Llama T-Shirts


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Llamas just weren’t teddy bears. They didn’t crave the human touch the way many dogs and cats did. Aside from touching noses, llamas touched each other rarely. When they did, it was in fighting or breeding, or it was a mother with a baby. They jostled at the feeding station, but snuggling up was not a joy to a llama.

I was reading a book called Llama Training: Who’s in Charge? at the time, and it called llamas companionable rather than affectionate. That struck me as an apt description. Our three enjoyed being around us. They watched whatever we were doing. Their curiosity seemed endless. They liked walking with us, we knew, as their entire bodies would express interest: ears forward, heads turning from side to side, tails perhaps lifted a little.

We did a lot of communicating by looks. I had wondered if looking a llama in the eye would have the aggressive overtones it did with a dog. It seemed that it could at times, but there was a lot of eye contact going on between the llamas and us, and none of our three seemed to take offense. The times of eye contact seemed to me times of communion, but I didn’t know if the llamas interpreted them in the same way.

In exasperation, I wrote:

We see eye to eye.
I cry oh Levi why can’t we talk?
We can only walk,
Walk and look, and see eye to eye.

I recited it to him, in the new barn. He listened. At least he didn’t tell me I should have tried iambic pentameter.

Some of my most peaceful moments were the ones I spent alone with the animals. Long afternoons passed dreamily, while I worked in the garden or cleared brush, looking up now and then to watch a llama or look at subtle changes in the mountain view.

On a sunny afternoon, I pulled nails out of old barn wood, working right next to Posey’s field. The old wood was from an early settler’s shanty, now collapsed in the valley below us, too fragile to use for anything but decoration. We were going to cover Posey’s shed with it. Kelly and Ajila were in town. The sun was warm, but the wind had a bite to it. Distant Mount Shasta was showing white further down her flanks than she had before the recent rains.

My mind gradually loosened up, and in the late afternoon there came over me a delicious sensation of being totally in the present, feeling in harmony with the llamas and the mountains, in harmony even with the stubborn nails. It was a familiar experience, though rare. I was most likely to feel it when I was alone and outside. It may be what turns people into devoted gardeners.

Cider was running around and Martha was lying up against Posey’s fence. Posey was sitting near me, watching me carry boards. The cat walked by. In my serene state, I thought about telepathic communication with animals. My experiences of it were limited to a few times when one of our dogs responded to my thoughts. Even then I was reluctant to say that it was telepathy, for possibly I had given clues without realizing it.

Occasionally I experienced telepathic connections with other people. If I were to try tuning into the llamas, would there be a way I could know whether I was really sensing what a llama was experiencing? I didn’t know. Llamas were so very different from humans.

In college, I majored in anthropology because of my fascination with the varied ways of life that humans have developed. My interest in llamas stemmed from the same root, a branch further out on the same tree. I didn’t want to go out on a limb, but I kept thinking, what is it like to be a llama?

When I studied anthropology, I saw how easy it was to project the attitudes of one’s own culture onto people in other cultures. So too I could see that it would be easy to attribute human characteristics to the llamas.

Yet there was a lot of common ground. Many of their experiences were similar to ours: the pleasure of eating, the importance of companionship, feelings of fear, curiosity, aggression.

Observing llamas, and reading about the observations of other people, was how we had learned most of what we knew about them. I wasn’t eliminating the possibility of telepathy, but for now I wanted to focus on what I could observe. We already knew that llamas had a number of ways of communicating. We heard them use a variety of sounds. We saw that head, neck, and tail positions had meanings.

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