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I imagined the story continuing; maybe I would write a trilogy. How were the mother and son received by their family, and by others in the llama community? Some ridiculed them, others thought they were dangerous or evil for turning to a spiritual tradition other than Christian, and still others wanted to blindly follow them. But there were also those people who thoughtfully evaluated their message on its own merits. The vision spread beyond the llama community. I saw the mother and son on “Good Morning America.” I saw them taking a pure white llama to an informal dinner at the White House.

When Kelly and I ate dinner that evening, I told him the story; my mind was racing on it.

“It’s exciting!” I exclaimed.

“As a story or as something real?”

“Both! A fictional form to discuss real ideas. Maybe communicating with the llamas is part of what we need to survive.”

“Do you want to write it?”

“Maybe. But you know I’ve always shied away from fiction. For one thing, I don’t know if I could write in that form. It’s not anything I’m going to do right away. I’ll let it percolate.”

Kelly’s questions brought up a central issue for me. Always my thinking brought me back to a tension, an interplay between what I could observe and what I could imagine.

Writing fiction was one way of dealing with that tension between observation and imagination. In fiction, and especially in science fiction, you could assume all kinds of things that weren’t accepted normally, and the fun came in playing out the situations that then developed.

I had seen my father doing just that. When I was in my teens, he began publishing science fiction stories, under the pen name of Cordwainer Smith. Actually, part of my fascination with animal consciousness came from him. In some of his stories, he wrote about beings who were part human, part animal. Their names showed their origins: C’Mel was a cat/woman, D’Joan a dog/child.

But for whatever reasons, I wanted to explore what was real. I once read a book called Kinship with All Life in which the author, J. Allen Boone, had an extraordinary relationship with a German Shepherd. I read the book with the same suspension of the rules of ordinary reality that I would read my father’s stories. But Boone said his experiences did happen. I had to say I didn’t know. Then when Cider, our Rhodesian Ridgeback, was a puppy, she pulled Kinship with All Life out of the bookshelf–and it was a smallish book, not jutting out in any way–and chewed the cover. This was the only book she ever chewed. Telling me something, are you, Cider?

I wanted to relate to the animals I lived with as fully as I could, and I wanted them to do the same with me. If we could communicate telepathically, I wanted to.

People who discussed complex emotions and motivations in their animal friends were sometimes accused of being anthropomorphic, that is of attributing human experiences to animals. I would rather risk that label than risk missing wonderful connections with these wise animals. But I hungered to know when something was imagined and when it was based in reality. What is reality? Kelly and I had long talks about that question too.
I did imagine conversations with my llamas. I asked Lil why she hadn’t gotten pregnant. “I’m happy just the way I am,” she told me. It wasn’t that she thought in words, but my left brain did a translation.

“Lil, I really wish you’d get pregnant. I would just love you to have babies. What would they look like? Imagine sitting here in the field, surrounded by your own daughters and granddaughters.”

Lil seemed to relish this picture. “I do like babies,” she said.

One afternoon when I was pulling weeds in the garden, Tumbleweed was watching me. His body language and the intensity of his gaze conveyed such clear desire that right away I took him an armload of the weeds. Then I realized that when I first thought of doing that, I’d been sitting where I couldn’t see him.

The love between humans and animals, the companionship, the playfulness, the enjoyment of each other’s company–all these seemed like a good starting point. I guessed that any telepathic experiences I might have with my llamas would be rooted in the sense of connection that came from these emotions.

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