Monday, January 12, 2009

Alpaca Connection

When our scheduled winter vacation when awry, we decided that we would do a vacation from home, making sure we left the house each day to do something fun. A trip to the alpaca ranch was one of our outings.

Last fall, when our friend Becky applied for a job as an alpaca ranch hand, she gave my name as a reference, including my work number at the college. When the ranch owner, Gretchen, called I was out of the office, so that's how she heard my job title. I called her back and after I had answered all of her questions about Becky, she made some inquires about Learning Disabilities services at the college because she knew someone who might want to use them. We ended up having a chummy conversation in which she described moving out here from midwest with her husband who is a doctor. The alpaca venture was a distraction from the difficult experience of moving far from family and friends. As it turns out, Gretchen's husband is the doctor who surgically repaired my daughter's wrist which she broke when her exercise ball popped underneath her. When you live in a small community, connections like this are not uncommon. Anyway, Becky got the job at the alpaca ranch.

While I was reading Barn at the End of the World, I got intrigued with the notion of hanging out with farm animals, so I asked Becky if I could assist her at the ranch sometime. That's how Cindy and I ended up spending a gorgeous winter afternoon with alpacas at a lovely ranch that overlooks the Tuolumne River canyon.

Well, in truth we didn't spend all that much time with the alpacas as Becky put us right to work at the real job which is shoveling poop out of the paddock areas where the alpacas spend the night. There are girl areas and boy areas to be cleaned up and LOTS of piles to rake and shovel into the wheelbarrel, and then haul away. After the shoveling chore, it's time to fill troughs and other containers for feeding. The alpacas recognize the sound of this chore and start lining up near the gates braying a sweet, soft mewl of anticipation. Once the food is weighed and measured and all the water basins are filled, it's time to let them in.

The minute Becky opened a gate, a herd of alpacas raced through to the feed bins. Their graceful yet determined lope was pure delight to witness. We stood on the other side of the fence and watched the girls eat. A little one would barely get a bite before a mama shoved the baby's head aside and out of the trough. Undaunted, the youngster slipped her head beneath the neck of the big girl to secure another nibble. The alpacas lifted their heads to chew and gazed at us from the biggest black eyes imaginable.

This may not be everyone's idea of a vacation activity, but to me it was close to heaven. Or as Mary Rose O'Reilley writes: "Restless, I go down to the barn and attempt to dissect the concept of peace."

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