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.