Each day, I go down to the barn to visit Pulani, who has been confined in a double stall for six weeks now. I enter the stall. We stare at each other. She pins her ears back. I stick my tongue out at her. She lifts her head as high as she can, her nose straight up in the air so she will be taller than her opponent. In her mind, this establishes her superiority. It’s as aggressive as she gets and all it does it make her look silly, so I don’t’ take offense. My scars have long since healed from the wrestling match of catching her, but there is a lingering distrust on both of our parts, so we proceed carefully.
Thus begins the dance of taming a llama. I walk slowly around the room and she sidesteps away. I corner her and pat her back while she nervously keeps her face away. This contact is more than we’ve had for the entire past year together, so I revel in the feel of her thick wool and the muscle under her coat. Her skin shivers under my palm and her eyes dart around nervously. I let my hand slide down to her belly, hoping to feel something exciting, but this usually makes her kick so I pull away in respect to her anxious state.
For ten days I’ve been going into her stall to grab her halter, clip a lead rope to it, then wind the rope around a slat in the fence so I can pull her face up close to confine movement. I proceed to pry her mouth open with a syringe to squirt medicine down her throat, and wait until she swallows it. The sour paste was given to me by the vet to get her to produce milk for her baby. Of course, when he demonstrated giving it to her, Pulani had been given a tranquilizer, so it looked easy. The first time I tried on my own, it took me half an hour to catch her and another half an hour to figure out a creative solution to getting the paste into her mouth. Each attempt became easier, partly because I became more coordinated with the system, and partly because she started to accept that I wouldn’t leave until she ate the stuff. At long last, I’ve finished giving her the entire prescription.
Pulani’s due date to have her baby came and went over a month ago. I kept careful records of the breeding and had arranged my entire summer around the event, so I was more than a little annoyed as the days dragged on and there was no baby. I stared at her in the stall, thinking she didn’t even look pregnant. Perhaps the mating didn’t take. It’s unheard of to keep a male and female llama in a pasture and not have the female get pregnant, but leave it to Pulani to be so ornery that she’d turn away her mate.
In the meantime, I had pressing commitments looming that I had scheduled under the assumption I’d free after July 10th. I had to go with Neva to Girl Scout Camp for four days, and I’d paid for a four day trip to Vegas with some nice bells and whistles for Mark’s birthday. Each time, I left Denver to care for the animals with a signed check for the vet and a DVD on llama birthing “just in case”.
She would look at me with total disbelief and say, “Are you kidding me? You wouldn’t dare leave me here if she was really going to go into labor!”
“It’s just in case. She wouldn’t dare have that baby without me. Trust me.” But a part of me thought my belligerent llama was just waiting for me to go to have her baby. But the trips came and went and still, no baby llama.
Since Pulani’s entire purpose was to be a companion to the late Dali, and she didn’t seem to be pregnant, I decided to sell her.
I wrote an add for the classifieds and stuck it on the visor of my car. It hovered over my head for days, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to drop it off at the paper. In the back of my mind I thought she still might be pregnant, and it would be irresponsible to sell a pregnant llama without disclosure. Besides which, my only hope of retaining a piece of Dali was that baby, so I couldn’t send Pulani away unless I was sure. I hadn’t scheduled a vet checkup for my horses for a year, so I called him out to give everyone their shots and to give Pulani a pregnancy check.
Sure enough, the vet said she was pregnant and would have the baby within two weeks. “Llama’s don’t foal on cue like horses. They have their babies when they are good and ready”, he said. That was two weeks ago.
So now, I’m driving down to the barn about four times a day. Waiting. Waiting.
I say, “Have that baby, dammit.”
She sticks her nose in the air as if to say, “Make me.”
A former student, now 30, who recently opened her own small studio in Florida, came up to visit for a few days to pick my brain about dance. I warned her that she was welcome to come, but I’d make her join me in the llama delivery if the time came.
She just laughed and said, “After dancing with you and Mark for a dozen years, nothing you’d make me do would come as a shock. Just promise you won’t blog about me if I make a fool of myself.”
“I never would do such a thing!” I said, with a devious grin making me look like The Grinch when he told Cindy Loo Hoo that he was only going to fix her christmas tree before stuffing it up the chimney.
We have another ex-student from Jill’s generation now living in Atlanta (Jamie), so we called her to come over and visit too. We barbequed and had a wine tasting party and slugged down my cordials, having a grand old time swapping old stories and new, laughing, screaming and teasing eachother so loudly we shook the roof. But no baby. I really thought my having provided an audience would have inspired Pulani, but she still held out, much to everyone’s disappointment. I had my guests primed and ready for some unique entertainment. Ah well.
Pulani is starting to act bored, hormonal and lonely in that barn. I can tell she is glad to see me no matter how standoffish she acts. She’s started moaning whenever she sees me and she follows me as I do my chores, pacing inside and out to watch me work. I think she is at long last ready to get this ordeal over so she can return to her pasture. She had finially realized I am the one with the decision making power, so she isn’t nearly as snobbish as she was a month ago.
For example, I’ve been trying for a month to get her to take a cookie out of my hand, but she always refuses, so I drop the treat into her bin. I keep my eyes downcast so I appear less of a threat, and keep my head low (this is how I trained Dali to take my treats) but to no avail. I also started holding her grain in a scoop over the fence, making her take the first few bites from the end of my arm before pouring it into her bin. All the nearness must have paid off. Last week, she tentatively took a piece of carrot from my fingers, and then suddenly, she got over any fear of being fed by hand. Now, she leans her head over the fence for cookies or carrots every time she sees me. She can be downright aggressive for attention.
So it seems we’re coming to terms with each other, developing an odd relationship built on respect, curiosity and cookies. She looks cumbersome and uncomfortable despite the fans I’ve set up in the barn to keep her cool. Thanks to the medicine, she should be producing milk so I am hopeful that she will nurse this baby (you may recall my mentioning that she turned away her last baby. It had to be bottle fed, which is what made the disillusioned breeder sell her in the end).
been work tending to a llama each day, making my summer revolve around her pregnancy, but considering I may have to go into the stall to help the birthing process, I understand that the 6 week delay has been for the best. And I trust this will be one more unique experience to color my world, so it will be worth the trouble. Thanks to Pulani’s confinement and my determination to make her more civil, things will probably proceed with less grief for us both. We’ve developed a repore that will make it difficult for me to sell her now. I‘m not surprised. Life has a way of railroading you, dragging you by your emotions towards directions you never imagined you’d go .
So, that is why I’ve been quiet this month. Llama responsibilities eating up my blog time. I’ve been swamped with work – writing, writing, writing…. I’ve been preparing a dossier to apply for grants and fellowships and working to develop teaching opportunities. Time to get into gear and do something to make me grow, beyond animal experiments. There is so much to share about life here – so much to reflect upon, yet so few hours in a day to put it all on paper.
God willing, I’ll post pictures of a healthy baby llama soon. Perhaps that will untangle my fingers and inspire me to blog again too. I can’t imagine resisting sharing that story, and while Jill wouldn’t want anything written to make her look foolish, I clearly have no problem doing that to myself.
So, until another day . . .