`THE llamas hum!'' my friends Carol and Jeff wrote from their new farm in southern Oregon.
Did they create musical tunes I could learn and maybe dance to?
Or was their humming a way of talking to creatures of their own kind, as whales and dolphins do? If so, could I decode the llamas' lingo and talk to them?
And what did they talk about?
I knew nothing of llamas, except that they were increasingly popular in the United States.
``Come visit us,'' my friends urged.
In addition to acquiring a mother llama, Heather, and her two-month old son, Cedric, my friends now had a horse and a dog, two cats, three donkeys, guinea hens, and chicks - and innumerable bats that flew out from under their roof at dusk.
I wanted to see them all.
``The llamas hum,'' I told the woman sitting next to me on the crowded bus from Seattle.
Her eyes had been drifting shut, her head wearily resting against the windowpane.
Suddenly she was wide awake. She sat up.
``I'd like to buy a llama, but I don't know anything about them,'' she said.
``Tell me your questions. I'll ask my friends. Then I'll write to you,'' I promised.
``Do you need a high fence around them?'' she began.
I repeated her questions at the end of the day as I excitedly talked with Carol and Jeff. We were rattling along the highway in a truck toward their farm.
``No high fences are needed for the llamas themselves,'' replied Jeff. ``Although I've seen Cedric stand still and suddenly jump straight into the air! But if neighboring dogs are a threat, you'd do well to have a fence five feet high, or higher. Electrifying it would also help.''
``Should a person have more than one llama at a time?'' I asked.
``Yes,'' replied Carol. ``Otherwise a llama can become overly attached to humans. That could cause a problem with breeding. A man down the road is going to bring his young llama to play with Cedric soon.''
We turned onto a dirt road.
``We live at the end of this road,'' said Jeff. ``When we searched for a farm to buy, Carol required one thing: that we not see another house in any direction, and we don't.''
The road led up the mountainside with towering evergreens tapering into the sky. Carol pointed to a relatively level stretch with a pond on my right.
``That's our lower pasture.''
Then I saw them - above the lower pasture, in the barnyard near the road: The mother llama was resting with her legs folded under her, and standing near her was young Cedric. Both white, they looked as though they'd been sculpted from moon stuff, illuminating the thickening dusk.
``Beautiful!'' I exclaimed. ``I hope I'll get to hear them hum!''
JEFF explained that llamas hum when anxious. Heather, concerned about Cedric wandering too far, might call him back by humming. Llamas, especially young ones, also hum when content. The humming sounds a bit like a harp.
At the road's end, we stopped before a two-story house perched on the mountainside. Even though we were unaware of even a slight breeze, we stood listening to the song of the trees, and the bass croaking of frogs in the pond below. What a change to be away from city sirens and night cries, away from the lights of civilization! I was surrounded by trees and mountains.
The next morning, occasionally slipping ... sliding ... on a pebble or stone, I followed Carol down to the barn. I was trying to recover my country legs so that I could bound sure-footed up and down the steep mountainside, just as she did. In the upper pasture, the donkeys hee-hawed to announce their hunger. Ebony, the black horse, watched, elegantly silent.
In the barnyard below, Heather and Cedric stood, heads close as though they were connected in some unspoken, profound way. Across the road, we had seen a pile of delicate eggshells in a nest where guinea chicks had recently hatched. Here in the barn they chirped and tumbled about their mother. Inside and outside the barn, there was the feeling of a peaceful community, in part, I thought, a reflection of my friends' loving and intelligent care.
Later, with camera, I returned alone and opened the gate. I felt as if I was entering a private space that belonged to the animals -
a sanctuary. From a distant corner, the llamas watched me.
Suddenly, Cedric ran up the slope, reached a patch of sunlight, leaped into the air, landed, turned, darted to his starting place, and repeated the whole game over again. Run, sunlight, leap. Again and again. His frolicking seemed to be a dance of joy, an exuberant, high-flying kick of his heels that said, ``I'm alive! And isn't it great?''
The next morning, I was again at the barn with Carol. Heather rested inside; Cedric stood close. I had had that bond, that friendship and trust with my own mother. She was kind, caring, believing in me even when I made goofy mistakes.
I snapped a picture of the llamas, then asked Carol, ``Do you think the sound of my camera disturbs them?''
``Llamas spit with incredible accuracy when they're angry,'' she said.
I stepped back.
``But I've never seen these two spit,'' she added.
If, at that moment, Carol had told me that Heather and Cedric were for sale, and I had the space to keep them, I might have said, ``I'll take them home with me!''
My brief encounter with their beauty, however, was no basis on which to purchase a llama. These animals are often expensive. In the state of Washington, a male might be acquired for $500, a female for $3,000. But they can cost many times more than that.
Before buying a llama, one must decide: For what purpose do I want it? To be a pet? To carry children on its back? To display at stock shows and fairs? For the fiber, to spin and weave? To breed? As a financial investment?
Do I prefer a male? Or a female? A young llama? Or one that is older and trained?
It is wise to read carefully about the responsibility of caring for a llama, to visit llama farms again and again, and to thoroughly research the history of the llama that one is inclined to adopt.
I longed to stay a few more days with my friends, to watch Cedric romp with his neighbor. And I had heard the song of the trees, but not the hum of the llamas.
Home again in Seattle, I could not shake images of Heather and Cedric: Cedric's thick, white lashes fringed over dark eyes as he gazed at me; beside him, the dignified Heather.
Is it possible to learn from animals? I don't mean animals described with a moral in a fable or a folk tale, but animals one meets face to face.
From Heather and Cedric, I carried examples of peaceful acceptance of one another, and from Cedric, the beauty of leaping in sunlight even on what, to many, might seem like just another plain ordinary day. `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.