A Llama Tale - Adventure's of a 12 year old girl and her llama, Moche
The departure day was getting close. I would keep asking Grandfather about when we would leaving but all he would say was, "Right at the second quarter of the moon exactly, Sandy. You should be able to tell an old man like me when that will be." Then he'd smile that smile and go on about his work. So I worked on the problem all day for several days. Grandfather had all sorts of charts about the stars and the moon. Mom had helped me learn how to read a lot of them and how to collate the information with the current calendar year. I knew at the beginning that the moon looks different during the month but this project forced me to figure out the stages and sub-stages, and then tell the days of the month by them. Grandfather was like that, if you'd understand and remember something better by figuring it out yourself, he'd make you do it that way.
A couple days and a lot of paper later, I had it .... "Look Grandpa, I have it figured out! See my chart, the month is all divided up by the four main quarters of the moon and I figure the second quarter is just four or five days now!"
Grandfather looked at my charts and told me how good they looked, "Which do you figure it's closer to, four or five days, Sandy?" He's always so insistent on details.
"I'm not sure? Lets see - Hmmm? Four days."
That's an important question to Grandfather. He's a real stickler for being sure. It's ok to not be sure but as far as he's concerned you have know if your decision is based on information you're positively sure of or not. I never had a teacher in school that seemed to care if an answer was based on information I was sure of; their whole perspective was based on if the answer was correct on not. I thought about it a moment, looked at my chart again and smiled.
"You're correct, it will be in four days. In the wilderness, regardless of what part of the world it is, people rendezvous by predictable changes in the moon and stars. If you interpret these changes incorrectly you might miss someone or be too early. You've learned this lesson well Sandy. Your Mother and I are very proud of you."
"Will Jack and Annie be here when we get back?"
"Yes, I think they'll stay until mid-winter."
"Oh good! I have so much more to learn from Annie and Jack's stories are so exciting. I hate to fall asleep at night."
"We've noticed, but I do agree, it's a pleasure to have them here again and I think it's good for your Mom too."
"Grandpa, I don't think your a hermit at all."
"Huh, I don't know about that." With a smile and a pat on my head, Grandfather was off to one of his many projects.
You'd think someone who lived in a cave wouldn't have much to do but he was busy all day long and worked late into the night. When he did stop working, he'd either be talking with the younger people (not me - Mom, Jack and Annie). He called them the "younger people". I don't know what that made me? Or he'd be reading. He read books and scrolls (a lot of them weren't in English) and there were maps and blue prints but they?re all part of another story.
I went to the kitchen to get some bread and honey. I was still working on my moon chart when Jack came in.
"Hi Sandy! Do you want to help me re-arrange the hay feeders in the stable today?"
"Sure Jack!" It was always fun to do projects with Jack. He never really needed my help but he'd tell me stories as we worked. I especially liked to hear stories about his family.
We went down into the llama stable and Jack began to tell me about his home. His stories always started with a vivid description of the place he was telling about, "It's an old hogback mountain like a dozen or so other peaks around it except that this one is bald. There's no trees on the top and it has two humps just like some camels might have."
"That's where your family lives?"
"Always have, they had lived there a hundred years when Jim Bridger first wandered into the Wind River Valley and up onto the great South Pass."
"Who's Jim Bridger?"
Jack scratched his head, "A fine man who did a lot of good for folks some time ago. My family had been at Laurel Mountain several generations before Jim Bridger found the Yellowstone valley. My brother lives at Laurel Mountain now."
"That's Rowdy Randy?" The adults often told stories about Rowdy Randy Perch after they'd thought I'd fallen asleep.
"Yes, but he's not so rowdy anymore. You'll like him, he just needs a little getting use to."
"Why does Annie always call him, Rowdy Randy?"
"You'll just have to see for yourself. Annie means it in an affectionate way, though I think she's about the only person who ever backed him down. You'll see, you'll like him."
I was sweeping hay that had fallen onto the floor from the hay mangers. Jack was moving hay racks around but continued to tell me about Laurel Mountain. There are four main levels to the wilderness in this region. Grandfather lives on the highest, above the tree line. The river that I can see and it's surrounding forest are on the next level down. The Rendezvous will be near the river but at a bend that we can't see from this part of the mountain. Laurel Mountain is part of a forest and range of lower mountains that are on the third level down. The fourth level is still lower and that's where a lot of the national parks are, lots more people live at the fourth level down. Jack must have told me three or four times how to locate Laurel Mountain from every direction but especially if I was traveling from the Rendezvous site and heading South-Southeast. He had me repeat it back too. It was a fun game.
I liked to gather the clean hay that falls out of the hay mangers. We make little beds on the stone floor that the llamas sleep on at night. Jack was still moving hay racks (those are the mangers) around. He told me how Randy lives at Laurel Mountain with a whole bunch of people and how they form a special service center for people who live in the wilderness. Jack also told me a few of the stories that I already knew about Randy's adventures in South America.
In the end, all the hay racks looked like they were in about the same place. I didn't tell Jack that because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. We were both just about done when Moche came scampering into the llama's cave to see what was going on. There's nothing nosier than a llama around something new and there's certainly no nosier llama than Moche. Jack said he'd go work with Eric for awhile and I ran outside to play with Moche.
We went searching along the mountain wall for figures (Grandfather called them "glyphs") that earlier people had made in the stone where nooks or cracks would shelter them from the weather. I liked them because a lot were pictures of animals, drawn very simply but very beautiful. I could pass a whole day just looking for them.
Two days passed, three and then the third night. Finally it was time to leave. We were up before daylight, separating the llamas who would go from those that would stay.
There were seven female llamas that were going to the Rendezvous with us. Grandfather was going to give them to his good friend, Joseph Three-feathers. Nine male llamas would also go to carry our supplies. Max and Olin were going as well as Noah and Moche.
"What will we buy at the Rendezvous, Grandpa?"
"Salt for one thing, Sandy. I've made my last supply last for five years but we'll use a lot more now that you and Dawn are here. Who knows, with two pretty young girls up here, I'm probably going to have more company than I've had in a long time. What do you think?"
"What else will we buy at the Rendezvous?"
"Oh. Well, kerosine, we'll be using a lot more of that and perhaps we'll find a nice milking goat."
"Yes, a girl your size has growing bones. If you want to be strong like your Mom and Annie, you'd better give some thought to drinking milk on a regular basis. There just isn't a better source of calcium when your growing and the milk proteins are important to a lot of other changes that take place when a person is your age. We live too far up on the mountain to keep a milk cow, but a goat or two should do just fine and I think the llamas will like them."
Grandfather and Jack loaded the packs. There were all sorts of special knots and special names for different parts of the packs. Mom and Annie were fussing with the llamas.
Then, at first light, we started our trip. Little streaks of red and white were peeking around the mountains to the east as we walked down through the high mountain meadows toward the forest.
Grandfather led the male llamas. Each llama had a halter, collar and a set of packs on their back. All nine were linked together with leather leads that went from the collar of the llama in front to the halter of the one behind. Grandfather held the lead of Jurgen, the leader of the group. Mom led the seven females in a similar way except they didn't have packs on their backs. Sara Jane was the lead llama of the females, she was one of the largest llamas we had; tall, long bodied, strong bones and all muscle. I led Moche. Noah walked with us but he walked free without any halter or lead. Noah always stayed on the outside of Mom and the female llamas, keeping pace with them but off a little to one side. Max and Olin would run far ahead and then swing in wide circles around our group. As we approached the forest, we angled slightly north in the direction of the river.
"Grandpa, will we get to the forest before dark?"
"Just about, Sandy. We'll make camp at a spot I know by a small stream. There will be trees there and the llamas will be comfortable. We won't actually enter the true forest until tomorrow."
As we walked down the mountain the types of plants gradually changed. Grandfather would tell me their names and explain which ones were poisonous and which ones were good to eat. Mom would often comment on how this root or that type of plant was best cooked and which ones could be mixed with other plants fresh for a nice light snack when you're traveling.
The rule I learned was never to eat any plant unless an adult told me that it was safe to eat it. That's really important.
Remember, never eat any plant unless an adult, that you trust, has told you that it is not poison. Poisons are a natural way many plants protect themselves.
I had never thought of Mom as being like Annie but out here she and Annie looked a lot alike. Back at Grandfather's cave, Mom would wear wool skirts and a blouse or these beautiful dresses that looked like a blanket with a hole in middle for your head when you laid them out on a table. The dresses were always wool but they were pretty colors and had all sorts of patterns. There was a separate belt for each dress but Mom always used the same old leather belt for each dress that she was wearing at any one time. I had asked Grandfather about that and he told me my Dad had made that belt for her. On the trail, Mom wore leather pants and a wool shirt like mine. Instead of a fur vest, she had a woven wool cloak that was a pretty pale gray color. During the daytime, from a distance, the cloak looked just like a rock. In the evening and early morning, the cloak made you almost invisible.
Over the days that we traveled I found I could sneak up on Moche, in the early mornings, if I had Mom's gray wool cloak on over my head and I walked slow. Mom had her hair tied back in a long pony tail and she carried a knife like mine, only her's was a lot bigger.
"I see a stream! Over there, Grandpa!" Actually, Moche had seen the stream and was tugging for us to go that way.
Mom said, "That's the right stream, Sandy, but we'll meet it a little farther down the mountain. Don't let Moche pull too much on that lead. He needs to know that you're the one in charge and that you decide which way the two of you are going to walk. He'll be a lot more secure as soon as he realizes that he can leave the steering to you."
Sure enough, I gave a little tug, like Annie had taught me, and we were back on course. We were just starting to encounter trees. Not too many and the ones that were on this level of the mountain were short pines with thick trunks and low branches. Moche would steal a pine needle or two when we passed close enough for him to reach over and take a bite from the end of a limb. As we came still lower on the mountain the trees gradually grew closer together and were much taller. Then I saw a clearing. There was a stream on one side of meadow that was bordered by a few big rocks and the tall trees.
"This is it, isn't it Mom? This is where I'd make camp."
Mom laughed, "Yes Hon, this is it."
"Can I let Moche loose? I don't think he'll run away."
Grandfather said, "It's ok, Sandy. We'll leave Noah and Moche loose at the camps when we stop each night but we'll tie the other males and female llamas on two separate lines. You and Moche are in charge of getting firewood and water for the camp. I'll take care of our packs and gear. Dawn will set the tie lines and rotate the llamas so they all get fresh pasture and water. The one important rule for you and Moche is that you never leave the camp site without taking Max or Olin with you."
"Ok." I never minded taking Max or Olin. One would always stay with the llamas at the camp, and they'd take turns going out with Moche and me when we'd get firewood or explore the area around our camps. Either dog was big enough for me to ride but they both moved so silently - it was like they weren't even there.
That night it was cold but I slept against Moche with a blanket over me and stayed warm. As the days went by, Moche and I would fetch wood and water at each new camp site. There were lots of plants to learn about and roots to find. The wilderness is filled with food if you know where to look. There's something to eat everywhere.
Mom made sure that we'd eat everything we picked so there was no waste. She made sure I not only knew how to find food but also how to prepare it and preserve it.
"This stuff is good, Mom. Will it keep on the trail?"
She was showing me how to smoke the leaves of one plant over our campfire. They'd wilt a little and then dry out on a rock. After that, she rolled them into little tubes that would pack tight for the trail, "They'll stay good on the trail for several weeks like this and they keep their flavor. This was a favorite of your father's. Sometimes I'd stuff them with ground meal and honey when he went out on geological surveys with the scientists from Laurel Mountain. Humm, we were pretty young then, but we sure did have a good time."
Mom's voice never seemed sad when she talked about Dad. It was more like he was at work or away on one of those trips. Whenever she spoke of him it made me feel that he was alive, I'm sure he was in her thoughts.
"Here, go give Eric a few of these. He's as partial to them as David was. He needs to slow down a little today too. See if you can get him to tell you a story about this place. As I remember something special happened near here."
"Ok. Thanks Mom."
"Grandpa, tell me the story about ..............".
It worked that time.
Daily, we past deeper and deeper into the forest. Now I had some real lessons in the use of my compass. Back on Grandfather's mountain it was pretty easy. Our mountain range ran north and south, so did the llama's valley. The lower mountains and the forest that we were in now were due east of Grandfather's cave. The narrow valley that the train runs through was to the south of the cave.
Here in the forest, we lost sight of the mountains. Grandfather would stop and ask: which way does this stream go, or that ravine, what direction are we moving in, or which direction is our home?
"Are you sure?"
That was the question that Grandfather always asked. I learned very fast to be positive when I knew I was right but to be honest with myself and them when I wasn't sure. There is nothing wrong with not being sure so long as you recognize that you do not have enough information to make a decision.
Grandfather would often say, "Being correct in your decisions is a matter of life and death in the wilderness. This is a very safe place if you know the rules and follow them in an orderly manner."
"I know, Grandpa. I'm sure this time." I was right (that time) and we continued on. There were more plants to learn about. They taught me how to fine secret places in the forest where berry bushes grow and how to find water. Each night I learned a new way to make shelters and every day, all day long, we would read the tracks and other signs left by the forest animals. I learned to recognize the different bird calls and understand what they mean. Grandfather and Mom knew every bird and animal. There are little animals, you might never see, in the trees and under rocks. Some are night animals while others come out during the day. After we'd make camp each night, Mom would take me on little excursions to see different forest dwellers and learn their ways.
Mom was always excited when we'd find someone to watch. She taught me why the little animals are as important to the forest community as the large ones. Each has its place and purpose. This day we had found a small colony of marmots. "It's a life time of work to understand just one type of animal, even a little. See these folks, it's getting late in the year and they're making sure that they're ready for winter.
We continued to travel. Each day there was something new to see. Moche was learning as we traveled also, only he was learning from Noah. Instead of hopping and skipping around all day, he would travel on the outside of the group, ever alert, always on guard to protect the other llamas. I had taken his halter and lead off after the first few days but Mom still had me practice with him daily so we'd both remember that I was in charge.
Max and Olin would run ahead as we traveled, with one of them always making a wide circle that would bring him up behind the group. Then they'd change places and the other dog would make the wide circle. That's how we would travel all day.
Noah and Moche always walked on the immediate outside of the two llama strings and the dogs would make those wide circles around the group as we moved through the forest. It doesn't surprise me now but at the time I remember reflecting on how quietly we moved and how prominent the forest sounds seemed.
"It's the river! Mom! Grandpa! It's the river!"
There was the river. It wasn't the widest river I'd ever seen but it sure looked wild. The water was deep and there were very large rocks, here and there, across the channel. The water would run between the rocks and make white foamy froths that splashed over the tops of the boulders and around the base.
"We don't cross the river here do we, Grandpa?" It was awesome. I didn't even want to go near the bank.
Grandfather smiled, "No Sandy, we won't cross here. Only a fool would risk his or her life in those rapids." Grandfather had stopped us in a small clearing where we could watch the river and rest in the late afternoon sun. He had a habit of leaning on Noah whenever we would first stop. Noah always seemed to know when a meadow or clearing was a stopping place and he would go over to stand by him.
Mom had the tie lines out for the llamas and the camp was made before I even knew we were stopping for the night.
"Are we going to stop here for the night, Mom?" It seemed too early to make our camp.
"There's something I want you to see up at the next bend in the river. We won't be going in that direction so I thought we'd take a look this afternoon. Sound ok?"
"Sure, can we take Moche?"
"Not this time. I think we'll leave Moche with Eric and Noah."
Grandfather had sat down against a tree and Noah was grazing next to him, "Go ahead ladies, us old folks will stay here and rest. I know you don't want to Dawn but take the pike. It's foolish not to be prepared. Nine times out of ten an angry bear will back down from a pike."
"Ok Eric. That way I'll know you're not going to worry."
Grandfather smiled, "Right."
The pike is a pole with a long knife blade on the end. It looks a lot like a spear but it separates in the middle of the pole so the pike can be carried on your back in two pieces. Grandfather's pike had a gray wool sheath with dancing llamas woven into the fabric. Jack had also carried a pike when I first met him and Annie. Jack's pike was carried in sheath that was made from an animal skin. Grandfather kept this and several other pikes on the wall in the large hallway that leads to the llama's cave.
"Why do we need the pike, Mom?"
Mom smiled, "The pike isn't a hunting weapon. It's for defense. Some large animals in the forest have very few natural enemies. On occasion, a large bear, bull elk or a moose may challenge you. Animals, even large angry animals, aren't dumb. When they see the pike, most will back down and if they don't - then it's a good thing that you had it with you. Your Dad and I found that most large animal charges are mimes, they just want you to go away. We seldom pulled it out, but we did always carry one with us. In this case, Eric's right. We should take it."
"Why don't we just carry a gun?"
I thought Grandfather was falling off to sleep but I saw him smile as Mom continued, "You have to go down into some town to buy bullets for a gun. We've made our life out here with the intent of being independent. On the practical side, not using a gun is better because once you've fired it, everything in the forest knows where you are for the next week. Traveling with a knife, pike and bow allows us to become part of the forest community and not intruders."
"We don't take unfair advantage."
Grandfather yawned, I think he was tired this day, "Something like that Sandy."
"Why doesn't Mom always carry a pike then?"
Mom picked up the pike and pulled it out of its wool case. The blade had a soft but thick leather sheath of its own. Mom fitted the two halves together and handed it to me. I could hardly hold it. She smiled, "They're heavy. Annie and I can handle one without any problem but it takes someone the size of Eric or Jack to carry one of these things on your back all day long."
Mom dismantled the pike, put it back in its case and swung it up onto her shoulders and back. Then we started up the river. Our pace was quick and she moved like the pike wasn't there at all. We traveled just inside the tree line along the river bank. The very first rule I learned when we came to the forest was that you never expose yourself without a good reason. That was always the first rule. We traveled quickly and quietly, me in my fur vest and Mom in that gray wool cloak that made her almost invisible. I was wearing my hair in a pony tail now, just like Mom's and Annie's. I had my sling to protect us.
Mom whispered, "We're almost there now and the wind is in our favor. See that mound of rocks ahead. We'll climb it very quietly."
Climbing a pile of jumbled rocks quietly isn't as easy as you might think. I slipped once but Mom caught my hand. We made it to the top. Down below, on the other side, the river had become more shallow and calm. There were still rapids and the water still moved along at a good clip but it wasn't anything like that stretch we'd just come from.
"See over there, Sandy. They're magnificent."
Bears! The big brown fuzzy giants were fishing in the river and some were sunning themselves on the opposite river bank. They were big. The individual bears were various shades of brown and quite a few had very distinctive markings. Some of the juvenile bears were trying to fish with the adults but they were mostly getting in the way. There were smaller babies on the far river bank. They were playing and scampering along the shore.
Mom smiled, "We hit it perfectly, Sandy. This is as big a group as I've ever seen. We'll only watch for a few minutes. These bears are from the deep forest. They're very alert and mistrusting of anything different. See how the adults will throw a fish over for the little ones.
Little bears fight a lot, especially over fish. We spent about five more minutes watching as the little fur balls rolled around and chased each other on the far river bank. The adults seemed to be good natured. They tolerated the youngsters when they would come rolling through in their games. It was like going to a family reunion and that was the softball game.
"We should go." Mom turned and we worked our way off the pile of boulders. Then we headed back to camp in the warm, late afternoon sun.
"How did you know that they'd be there, Mom?"
"I didn't for sure but I made a good guess. It's a nice day and they're getting together to put some fat on for the winter."
"Have you been there before?"
"Your Dad and I have watched bears at that bend but from the other side of the river. Annie and I camped once near that pile of boulders to watch them too."
"You've been here with Annie?"
"Yes, that was before she knew Jack."
"You never told me that before."
"The best things in life come from reading and experience. If I fill your head up with my stories there won't be any room left for your own."
"Oh." When we arrived back at camp, Grandfather had a surprise. He had a little creature about the size and shape of a cat but it had a long bushy tail. There were black rings on the tail and it made a purring sound as he pet its head.
We came into the clearing, Mom dropped the pike near Grandfather's pack. Then she went over and took the animal into her arms. "Eric, a ringtail, where'd you ever find him?" Then she brought him over to me. He had little black eyes that moved very quickly. He seemed very intelligent and his nose would wrinkle when I pet his head. He was friendly though and his fur was very soft.
"What is it Mom?"
"He Honey. He's a "he" not an it."
Grandfather was very pleased with his find, "It's a ringtail Sandy. Most people think they only live in the dry lands to the south and up along the Pacific coast.
Some are found in the deep forests of the Divide but it's a rare find. If there are ringtails around here it means that people haven't reached this area of the woods yet on a regular basis. What do you think of him?"
He was sniffing me now with quick little hot breaths. He had really sharp claws but was being careful not to scratch me or Mom. "How do you know it's a him?"
"Trust me, I just know. He's fully grown. They live in caves that they'll dig in a high bank or cliff in the woods. This guy had a fox after him. They were so intent that they ran right into the clearing without noticing the llamas or dogs. When the fox realized we were here, he took off like a bolt of lightning."
"Why didn't the ringtail run away?"
"I'm not sure but they have a natural gentleness and usually get along well with people. I thought we might try to find this little guy's home before dark. What do you say ladies?"
We went inland away from the river with Max and Moche. Olin and Noah stayed behind to look after the other llamas. We didn't go too far when we found a small cliff that Grandfather felt was probably his home. I held him close one more time and he sniffed at me with those hot little breaths. I put him on the ground and he scampered up onto the high rocks and then down into a burrow.
Grandfather said, "Good, he's got a couple of hours to rest before it'll be time for him to wake up and go to work."
Grandfather led the way back to camp in the soft evening light. He reminded me that although we have touched some wild animals when he or Mom or Jack and Annie are around, it is not usually good for me or any young person to touch wild animals. Normally they will run away, naturally, and if they don't then they might have a disease that I could catch.
Grandfather was saying, "So never approach or touch a wild animal its not good for you and its usually not good for them."
I said, "I understand Grandpa, you and Mom and Jack and Annie have experience and knowledge that I dont have yet. I promise not to bother the animals we see."
Moche walked behind me. He was always serious on the trail now; alert, watching but not too proud to snatch a leaf or twig to eat. Everything was fine when we arrived back at camp. Noah was still by Grandfather's pack and Olin was sitting outside the clearing on the side by the river
We traveled parallel to the river for two days. There were deep thickets back in the forest but just inside the tree line along the river bank the paths were quite open and the traveling was easy. We saw: moose, elk, deer and bears.
Some of the animals never knew we were there, for we moved very quietly. But others, we'd come upon unexpectedly, would be startled. At those times, some animals would run away. Others would stand and just watch us pass. "Why don't they run away, Grandpa?" We had just passed by two large mule deer that didn't run away.
"This is the deep forest, Sandy. Many of these animals haven't learned to fear people yet and the llamas are a curiosity to them."
The third day, after we had first reached the river, was cloudy. We reached Harrington's Ford during a light rain storm. Here we would cross the river and come to the Rendezvous. I couldn't see much on the other side of the river but Mom said we were very close now.
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