to admire you for that? Look at you,” Mark said. “You should have let go.”
What was he thinking? The man has been married to me long enough to know that letting go is not an option.

It’s not like sitting there feeling sorry for myself was going to get the job done, so I got up and went after her again. We kept chasing Pulani until she was got so hot and tired, a horrible gurgling came out of her throat, like a growl. I figured she might just drop down dead before us, but that was OK with me. I was ready to pull a Blazing Saddles move and walk up to her and punch her lights out anyway.

In the end, she let us catch her because she didn’t have it in her to run anymore. Neither did we, but she didn’t know that. She did reserve enough energy to fight us all the way to the barn. And don’t ya know that the moment she was inside, she behaved sweet as pie, peering over the gate to beg for food. Damn llama.

Damn me. I actually gave it to her.

The next day, Don came to sheer her. I told him what it took to catch her and showed him my bruised knuckles. She behaved like your average lovely llama, just to make me look like some kind of liar, I guess.

He said, “You have to give her a break. She is pregnant, you know.”
Of course I know. That is the only thing that kept me from shooting her or punching her in the nose.

I told him about the sad fate of Dali, and he said, “Well, you know what they say. If you’re going to raise live stock, you’re also going to be raising dead stock too.” (Grin)

Then he told me about the two llama calves they lost this year and how all twenty of his guineas had been picked off. So, it isn’t just me.

At 58, retired and now building up new business running a llama farm, he has a jovial sense of humor. I appreciate his down to earth view of life and the conversations we have as he runs the electric sheers over the llama and hands me huge hunks of wool to put in a trash bag (because I will send this to the carding mill with angora fur to turn it into magnificent roving).  We talked about the huge adjustments that come with living in a small town, raising animals, and living in a closer relationship with the land when you were formerly a city dweller. He said, “It isn’t for everyone, but it sure feeds my soul. I’ll take a day out in the sun with a llama over a day in an office any time.”

He inspected my garden, which this year is just twenty rubber storage boxes used as makeshift containers. I have zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers already making a debut.

He said, “My garden has been doing poorly because all the trees around the area have grown so big the last few years, they now block the sun. Maybe I’ll try what you’re doing so I can pick up the plants and chase the sun when I need to.” 

Considering he is always helping me with out with my questions about llamas, I liked that I had something to contribute in return.

He told me a story about how some customers of his, a gay couple, who always stand over him with scissors while he is sheering their llamas. Every time he pauses, they fuss and clip off any stray hairs to make sure their llama’s hairdo is perfect. He laughed and said, “It’s so silly. Even you don’t do that.”

Even me? What’s that supposed to mean? I had to ask, “What do you mean, even I don’t do that. I’m not fussy, am I?”

He leaned against the llama’s back and grinned and said,  “No, but are you aware that the music you always play out here isn’t your usual barn music?”
I guess he has noticed I always have classical music blasting. I laughed and said, “My daughter does kid me about that. Just the other day she said, “Only my mom would be out in a barn, shoveling horse shit to classical music.”

Don said, “Funny, but the music doesn’t seem to fit you. I’d take you as a country music type. Don’t you like country music?”

I explained that I like it fine, and listen to it plenty since Mark has it on all the time, but it isn’t my first choice. My first choice is always Jazz and blues. My second choice for a radio station is NPR because I love the interviews. Then, I’ll go for a classical station. The problem is, I don’t get many stations on my little boom box at the barn. I have a choice of country, a Christian station, and a very highbrow classical station. So, considering the options, you always hear Beethoven and Brahms at my barn. If I ever remember to bring CD’s down, I’ll be blasting jazz and vintage soulful blues.

“You’re not what you seem,” Don said, packing up his llama gear.
Up here, few people do have an inkling of who I am. But sometimes I think the people from my last life were just as clueless. I had to choke back a smile, wonderng what he would think if he ever spied on me when I was alone at the barn. Dances with Wolves has nothing on me. I have Dancing with Donkey down pat. No joke.
Anyway, now my female llama is secure in the barn, cool at last, thanks to her new hair cut. I go in the stall everyday (limping because of my bruised hip – still covered with scabs) to desensitize her with handling – partly because I know it is important I do this to teach her to behave better, but also because I know it annoys her and she doesn’t deserves too cushy a set up after yesterday.

I guess you could say we are tolerating each other, but I must admit, some good friendships begin that way. I’ll decide her fate when the baby is born. If she turns the calf away and refuses to nurse it (as she did with her last offspring), she’ll find herself on the auction block before she blinks and I’ll be left with one baby llama to bottle feed. If she is a good mother and does her job, she has six months reprieve and we’ll see how I feel about her later. But between you and me, I’m guessing my llama days are numbered.

I still have to consider the safety issue. Today, when I told the people at the feed store what happened they said, “That was your llama missing in the paper? Sorry. It might be a mountain lion. We have those around here. Just last week one of our customers lost her horse to a lion. She found it split open down the back, filleted.”

Did you have to tell me that? Eee-gad. My heart can’t take much more of this.

This may sound morbid, but I’ve decided I want Dali’s skull. I’ll bleach it and hang it in the barn – like all those cow skulls they use for western decoration. Mine will be a private shrine to a special pet. . (and it will serve as a great conversation piece). Kent thinks I’ve really lost it, but that didn’t stop him and his friends from bragging that they’d retrieve it for me. They walked out to see what was left of Dali, but they came back so grossed out they said they wouldn’t touch it for a hundred bucks. Big sissies. I figure we can wait a few days until the remains are picked clean by nature, then I’ll put on gloves, get the skull and bury what is left of my old boy in a respectful way – classical music accompanying the chore, of course.  I don’t fear dead things the way I did when I moved here (desensitized, apparently), and because it’s Dali, I want to assure he rests in peace.
You can bet the scarf I’m making out of his fur will be very, very dear to me.

Anyway, that is the story of my llama trauma.


What a doll!

Summer is a wonderful time for family . . . except for the fact that after about a week, you want to kill your sweet offspring The kids wake up everyday wondering what you have planned to entertain them, and after two days of Neva announcing she was bored and my answering “no, you’re boring” (very snotty mother, I can be) I decided to figure out some organized activities – quick. I signed her up for two sessions of Girl Scout Sleep away horseback riding camp (and a third  session that happens to be a mother daughter horse camp we will attend together. Once a girl scout, always a girl scout, you know, and I figure this is the closest I’m going to get to camping with my favorite girl nowadays.)

So, we scurried around getting her ready for a week away from home. It just so happens that as I was checking my e-mail for a camp confirmation, I received a message from the Campbell Folk School that they were offering a June special with guaranteed space and a discounted rate for local residents. As if on auto-pilot, I signed up for a class for the week Neva was going to be gone. It seemed like a good idea in the moment, because Mark has been working all the time, Kent is busy with friends and I’m alone most of the week anyway. My taking a class now would not interrupt the family at all. But moments after I sent in a registration, I was sorry. A week alone would be prime opportunity to get some decent writing done, sans guilt, and to spend uninterrupted time with the horses too. Damn me.

The more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to kick myself for signing up, but I felt it would be too irresponsible to forfeit the 50% deposit ten minutes after signing up. In the end, even though I was not very enthusiastic about going, I decided to attend because I couldn’t bear being that wasteful. I’m much more conscientious and careful about our resources now that Mark has gone back to work. I respect his efforts and don’t want to abuse his return as he strives to forge a new career.  

So, despite reservations, I went to take a cloth doll-making class. It turned out to be a delightful week, primarily because the class consisted of some of the nicest women I’ve ever met. They were full of good-cheer, artistic enthusiasm, and positive encouragement. I had lively lunch conversations with people taking other classes too, not the least of which included a boisterous meal with a table full of blacksmiths that couldn’t resist sharing jokes and teasing any woman bold enough to crash their table. Nice to know I can still give as good as I get.  

My best buddy was a 71 year old woman from Atlanta with the most positive, nurturing personality I have ever had the good fortune to meet. I want to be like her when I grow up. She tried making a doll that looked like Opra. She wants to send it to her favorite star.

A established quilt teacher took the class and made her dolls out of recycled materials. She used casset tape for hair and cut up credit cards for decoration.

Everyone had a different style and unique vision. It was fun to see everyone’s first attempts at doll making.

Two art teacher’s took the class and incorporated multimedia techniques to create doll works of art. They labored to make a perfect doll with more patience and understanding of visual art than I could ever demonstrate. Remarkable. Her doll is “Icaris Falling”. She wouldn’t dare put a face on it, for fear it would be ruined.

I’ve always had an interest in fiber arts and love creating characters (on paper or in my head), so the subject of doll making appealed to me. The teacher is a renowned doll artist, with work featured in several doll books.

Her work was fun to see – here are some of her creations on display to inspire us.

(She called this one ‘Armed and Dangerous”)

I found cloth fairly doll-making easy to grasp, because if you have a great deal of experience sewing (which I do) and are comfortable with the human body (I am) you only need common sense to come up with something that resembles a person.  I made three dolls in the time my classmates made one. They called me “gifty” since I seemed such a natural and proceeded with such ease, finishing a doll a day. Honestly, I think I was just less conscientious than they were. I was having fun with trial and error and wasn’t too hung up on perfection. I consider any craft class a learning experience and I don’t need to go home with a perfect creation to make it seem as if the time spent was worthwhile.  If I like doll-making, this would be the beginning of my journey and my early dolls would be beginner attempts anyway. If I don’t stick with the craft- why stress to create something perfect  -you are only dabbling for fun.   I guess I should take the subject more seriously – but hey. . . it’s a doll.

When I got home and showed off my creations, Mark said, “You made dancers? Why?”

“As a matter of fact, that happens to be a wood sprite,” I corrected, pointing to my standing doll (which I made to practice wire frame characters.

“A wood sprite . . . in perfect arabesque and on pointe? Ha. That’s a dancer. Accept it. You can’t stop making dancers.  If you can’t do it in the studio, you’re gonna do it with a sewing machine.”

Eesh. Can I help it if, when drawing a pattern from scratch and assembling a body I happen to make it in the vision of the bodies I’ve been staring at for the last 45 years. . . . Every body in my mind is at least one part  dancer. The natural state of humans is to keep in motion. (Physically – mentally) Dancers then are perfect examples a person living fully.

So my dolls all ended up willowy with beautifully pointed feet. Shoot me. They rest in flexible poses that suggest movement and relaxed grace. That is my idea of beauty. 

My teacher didn’t instruct us on face technique. She makes her dolls face-less because faces are so difficult and she is never happy with the result. I stumbled through and did the best I could with my faces by guessing how to go about it.  Had I left the faces off, I suppose they would look more “arty”. I admit the results of my face-bearing dolls are nothing to be excited over. But to me, the face is the soul of a doll – the place where the character and personality rests, so I had to try . A doll without a face seems incomplete – like a person without a personality. I think it is a cop-out to avoid this most difficult part of creating cloth figures. I figure I’ll take another class on cloth doll faces someday and see if I can improve. Till then, my amateur dolls with silly mug smiles will have to do.

But what I must say about my hand-made original dolls is that I adore the intimate elements only I can appreciate. My doll’s hair is made of wool fiber I collected from my first llama (boo-hoo). One has hair made of the first yarn I ever spun – hand died with marigolds I picked in the garden. The bodies are made of fabric I used for the first quilt I’ve ever made (I haven’t played show and tell with my quilt attempts yet, but some day, I will.) I wrote words on the arms of one doll to remind me how to make sense of life. “Contemplate . . . Write” These things make the dolls seem special to me – as if they are representative of my private world.

Neva will be going back to camp another week in July, but I won’t be running off to play next time. I’m committed to using the time wisely to make headway with my writing – no frivolously playing with dolls. I’ll chalk up the first week she was gone to a summer kick-off – silly “camp fun” for us both just in celebration of the warm days ahead. I must admit taking the class was good medicine in a way, because I’ve been starved for companionship and conversation lately, and that is always in abundance at the Campbell School.

It was a nice experience, and I chose not to ruin it by feeling guilty about what I wasn’t doing all week. That is the key to happiness, I think, accepting that your life is composed of all the choices you make along the way. You must always focus on the good rather than dwell on the “other path” and what it may have led to. You must trust that the choices you made were right for you at the time, driven by your deepest needs. Not that my deepest need is to play with dolls – but perhaps getting out, visiting with others, being distracted and other forces were the true motivator this week. They say children learn through play. No reason to assume adults are not the same. Embrace play and you grow.





As I explained earlier, my duck has been sitting on unfertilized eggs. They were starting to rot and turn green, yet still she guarded them like the queen’s diamonds. She is a wonderful, diligent mother, but obviously unwilling to admit defeat. I decided I should take the eggs away from her so she would return to the pond (and thus I could reclaim my barn) but this caused a moral dilemma. If I took them away while she was out for her ten minute food break, she’d return to find the nest marauded and might feel guilty for being irresponsible. If I destroyed her coveted eggs in front of her, she’d consider me a threat forevermore. (No comments please – Mark has already heckled me, reminding me it’s just a duck, not an elephant with a memory or conscience.)

Anyway, in effort to find a gentle solution, I went to the feed store and purchased three baby runner ducks. Runner ducks have long necks and graceful slim bodies. (I think they’re reincarnated dancers). I then put a cage over the mother duck and scooted her off the nest and removed her eggs. I cracked a few on a hillside just to be sure they were indeed dead eggs. They were – the insides were all green, foaming ooze. Yuck.

I reached into the cage with my baby ducks and rubbed them all over the mother duck, scooting them under her wings and belly. She didn’t like it a bit and the baby ducks weren’t exactly thrilled, but I was trying to get the mother’s smell to saturate them. Then, I put the babies in the cage with the mother duck and waited.

At first the mother rooted around the nest looking for her eggs, not falling for the idea that these ducklings were hers for one minute. The baby ducks happened to be a week old already, so they didn’t seem to take to Romer as their mother either. I guess when you are born in an incubator; the concept of “mommy” is alien. Everyone kept to opposites sides of the cage and I figured it was a stupid experiment. I watched for about an hour, just to assure the baby ducks would be safe and for the most part, they seemed to be. Then, Romer started pecking at them and I got uncomfortable.

O.K., I thought. The duck caper didn’t work.

So, I removed the baby ducks and put them in an empty chicken run, thinking they could live there until full size, then I would release them at the pond. But no sooner had got I them situated than Romer flew out and frantically tried to get into the cage.
Now, I started to think she had attached to them after all and perhaps considered them her ducklings. So, I open the door, but she didn’t know how to get inside. A bunch of curious chickens wandered in, however, scaring the ducklings. (Why is it everything turns out more complicated than it’s supposed to be?)

I try to catch Romer, but she evades me and flies back to the barn. A moment later, she returns and wants in the cage again. Back and forth she goes, checking her nest to validate that her eggs are missing, then flying back to stare at the cage as if unable to accept that these big babies were hers. It took me about an hour, but I finally chased her into the run and shut the door. I had to go inside, stooped and slipping in the mud, to catch the chickens and get them out. What a pain.

Romer hisses at me, hating that I’m in her space. She also doesn’t seem happy to be reunited with her adopted ducklings, because she goes to the opposite side of the cage and ignores them.
Now, I don’t know what to think, but I decide to leave them together just to see what happens. They coexist.

A week later, it’s hot and the cage is full of flies. The ducklings follow Romer around like she’s their mother, but she is very aloof. I decide it isn’t fair to force motherhood on her so I open the cage door to see what she will do. She just stares at me and doesn’t move. I go to the house, thinking I’ll come back and check on the situation later. Moments after I’m home, Romer lands in the lake, swimming and playing in the water as if in celebration. She looks giddy to be finally free.

Neva says, “Mom, what if the ducklings followed her and got lost half way to the pond? We better check.”

So, we take the mule to the pen and find the ducklings are playing in a tub of water I provided, happy and secure in their home, totally uninterested in the open door. But should I now close the door or leave it open? As we wrestled with this decision, Romer shows up, walks by us and returns to the cage so she can continue ignoring her adopted ducklings. Now, I figure she’s just a very reserved mother, devoted in her own way.

I don’t know if she considers these babies really hers, but she has clearly taken responsibility for them.  I suppose when they’re old enough, she’ll lead the ducklings to the pond and they’ll all take up residence. The other ducks will wonder why Romer’s offspring is tall and graceful, considering she is short and plain, but everyone will accept things for what they are. I guess this is the ugly duckling story in reverse.

Why do I share this tale? I guess as proof that I put a god awful amount of energy and time and attention into farm experiments in the name of curiosity (and kindness) but all it does is reveals my middle aged insanity. Ha. I need to get back to work.

Meanwhile, I shall now share the sad tale of what happened to my llama on the lamb.

For two weeks, I’ve had a lost llama announcement in the paper. I’ve put up numerous posters and talked to everyone within a mile radius. Rabbit, the man who owns the feed store, is convinced someone stole Dali, and I starting thinking so too. Nothing explains a llama up and disappearing like that.  Still, it would be a hard heist to pull off, because someone would have to chase the llama all over the pasture and have a trailer in the waiting, and I’d see that going down. Even if it occurred at night, my dogs would make a racket. I just couldn’t imagine it working.

Then yesterday, my dogs dragged a big hank of animal pelt home. Neva said, “Yuck, they found something dead.”
We got out of the car to check what it was. Was it a squirrel? A rabbit? A bird? No, it was a large black animal pelt that looked remarkably like the black wool of my llama.

I called Mark to ask if he had bought an animal pelt to cover a chair or something. Perhaps he dropped it and the dogs picked it up. He said, “Of course not. Ginny, are you sure that’s not your llama?”

I put it in the garage to study. I went out there a hundred times to look. The more I looked the more certain I was that this was what was left of my beloved Dali.

When Mark got home, I had him inspect the fur. He sighed and said, “That isn’t a dog or a bear.  The fur would be different – silky and straight. This is from a big wooly animal. Poor Dali.”

I made Denver look.  She said, “Of course it’s Dali. You can tell. Throw that away Mom! What are you going to do, send it to a lab to be tested just to be sure it’s him?”

I’d like that – and while we’re at it, I want a DNA test to find out who the murderer is so I can press charges at Mother Nature’s court.

So, now I have to deal with the fact that something killed and ate my 300 pound llama. I called the man who sheers my llama to ask his opinion. He’s a llama expert.
“Could it be a bear?” I asked.

He said it might be a pack of coyotes.
I pointed out that llamas are often purchased as guard animals because they attack coyotes. They are natural enemies, but the llama is the bigger, so how can a coyote kill a llama.

He argued that if a llama is outnumbered, he can surly be killed by a pack of wild coyotes. Still, I’m betting it’s the bear.

Now, I know why my female won’t come out of hiding. I thought she was just pregnant and hot.  Now I’m convinced she knows something I don’t. I’m thinking I should buy one of those motion censor cameras and set it up down at the barn for hard core proof of what is endangering my beloved pets. Then, I’ll be better prepared to find solutions.

This was the first time I had my llamas separated from my horses. Yesterday, I put them back together, thinking there’s safety in numbers. Donkeys are powerful coyote fighters and they can kick any canine’s butt so I feel better having him near. Just in case.

Late last night, a friend of Denver’s came to deliver some hay I bought to my barn. I told the boys I’d go down and turn on the lights and wait for them with a check. Denver had a fit. “You can’t run around your property at night. If the bear will attack a huge llama, it will think nothing of attacking you too.”

“Are you kidding,  I’ll kick that bears ass if he dares show his face,” I said in my best tough gal voice. As I drove down the lane in the dark, my eyes scanning the forest,  shadowed shapes jumped out at me from the dim light of my mule headlights, I imagined if I saw a bear, I’d run it down. I truly did love my llama. Now, I have his baby llama due on July 13 (yes I’ve been counting down the 340 days of pregnancy like a kid in anticipation of Christmas) I worry that both the mother and baby are at risk so my mind is racing with concern.

I’ve decided it’s time to catch Pulani and put her in the barn where I can keep close watch. Then, I will start preparing, like Rodeo Rambo, to strike out with a vengeance at anything that dares threaten my herd. Who’d have ever believed these would be the kind of problems I’d be focused on during this semi-retirement period of my life? Not me, that’s for sure.

Mark is now working full time at Century 21 In the Mountains. He’s putting in 12 hour days to set up a new career (more on that and an introduction to his new website soon). This leaves me racked with guilt, so I’ve dived into my current writing project with tunnel vision (thus less blog time). Getting productive is easy for me under these conditions, because I don’t feel comfortable pushing the responsibility for family support on one person. I’ve talked about getting a job – perhaps getting my Georgia teacher’s certificate so I could teach English and creative writing at the high school – or even opening another dance school (don’t say it . . . Mark already pointed out how misguided that idea is.)

My talk about potential work opportunities really annoys him. He says, “You’re supposed to be home writing. That was the deal when we sold FLEX. You said you were a born dance teacher and didn’t want to ever have to do anything else for a living, and I promised you wouldn’t have to if we left dance behind – except to write and/or teach in your chosen new field. Don’t you have faith that I can support us?”

Of course I know he can. I just don’t believe he should have to. We made “the deal” expecting certain outcomes from selling FLEX , but they never materialized. That is not his fault. Life is what it is. You make compromises and do what must be done and adjust along the way. Marriage isn’t every man out for himself, but two people working together as a team to accomplish shared goals. At least, that is what it should be.

I’ve always been a primary contributor to our household. To step out of that role plummets me out of my comfort zone and now I’m wrestling with all kinds of feelings ranging from embarrassment over my selfish, indulgent existence to feelings of total inadequacy as a non-contributor to our finances. I simply can’t sit around playing with animals, making wine and writing while my husband has his nose to the grindstone, worrying about real life issues. For now, I’m pouring all my discomfort into serious writing. Perhaps that’s my instinctual way of moving in a new direction–challenging my inner potential to see what comes of it. It was far easier for me to write when I was squeezing pages into busy days filled with a wealth of stimulus and surging experiences than now that I have endless quiet hours stretched before me and my muse has long since abandoned ship.  Funny, that. Every writer’s dream is a life filled with time and opportunity to record the endless stories in their head, and here I am living that dream, but suddenly paralyzed and feeling empty of words. Luckily, I have a way of forcing myself to move when stuck.

So, here I stand, crowbar in hand, thinking it’s time to unwedge myself from the rut I hadn’t noticed I was creating. And as long as I have a crowbar at the ready, I think I’ll take a swing at a bear.  Rodeo Rambo has been unleashed. Not a moment too soon.


Neva doesn’t think anymore.

The other day, Neva came in to the kitchen and said to me, “I can’t handle this blog I created. I think I’m going to end it. How do you kill a blog? ”

I smiled. She’d only had the blog for a week and made a few entries. “You love to write and you’re very good at it. Why stop blogging?”

She rolled her eyes dramatically. “I feel so much PRESSURE. Like I have to be interesting all the time. Life isn’t that exciting. And blogging takes so much time.”

I pointed out that the best writers are those that can make mundane, common things interesting through perspective. My favorite writer currently is Michael Perry, and he writes about the most common things. It’s not like a blogger has to have a fascinating experience to write about everyday – just rambling about life is good practice. Besides which, I happened to find her blog interesting because her voice is interesting. I also pointed out that it was summer and she had plenty of time for a blog project. She only needed to write once a week or so to keep blog readers checking in.

“I can’t stand it. It’s like homework. And the worst part is, you sit down and do all that writing and you don’t know if anyone is going to bother to read it anyway. You feel stupid, like what is the point? Do you ever feel like that?”

“All the time,” I said. “Blogging is fun at first, but in the big scheme, it takes discipline. That is the hardest part of writing- it’s so easy to just stop or do something else. There is no guarantee that the effort will ever manifest into something with a tangible return, other than the self satisfaction that comes with creation. Everyone loves the idea of writing, but to actually sit down and write can be grueling. I often feel no one is reading my blog – that I’m sending messages out into the silent world like someone tossing a bottle with a note inside out into the ocean. Fat chance it will ever be picked up. But then, a good friend will leave a comment and I’m filled with a sweet sense of appreciation, because someone is out there and they care enough to check in and see how things are going in my world. One reader is enough. In fact, none is enough, because writing isn’t like oral conversation – you don’t need two people to communicate. It serves you even if you are alone, because it is a way to make sense of the world and to clarify your mind.”

I thought my argument was quite compelling and insightful. Apparently, it wasn’t inspirational enough. She killed her blog that night. She said, “Maybe I’ll start another one in the winter when there isn’t so much to do.”

You see, she is very busy on her computer playing with these webkinz all day. An eleven year old has got to get her priorities straight.

I was disappointed, because I thought her blog was delightful, but I understand the complexities and the frustrations of keeping a blog. And I understand how, in a moment of weakness, a writer can bury one. It only takes a bad mood and a swipe of the hand. Honestly, we can wipe out just about every lovely, extraordinary thing in life with a flippant decision and/or a lack of caring. Hanging in there is hard, no matter what it is you are hanging onto.  

So “ no longer exists. But there is a correct time for everything. Now is this free spirit’s time to live fully . . . . later, with years behind her and some perspective, she may wish to write about it. 



Boys, boys, boys

For years, my life was awash with girls. We worked with a thousand dance students each season, less than a handful of boys in the mix. Since my own children spent so much time at the studio, their lives entwined with dance, this skewed population was somewhat disconcerting. It made for an unbalanced life for my son and I worried that he was missing out on the typical male bonding and camaraderie men experience while growing up with peers. Most of his friends were girls and he was constantly involved in activities that are considered feminine by nature, dance competitions and performances rather than sports or camping or whatnot. His was a world of sequins rather than grit with the wrong kind of hormones raging all around him. It wasn’t a choice; it was just a result of the limitations of our lifestyle.

Now, it seems my son is hell-bent to rectify that former imbalance. He is filling his world (and mine) with males. And dirt. And noise. And a different kind of raging hormone altogether. I’ve been around kids all my life, but this is a novel experience for me, let me tell you.

Kent has dozen of friends in Georgia, good, down to earth, earnest kids who like him for who he is. He and his friends go swimming in the lake. They come home bruised and sore and laughing about foolish escapades. They go camping, tubing, play soccer, fish, argue and wrestle, make a racket playing loud, violent video games. He’s never been more at ease or happier just being a normal guy. No one here knows Kent once danced. I’m forbidden to mention it. I think that’s silly, but I respect his wishes knowing someday, with maturity, his negative connotations to dance will subside and he will understand that it’s a part of him, like all our life experiences. 

The nicest thing about seeing Kent with his new friends is knowing that the speculation that once hovered over his friendships no longer exists. In the past his friendships were always questionable –  he couldn’t help but wonder: “Do my friends really like me, or (because they are all dancers) are they sticking around because my parents run the school, and they think being nice to me might influence just what kind of dance experience they’ll have?”

Not that Kent’s friends in Sarasota weren’t adorable kids – only that peculiar things occurred. For example, they would all take up a collection and present him with a $200 electronic device as a birthday present (even when we didn’t throw a party to establish a reason to give a gift) but we were never asked to pitch in for a collection for one of the other kids – they were not all honored with expensive toys on their birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, the gift was generous and thoughtful – but we worried about the message that went along with it. Our kids were not celebrities or born into privilege but their lives were slightly out of balance as if they were. It is hard to raise children to have wholesome values, a normal perception of what life is all about, and humility when people are so quick to offer you special treatment.

Perhaps it was payback for how often they were ignored due to the pressing nature of our work. Perhaps people felt sorry for a boy stuck in a girl’s world and they wanted to be extra nice to compensate. There is only so much inclusion for a boy who is a constant member of a girl’s dance click, and you can’t blame the girls for trying to keep him involved. Anyway, I longed for a simple life where my kids learned true life lessons in a natural manner.  I wanted them to have easygoing friendships based on mutual interests and because the kid’s personality’s click. And I wanted my son to grow up to be comfortable in his own male skin. This was obviously going to be a challenge while Kent’s entire social world was wrapped up in FLEX. 

Now, Kent has this large, eclectic group of friends, and none of them are a result of his involvement in dance. He hangs out with boys primarily, but girls are always calling too. He acts annoyed that so many females like him but I think he’s delighted. For the record, he isn’t interested in any of them because he says none of the girls in Georgia can hold a candle to his former FLEX flames. Perhaps we got out just in time for other reasons – I’d hate to imagine my teen son running amuck with the hearts of our dear dancers. Talk about a sticky wicket.

Anyway, now Kent is the sort of fellow that doesn’t fit into one specific click, so he dwells on the fringe of many- a friend to all. He is very popular – I believe it is because he is so decent and laid back and truly non-judgmental of others. It doesn’t hurt that he is a straight a student, has a nice car (which he upkeeps himself with a steady job), is suddenly tall and lanky and getting muscular with adorable dimples and he’s become a talented drummer with his own rock band. Above all else, his friends love him because he’s funny. He has a bizarre sense of humor and it’s getting more defined each year. He is quick to see the humor in a situation, make light of things that might set another person off, and is a constant source of entertainment with physical humor. When he was younger – I thought he acted weird to get attention – and perhaps he did. Now, he is very much his own man and I must admit, he has a powerful wit, a quirky side and I enjoy his company more than I can describe. He is simply a “feel good’ sort of person to be around. He makes me laugh.

I now have a collection of teenage boys hanging around – boys from Kent’s school band, boys from Kent’s rock band, boys from Kent’s job, and boys who don’t fit into any category other than the fact that Kent met them at school and they’ve become fast friends.

The other day, I had six strapping male teenagers sleeping downstairs. I crept down in the morning to wake Neva and they were sprawled out on the couches, beds, and floor. Males certainly take up more space than females and they are far less fussy. They sleep where they land, chests exposed while wearing day old jeans.

Kent says, “You don’t have to feed us – we’ll scrounge and get by.” Yea, like I’m gonna let 6 young men run havoc in my food pantry. I made them a big vat of ziti, a batch of tollhouse cookies, a gallon of popcorn and I cut up a watermelon. This held them off for an hour or so. Of course, they were working up an appetite. They had dragged out my two kayaks and spent the afternoon racing across the lake, diving off the dock, seeing who could stand the cold water the longest and then they decided to erect a rope swing. I told them there wasn’t a tree limb hanging at an angle to support a swing and to give it up, but boys can’t resist conquering the impossible. They knocked over two trees, cut down another that seemed to be in the way (I made them drag the branches off into the woods so they didn’t leave a mess for us to deal with later) and when they finally threw a rope over a tree, it got stuck AND the tree bent over like a wilted flower. Eventually, they were so sunburned and cold they did give up and elected to get into the hot tub – then they ventured inside to scream and yell over the video game they were playing – a rock band game. More food was required. Girls were discussed.

They left the next day for various responsibilities– some went to work – others went to see the high school graduation. Band members had to play at the ceremony. At dusk, they convened again. Apparently, they had not finished their web game or finished talking about girls and cars and music and whatever. More food was needed – we were getting down to grilled cheese sandwiches now. As I explained to my son, I need more than a ten minute warning if he wants me to entertain his friends in the banquet style to which my family is accustomed.

“We are fine,” Kent insisted, reaching for the last box of hot pockets from the freezer. “You don’t need to take care of us.” He says this with a smile, of course, because he knows it’s impossible for his mother to resist any opportunity to feed people. 
Yesterday, the boys decided on a moments notice to go camping (outdoor recreation is a popular, common pastime here in the mountains.) I zipped together a cooler filled with drinks and candy and a bag of salty snacks – throwing in marshmallows of course, (I believe in being prepared for all eating emergencies and my pantry is kept like an independent grocery store – people kid me about it.) I received a big hug from Dylan. He said, “You’re like . . . perfect.”
Yes, these boys are easy to impress. They can be bought with marshmallows. Love that.

They happen to be useful too. I never cease to find a chore for them to do. This weekend they moved a huge tabletop from one room to another for me. Been wanting to get that heavy glass top moved for ages but Mark couldn’t do it alone. It took several muscled sets of hands – but no problem-o when Kent’s friends are around.

I am far more comfortable with my son under roof than off who-knows-where – and I like having the chance to really get to know the young people he’s spending time with. I adore boys – they are fun to watch, fun to listen to, and ultimately they can’t help but be flattering. I’m told I’m their favorite mom – I can “smoke Dylan’s mom in the kitchen” (This is apparently quite a feat because his mom does cook, meaning this is a compliment and not commentary on how well-done I make my hamburgers).  I’m told I’m interesting, as moms go, not because I am intelligent or talented or have a colorful gamut of interests, mind you, but explicably because I make wine. That is a cool Mom hobby to a teenager from the Bible belt, ya know.  One boy (I call him Muppet because he looks like one) is impressed because he never met anyone with a library in their house. He is referring to my office which is a far cry from a library, but does contain a few walls of books. Ha. No one will ever accuse these boys of being intellectual – at least not for a few years.

I worried that when we left FLEX I’d grow old quickly – like leaving a time capsule and having all that preserved time you held off by living in that controlled environment suddenly hitting you at once- aging you double time. Kids keep you young, and I couldn’t imagine my life without teenagers challenging me to keep up with what was “in” and “cool”. Not that I’m cool, ‘cause lord knows, I’m not. The kids at FLEX always had a heyday pointing out how clueless I was about what was “in”. I’m the last to recognize new music, understand high tech gadgets or to follow pop culture fads. But I was considered cool for my own unique reasons – primarily because I could move in a unique way. So, even if I’m not “cool” in a conventional pop culture way, I’m not boring either and I gel with young minds easily. I think it’s because I’ve retained that veracious lust for life that is common to the young- I’m still interested in adventures, so I’m not stodgy. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and it just feels that way. Does any stodgy person really see themselves as such? I’m probably a delusional, certifiable old fart.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to keep up my teen-relationship skills with my own kid’s friends. It’s a comfortable place for me to be, drowning in kids, answering questions, philosophizing, laughing with them. And it can be done without dance. Who knew?
Lucky me, I have another child coming up to the teen ranks soon, so my practice field won’t fade anytime soon. I’ll even get to circle back to the world of girls soon. Of course, these girls don’t dance and teen girls don’t eat so much, so I won’t have my current secret weapon to win their hearts.
But all girls love horses…. (Grin)
I’m in like Flynn.

Lost llamas and bad bears

The pasture has exploded with daisies and my llamas like to nestle down in the middle of them in the early evening. I thought this was striking, so I took a picture.
Then, another “bear event” (which I’ll explain later) happened and for the next two days my llamas didn’t come out of the trees which run along the border of the pasture. When it is hot or raining, the llamas stay tucked away in the shade and it’s been hitting 90 this week, so I didn’t think much of their absence. Until  they didn’t come out to eat in the morning for two days straight. That was uncommon.

I started to get concerned because Pulani is due to have her baby in one month. I wondered if it was possible she gave birth early and the llamas were in the woods with a newborn. Sometimes, llamas need help with the birthing process, and Pulani turned away her last baby, so I am on standby to do what I can to make this season’s birth go on sucessfully. I also couldn’t help but notice the llamas had been missing since “the bear event”. Hummm……… gave me a nagging sense of unease.

So, in the early morning, I decided to take a walk in the pasture to hunt them out. Pulani was lying in the trees, nonchalant. Still pregnant. But Dali was no where around. They usually stick close to each other, so I considered this odd. I walked the entire circumference of the pasture. No Dali. I figured I must have missed him, so I walked along the fence again, checking to see if any portion of it was knocked down to allow escape. The fence was intact, but there was no Dali. I took a third spin around the huge pasture, now looking for signs of a dead llama, not that I expected to find such a thing, but since I was unable to explain his absence I had to check. Nothing.

I’ve left this pasture dormant so the grass will grow and repair itself. So far, I’m growing daisies, not the coveted grass I seeded. Ah well.  Llama’s tread lightly and eat little, so they’ve had the run of the place to themselves while the horses are maintained in the front, beat to hell, all dirt and weeds, pasture. This means the gate to the lush pasture has not been opened for weeks. Llamas don’t jump fences and they don’t try to escape. If they do get out, they hang around because they are territorial, especially when their mate is nearby – herd creatures stick together. Llamas are mellow and standoffish, like cats, but they do attach to home and I have some very content llamas, which curbs wanderlust.

So, how is it my male llama has simply disappeared? I can’t figure it out.

I’ve been baffled and bothered, which soon escalated to “worried.” Yesterday, I put a “lost llama” add in the paper and made flyers to put up at the feed store and post office. I’m slapping them on signs and putting them in neighbor’s mailboxes. A few people have suggested that my llama might have been stolen, but who would venture all the way into our land, unnoticed, to steal a llama, which is damn hard to catch, by the way? And yet, if he was attacked by something, and I can’t imagine anything around here that could kill a llama, other than a cockeyed hunter, I’d certainly see llama remains. Not like even a bear can haul a 600 pound animal over a fence.  If Dali got out of the pasture on his own, he wouldn’t have wandered far. It’s as if he just sunk into the daisies and vanished forevermore.

I’m devastated; waiting by the phone hoping someone will call and say he wandered into their yard and I should come get him. Because deep down, I can’t stop thinking it might be connected in some way to the bear incident.

Early one morning this week, I heard my dogs going crazy outside. They often bark at daybreak, chasing raccoons or possums and/or greeting the new day with a boisterous racket. But this day, their barking was furious and wild – coming from the barn. I wondered if they were wrestling with coyotes or stray dogs so I hopped into my mule to go check. When I got there, the dogs had run off, chasing something. There was one dead chicken on the ground. Considering I now have 70 chickens (too many) I was not exactly devastated. Dead chickens happen. I checked on my duck, who’s still sitting on eggs in the barn (which have long passed their due date, so they aren’t going to hatch, but I don’t have the heart to take them away from her. She’s been such a diligent mother – but alas, if you don’t nookie with the boys, your eggs will never be more than just eggs.) She was fine – though she hissed at me to leave her alone. The ingrate.

I decided to feed the rabbits as long as I was down at the barn and that’s when I noticed that the cage erected high on the wall of the chicken house holding my young bunnies had been tampered with again. This time, the stiff wire side had been pried away from the top, breaking all the metal fasteners and a strong metal support had been bent at a  90 degree angle. Heck, it’s such a thick piece of metal that I couldn’t even bend it back into place. This clearly has to be a bear – nothing else can reach that high or do that kind of damage. My bunnies were huddled in their nesting box, sitting in their own urine – obviously traumatized, but safe at least.

I was pissed. Damn bear. Poor bunnies.

So, I decided to drive back to the house to get my car and go to Home Depot to get what I needed to repair the damage and further secure my cages. But as I turned the corner, I see the back end of a black bear wandering into the woods. The roar of the mule made him run off. He was larger than my dogs (which are big) and his butt was two feet wide. Big bear. I stopped the mule, wishing I had a gun. I’m a gentle, animal lover, but I was seeing red and well – at least a be-be gun or a powerful paint gun would have been nice. A glue gun, perhaps?

I get off the mule and head into the woods to follow the bear. I wanted to see him up close. Don’t’ ask me what I would have done if I found him – tell him off or something. (When I told this to my mother later, she told ME off for tracking a bear. I had to hear all about every bear attack that ever happened in North Georgia. Sigh.)  But somehow, that sneaky bear just disappeared the moment he entered the woods. At least I had my proof now about who’s been messing with my rabbits. Damn bear.

I called Mark at the office and said, “Honey, something was messing with my angoras again, and it IS a bear because I just saw him running through the woods towards your workshop.”
Mark said (I kid you not), “Don’t worry Babe; a bear won’t hurt any of my tools.”

Like I was worried about his tools. Did he think I imagined the bear would crank up the chain saw and come after the rabbits with a weapon, like Rambo-bear? I was like, ‘Um… there’s no food in your workshop, I know he won’t bother anything there. I just wanted you to know he’s in the area and there’s no longer a question of what’s doing the damage at the barn.” 

“I can’t come home now to shoot a bear for you,” he said. “I’m on call.”

Clearly, the man wasn’t getting my drift. I didn’t expect him to do anything about the bear – I just wanted to vent. The bear was already gone –and even if Mark did drive the 35 minutes home with a rifle on his shoulder like the cavalry, the bear would even goner. 

Last night, the big wooden plank I keep on top of my rabbit cage for extra security was thrown eight feet again and another tarp was demolished. Something is gonna have to be done about the bear. It’s against the law to kill a bear, but a friend of ours says he wouldn’t mind relieving me of the burden, and he’d even give me a nice bear rug for Christmas. Um… no thanks. I’m alergic to dead things that leave me racked with guilt.

Mark explained that his gun won’t penetrate a big bear’s hide so if he shot at it, he’d only hurt the beast at best, which might just make the animal mad as hell and it would attack. He found out we can call the Park commission and they will set a bear trap and cart it away to the state park. That is probably what we’ll do.

Meanwhile, I’m now worried about my bees. In two minutes flat, Bears will destroy a hive that took a full year to build up.  I’m pretty convinced my rabbits are secure, but that doesn’t mean they are comfortable with a hungry bear working on the cage every night like it was rubics cube he’s trying to solve– and hey, he still might get lucky one night if he keeps at it.

And where the hell is my llama? Sort of spooky, the fact that he disappeared the same day the bear visited. Now, if the bear would just go eat those rotten duck eggs and save me from having to be the one to disappoint my dear little duck, I wouldn’t be half as mad at him.

These are the kind of troubles I deal with now a days in my “Little House on the Prairie” stage of life. I figure if these are my complaints about life, I should have no complaints – for even in Eden there’s bound to be a few bad apples. This month, these just happen to be mine.