Plans, Accidents, and a perfect “K”

Kniggett stood perfectly for shearing.

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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.

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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.

Except…

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.

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<<<>>>

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.

img_4227But 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.

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<<<>>>

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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.

 

 

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Up before dawn.

I rolled over and checked the clocked at 4:22 am.  My alarm was set to go off at 4:30, but I had been lying in bed awake for some time.   I will never understand why my internal alarm is so “on it” for early mornings, but if I want to get up at 7:30, I had better set an alarm or I absolutely will not wake on time. This time though, I was fortunate.  My phone charger wasn’t connected quite right and the battery had drained down to 6%.  It’s more than likely that the 4:30 alarm wouldn’t have gone off at all.

As I rolled out of bed, I heard a less-than-half awake Jeremiah roll over beside me.

“Wha time ‘sit?”

“It’s about 4:30, love.  Go back to sleep.  I’ve got this.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.  Go back to bed.”

He did so without ceremony, muttering a thank you as he pulled the covers up. Under normal circumstances, Jeremiah is infinitely easier to get out of bed than me, but he had only crawled under the covers after midnight.  The day before, he had been on the road for an obscene number of hours, shoeing horses 5 hours away in Columbia.  He deserved to sleep.

I wandered into the bathroom, trying to keep the doors and the dogs quiet.  Throwing on yesterday’s barn clothes without a sniff check, I dressed quickly and made my way into the kitchen.  Only then did I flip on the lights, punching the power button on my Keurig and waiting for it to warm up.  Lights in the kitchen wouldn’t stir the dogs in their kennels to go outside, and 4:30 am is way too early to even think about bothering the neighbors.

I rustled through the cabinets looking for one of my travel cups only to realize that the only ones still at the house had been half-moved; their lids were at the ranch…somewhere.

I was too tired to care, and for the first time I was thankful that my Keurig doesn’t actually brew enough coffee at once to fill a large travel mug.  The somewhat anemic fill power gave me two inches of buffer between my hot beverage and the likelihood of a spill.

As quietly as I could, I made my way out the front door and into my car.  I turned it on, set the seat heater, and took off toward the ranch.  It was just before 5am.

I know that there are certain people who are always up by 5am; I am not one of them.   I was first introduced to 5am, and earlier, during high school when I would regularly drag myself out of bed in what I considered the middle of the night to compete at a llama show.  L and I would load animals in the dark, grab breakfast at some nondescript interstate McDonald’s, and spend the day fluffing wool, cleaning dirty knees (they always get dirty knees), and prancing our prized pasture poodles in front of judges who often liked them almost as much as we did.  Later, when halter classes were done, Minnett and I would throw grooming to the wind…sort of…and head into performance classes where he would prove that he was just about willing to follow me through fire.  (Don’t worry, there was never actually fire at the shows, but you try convincing an adult male llama to follow you up and down steps (one at a time), under tarps, and into tunnels, and then tell me it isn’t sort of the same thing.)  I always loved showing, even considering it’s early wake up time.

I haven’t been to a show since undergrad, but I have had plenty of cause to wake up at 5am.  Whether catching an early flight for my job or tagging along with my husband on one of his shoeing runs (which almost never start after 6am), I still set my share of 4:30 alarms.  (In an effort towards full disclosure, I really do try hard to avoid anything that makes me get up before 5am…)  Still, this time, I wasn’t up early for any of those things.  This time, I was meeting the vet.

Some of you might remember back in June when I was on vacation with Jeremiah and our stud got out with the girls.  (Ah vacations…)  It was determined that he had probably been out with them for 12 hours or so… I can’t say I know for a fact what he spent his time doing, but I have some very strong suspicions.

I got to the ranch about 20 minutes before the vet, flipped the lights on in a barn, and was greeted with some very sleepy, and very familiar, expressions.  (Llamas have this uncanny way of asking why on earth you would disturb their slumber at such an unholy hour without saying a word.)  Six of our females were shut up in a stall.  In truth, any female in the herd could be pregnant, but those six were the “concerning” ones.  I had two maidens, one that has a hard time keeping weight on, and three with genetic issues.

They watched as I got things set up, pulling the ultrasound out of the tack room and setting it up in the aisle.  I haltered each of the girls, finishing about the time the vet pulled up in his diesel truck.

“Good Morning!” I yelled from across the barn feeling oddly chipper; I sometimes go through that phase when I’m stupid tired.  No way it would last

“Morning.  Thanks for coming out so early.”

I responded with a quick “no problem,” even though I would never have come out this early by choice; our llama vet only makes farm calls before dawn or in an emergency.  I’d take the former over the later any day.

Without much ado, we pulled the girls out of the stall.  By now I should know that it is worthless to try and predict their behavior.  I apologized for one girl in advance; she had been born on the farm but come back as a rescue and could be very scared.  She, of course, was perfect.  I deemed another an “old pro” before we started.  She was the only one of the group to spit.

In quick succession, they were pronounced “not pregnant,” and I breathed a sigh of relief.  For the females with genetic concerns, a pregnancy would have meant a termination, and that is a serious deal for llamas.  The vet explained that the drug could make them hypothermic.  For the other three, it would have meant a lot of fuss and worry, especially come next Spring.

The vet turned off the ultrasound.  I let the girls back outside.  Everything was said and done before dawn.

“Well,” I told myself as I ran through barn chores after he left, “that’s one less thing to worry about.”

In truth, I will still be watching for baby bellies and udders come late May of next year.  The possibility of a pregnant female is still reasonably high (and if there is a cria–cria, by the way, is the proper name for a baby llama or alpaca–next year, I’m still planning to name it Orlando), but all of my high risk girls are happily baby-less right now.

And that, my friends, is one less thing to worry about.