A Llama Tale - Adventure's of a 12 year old girl and her llama, Moche
Later that evening, Mom was coming down from my bedroom, I had said good night to everyone. Jack, Annie, Grandfather and all six dogs were in the large central room. Annie said to Mom, "Is she asleep?"
Mom said, "Yes, you two must have had an exciting day for her to drop off like that. She's so afraid she'll miss something when we talk at night she often crawls out into the hall with a blanket to listen from the balcony."
Annie was in her chair, "We climbed to the upper valley to see the llamas and the Moon Bells. We brought some back as a surprise but you already had supper ready. I told Sandy we'll surprise you guys tomorrow."
Grandfather said, "That's a pretty rugged climb."
"She did well. That rascal Moche followed us up into the notch and ran around the meadow like he had just won an election."
Mom said, "Sounds like it was a pretty full day for you too."
"Yes but I had fun. I thought I might show her how to use a sling and handle a knife, if it's ok with you."
Mom said, "Oh Annie, you should know how we feel. Eric and I were just saying the other day that she needs to start some serious lessons in survival and wood lore.
There's no one better than you and Jack. I suppose you'll want to take her north one of these years."
"Well the thought did cross my mind a few times today. There something special about having young people around. I don't want you to think we're planning to steal your daughter from you."
"When you and Jack think the time's right, it'll be fine with me. Eric's the one you'll have to tear her away from."
Annie smiled, "Well tomorrow I'll get Jack started on a vest for her and we'll begin some lessons."
I had crawled out into the hall again with my soft blanket. Curled up by the openings on the balcony I could hear them talk and still drift in and out of a light pleasant sleep. Grandfather had placed large funny shaped crystals around the main room after Jack and Annie had come. They were about the size of a toaster, with a flat base and little cones that rose into short rounded peaks. Each crystal looked like a small cluster of mountains. They seemed to catch the light from the one kerosene lamp that Grandfather had in the room and each would glow even brighter than the lamp. Each crystal had a slightly different color, most were soft blue but one had a distinctly green hue. On and on into the night they talked. I listened until I finally fell asleep. Asleep in my soft blanket that had pictures of small llamas woven into the edge, running and jumping at play.
Annie always sat on the chair by the green crystal, "Don't you worry about her rolling off the balcony after she falls asleep like that?"
Mom said, "I did until I noticed that Max always goes up and sits between her and the edge."
Sure enough, Max had quietly left the group and was up on the balcony with me. The adults talked still longer into the night. The next day my school work was suspended until after the Rendezvous. Annie was going to teach me wood lore and over the next two weeks I sure did learn a lot.
Annie was a good teacher, "Sandy, use the same word when you give Moche a command. That way you'll never have to shout or use harsh inflections. Moche will associate the word with what you want him to do and then he'll do it. Animals are more than willing to do what you ask so long as you remember two things: - they're not mind readers. They need to understand what you want them to do. The easiest way is to associate a simple word with each action. Once an animal makes the association by repetition, they know what you're asking."
"Ok. What's the other rule?"
"You must never ask an animal to do something that might hurt them. They're a lot like small children, very smart and their relationship with you is based on trust. You never want to let an animal that you've trained down by betraying that trust."
"I won't. I promise."
"Don't promise me, promise Moche. Once you've gained an animal's trust you have a new level of relationship and a new level of responsibility. Watch Max."
We had set up a small course of obstacles. We took some long wooden poles from the llama cave and laid them across piles of stones that we had made on a flat spot in the meadow. There were two parallel paths with four low jumps in each.
The poles were about 8 or 10 feet long. The rock piles were about 2 feet high.
There was 4 feet between each jump and the corridor between the two parallel paths was 6 feet wide.
Annie waved her hand low and at her side. Max ran out and jumped over all four jumps on the right hand path. Then he stopped, turned back to face her and sat down. Annie then made a series of quick movements with her hand. Max would run one way and jump over a single jump turn and face her and sit down. She let me pick the jumps and how many Max should jump at one time. Then, Max would go and do exactly what I had asked based on her hand signals.
"Will Moche do that for me if we practice?"
"Sure, he's quite a special guy."
"When did you teach Max to do these tricks?"
"They're not tricks, Sandy. They're a method of communication that makes the forest a safer place for both me and Max when we're together. But that's enough of that lecture." Annie sat down on the ground and hugged Max when he came running over to her. "I raised Max from a puppy, same with Olin and the rest of the dogs. They're my babies and I love-um. Don't I Maxie. You know you don't look rusty at all to me. I think Eric must be working with you guys on a pretty regular schedule. Hmmmm. Good boy." Max sure does like to get hugged. Annie told me how important the repetition of clear/simple commands and lots of praise (for doing the right thing) are for all animals that we want to live and work with. She taught me how to ruffle Max's coat so that he knew he was being praised.
Annie said that too often people will praise an animal in a way that allows the animal to assume that they're in charge of the person.
So Moche and I began to work together. Annie made Moche a leather collar and a halter. The halter is a small harness that fits on his muzzle and behind his ears. I thought it looked uncomfortable at first but I soon learned that it was the best way to keep his attention focused on our training.
I would keep a leather leash that's called a "lead" attached to the halter and it would transfer slight pressure to the area behind his ears when I tugged on the lead. Moche would then follow me with his halter attached to my lead. I'd practice the command words that Annie had taught me.
Over the poles we'd go and I'd say "jump!". In no time Moche had learned the word and we could do that exercise without the lead and halter. I can go on and on about training but I guess that should wait for another time. I'd always take the halter off from Moche when we finished a training session. We don't need it anymore (though that took quite a few years). I still take it out when we practice. He'll trot over to put his nose into the halter and lower his head so I can slip it, gently, up and over his ears. I think animals can make a distinction between before and now. I think they have favorite memories too.
I always keep a collar on Moche. It was especially important when we were first training. Even now, it makes a great little hand hold to grab onto and collars never get hay, brush or twigs caught in them the way a halter will. I think he likes the collar too.
That two weeks changed so much of the way I view the world. I learned so many things in such a short time. Annie taught me how to make moccasins. She said that if I learned to make my own then I'd never be without a pair. We wear soft light moccasins with a thick heavy sole. In the winter, we wear a boot like moccasin that goes over the other. Annie's boots have pretty designs all over them, Jack's always have fur around the top. In those days, mine were pretty much just functional but I was still very proud of them, I had made them myself.
During that time, I also started to learn how to use a knife and a sling. I learned to read animal tracks and know directions from the sun and stars. The land and forest show directions too and Grandfather gave a brass compass to help me understand how all natural environments make predictable patterns.
Annie always explained why we did something not just how. "The little rocks are the whole trick Sandy. They need to be just the right size and shape, then the sling works like a charm."
"Where do you find them?" I was getting so the rock flew out of the sling but it kept going off in the wrong direction.
"I get them in stream beds. Some people chip their projectiles but I find the round stones from a stream bed are just as accurate and they're easy to find. We'll make you a little leather pouch and I'll give you some of mine to hold you over until you can find some of your own."
Learning to use a sling was some kind of project. There's a small leather patch with two leather thongs attached that are about twenty inches long. You put the stone into the patch and twirl the sling. Then - WHAM - you pull back and let stone fly out of the sling. It was good exercise because we'd run to fetch the stone each time I made a throw.
"Come on! Run faster Sandy." I could never beat Annie when we'd race to find the stone. Moche would run ahead us, skipping and dancing. After awhile he figured out we were chasing the little rock and he'd stop where it fell, waiting for us to catch up.
Some days later Annie said, "You're getting better Sandy, even good. Remember to practice every day and keep your pouch full of stones."
I learned that the best stones were the ones you're practiced with. Each one was a little different and it wasn't that hard at all to remember the what was peculiar to each one.
I learned how to properly handle Annie's knife too. It was heavy and sharper than all get out but I learned about balance and blade care and lots of other things. Annie would say over and over, "A good knife is all you need to survive, even prosper, in the wilderness. There are set rules for nature and animal behavior. The knife gives you all the advantages God gave to his creatures so you can live in harmony with them."
Remembering the day in the grotto with the mountain lion I said, "You would have killed the lion with your knife. So it's for killing animals too."
"Yes, but I gave that cat two warnings with my sling. Most animals will run from a human unless they're hurt like he was or very, very hungry. Harmony doesn't mean you do or don't kill animals. Jack and I live the life of hunter-gathers. We do that by choice. We kill animals for meat and their skins, bones, fat and anything else we can use. But we actually kill very few and we harvest the older and weaker animals from the herds. The animal population is stronger in the end. It's the sport and trophy hunters that take the best of an animal population under some pretext like herd management. Jack and I have never killed any animal for sport or pleasure as some people call it and we never will. The forest prospers from the natural checks and balances that have been in place for thousands and thousands of years."
Annie sat down and smiled, "I think I have a tendency to preach at you for some reason. Jack and I eat meat but our diet is mostly plants, nuts, berries and different kinds of roots. Lets head back to the cave. I think your Mom has a surprise finished for you today."
Annie and I had been in the valley meadow near the outer wall. Now we raced back to Grandfather's cave. I think Annie almost let me win that time. Into the llama cave entrance, I raced, up the steps by the waterfall and into the right hand tunnel (of the three tunnels - side by side) that leads to Mom's room. "Hi Mom!!! Whats happening!!! I almost beat Annie back to the cave!!! Wow!! For me!"
Mom sat back from her loom, "Yes honey, Annie and I decided you need to be dressed for the forest. I've made you these and I think Jack has a surprise too."
Mom had made me three wool shirts, just like Annie's. They pull over your head and have two buttons on the top. One shirt was plain white, another was red and the third was a deep blue with a scene of our mountain and the lower forest around the hem. Jack and Annie came in just as I pulled the red shirt over my head. Jack had made me a vest. It was made of bluish-black fur. The vest didn't have any sleeves but it did have a big hood that would cover my head and neck in bad weather. My red wool shirt fit over the top of my jeans, my belt tied over the shirt and my vest went just to my waist so the knife on my belt was still handy. Grandfather had given me a knife with a nice heavy leather sheath that was reinforced with hammered metal on the seams. It had a leather thong that kept it from falling out when I ran. My vest had an inside pocket for my sling and there was a place I could attach the little pouch of rocks for the sling. Boy did I feel great. I looked just like Annie.
"Mom, can I go show Moche?"
I ran down into the llama cave and out through the opening to the valley. I found Moche playing with Noah. Noah was trying to graze on his special area near the log entrance to the cave but Moche would sneak up, poke him with his nose and then scamper away, only to start all over again as soon as Noah's attention went back to grazing. I pulled the hood of my new vest over my head and decided to sneak up too. Noah saw me coming but Moche was so caught up in his own game that I got very near without him seeing me. Then I jumped up waving my hands. Moche took one look and ran down the hill towards Grandfather's garden. He jumped over the low rock wall and only then did he look back. I was lying on the grass giggling. Noah walked over and sniffed my new vest. Then Moche jumped over the garden gate and came running up the hill bucking and twisting sideways as he ran. He stopped a little short of me and eased over carefully to sniff my new vest, then my new shirt and finally my face. Up I popped and the race was on. I love to race with Moche, you can never win but it sure is fun. We ran down the hill towards the llama valley, over to the edge of the outer wall.
I plopped down on the grass and we sat there (actually Moche grazed and pushed interesting looking stones over with his nose). From here you can see the lower mountains and the dark forest that surrounds them. There's a river far to the left that twinkles in the sunlight. I said to Moche, "That's where we'll be going. Through the forest to the river and then on to the bend at Harrington's Ford."
A ford is a place where you can cross the river. The Rendezvous would be at or near Harrington's Ford. I wasn't quite sure.
All this time, the adults had been on Mom's patio above the entrance to the llama cave. Jack was sitting on the low rock wall letting his legs dangle over the cliff. He was watching as Moche and I raced to outer wall. "She sure looks like a bundle of energy to me."
Annie was sitting on the stone floor of the patio working on another button. She looked up and studied us as Moche and I sat by the outer wall. "She's becoming very good with her sling and she picks up every lesson and sign I show her."
Mom was sitting in her chair knitting, "I see Dave's love for the land and the animals in her more and more every day. I don't know why we ever left the wilderness? I've forgotten so much and I'm not sure we did that much good. Dave would say we did but if he hadn't been killed we might never have brought her back in time for her to attach to nature like this. I'm just so glad to be home."
Annie looked up from her button again and smiled, "In a few years those two will roaming the deep forests. She's going to be better than any of us. Imagine it, roaming the Divide with a llama. That should create a few stories even bigger than Jack's tall tales."
Mom looked up, "Eric, what's the name of the girl in the Aymare legend? The Robin Hood type girl that roamed the Andes with her llama doing good works for people. The one they hold the festival for in Bolivia."
"Grandfather was watching me too, "Maroia, but that wasn't the girl's name. It's the name of the festival when the people of that region remember their ancestor's deliverance from the Incas because of the girl and her llama. It's also the name of the constellation they see in their sky, just a few degrees off from the Southern Cross. Maroia is the name for the two, the girl and her llama. I can't remember any stories or writings where there's a name given to the girl or the llama in the legend. Though that culture has lots of stories about people and llamas where the llama has a name. Maroia is one of those central genesis legends that has images so well recognized a personal name probably isn't really necessary."
Annie said, "Maroia, hmm. It has a nice sound. The Aymare are that pre-Incan culture near Lake Titicaca aren't they. You and Mary spent a long time down there."
Grandfather smiled, "Yes, Mary and I spent quite a few years piecing together their language and history."
Mom said, "Who knows, maybe the name will fit?"
Jack slid back onto the patio and turned around to face the others. He'd just remembered something, "Speaking of legends, you're going to find a lot of surprised people when you show up at the Rendezvous, Eric. In fact, really surprised people."
"Why?" Grandfather is always so soft spoken.
Annie gave Jack a kick, "Don't go over dramatizing the newer people. Half of them don't even know that Laurel Mountain exists. They'll slowly work into the network of things and there's always someone looking out for them."
Jack took Annie's kick in stride. It was a sign of affection and he always appreciated it. He patted Annie's foot and continued, "There's so many new people that have settled down near Harrington's Ford now that many just don't understand the level of organization we have in this region of the wilderness. It takes quite a few years before they understand how everything works out here. A lot of the newer people think you and Mary are a legend that never really existed. They call you, Eric the Red, the man who united the wilderness Divide from the Caribou Plains to Mexico."
When Jack said near Harrington's Ford, he meant within fifty or one hundred miles of the Rendezvous location.
Grandfather said, "It was Mary who did that. She was the one who convinced the governments to grant land rights for our home camps. She was the one who convinced them that the resources are better cared for with a cultural and social structure that's good for both the wilderness and the people that choose to live within it." Grandfather's tone always becomes sad when he remembers my grandmother.
Jack smiled and slapped his knee, "Well most of the new people down there don't believe anyone can live on the high mountain meadows. The thought of a hidden valley full of llamas and an old anthropologist as caretaker is just too much for them to believe. I never tell them any different. I figure it's just as well that they stay down there."
"Yes, you're certainly right there. It's probably selfish of me but I'll find it very hard when the land developers and sport hunters finally filter back this far."
Mom said, "Lets hope they don't."
Jack was standing up now and stretching, "Well, lets hope it doesn't happen until we all join the red hair people on their journey into the continuum. You know, Sandy explained that whole concept to me the other day. The way she has it figured out makes good sense to me."
Annie said, "It doesn't take too much to out figure a man, Jack. But I agree with you, she's not just learning the lessons, she's picking up the spirit. Really fast too."
Annie looked over to the outer wall. There was Moche standing over me as I slept on the grass. I was dreaming of the forest, the river and the Rendezvous. This would be a great adventure.
Annie said, "Look at that, have you ever seen a kid that can drop off to sleep, anywhere?"
Mom was standing now too, "A lot of them do, but how many of them have a llama to stand guard. Boy, I'm glad we came home."
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