Sunday, October 22, 2017

Acorn Man

          I was walking in the woods the other day and came across a little cave formed by tree roots.  Just inside the cave, I spotted a little table with a fluffy, moss seat cushion and a little rock chair.  There was a leaf place-mat, as well.
As I looked around to see who, or what, might be living in this little cave,  I heard a small voice.  "I'm over here!"

       His name was Acorn Man and he was excited to have a visitor to his forested mountain home.  "I've lived here all my life," he exclaimed.  "Wait here, and I'll show you."
      Acorn Man disappeared back into his cave.  Soon I heard a voice above my head.  "Here I am!" he said.
      When I looked up, I spotted the little fellow waving at me from a hole in the trunk above my head.  "I live in this high rise apartment," he said.  "The woodpeckers cut this home out for me last year."  Then he disappeared again.

 Before long, I heard a voice on the other side of the tree.  "The woodpecker cut windows all along the wall of my stairs, as well.  I'll be down in a minute."

     When Acorn Man was back on the ground, he took me on a tour of his forest. First we stopped at a little green tree.   "The hemlock trees are being killed by an invasive insect called the wooly adelgid, so I've started a little project planting new ones," he said.  "When the wooly adelgids are gone,  my little trees will be ready to grow into big hemlocks."

      After showing me his baby trees, Acorn Man asked if I had ever seen a tree heart.  "They're very special," he said.  "It's not often that a tree heart is visible when the tree is alive."
      I admitted that I had never seen one, so our next stop was the heart of an oak tree.  Acorn Man told me that the tree had been hit by lightning and the resulting scar had left the heart exposed.

Then he took me to what he said was the most special spot in the woods.
      "This is the forest cathedral," he said reverently.  "This is where the trees make a joyful noise."  We listened for a minute.  Sighs and creaks signaled that the choir was almost ready to start.

       Then, with a big whoosh, the air was full of leaves drifting, twirling, spinning, and whirling.
      "The forest sings with color," he exclaimed.  "Isn't it beautiful?"

     When the song was over, Acorn Man led me to his lookout tower. "I come here to watch out for intruders," he said.  Then, he climbed up and pointed.  "There goes one, now.  But, he's okay.  Sometimes, he comes here to sit and listen to turkeys."
     The intruder left, so Acorn Man climbed down from his watch tower.  "I'm tired," he said.  "Let's take a nap."  We walked through the forest looking for a soft place to dream. I found a place to pillow my head.

     Acorn Man joined me.  As we slept, the trees sang their colorful songs over our heads.

     Soon, the chilly air woke me.  It was time to go home.   As I turned to leave, Acorn Man climbed into the fork of a tree.  "Listen," he said.

     "I showed you all of this because I want you to promise share it with others.  Show them how special a forest is."
     I promised I would.
       Acorn Man thanked me and then headed back into the forest.  Before I walked away, I looked back to say goodbye.  Acorn Man was climbing into the elevator of a large oak.
     "Don't forget!" he said as he rose out of sight.

And, I didn't.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Own Dolly Llama

     Last year, we lost over 40 lambs before getting them to market.  Many of those losses were to bears and coyotes.  This spring, it started again.  Dead lambs on the hill.  Dead lambs in the meadow. Dead lambs near the barn. When the local coyote control officer confirmed that coyotes were killing our little ones, we knew it was time to do something different.
    So, we purchased two llamas. Llamas are camelids and have been traditionally used as pack animals, but they bond easily with other flocking animals and hate canines.  The breeder who sold us our llamas guaranteed that they would work, or we could trade them in for new ones.  
     Our ladies were housed in a barn waiting for us when we drove up.   For me, it was love at first look, but our llamas didn't feel the same about us.

      They were not broken to lead, so it took some heavy persuasion to get them on the trailer.  Once on, they settled down in the straw for the trip home and we took a 4-wheeler ride to look at the rest of the llamas on the ranch.
    As we drove, a cool breeze wafted out over the meadow, carrying with it the  sound of monks in prayer.  I pictured long-robed bald men meditating in the barn on the top of the hill, but found this instead.  

 What I mistook for evening psalms was a barn full of llamas who were unhappy about being confined.  It turns out that llamas hum when they are worried and the combined sound of all of them humming at slightly different pitches sounded remarkably like reverent chanting.  
     With ears like apostrophes on either side of their heads, and eyelashes that Elizabeth Taylor would envy, the inquisitive llamas looked more like fuzzy pets than fierce guard animals, but we were assured that, once they bonded with our flock,we would be amazed at their  dedication to the job.

    When we got our two guardians home, we left them on the trailer overnight and then released them into separate pastures to meet their flocks the next morning.  The sheep were terrified of these tall interlopers and ran off to stare at them from a distance.  The llamas, having been raised only with other llamas, were equally apprehensive.  For two days the llamas and sheep stalked each other, bolting whenever they got too close.  We despaired of them ever bonding.
   By the third day, the llamas and lambs were walking parallel to each other and now, six months into the experiment the llamas are fully in charge of their flocks.  I renamed one Dolly Llama because she seems so wise and peaceful. 
     Every night, just at dusk, Dolly Llama runs around the pasture rounding up her lambs.  When she has bunched them together, she herds them through the meadow gate to the watering trough, where they all stop for a cool drink.  Then she leads them up the hill to a hollow where, with a steep ridge to their back,  she can stand watch over her flock through the night.  
     Dolly Llama is not inclined to socialize with mere humans and although she will reluctantly take a few bites of hay from a flake held in my hand, she usually hums nervously if I get too close.  Her compatriot, who is with a flock down the road, is equally as dedicated.
     Even after six months, I thrill at the sight of our long-necked guardian standing out in the field, swiveling her head back and forth as she scans for danger.  She stays on a rise above the lambs so that she can see them all, and it's obvious that the lambs rely on her to make all important decisions.
     The other night part of the lambs came through the gate with her, but some laggards stayed behind for one last bite of grass.  When Dolly Llama realized that she didn't have all of her charges, she galloped back into the field and shrieked at the woolly miscreants as she rounded them up.  Then she drove them through the gate to safety.  Any coyote watching that display would have been terrified.
When she had them gathered and headed in the right direction, Dolly stopped for a moment and stared back at me.  I found her fierce expression just a little terrifying myself.