Kniggett stood perfectly for shearing.
He always had; every shearing since his first, Kniggett stood rooted more than tied. He seemed to enjoy having his hot wool stripped off row by row, exposing the skin underneath to the cool breeze. He made the job easy, which maybe why I chose to shear him in my first group.
He seemed happy with his new haircut when I finished, wandering off to enjoy the pasture with the other llamas immediately afterwords. I watched him walk away and shook my head. He had gotten skinny over the winter. Really skinny. I knew that he had lost weight, but the depth and breadth of it hadn’t been entirely clear until I removed his wool.
Kniggett had been a surprise. His sire decided to jump a fence between himself and the girls, and Kniggett showed up 11 months later with red wool like his mom and an impish face like his dad. He was named “Kiley’s Kniggett” after his mom, Kiley, and as an homage to Monty Python’s “Silly English Kniggetts” (Knights) from “The Search for the Holy Grail.” He was one of the sweetest llamas ever born out here: a perpetual favorite, always asking for neck skritches from his people and saying hello to newcomers.
You love them all, of course. When you do what I do, have creatures like I do, you love them all. But some, a few, dig their way just a little bit deeper into your heart. Theirs are the faces you look for in the morning. The hellos you always say. The ones you unintentionally spoil just a little bit extra.
Wednesday, when I drove to work, he was in the dust bath in the front pasture, enjoying a good roll.
Wednesday, when I got home from work, he was still there, but now laying at an odd angle, completely unmoving. I got out of the car as fast as I could and ran into the pasture. I called for him, even though I could tell that he was already gone.
Sometimes, when those animals who have dug their way just a little bit deeper into your heart leave you, it’s as though they’ve taken a piece of you with them.
I don’t cry over all of them at this point. Maybe it’s just the sheer volume of loss I have felt out here. Maybe it’s a deeper appreciation that it’s what I do for them while they’re living that matters and that death is just the next part of a life. Maybe I’m getting hard.
But I don’t cry over all of them.
I cried over Kniggett.
I cried a lot over Kniggett.
I gave myself a little bit of space the next morning. My first chore had come at 7AM when I had to meet the companion cremation guy at my barn and load Kniggett into his truck with my skid steer, and it didn’t entirely sit well with me. I didn’t need the reminder that he was gone before sitting down for coffee. I went back to the house after that; I needed a minute.
When I went back to the barn later to do my usual morning chores, I was feeling a little worn. All of my llamas were inside, a definite reminder of the one that was not.
I was cleaning up my main herd’s stall when I realized that I was missing someone. Not Kniggett, though I missed him terribly, but Reva.
When I first took over the ranch, I was given Reva and her sister, Baby, by some clients of my ex who didn’t want them anymore. As of Thursday morning, she was still unshorn, and when I realized she was out alone while the entire herd was inside–not normal behavior for most llamas–I panicked.
“No, no, no” I thought, putting down my barn tools and heading out towards the back pastures in search of her.
Visions of her stretched out with heat stress, unable to move and laboring to breathe flashed through me. I didn’t pause to consider the fact that she was only a medium wooled animal, and that it wasn’t actually that hot out…
I saw her once I walked past the pine trees, she was to my left, munching on some grass and standing in the shade.
I breathed a sigh of relief before doing a double take.
It wasn’t just her.
It took me a moment to realize that she wasn’t alone, that a baby was next to her, alert and watching me back.
After making sure that they were both ok, I walked back to the barn to get a halter for Reva so I could bring the pair in. As best as I could tell, the little one had been born the afternoon before or very early that morning, coming into the world on the heels of Kniggett leaving it.
His surprise entrace reminded me of Kniggett’s. He wasn’t unplanned, since I did intentional expose Reva and Baby to our stud last year, but I hadn’t thought Reva caught, and, even to the small degree that I considered it, I had the dates all wrong.
I made them a stall. I gave Reva a bucket full of grain and corn. I spent my day assuring myself that the baby, a little boy, was healthy, nursing, and strong. The pair of them joined back in with the herd that evening, and it became clear that this little guy had an attitude.
What he didn’t have was a name.
Nothing was fitting. I wanted to play on Sky, his sire’s name, which gave me a number of directions to try out, but nothing clicked.
Two days later, John and I were texting names back and forth, rapid fire. He eventually commented that the names I came up with sounded like something off of Game of Thrones and responded in kind.
But then the next one.
“Skye’s Starry Knight…”
It was just one more in the list, but it literally stopped me in my tracks.
Of course he’s a Knight. Like Kniggett. Of course he is.
Once I saw it, it was just so obvious.
“That one,” I replied.
“With or without the K?”
The “K” had been a typo, one that stopped me cold and brought tears to my eyes. A reminder that this little life had been ushered in on the tail end of another. A Starry Knight and a silly English Kniggett.
John was surprised by how well the name landed; he’s still riding the “I named the baby llama” high.
I find myself believing more and more that life is just a series of lessons. That the job of living is to learn and become better. And this place? This life I’ve chosen that is so wrapped up in this home I’m living it in? It seems to be a lesson in planning and unplanning and accidents.
I’ve said before that I’m a planner. Maybe a little bit of a control freak. And I chose a life that, maybe even more than others, cannot be controlled.
This life teaches me that plans are fine and so is throwing them out the window. Accidents, like Kniggett, like the K in Starry Knight, are sometimes the very best parts of life.
Or, maybe, accidents, like Kniggett, like the K in Starry Knight, aren’t really accidents at all, just more of the lesson.