A Llama Tale - Adventure's of a 12 year old girl and her llama, Moche
"Does she always just lie down and fall asleep where ever she happens to be?" Grandfather and Mom had found me asleep at the entrance to the cave.
"Oh Eric, you just haven't been around children for a long time."
"Sandy. Sandy! Come on now, wake up!" I often wonder if all mothers have that way of shaking your shoulder so that you wake up right away.
"Sandy, it's getting time for dinner."
"Oh, hi. I think I fell asleep. I found the garden with Noah, and a big crack in the side of the mountain. And the llamas all came to see me. And I met Olin."
We went down into the cave for supper. I was jabbering away about my adventure and talking to Max and Olin who had come with us. It wasn't dark yet but the bright sun was gone and I was chilly.
Before we went to the kitchen to have dinner, Grandfather brought a small package out of his bed room and said, "I went through some of Mary's things, Dawn. I think this might be just about the right size." Mary had been my Grandmother but she had died.
Mom took the bundle and opened it up. It was a soft wool sweater with the lower mountains and the river woven into it as a picture. "Sandy, lets see how this fits."
She pulled it over my head and fixed the sleeves. "I think it's perfect Eric." "How does it feel, Sandy?"
It was so soft and warm. "It's great Mom. Thanks Grandfather. Can we have some more bread and honey now? Boy am I hungry. What are we going to do tonight? Can Max and Olin sleep in my room? Did I tell you . . . . . . "
Time passed quickly. Three weeks became six and soon I felt that Mom and I had always lived on our mountain with Grandfather. My studies were going well. I learned to use the compass that Grandfather had given to me. I had learned lots about the llamas too: their gentle ways, how they share their time looking after the baby llamas and how they talk among themselves.
Moche and I had become good friends. We'd spend the afternoons exploring. There were hidden paths everywhere: outside the wall of the llama valley, down into the rocky meadows of the mountainside, and at the far end of the llama valley there was a forest of thorn trees that started in a swampy area and extended up onto the hillside that formed the end of the valley. The thorn trees had thick trunks and funny little triangular leaves. There was nothing funny about the thorns though, they were long and sharp and on everything from the trunk to the twigs.
The thorn trees were short and they grew close together. It would have been impossible to explore this area except that the llamas liked the little green leaves.
They had made paths that wandered in all directions through the miniature forest. Moche and I explored them all.
I was doing morning chores with Grandfather one day when I decided to ask about something again.
" Grandfather, when will you teach me about the people with red hair?"
"Today's a nice day, Sandy. How about today?"
"Ok. Good, I've been waiting for this."
"We'll take your Mother too. She needs to get away from that loom and spinning wheel for a time."
The loom and spinning wheels were in Mom's bedroom, which was over the roof of the llama cave. This room had two large windows and a patio that was rimmed by a small stone wall. From up there you could see all the way down the llama valley until it made a little turn towards the mountain. That was where the thorn tree forest started.
Mom had a few spinning wheels. She'd take one out onto patio with a basket of wool and work for hours at a time. The spinning wheels make the llama wool into yarn and then she would make blankets, clothes or rugs on the loom.
"Mommm . ! ! !" ... I had run up to tell her that we were going on an adventure with Grandfather today. The right hallway of the three tunnels that are close together leads to her room. I always like coming up here.
There were a couple of rooms off from Mom's bedroom. One had bundles and bundles of llama wool. Grandfather didn't shear the llamas. Once a week, we would block the entrance to the llama cave and each llama would be brushed before he or she could go outside. The younger llamas squirmed sometimes but the older ones seemed to really like being brushed. It was my job, on those days, to separate the combed wool into different piles by color. Then we'd bundle them up in loose cotton bags and take them up to Mom's "wool room".
Today she was on her patio working on one of the spinning wheels. I could see the llamas in little groups all over the valley. The older ones were grazing or just resting but the younger ones were running and jumping in play - everywhere. I crawled through a window onto the patio. There was a doorway with one of the few doors that the cave had, but I liked to crawl through the windows that were cut through the thick rock. They had no glass but there were heavy wool curtains on the inside and thick animal hides on the outside that could be pulled across the openings like drapes. Later I learned that the other windows in the cave were sheltered from the winter wind. However, Mom's windows faced north-east and snow could blow in if the outside and inside curtains were open.
"Mom, when the curtains are closed in the winter how will you see to do your work?"
"See the long crystals near the ceiling."
"Grandfather has a lamp for this room. The crystals reflect so much of the light that it's actually very bright."
"Really?" I had my head stuck back in the window to look at the crystals I had noticed before but never really thought about. They were about a foot long and there were two rows that circled the work area. They were held on the ceiling by small brass rings.
"Mom, Grandfather is going to show me the people with red hair today. He wants you to go too. Will you?" Mom's bedroom was here too. It was part of the same room but somewhat separated by part of the stone walls. It was the largest of the bedrooms and had the nicest furniture that Grandfather had.
"Yes, that'll be fun. You put on your sweater and jacket. It's going to be cold where we're going."
"You know? You've been there before?"
"Sure you silly thing. That's where your Father proposed to me and I said yes."
Whenever Mom talked about Dad, it was like he was still alive.
"Dad proposed to you in a grave yard?"
"It's a nice place. Beautiful in fact. I think it's more like a school or museum the people with red hair had. It was intended to be a place to visit for sure. You'll see."
Mom and I met Grandfather outside the entrance to the llama's cave. He started to explain about the people with red hair as we walked down the valley but Moche had come along and I couldn't resist running ahead with my wooly friend. This was the way to the swampy land at the end of llama's valley. Moche and I knew all the trails that lead up into the small forest of thorn trees that start there.
Grandfather was walking along slow and easy like he always does, "She has so much energy, Dawn."
Mom laughed, "She always has, Eric. I think she takes after you and David in that way."
"Moche and Sandy have certainly hit it off. I'm glad he was here for her. I was going to take him to the Rendezvous with the others, but I think he's here to stay now. He has good solid bone and a nice coat. Perhaps he'll become the next herd leader when Noah retires in four or five years."
Moche and I reached the end of the valley. Here you had to make a choice ... go up into the little forest of thorn trees or branch off into the swamp. I hadn't gone into the swampy area very far before. It had murky pools of water where frogs and little lizard like animals lived. I hadn't seen any but I was afraid of snakes.
Moche had found a frog in the grass. They were facing off with each other. The frog was all puffed up and looking as ferocious as he could. Moche had his feet spread wide apart, head and neck right down on the ground, looking at the frog, eye to eye.
Suddenly, the frog jumped right up in the air and so did Moche. I laughed and laughed but then Mom and Grandfather came along, so we got back to business.
"Which way do we go?" I was still laughing.
"Over into the bog." Grandfather had a stick and bag of some sort that he had brought from the cave.
"What about snakes?" I just didn't like snakes.
Grandfather was looking at Moche and his frog with a puzzled look on his face, "No, there are no snakes this high up on the mountains. A few frogs and a salamander or two but no snakes. In the spring there'll be more water in the bog and the swans will stop over. I don't think that they'll stop this fall. It's been a dry year and they'll bypass us with the water level in the pools so low."
"Swamps are so ukky." I was looking at the murky pools with odd tall grasses that grew at the edge of the water.
Grandfather smiled, "No, this bog is part of our valley and very important to the plants and animals that live here. Every living thing in the valley, including us, depends on the water that's held in the bog for our life here."
"Why did the people with red hair live in a swamp?"
"When they were here this bog was a pretty mountain lake."
"What happened to the lake?"
"It slowly filled up with silt from the mountain and became this bog." Grandfather always knew the answer for all my questions.
"Did the people with red hair live here?"
"They lived back at our cave. This was a special place."
Grandfather smiled, "Sort of, but to them it was more like a monument. This was where all the young children would learn the history and rules of their society. All the great and little things the people in every culture want to remember from one generation to the next."
"So they had school in the place where they buried people."
I thought I was getting the idea but Grandfather smiled again and shook his head, "We bury people to honor their life, to show respect for what they did and to remind ourselves that their life was a gift to us. I think the children of the red hair people learned to honor all living things by what they saw in this place that we're going to see."
Mom squeezed Grandfather's hand and told us we'd better get going if we were going to see everything. It wasn't a big valley but once we walked back into the swampy area we lost all sight of it. There were tall grasses and bushy little trees. You could see the llamas came back into here sometimes but not very often. We rounded a corner on the trail and then I saw it.
Actually, I saw Moche. Somehow he had worked around and ahead of us. There he was sniffing at the entrance to a cave. I didn't think he'd been here before because he had that curious guarded stance he took whenever he found something brand new.
This was the entrance to a cave, but it was nothing like the entrances to Grandfather's cave. It was shaped like a big fat "T". The entrance was four or five feet deep and it was solid rock. The T-shape made it seem like there were stone benches on each side of the entrance tunnel.
We went in but Moche didn't come with us. Grandfather had brought a large stick with a rag tied in a tight ball on the end. He soaked the rag with kerosine and then set it on fire. When he lit the torch the whole inside of the cave came alive with shapes and colors. There were pictures on the walls everywhere. Hands, figures of people, all kinds of animals in reds, blues and greens. In one spot, there were tiny hands painted on the wall near the floor, dozens and dozens of them. In another area of the wall was a painting of the lower mountains, the forest and river that we see from the entrance to Grandfather's cave.
"Wow!" I'd never seen anything like this.
"Are you afraid?" Grandfather always asks questions that I think he knows the answer to.
"No, it doesn't seem so scary as different, really different."
"Yes, it is very different from most of the things people know about ancient cultures in this part of the world."
"How old is this place, Grandfather?"
"I'm not sure, but I would guess ten to twelve thousand years. Maybe a little older than that."
"How do you know?"
"Come over here. Do you recognize this picture?"
"Sure, it's the mountains, forest and river that we see from the entrance to our cave."
"What else do you see in the painting?" He was pointing at a huge square block that was drawn between two of the lower mountains.
"I don't know but whatever it is, it's big."
"It's a glacier. Do you know what a glacier is?"
"Sure, those are rivers of ice that fall into the ocean and become icebergs. There must be some that don't flow to the ocean but my school books never talked about them. If the end of a glacier breaks off and there is no ocean, is it still an iceberg?"
Grandfather smiled, "I guess so. Where are the nearest glaciers that you know about?"
"Alaska, there must be some in Canada too."
"Well, ten to twelve thousand years ago there was a glacier right where that picture is showing it."
"How do you know that?"
"The scrape marks and dirt piles are still there for people to see and measure."
"So that's how we know when the red hair people lived here in our valley."
"Yes, and one other thing."
"Look at the glyphs on this wall over here. See this group, what are they?"
"Llamas." They were a group of happy llamas like the picture on the rug that hangs on the wall of my bedroom. Llamas of all different colors and markings, running and jumping in play.
"Yes they're llamas, there's no mistaking that. But llamas stopped living in North America thousands of years ago."
"Lets just say they moved to South America, for now."
"How did our llamas get here then, and the others I've seen at the zoo and in parades?"
"People began to bring llamas back to North America about fifty or sixty years ago. These are pictures of the North American ancestors of our llamas."
"They lived here at the same time the red hair people did, thousands and thousands of years ago." I was right, I could tell by the look on Grandfather's face.
"Eric, why don't we go see the back rooms now, it's even chillier here than I remembered." Mom was right, I had goose bumps and was shivering.
"Ok Dawn, it's the time of year. The ice flows in the back get much larger in late summer."
There was another T-shaped door, though not as thick as the passage from the outside. The room we came into was full of big pots, all pretty much the same size. Some were broken but the majority were intact. There were adult size hands painted on the walls here and more figures of people. It wasn't hard to guess what was in the pots because the broken ones had bones, old pieces of cloth and a skull. There was still red hair on most of the skulls.
"A little, but look closer at the pots." Grandfather brought his torch closer to one smaller group of the large pots.
Each pot had pictures and some funny marks that might be writing. The pictures and writing were different on each one, so it seemed that they told the story of the person inside. They were pretty shaped pots. I guess if you have to die and be buried, this would be a nice way. By your friends and family with your story written on your pot.
"Why doesn't some professor come and study these?"
"Someone may someday, I guess. But no one knows that they're here and I haven't told them."
"Because the red hair people thought this was more than a tomb, to them it was a boat. After they lived and died, their family would bring them here. I believe that they thought they were all going to another life after they died."
"How do you know that?"
"Because of the next room."
It had been colder in the second room but now as we walked through another T-shaped doorway into the third room, it was frigid. Grandfather held up his torch and the cave came alive with light. It was glass or crystal - no ice. This was a huge cavern full of ice. The walls and large columns were shining, glistening, freezing ice.
"Jeepers, there sure are a lot of surprises on this mountain."
"Look over here, Sandy." Mom had walked over to the right hand wall. Here there were baskets and baskets of grain and dried fruit. There were clothes, sleds, baby cribs, bows with arrows and just about anything you can imagine.
In one area there were big stacks of animal skins, more baskets with funny shaped eggs and just more and more things throughout the whole cave.
"I guess they did think they were going somewhere." I was looking at one area where meat was hanging on long horizontal poles after all those years. I was wondering if it would still be good to eat, but decided not to ask.
"Yes, and whether they were right or not isn't for me to say, so I leave them here to themselves." Grandfather's voice was very serious now.
"I think I understand. They would have wanted to be left alone because they felt life and death were connected in this place." It seems logical to me. After all, we don't let people dig up our grave yards.
"Yes, that's what I believe. It's one thing to visit the site but a very different situation to disturb what they created."
"Do you come here often?"
"No, light in general isn't good for the cave. I feel the torch is better than artificial light or lanterns. The smoke from the torch protects the paintings from the light and the flame tends more toward the red part of the spectrum. But in general it's best to just stay away. I thought it was important for you to see it once. Remember though, it's a secret that belongs to the red hair people and us for right now."
We left the back two chambers. On the way out, Grandfather showed me where the middle chamber branched off into other rooms that held more pots and wall paintings.
"Moche!" I saw Moche as we came into the first room. He had come in through the T-shaped doorway and was sniffing the air when I saw him. Coming out from the darkness of the inner rooms, the colors and figures on the wall here seemed even more vivid. There were deer, llamas, elephants of some sort, little tiny horses and buffalo. It was a large room and almost the entire wall space was covered with these figures that formed one giant painting.
Moche skipped out the doorway and I followed him into the warm afternoon sunlight. Mom and Grandfather came out behind me. Grandfather carefully put his torch out and then splashed murky water onto it from a swampy pool in front of the doorway.
"Grandfather, why it shaped like a T ?"
"What?" He was still splashing water on the torch.
"Why is the doorway shaped like a T ?"
"I don't know Sandy. Someone must have had a good reason. It took a very long time to chisel that shape into the volcanic rock with stone tools."
As we were walking back up the valley Grandfather said to Mom, "Jack and Annie Perch will be coming up to watch the valley when I go to the Rendezvous."
Mom smiled, "Jack and Annie Perch. Gosh, I haven't seen them since David and I first left for the coast."
"Yes, we should have some nice talks when they come. You and Sandy will come to the Rendezvous with me?"
"Yes, she'll like the Rendezvous. Is it the same as it was?"
"I haven't been in five years myself. Joseph Three-feathers is coming up from the North Platte River to take some llamas off my hands. The herd's getting too large for the valley to support and some of them can find nice homes on the ranches and farms of the lower hills."
I had run ahead with Moche. I knew they were talking about the Rendezvous. I wasn't sure what it was but I knew from listening that it was a long way away. Some llamas would be taken there and Joseph Three-feathers would give them to people on farms and ranches where he lived. We'd also take some of the big male llamas to carry our supplies and carry back kerosine that we'd buy at the Rendezvous. Grandfather hardly ever used kerosine but he said that with two ladies in the house we would need more. When Mom tried to argue, he said that's the way Mary would have wanted it. Whenever Grandfather wanted to win a difference of opinion he would say that and then Mom would say, ok.
Back to Chapter Listing