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Category: Ashley’s Blog

On Llama Wrangling

On Llama Wrangling

Penny Llama is an elegant creature: she is tall, poised, and discerning. If she were a person, she would be a prima ballerina—or an old-school librarian with cool glasses and a secret flair for The Ramones. Her presence is commanding without being pushy, and I found myself drawn to her as soon as Tess loaned her to us to guard our sheep.

My respect for her is such that I always refer to her as “Penny Llama.” It seems too familiar to refer to her just as “Penny,” and “Llama” objectifies her in a manner for which I am not qualified: I have never met another llama and know little about them. Representing her species on our homestead is a responsibility for which she seems well suited, and we’re all generally fond of her.

Yesterday, our relationship with Penny took on a new dimension. When it was time to move the sheep across the driveway and to the far northwest corner of our property, Daniel devised a maze-like laneway that snaked around the broilers, away from the Bracken Fern (#shakesfistinfrustration), and along the fence line.

Then, when everything was in place, he opened the gate to the sheep corral, and he enticed the sheep with a big bucket of peas to follow him on a new adventure. (You’ve heard all of the metaphors for sheep being followers. Well…they’re true.)

As I enjoyed the sight of Daniel and the sheep running to their new paddock, Penny enjoyed another sight: that of a sea of green grass awaiting her outside of the laneway. Little Buddy and I were primarily concerned with making sure the sheep made it into the corral, and so we (I) might not have noticed Penny wandering off.

Penny was very quiet about forging her own path. She is as stealthy as the lambs are loud and raucous—perhaps it is their contrast that makes them good companions. When Daniel had finished securing the sheep, he got Penny’s blue lead rope, and he and I tried to corner her where our fences meet so that we could get her back into the fence.

In practical terms, trying to corner a llama means that one of you follows it, and another tries to anticipate where it might run next. (There are probably fancy words for this!) All the while, you’re holding different ends of the lead rope as the llama moves around and tries to escape your notice/trap. This completely necessary and earnest scene has the absurdity of a Coen Brothers comedy, or a Larry David skit, and it looks like two otherwise productive members of society trying to play jump-rope with a llama—the players look vaguely familiar, but no one is quite certain what is going on, and you want to laugh, but it feels a little awkward.

And after ten minutes of successfully jumping and shouting around the underbrush, Penny was within grasp, and we were closing in on her—gleefully! We almost had her—until I dropped my end of the rope.

The rope hit the ground with the full force of my llama-wrangling inadequacy and complete ignorance of how to do anything with livestock/pack animals.

Why did I drop the rope? I told my husband that I didn’t know. But, I did. In my head, I very briefly had a fantasy in which I walked up to Penny Llama calmly and put my hand on her harness and told her it was time to go back into the corral. Because that’s what I used to do with my dogs, and it worked! And that’s how I relate to almost everything else in the world; with a quiet, yet firm, voice, and a rational plan of action. (Can you relate?) But, like I said—this was a fantasy.

I realized quickly that this fantasy would be hard to explain with any credibility to my husband, who was still standing in the sun in full lunch-deprived frustration, so I didn’t even try.

Instead, I apologized for dropping the rope and let the complete absurdity of the situation—and my part in it–wash over me like cheap perfume in a crowded elevator, and I resumed tromping through more undergrowth to try to get Penny to do what we wanted her to do, which was the opposite of what she wanted to do.

After ten minutes or so of hiking around the yard, we gratefully were interrupted by our neighbor, Edie, who brought some assistance, in the form of a very long rope she uses for her horses, and some commiseration. (Maybe you saw the video in which Daniel tried to help her wrangle her horses?)

After a few minutes of chatting in the hot sun and generally feeling like a failure (I speak for myself), we resigned ourselves to let Penny explore a little bit, and I went back to my work, which, thankfully, involved computers and other rational beings who had no idea that twenty minutes before, I had been acting a fool with a llama who just wanted to get some fresh grass.

When I finished my call, I dutifully went back outside to help Daniel with Penny, whom I presumed had been eating her way around the yard. I found a much different—and happier—situation, with Penny Llama in the old sheep corral, in probably the same state of being that she had been an hour before we embarked on this adventure.

“How did you get her back in?” I asked Daniel.

He responded, mirthfully, “I offered her a bucket of llama pellets. She came to me immediately.”

Of course. Eureka. Offer her a treat. So simple, obvious, and universal. Why didn’t we think of that an hour ago?

Lesson learned. In order to avoid looking like the sweaty child of a rodeo clown and whirling dervish chasing a llama, offer her a treat.

On Struggling

On Struggling

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of going jogging. This might not sound fun to a lot of you, but to me it is. The weather was perfect—probably 77—and the sky was clear. Just like last weekend, when I wanted to jog but literally did not have the strength.

Usually when I’m jogging, I think about the scenery, and watching for approaching cars, and, most often, how much longer (and farther) until I can stop. I count down the distance and the minutes, rarely going farther than the distance I have established as an appropriate maximum, and often running less than that distance.

That’s the thought that predominates: stopping early. Not jogging, but stopping, and sometimes, when I get a couple of miles away from home, I kick myself for running so far out and assume that the jog back is going to be torture, and that the only way to survive it is to suffer.

This day, though, things were different. Everything around me was very still—the grass was blowing gently in the breeze, but there weren’t any cars around. Everything just was.

So I decided that for the last mile, I would focus on every single strike of my feet on the pavement. I focused on my toe spread and striking with the ball of my foot, and lifting my knees with my quadriceps. I felt each strike pulsating through my calves and into my knees as they absorbed the impact, just grateful that they still have their original parts and seem to work without too much complaining.

And then, the unexpected happened.

I had assumed that thinking about each strike would make the last mile even more tedious. If you’ve ever tried to get into shape after being unwell—or just not exercising—you probably have experienced the “pain” of your goals being misaligned with your current state. Having not really jogged in several months, I assumed that thinking about every single foot strike would make the whole segment much more tedious than it would be if I simply were to think about something else.

Because that’s what we do when something is tedious. We think about something else. Especially when something is tedious—when it’s a struggle, which generally means we are expending any energy—we don’t want to think about it. Doing the dishes, folding laundry, taking out the garbage, watering the plants—all things we think are drudgery, so we don’t think about them. (But those are the little moments that make up our lives!)

Thus, we keep doing the same things, over and over. In my case, it is setting a goal to run a 5k in twenty-four minutes and never, ever getting there. Or saving more money. Or being a nicer person, or a better manager, or a better wife, or a more patient mother, or generally more empathetic. Or–present.

So, I asked myself this question: “If I don’t have the mental fortitude to think about each foot strike as I jog, why am I jogging? Why am I engaging myself in this particular struggle if I don’t have the discipline to pay attention to it and actually engage in it?”

The answer is simple: I assume it will be painful, or else not fun. Because it involves exerting energy, and sometimes sweating, and breathing hard, and potentially looking dumb. (Always looking dumb. No amount of neon jogging gear compensates for middle age and a red face.)

But those things are not actually painful—they’re actually opportunities for renewal and growth. Exerting energy properly produces growth and refinement. Sweating removes impurities from one’s muscles. Breathing hard also floods my muscles and brain with oxygen. Working really hard burns up all the trash in my body and cleans up my muscles and mind.

The jog turned into one of my most memorable experiences in 22 years of running, because I learned this from it: the things that I perceive as a struggle are simple learning experiences—and, struggle does not equate to pain. In fact, I felt much better after jogging than I did before. I may have looked a little worse for wear, but it felt really good. I felt light and joyful at the end. It may have been one of my only jogs in months, but it was my best jog in months.