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I liked Whiskers. “You’re a real charmer,” I said to him. Whiskers was listening to me. I felt more like the job applicant than like the employer. “If you come live with us we’ll take you hiking. You’ll live with a couple of other males, and next year you can breed Posey. Did you ever meet her? She used to live here.”

I couldn’t tell what he thought of my offer. Kelly walked him around a bit, and we all prepared to leave, the humans to talk in Dan’s kitchen, the llamas to go out into the dark night again. I knew they had shelter out there; Dan explained that they didn’t always choose to use it. We had already noticed that with our three at home.

Over tea, I tried to articulate a recurring question. “I keep wondering what I’m doing with llamas. It’s exciting to go around looking at them, and they’re lots of fun at home, but I wonder if it isn’t going to turn out to be just another passing fancy.”

“Being around llamas tends to be addicting,” Dan said with a grin.

“Yes, I’ve noticed that, but I’m vaguely uncomfortable with my `back-to-the-land’ impulses. Oh, it’s wonderful to have a garden, and I do love our land and the llamas, but sometimes I’m afraid of missing out on the really important things, of not making any significant contribution with my life.

“My classmates from Stanford are distinguished professors by now, doing research. Or they’re fairly high up in the government. Or combining motherhood with a full-time medical practice. And what am I doing? Breeding llamas. This is the twentieth century, this is the nuclear age, this is a time of incredible challenges, and I just wonder if I’m retreating from the real issues by taking on llamas.”

Dan told us why he was involved with llamas, breeding them, training them, studying them, brokering them, planning a trip to South America. “I think there’s a lot of significant work that can be done with llamas. They have an important place in healing the breach between man and nature.

“I see what happens on every pack trip we take. Everybody relaxes during the trip. You might expect that just from being out in nature. But it’s more than that: people notice the sensitivity and intelligence of the llamas, and it blows their minds. They start thinking about all kinds of things. You wouldn’t believe some of the conversations we have, on those llama trips. I’ve been told many times that they have had a profound impact.

“Humanity must come to a greater appreciation of nature, and it must happen pretty fast,” he went on. “If not, well, there’s a point of no return out there someplace. If we blow it, it won’t be just for ourselves. I’m not doing all this for people. I’m doing it for the llamas.”

“Dan, thank you,” I said. “You’ve just handed me a missing piece of my own personal jigsaw puzzle. Not that I’m going to start doing all the things you’re doing. For some reason I’m pretty optimistic about the future of our planet. But what you’ve said gives me more of a feeling for how my enjoyment of llamas could be the basis for something. If this sounds vague, it is. But food for thought.”

It was late, and we went out to sleep in our van. As we lay there listening to the rain, I thought of times I had heard the rain on the van in Guatemala. I thought of the harmony with nature of the Indians there, and I thought of the large amounts of pesticide they breathed in the coffee plantations. Nothing was simple. But I had a new piece of the puzzle. Thoughts of llamas turned into dreams of llamas. Whiskers was telling me things.

When we woke, it was still overcast but not raining. We took our tea out to the pasture to watch Whiskers. We thoughtlessly brought along the bran muffins we were having for breakfast, and a dozen curious llamas would gladly have relieved us of them. It seemed somehow rude to eat in front of them, so we retreated to the van to finish breakfast.

We scarcely had to discuss it; both of us felt Whiskers would be a fine addition to our little herd. Kelly arranged the van for llama hauling and puttered with the engine.

I went back to the llama pasture, taking Cider with me on lead. I wanted to watch Whiskers’ interactions with the larger males. Dan had said Whiskers could be quite a fighter, one who wouldn’t hesitate to take on llamas much larger than himself. Nobody was fighting this morning. Cider wanted to play with the llamas. To distract her, I walked her around the large pasture, letting her sniff this and that, a bush here, a dung pile there.

At first the llamas watched us from afar. Then they all came running across the meadow, Whiskers in the lead, Kemo a close second. We made quite a procession, meandering around the pasture at a dog’s pace. Whenever Cider would turn toward the llamas, they stepped back a little. When she turned away, they came up closer.

Dan joined me there. “Kelly said you’ve decided to take Whiskers,” he said, and I felt that he was glad. “Be sure and take him places, do things with him, or he’ll be bored. He loves to have a good time.”

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