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There are thousands of llamas in this country now. They continue to grow in popularity as people discover their many uses: backpacking, showing, breeding, driving to cart, spinning the wool, and general enjoyment. There are several organizations devoted to llamas.

The largest one, the International Llama Association, was sponsoring a conference in Sunriver, a resort in eastern Oregon. I had been looking forward to it, but when Kelly and I walked into the large wood-beamed conference hall filled with hundreds of chatting llama owners, I felt intimidated.

“Kelly! Rosana! What are you doing here? Do you have llamas?” We turned to see an old friend, Tanya Charter, whom we hadn’t seen in several years. During that time she had acquired some llamas. She introduced us to a couple sitting with her, and they turned out to know one of Kelly’s sisters. Small world. I stopped feeling shy and delved into three intense days of information and conversation.

“Do you pronounce llama ‘lama’ or ‘yama’?” I asked llama owners. Though ‘yama’ was the Indian and Spanish pronunciation, most called their animals ‘lamas.’ So we did too.

One evening at the exhibit booths, I bought a copy of Speechless Brothers, by Andy Tillman, a history of llamas and a guide to llama care, now out-of-print. At bedtime I thought I would glance through a few pages. It was after three in the morning when I finally turned out the light, and my dreams were filled with llamas, South American Indians, and mountain trails.

The conference wound up with a tour of Patterson Llamas in Sisters, Oregon, containing the largest herd of llamas in the United States. It was astonishing to see over five hundred llamas in one place. The llamas came running to see the hundreds of humans too.

The late afternoon sun blinked through miles of pine forests as Kelly and I drove home, thinking it all over. When I asked, “What makes a beautiful llama?” people answered in many different ways. I liked Dick Patterson’s rejoinder, “What’s a beautiful woman, a beautiful horse, a beautiful painting? It’s in the eye of the beholder.”

I felt enthusiastic about llamas, and I talked to Kelly about maybe becoming breeders ourselves. If what we had heard at the conference was correct, llamas were an excellent investment. I thought we could make part of our living by raising them. It would be a lot of fun.

Kelly was driving. He didn’t seem to be as involved in my daydream as I was. He knew I tended to get carried away. Then he said, “What about small llamas?”

“Huh?”

“I wonder if we could breed small llamas,” he said. “Most people seem to favor the large animals, and that makes sense for wilderness packing. But what about people who might just want some for pets? Small ones would still be useful for backpacking, even though they would carry less. They could travel in smaller vehicles, too.”

“Small ones would be good for people who might be intimidated by large animals,” I reflected. “That one time I was on a horse has left its mark on me.” At an uncle’s ranch one summer, I had gone for a long ride on a horse who tried to scrape me off into the trees.

Another reason for small llamas occurred to me. “Weavers might be interested. What if a smaller llama with long wool could produce roughly the same amount of wool as larger llamas with shorter wool? It could be like dwarf fruit trees.”

“I don’t know if it would be hard to breed them, but it would be fun to try,” Kelly said. “I’ve been thinking about Tumbleweed. Remember him?”

Indeed I did. He was an exceptionally small young male llama at the Taylor’s ranch. Tumbleweed had a dear face, with a bit of hay usually dangling Huck Finn-style from his mouth. His wool was longer than Levi’s. Like Levi, he had appaloosa markings.

I remembered that Sally thought he was special too. “Would they sell him? How could we know if he carries genes for smallness? Maybe he’s just stunted in his growth for some reason.”

“His mother was on the small side, and Sally mentioned a small half-brother from the same father,” Kelly remembered.

“Sounds good. And after all we heard at the conference about llamas being such herd animals, I bet Levi would be happier with another llama right from the start.”

“Seems like we’re getting serious here,” Kelly said. “When I pick up Ajila and Levi, shall I find out more about Tumbleweed and maybe buy him?” He would soon be going to the San Francisco airport to meet his teenage daughter’s flight from New Orleans. On the way home, they would pick up Levi. The Taylors, soon to move to Montana with their herd, lived in northern California.

“Sure! I guess you can fit Ajila and her luggage and two llamas into the van. I wonder what she’ll think of all this. So we don’t have any llamas yet, but we have an official breeding plan, small llamas with long wool. I wonder if we could breed for good disposition too. Llamas generally seem to be good natured, but there’s bound to be some variation.”

“I don’t know how much that’s a matter of inheritance,” said Kelly, “but let’s go for it.”

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