A Llama Tale - Adventure's of a 12 year old girl and her llama, Moche




 I had talked and talked all the way back to Grandfather's cave and then I told him and Mom the whole story. By evening I was very sleepy and Grandfather carried me up to my bedroom.

"That was quite a bit of excitement for one day." Grandfather wasn't very tall but he sure was strong. His arms felt like tree trunks.

"Can I call you Grandpa instead of Grandfather?"

"Sure, I'd like that."

"Moche saved us today."

"Sounds like he was a brave fellow."

"Goodnight, Grandpa."

"Goodnight Sandy. Call if you need anything."

"I'm ok. Really."

"Ok. Goodnight."

Soft light was coming into my room from the hallway. The walls were alive with warm colors and gradually darkening shadows. This was the nicest time to watch the llamas that were woven into the rug on my wall. They really look alive in the soft evening light. The brown llama is jumping with his tail held high and the big white one, that reminds me of Noah, stands off - alone - watching and on-guard. There's a pretty spotted one that I call Martha, I know she isn't real but if she was I know she'd be a good mother. And then there's . . . . I fell asleep.

"I think she'll sleep pretty sound tonight." Grandfather was just coming out of the tunnel that leads to the balcony and my bedroom.

Annie said, "That's quite a girl you have there Dawn."

"Was it as close a call as she said?" Mom was sitting in her chair fixing a pulled yarn on my nice sweater.

"It was as close a call as I've had in the twenty-two years I've been wandering around out here. If Jack and the dogs hadn't come along, I don't think I would have stopped him."

"Don't forget that little llama, Annie, he did his part." Jack was stretched out on the big fur rug that Grandfather keeps on the floor. He had Elizabeth, Max, Olin and all the other dogs lying around him.

"Moche, it's the one word she said during the whole time. The little rascal charged right into that old cougar and knocked him down. He sure startled me, I thought I was going to be dead in two seconds."

Annie was curled up in a chair near Jack. As I came to know Jack and Annie better over longer and longer periods of time, this was how they always relaxed at Grandfather's. Jack on the floor, surrounded by the dogs, and Annie on her chair close enough to ruffle his hair or give him a kick if his stories began to stretch the truth too far.

Jack sat up, "Who is Moche, Eric?"

Grandfather had just sat down in his chair. It was a large one that has three or four large wooly llama hides covering it. I liked to sit there in the evenings because it's so warm and soft. "His mother is old Sarah. I don't think Sandy has found the path to the high pasture yet. Sara and some of the older female llamas stay up there with Alex. Alex retired as the herd's main sire when Noah came of age. But the older girls are use to him I guess, so they all spend the summer in that high meadow. It's good pasture, with plenty of water and nice shelter. I usually leave them up there until the first snow. Last year, Sara delivered Moche just after I had brought them down to winter with the rest of the herd. It was during the first real big snow for that winter. Most of the llamas have their babies in the late spring and early summer so Moche never had anyone his own age to play with. He and Sandy seem to have fixed that though."

On and on into the night they talked. Mom and Annie had been good friends in the past and Jack had grown up with my Dad. They talked about a lot of things in the past and present but finally Jack said to my Mom, "What did happen to Dave, Dawn? We don't mean to pry. It's just that you and Dave know so many people in the wilderness and we've heard so many stories about his death."

My Mom smiled, "No it's ok. I think I would have been very lost if I hadn't come back here and had Eric to talk to about this whole mess. I'll miss Dave until the day I die, but I've regained my balance. You know we were translators for the government intelligence services. We always worked on positive projects that helped people in the underdeveloped parts of the world.

A lot of our projects were UN sponsored but some were covert. Dave was working on one special project for about six months. He had branched off into a field that uses high speed computers to interpret and translate complex telecommunication codes. There were endless applications. A universal translator for all public transmissions regardless of the language, the people who are sending radio messages into outer space to look for intelligent life were involved, the various data gathering groups of the intelligence agencies needed it to gain an edge over the competition, who ever that might be these days. So lots of people were interested and Dave was pretty much working alone. I think he discovered something very important. He didn't tell me what it was but I think someone killed him because of that."

"Who?" Jack was sitting very erect now.

"Who knows? There's certainly more than one dangerous person in this country, then add the world and maybe green people from outer space. Who? I've asked myself that a thousand times and I've finally decided it doesn't matter. I've lost David but I won't let that tragedy ruin Sandy's life. Anyhow, Ralph Raulings thought Sandy and I should disappear for awhile and this seemed like the place to come. I'm glad we did. I'm so glad to see you. I'm so glad you were there to save Sandy today."

Eric said, "This has always been your home Dawn and you know you and Sandy belong here as long as you want to stay."

Annie blushed, but Jack was rubbing his beard with one hand thinking, "Ralph Raulings was the guy Annie and I helped out of a jam up in British Columbia about three years back. The request for us to get involved came from Laurel Mountain so I've always wondered if he wasn't connected with the work Dave and you were doing in some way. He was pretty closed mouthed considering we saved his skin but all the same I guess he seemed ok."

Annie said, "I didn't like him, but then I never have liked those businessman director types that act aloof and smug."

Mom laughed, "I know what you mean Annie. Ralph is more than a little like that and it was Dave that asked Randy to see if you were available. Ralph was a good friend to Dave. He was the one that started Dave on the concept of a universal translator and those telecommunication codes. It was a project that was really going well until Dave....... Anyway, Ralph helped me a lot with the funeral arrangements and he was very nice to Sandy while I was lost for a while."

Eric said, "I think we should all settle down to sleep for the night. Jack, Dawn's cleaned up the large room behind kitchen for you and Annie. There's still plenty of room for the dogs back there and the fireplace in the kitchen will keep it pretty warm this winter."

Jack stood up and stretched, "Sounds good to me. Annie has been pushing us at thirty-five miles a day to get here before the moon shifts its phase. That's the room with the little air vents that face out into the gorge."

Now Annie was also standing, "I remember the beautiful carvings you can see on the gorge wall across from the vents. It'll be a nice place for us while we're here Eric, thank you. I'd always prefer my treehouse to a cave, but if I have to stay in a cave this for sure is the finest one."

I guess they all said "goodnight" at once.

So Grandfather's cave was slowly filling up with people. Jack and Annie's room was behind the kitchen. The fork in the tunnel before the kitchen went to their room if you took the right hand passage. A little ways down that path there was a second fork. The left hand tunnel at this fork led to Jack and Annie's room. The right hand passage went to Grandfather's workshop. I had been to the workshop a few times. From there other tunnels formed a maze of passages that led still farther into the mountain. There was a large heavy door that marked the beginning of these tunnels. Grandfather had told me the door and maze led to a deep shaft that was dangerous. He asked me not to go there without him or Mom. I told him I wouldn't.

I woke up early the next morning, right after sunrise. I thought I'd be the first one up and around, but I wasn't. Everyone was up, dressed and doing something. That's the pattern when Jack and Annie are around, up before sunrise, work and play hard all day then talk into the night.

Breakfast that morning was so much fun. Jack told funny stories and everyone laughed. Annie would scold him every so often for being too fresh or telling tall stories. We all laughed and laughed. Then it was decided that Mom would continue to work on some weaving projects that she had started, Jack and Grandfather would do some work that required two men and Annie would explore the llama valley with me. I was really pleased.

Later, as we were walking down into the llama's valley I asked Annie, "Do you have many clothes?"

"About two other sets like these when we're on the trail."

"Do they all have such pretty buttons?"

Her red wool shirt had two buttons that were carved out of a white material I learned was bone. One button had a tree with a large house built right into the branches and tall mountains in the background. The other button had a little log cabin by a waterfall. The cabin in this carving had trees all around it and a single mountain off to one side. I just couldn't imagine how so much detail could get onto the little buttons. Jack's shirt had two buttons with the same pictures but the view was from a slightly different angle.

Annie smiled, "Yes, that's my craft. I make buttons like your Mom makes rugs and clothes from wool. See, I always have a button in my pocket to work on and the little knife that use to I carve them.

She took a little knife out from a pocket on the inside of her fur vest. A button came out with it. The button had a picture of a mountain lion and a llama on it. It was Moche bumping the lion over in the glen. The figures were just light lines now but you could see where Annie had started to carve Moche's neck and it was becoming a three dimensional figure.

"But it was only yesterday?"

Annie smiled, "I couldn't sleep last night so I worked on this. Buttons really don't take very long to carve. I thought I'd give it to you in return for that nice sea shell you gave to me. I've really never had a sea shell before."

She had made a small hole in the sea shell and was wearing it around her neck on a thin piece of rawhide. I was glad that I'd given her my best shell.

"See how I use the point of the knife to scratch a line, then I work the outline of the figure with the flat part of the blade. Presto, a nice picture of brave Moche, my best hero next to Jack I might add, and the poor lion that almost killed us. But you shouldn't think that it was his fault. He would have run away from us if he hadn't been so sick from being shot. See how stupid actions compound themselves into more problems for other people. Tsk! Scratched the wrong spot. No worry, just needs a little correction here."

It did go fast. Annie had sat down on the grass. Her hands moved rapidly and in twenty minutes the button was done. Clusters of llamas would come over to watch, sniff a little at us or the button and then they'd wander away.


"What?" She was still working on the button.

"Did you make the buttons on your shirt?"

"Of course. The one is a picture of our farm in the mountains over east of here. We usually spend the late fall and winter there. The other button is a picture of our treehouse up in British Columbia."

"You live in a treehouse?"

"In the late spring and summer. That's my favorite place."

"It certainly looks pretty on your button."

"It is. Our tree sits back in the forest near the top of a high cliff. The house can't be seen from the air or ground but once you climb up onto the main platform there's a view that overlooks a wooded valley below the cliff. The valley has a long narrow lake with a little island in the middle. It's really too pretty to describe."

"And you have a farm too?"

"That's what I call it. It's a cabin we built on the far side of the river. You can almost see the area we live in from the log entrance to your Grandfather's labyrinth."

"Labyrinth? What does that mean?" I had never heard that word before.

"I mean the cave system that your Grandfather lives in. I don't think you've been back into the Main Shaft yet but it's a maze of tunnels that stretch deeper and deeper into the mountain. It's easy to get lost if you haven't marked the way."

"I think that the maze is behind the big door in Grandfather's workshop."

"Yes, that's where it is. We'll get Eric and your Mom to give us a tour this winter. If I remember right, your Mom did a lot of exploring in there years ago and she was the one who mapped many of the Uliak sites."


"That's a long story sometime. But there's a lot to see in the deep tunnels: a room that glows in the dark, a chasm that seems to be bottomless, the Uliak tree songs. Lots of neat things for someone your age."

"Not you too?"

"Sure me too. But I'd rather be out in the fresh air with the trees and a blue sky over my head."

"What do you raise on your farm?"

"Nothing really. I only call it our farm. I do raise Moon Bells. Do you want to see what we raise! Come on, I'll show you down at the end of the valley."

Annie jumped up, the knife and button disappeared back into the pocket in her vest and we were off, walking down to the end of the llama valley. Llamas would come over as we walked. Annie would always stop and hum to them as they sniffed our hair and cheeks. Then we were at the end of the valley where the thorn forest starts. We passed the path into the marsh and started to climb up onto the mountainside through the paths that wandered between the thorn trees.

"Have you been to the cave in the marsh Sandy?"

"The cave of the people with red hair?"

"Good, you've been there then. What do you think?"

"Think about what?"

"What do you think about the people with red hair?"

"Oh.... I think they thought they were going on a long trip in something like a boat. They're all together, they have pictures and hand prints to remember how their world was. I think Grandfather is right when he says that we should leave them in peace and not dig them up to put in museums and stuff like that."

Annie sat down between two big rocks and was picking a twig out of her hair. The little twigs from the thorn trees really hurt when they get into your hair. They have have such long thorns. "I never thought of it as a boat but I think you've hit on the right idea."

"Have you and Jack been to their cave?"

"Yes, with your Mom and Dad but that was quite a few years ago. It's something you don't forget though. They had a real feel for the land and the animals they painted."

"Do you think they knew there would be a time when they and those animals would all be gone?" I'd been thinking about that ever since we'd been to the cave.

"It's hard to tell. The hardest thing for anyone to realize is just how temporal everything is in this world. At the same time, they were people of the land. You learn to take life one step at a time when you live with the First Born."

"Who are the First Born?"

"God made the physical world in steps, like layers on a cake. First the earth, then the sea, then land, grasses, animals and so forth. People might be the frosting or just another layer. Everyone has to work on their own perspective for that but what is important is to understand that there's a sequence and an order to the nature of things. The earth, sky, sea, plants and animals were all born first. We came along as a second generation that seems to have the destiny to preserve or destroy the other layers of the cake and our own fortunes are linked to those actions."

"We are?"

Annie smiled, "This is far too serious talk for a sunny day. Come on, as I remember I think we want to go this way."

Just then there was a crash and rumbling in the thorn trees behind us. I jumped but Annie laughed. There was Moche with little thorn twigs sticking out all over his nice brown coat. He was hopping around, pulling at a bigger twig that was stuck in the wool of his right rear leg. It was a funny situation but he did it with dignity.

Annie said, "Afraid your going to miss something fella?"

She caught him gently around the neck and took the one big twig off his leg. Then we started to work the smaller thorn twigs out of his coat.

I said, "Hold still Moche." But he'd wiggle and squirm. He couldn't get away from Annie's gentle hand though.

"Sandy, I think you and Moche should learn some basic obedience principles."

"Will it help him to stop squirming so much?"

"That and more. Just feel the strong bone he has and see how correct and square he stands. I like the texture of his wool too. See what a nice blend of dark fibers it has. He's really going to be a nice animal when he grows up."

After Moche was cleaned up, we began to climb again. Higher and higher into the upper levels of the thorn forest we went. I thought Moche and I knew every inch of that area but this was higher up and farther back along the side of the mountain than we had ever gone.

"There it is Sandy. See the little cleft in the rocks up above us."

It was a narrow opening between two large rocks that looked like it went nowhere. Annie pushed me up to the rocks. There on the other side was another valley. There were llamas there in a meadow and more thorn trees along the rim of the mountainside.

"Where does it go, Annie?"

"Where does what go?"

"The valley?"

"It's a blind, like a box canyon. This is the only way in or out, unless you follow the water sink and that's too small here for a person."


"Some of your Grandfather's llamas spend the summer and autumn up here. Then he brings them down with the herd for the winter."

"Will they come down soon?"

"Jack and I will help them down while you and your Mom are at the Rendezvous with Eric."

"When is the Rendezvous?"

"Pretty soon."

It was a nice valley. Much smaller than the other llama valley but it still had plenty of room for the animals that I could see. The valley was almost but not quite round with thorn trees that completely encircled the upper slopes. There was a little waterfall just inside the entrance. The water formed a pool that overflowed and trickled down into the valley as a small stream.

Annie climbed up too and we wiggled over into the new valley. Annie said, "See Sandy, behind the waterfall is a little cave."

I'd started getting use to new things being where I didn't expect them. So when Annie got down on her hands and knees and stuck her head into the waterfall, I just followed along without thinking twice. The water was frigid on my neck and shoulders. I forgot about the cold water when I saw what we were here for. The waterfall had formed an overhang in the rock and there was a shelf that was filled with small plants. They had white stalks with milk white bells at the end of each stalk. These were Annie's Moon Bells.

    moonbell.GIF (1810 bytes)    

"They need the mist from the waterfall to live. I've never found them anywhere except here. When Jack built our log cabin at the farm I found a shelf like this behind the waterfall there. We carried some from this site down to the farm and I planted them behind that waterfall. They thrive for me. There's a difference of over five thousand feet in elevation and they actually thrive. Poor Jack, I made him stop every two hours to mist the plants when we made that trip. But he gets paid back every time I cook some up."

"You and Jack eat them?"

"Sure, they're like mushrooms only they have a slight chocolate flavor. They taste good."

"I thought it wasn't good to eat wild mushrooms?"

"That's true. You should never eat anything, especially mushrooms, unless you know that they're not poisonous. Like my Moon Bells, they're not poisonous but they look a lot like a fungus you find in swamps and marshes called Indian Pipes that you shouldn't eat. It's always best to know for sure before you eat something. You can get very sick from some plant toxins and that can take your life in the wilderness."

"How did you know you could eat the Moon Bells?"

"In the cave of the ones with red hair, back in the ice cave where they put their food, there's baskets and baskets of these Moon Bells mixed in with acorns and dried berries. I figured if they were good enough for them, they were good enough for me and old Jack. Besides I had Jack try them first. When you get older, it'll be important to know what husbands are good for."

I knew she was just kidding. It must have been a funny sight to see us there on our hands and knees with our heads stuck into a waterfall.

"So you raise Moon Bells on your farm. Why are they called Moon Bells?"

"They always seem to pop up in the spring and fall just after a full moon. It works out well for us since we go north for the late spring and summer. I really pushed Jack so we'd get here at the right time to harvest some of these. I didn't tell him why though. It'll be a nice surprise tonight for supper."

Annie pulled out a small leather bag and showed me how to harvest the Moon Bells so that they grow back again in a month or so.

"Annie, when you and Jack go north, is that to your treehouse in Canada?"

"Yes, maybe one of these years we'll talk your Mother into letting you travel with us for that season. Not this coming year, you still have a lot to learn from your Mom and Grandfather but soon after that."

"Moche too?"

"We'd have to talk to Jack about that, but maybe Moche too."

Just then there was a rush of small rocks. We pulled our heads out of the waterfall. Some how I'd forgotten how cold the water was but now the sunshine felt warm.

Moche had come through the narrow opening and had slid down the loose stones to the grassy floor of the valley. Now he was up and scampering. Some of the llamas in valley looked up and a few trotted over to sniff him. Moche would always stop and sniff politely back. Then he'd scamper off again, skipping, hopping and stotting.

"We should be going, Sandy."

"Moche!" One thing at least, he came when I called. Scamper, hop, a skip and one last long jump - Moche was by my side. As we left the little valley, it's beautiful waterfall and the Moon Bells, I thought how I didn't really want to leave for the Rendezvous. Not now that Annie and Jack were here.

"Do I really have to go to the Rendezvous, Annie?"

"Sure you do. You'll love the deep woods this time of the year, there'll be lots of people to meet and you'll learn something new every day. It'll be the time of your life and I think Eric's going to let you take Moche."

"He is!"

"I think so. Your Mom and I have a surprise for you tomorrow and maybe we'll find some time for a few new lessons before you leave."

I don't know why, but now I was excited. Moche was going to the Rendezvous and I still had a few weeks to spend with Annie.


Return to Outline