Llama T-Shirts


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“Levi is running by the fence,” Sally Taylor said. “He has a large spot on his leg–that’s how you can tell him from Balzac.” Both young llamas were creamy white with dark spots, like chocolate chip ice cream.

I found it hard to believe that they were only two weeks old. Their ears moved in the direction of any sound, and their faces already seemed to express ancient wisdom. Balzac looked at us from beside his mother.

Kelly and I were choosing our first llama. We watched Levi nurse from a black llama with a white neck.

“That’s Fancy, his mother,” Sally said. “His father, Rama, is away right now, being used for breeding. Like Levi, he’s appaloosa. We think Fancy and Rama are outstanding in looks and intelligence. We gave Levi his name because he has such good genes.”

Kelly preferred Levi’s pattern of spots, and I liked his name. Spots and a name were funny reasons to select a llama, but Sally knew far more about llamas than we did, and we trusted her evaluation that either young llama would suit our needs. We chose Levi.

Sally loved her animals–I could tell from the gentleness with which she handled them. She and her husband Paul had begun with two llamas a few years ago, and now had a large herd. “I come out and watch them whenever I can,” she said. “Sometimes I’m out here for hours. They’re such social animals, there’s always something going on. Look in the field by the barn.”

A dozen llamas were clustered together. “There’s a week-old llama in the middle of the herd,” Sally said. “We just put her and her mother in with the main herd, and the other females are curious.” I could scarcely see the baby, as the llamas were all trying to sniff her. My eyes returned to Levi.

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy Levi,” Sally said. “What made you get interested in llamas?”

“It just seemed to happen,” Kelly replied. “Before we moved to Oregon, I picked up a brochure about going packing with a group called Shasta Llamas. Rosana was working in the library in Santa Rosa then, and she came across a book called Along Came a Llama. We both read it, and were impressed with the intelligence and sensitivity of the animals.”

Next we went to see some llamas, just for curiosity, a pleasant outing for an afternoon. That day we realized that llamas could be useful to us, for packing and for wool.

“That’s how we became interested,” I said, “but I’m still puzzling over why.”

My background had very few animals in it. I had grown up in an academic family, with my nose in a book. The book might be an animal story, but throughout my childhood I would walk several blocks out of my way to avoid large dogs. I studied anthropology in college, became a probation officer and later a librarian, taught self-hypnosis and time management, and traveled around the world.

Kelly had at least grown up in a rural area. There were sometimes sheep or cattle on the land his parents owned. He grew up to work in film and video, play jazz saxophone, and do carpentry. He loved plants, animals, and inspiring views.

In our life together we evolved a style which was in some ways close to the land, and in other ways rushed and urban. We raised gardens and chickens. We lived by the ocean and later in an old summer camp set in apple orchards. While I worked in a busy public library system, Kelly made films and obtained a patent on a method of animation.

We were living in a trailer, situated on seventy undeveloped acres in the rugged mountains of southern Oregon. We had just moved there, and were putting in water, electricity, and a garden. The land was steep and dry, reminding Kelly of southern Idaho where he had grown up. At its highest point, there was a ridge along which a wonderful assortment of wind-swept juniper trees grew, so we named the land Juniper Ridge. The urban amenities we craved were just twenty minutes away, in Ashland, a town which combined the friendliness of rural Oregon with the sophistication of being a world-renowned theatrical center.

It would be a good time to bring llamas into our lives. What might we learn from them? Like dolphins and elephants, llamas seemed to have an intelligence very different from our own. Was there a possibility that we would develop a greater sense of harmony with nature from living with llamas? We hoped so.

We would have to wait six months for Levi to grow up and be weaned from his mother before he could come to us. As we left the Taylor’s ranch, I felt the same excitement mixed with unreality I had felt when we bought our land. Dreams coming true generally led to surprises–usually pleasant–and more dreams. Levi would be our llama, and I wondered what it would really be like. We planned to get another llama to keep Levi company; maybe we would even have a whole herd.

Would our dogs get along well with Levi? Martha, now thirteen, was happy to spend long hours under the kitchen table, becoming alert chiefly when food appeared. I didn’t expect her to pay much attention to llamas.

Cider would. A Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy just a few weeks older than Levi, she was growing into a long-legged, large dog, loving to run. She was of a breed developed in Africa to hunt lions. Sometimes Martha let Cider attack her, but we were Cider’s main playmates.

Sally sent us photos of Levi; he gazed at us from the refrigerator door, along with a Peruvian postcard of a llama herd which my father or grandfather had picked up in their travels over the past fifty years, little imagining that llamas would become a topic of intense interest to their descendent. I was sorry they had both died before I could ask them about it.

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