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In June, we began doing the hikes. Ashland, a tourist destination because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was a good place to be doing them. We found that many of our guests were tourists; others were local people who often came when they had out-of-town guests to bring along.

A car would drive in. The llamas would watch. If there were small children among the passengers, the llamas were particularly curious. If the people walked over to the fence, the llamas might sniff them, or if the humans had moved quickly, the llamas would often retreat a little. I liked to stay quietly in the background while the people and the llamas were having their first meeting. Often this was the time when we decided which of the llamas would go out that day.

Soon we would catch some llamas and brush their wool a little to make sure it held no twigs or debris that could hurt the llamas’ skin. Then we would put on their packs filled with picnic goodies.

Most people loved the llamas. They photographed them, quickly formed favorites (usually the ones that they led), and asked us innumerable questions. One six-year-old girl was exceptionally acute in observing the nuances of llama behavior, asking the meaning of every ear position, quickly mastering exactly how much pressure it took to lead Levi. She and her family became friends and would sometimes stop by to visit–mostly with Levi.

One mother warned me on the phone, “My nine-year-old is afraid of animals. You’ll have to coax her.”

When they arrived, the girl took one look at Poco and announced that was the llama she wanted. Poco was a real favorite on the hikes, as he was small, cute, and very friendly. But he was also a little bratty on the trail, with the habit of stopping to feast whenever he wanted to.

That day, with that girl, he was perfectly behaved. “I thought I’d be scared of the llamas,” the girl confessed, “but Poco’s just like a brother.”

Poco went out one day with a very active deaf boy who took off running. That was fine with Poco; he easily matched his stride to the boy’s. While the boy’s aunt and I rather sedately strolled along Llama Lane, boy and llama ran full tilt. Soon they were out of sight. Then back, still running–and away again. Poco seemed to love it, and the picnic lunch was only a little splattered from its wild ride. The boy’s face, rather sulky when he’d arrived, was radiant.

Once one of the women on a hike I was leading kept asking about rattlesnakes. “There are some around here, but we’ve only seen one or two a year,” I said.

“I just don’t know what I’d do if I saw one,” she said. “They terrify me so much.”

I decided she probably wouldn’t be reassured if I told her that we regularly communed (or tried to) with the rattlesnakes, asking them to get out of the way when we were hiking. I thought maybe we had achieved some kind of connection with them, as the first time in my life that I’d seen one was when Kelly and I first owned the land. As we set out on a hike, I said to him that I really would like to see one sometime, and half an hour later I did.

Hiking with the woman who was frightened, I just got her talking about something else. She seemed to relax and have a good time. On our way back from that hike, my group and I passed Kelly with another group of people and llamas. He later told me that they did see a rattlesnake, a couple of yards off the trail, about an hour after we had passed by there. The people in his group had been mildly curious, but nobody had been upset. Fortunately, the llamas–with their habit of sniffing things they’re curious about–hadn’t noticed.

I wondered about that incident. Had in fact the frightened woman seen a movement in the leaves that nobody else had observed? Or perhaps had the intensity of her emotion and thoughts of rattlesnakes drawn a snake to the area, in time to be seen by the other group?

Many people would say it was just a coincidence, but I was beginning to get a new sense of the interweaving of our consciousness and the world around us. After living with llamas for several years in this wild spot in the mountains, both Kelly and I were becoming more attuned to the plant and animal forces blowing like the winds around us. A bobcat passed within a yard of where Kelly was quietly sitting one day, never noticing him. I was quicker to tell when my llamas or my garden needed something.

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