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the Life of Llama Deara's Joseph


Months have passed since we lost Joseph, a wee llama born prematurely one record freezing night in February in the Abiquiu region of Northern New Mexico. My tears still fall for Joseph, and I have procrastinated about writing about him. Now that the school year has ended and I am more conscious of the wild critters with whom I share this river land, the animals keep appearing all over the ranch with their subtle messages: the bull snake for wisdom and healing, the jack rabbit for fertility and new life, the huge black and yellow butterfly, for change and joy.

So, dear Joseph, it is time to write about the gifts you shared with us in your eight days of life and beyond, especially the courage, compassion, and forgiveness.

Joseph was born to a sweet llama girl, Griffin, herself barely an adolescent of about three. She wanted to be a good mom, but didn't quite know what to do, was conflicted about running with the herd or staying with her baby. The night of his birth I danced between my office in Casita de Llamas, where I could feed and warm Joseph up, and the llama shelter where he could be with his mom under the heat lamps. He learned to walk in a human dwelling, and finally at about 9:30 the next morn, learned to nurse on his own with his mom in the shelter.

When Joseph would play in the corral, sample some hay, sunbathe, or make discoveries in the world, my hope increased. This underweight baby seemed to approach new situations with such eagerness. In the low moments when his weight would drop and he would sit scrunched up, trying to warm up, I knew that physically he was not thriving.

My friends and I named him Joseph after the character in the Old Testament, who wore a coat of many colors. This name seemed appropriate both because of the multicolored vest that he wore to shield him from the cold, and because of the stamina and kindness he showed llamas, humans, all creatures great and small.

The cards stacked against this little one, both in his underdeveloped body and his mom's undeveloped milk. Despite his valiant will to live and the efforts of many, on his eighth day, hypothermia set in. Warm baths and love did not revive him; he was dying. I returned him to the shelter to be with his mother, who couldn't focus on him, was frantic for her herd, and frantic for him. She rallied in the end, calmed down and laid by him, and gently and courageously, his sweet little soul left his body.

Many of us have lost babies and loved ones. We have battled to save them, have loved them in our totality, have made the best decisions we could, and yet we have still lost them. Their absence leaves a hole in our lives impossible to fill. It doesn't seem as if we can keep going, yet somehow we do, somehow we pick ourselves up and with courage and intelligence move forward in this world of joy and sorrow.

Joseph and Griffin remind me very much of my own mother and me. Joseph is like other infants, seeking nurture and sustenance from his mom. Griffin is like some mothers, who love their child and are sometimes so overwhelmed by circumstance that they cannot nurture fully. Who of us cannot relate to both Joseph and Griffin? Who of us has not yearned without satisfaction? Who of us has not wished we could do more?

Facing death, many of us pull together and support each other; others judge us; sometimes we judge ourselves. The recriminations come; we blame ourselves, and others blame us. After Joseph's death, I experienced all this. Once or twice I became angry, set limits with others or myself, and cleared the air so that I could see more clearly. In time, Joseph's most powerful gift began to take hold. Although his mom had been unable to provide enough sustenance and I, life-saving support, he didn't break under this seeming injustice, he continued to love through the hardship; he believed we were doing the best we could. This struggling creature taught me more about forgiveness and compassion than a lifetime in the school of hard knocks.

As humans, we tend to reduce stress in the short term by assigning fault. It somehow makes the tragedies and disappointments easier to bear. Unfortunately, over time the assignment of fault creates alienation and apathy. Holding our selves accountable for our actions and their consequences is an expression of integrity. Blaming or disparaging self or others is something different and can be counterproductive and destructive.

Mystery abounds; there is much that we do not know. We look at the circumstances of others and may think they can do better. However, each life is different and has its own spiral of growth and evolution. Rather than a harsh criticism or a blaming tone, perhaps a kind word and gentle gesture move our world along with less suffering. In the universe of creatures that live in our soil on the Chama River, I don't hear the ants and worms cursing too much when their worlds get turned upside down. These small creatures keep on building their environments, supporting their communities, and accepting some pain as a natural part of life. As the great poet and artist William Blake points out, "The cut worm forgives the plow."

Two weeks before Joseph was born I noticed a hawk in the bosque where I live. She was a beautiful adult, perched characteristically on top of a high tree surveying the riparian world. A few days later I found a dead juvenile hawk elsewhere on the property. I pondered about this, seeing the hawk as a protector and messenger of creative power and life purpose. Interestingly, hawks are occasionally harassed by smaller birds, which for humans can symbolically mean attacks by others who don't understand us. I chose to bury the hawk and Joseph together under the great cottonwood on my acequia. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense especially on this eve of Summer Solstice, which celebrates joining our female and male sides: the hawk for the traditional male aspects of fearlessness and creativity, and Joseph for the female aspects of compassion and forgiveness.

Most of us enjoy the weddings when two people come together to join their various gifts in marriage, and all of us, whether coupled or single, seek a balance within our selves of our male and female traits. This balance of the feminine and masculine in our selves, our activities, and all of life is part of the formula for healing our troubled planet. May we all one day experience the compassion and forgiveness of Llama Deara's Joseph and the fearlessness and inspiration of the hawk.

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Llama Deara Ranch   P.O. Box 305   Medanales, NM 87548   phone: 505 685-9416   email: [email protected]
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