In addition to the sheep, the bees, the mule, and the chickens, we have some llamas on the farm. Though I think I am a sheep soul at last, the llamas came to our menagerie first.
Here are Camel, Llama and Musk Deer in a 19th Century print:
Early on, when we needed some grass eaters to keep the field down, we brought two young llama geldings home. They were acquired cheaply because of certain oddities in their genetics: Trace, who was born with three toes on his feet instead of the canonical two (Get it? Trés, for “three”); and Painted Desert, the color of desert sands, a smallish boy who has remained slender, not to say bony, his whole life. We call him P.D., pronounced like Petey. Llamas do have distinct personalities. They all seem a little aloof when you see them in a field with their noses held high and their aristocratic posture. But they are individuals inside. Trace has always been a bit retarded, never quite “getting it” as we would say if he were a human. P.D., on the other hand, turned into the diplomat of the group, the ambassador who greeted all newcomers, the dignified and curious llama who always reached out to others. Eventually we bought a bred female, and our first large stock birth on the farm (we don’t count the bees as “birthings” exactly) was a llama, a robust girl we named Honeysuckle. In time (it takes about 11 months to make a llama) we celebrated the arrival of her sister, Black Locust.
About three weeks ago, Black Locust lay down in the field one day and didn’t get up again. She went with the suddenness that animals sometimes do. They keep their secrets. As our friend Rose wrote, they seem to say, “I’m fine, I’m fine, now I’ll die.” Locust died with grass still in her mouth and no apparent sign of distress. Just down. Just gone.
I was not very happy about this. Locust had been a sweet girl. She was personable and affectionate, a more or less rare result in a llama. She would blow on your hair, follow you into the hay room to steal, permit stroking of her neck and handling of her feet, and would burp congenially into your face. (Let me be the first to inform those of you who have not experienced it that a ruminant burp is almost beyond pungent description.) In my mind, Locust was linked to our dear internet friend of 15 years, Joni, who had sent us a book on the occasion of Locust’s birth. Joni passed away last year without our ever having met each other outside email. I now have a double hole in my heart, one for Joni who helped us celebrate Locust, and one for Locust.
That’s baby Black Locust reading over my shoulder from the book Joni sent us.
But I am not the only one who misses Locust. P.D. has been grieving. If you do not think animals have something like souls, you have not paid attention. He spent days sitting out in the field near where she died. And though he roused himself to come at feeding time, he really hasn’t been eating much. He wanders the edge of the pasture, looking across at the rest of the herd, but not interested enough in their society to join them. Now he has taken up a solitary position in front of the barn. Maybe he is waiting for her to come out from one of her sneak raids on the hay room. He may not know what his heart is, but I think he knows it is broken.
So, I’m sorry, P.D.
I wish I could give him some comfort.