Earlier this week, I was running late. I had scheduled one thing after another through the morning, ending with lunch with my mom, who lives in town. The sheep had to be fed before I left, but as is so normal this time of year, each group I entered had some issue that needed my attention. By the time I fed the unbred ewes and moved on to feed the last group, the rams, I was way behind schedule. I needed to keep moving or I would never be able to fit it all in.
As I came around the barn, ready to open the gate to the rams, my eyes scanned the adjoining paddock that normally held the unbred ewes. Because I had just filled their hay feeders, the paddock should have been empty, the entire group moving indoors to share a good meal and some companionship. Instead I saw what looked to be a lump of brown hair or wool blowing in the morning breeze. Who was still there, and why hadn’t they moved inside with the rest? My pulse quickened a bit, and I began to move towards the fence to get a better look.
As I came closer, I began to realize that the breezy hair I had seen was Orbit’s, the llama currently guarding the unbred ewes. As I climbed on the bottom board of the fence to get a better look, I could feel a vice close around my heart. Orbit lay in the paddock with three legs in the air, his head shoved under the bottom board of the fence into the West Pasture. Questions began to swirl. How could this have happened? When? How had I missed his passing?
In the early years, I would often see our llamas lying flat in the spring sunshine and mistakenly assume they had died. I would run into the pasture yelling to them and they would jump up, alarmed that they had missed an intruder — and then realizing that the intruder was me! Yet, this was not the same. Orbit’s position in the paddock looked particularly uncomfortable, with his neck caught under the fence and his head in the next pasture. His legs, too, were not together and parallel as they usually are when I find a llama resting. Only Orbit’s bottom rear leg touched the ground, and the rest were up in the air. In fact, as I began to think how his legs could be in this position, I thought of rumen gases expanding after his death. My thoughts were not pretty and I won’t go into them all here, but I was crushed, blaming myself for not having noticed that something was wrong — blaming myself that this good friend had passed surrounded by ovine friends, yet alone, lacking the attention of the one person who might have been able to help: me.
I was calling to him as I vaulted the fence, hoping against hope that I was wrong — that he was only napping, albeit in an odd and seemingly uncomfortable position. I hit the ground running and continued my calls, but there was no movement at all except for the brown hair that continued to flutter in the breeze.
Just as I came upon him and was ready to bend down, he quickly jumped to his feet, pulling his head from under the fence and letting loose with a gob of spit he had obviously prepared for just such an interruption. The green goo barely missed my head as we both jumped back in shock: I because my “dead” llama had just returned to life, and Orbit because his crazy shepherdess had just interrupted the best sleep of his life! The warm morning sun on his belly had been too good to resist — didn’t she know? Well, Orbit, now she does….