Why We Have Llamas

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

I’ve been thinking about animals that carry things for us. Mostly because of llamas, but also a hawk.

It took a while to spot it less than 20 feet away, perched on a branch in the neighbors’ tree where usually the doves sit. Its tail feathers were the thing I noticed first: too long for a dove, and too straight for the squirrels who take their turns there sometimes whenever they aren’t in the birdseed or doing loops and leaps around my yard. I was trying to find what was making the noise I’d heard. And then I saw the hawk. Its breast feathers, brown and white, blended perfectly into the backdrop: sunlight splitting itself into shadows and brightness through the leaves. Then it tipped its head and made the sound again, like a chick almost, those puffs of yellow at the fairgrounds—Cheep, Cheep-cheep—but coming from a hawk. You never run out of things that surprise you.

Its perch in the middle of the lowest branches was a good place to wait for things to eat, and I hoped that it would eat soon: take a dove in its talons and beak and tear it into strips, into fuel for its hawklife. And I didn’t feel bad for wishing it, not at all. But then I did (just for a second) because doves look a lot like pigeons, and pigeons—if we’re good to them, and patient like we can be—will fly off and come back and carry small messages for us.

And sparrows carry songs for us.

And horses carried people. They carried mail out West before the railroad tracks, and circuit-riding ministers so that couples could have their marriage rites and towns could hear a sermon now and then between the singing parts, between the welcome and the last Amen. And horses still carry a few of us today, or at least our amazement: all that beauty, running or standing, whether black or brown or gray.

And cows carry milk for us.

And salmon carry themselves for us, upriver, leaping up waterfalls. They used to do it by the millions. Before mudslides from clear-cut forest-scars, before silt all over their spawning beds, before concrete—improbable tons of it—in engineered dams. Before us. Before the millions more of us.

And hummingbirds carry good magic, whether black-and-white or iridescent. They hover it, zig it and zag it. They fling it around.

And bees carry pollen so that no one has to think about it… though now, of course, I’m wishing that we did, that we had to have a Pollen Corps, and they’d travel with fine-tip horsehair brushes, dip them into all things blooming every spring as soon as the snow melts or the rains flash open. Working from March until August. Maybe housed in those old-style caravans. And paid well—as much as a banker makes—for painting from flower to flower.

And cats carry a one-tune jukebox inside them—prrrr, prrrr, prrrr—but it’s what we want to hear. It’s always the exact right song.

And llamas, of course—I didn’t forget them. We have llamas to carry even more: our loads and our camp gear; our water, food, and kindling; their wool to make socks and blankets to keep us warm. They’ll even keep us company: Hennessy, Ramzee, Seybo, and Fred—my family and I and four llamas just hiking around in the middle of Utah, Capitol Reef.

I bought a stuffed animal once while waiting for the pharmacist to compound some lollipops. Jameson had had his tonsils out, and these were for dulling the edges of his throat pain. He found one the other day that he never ate and threw it away, but he still has the animal I got him. Yes, a llama.

And now it turns out that llamas might save us all.

Llamas’ blood vessels are different than ours, and their antibodies can kick coronavirus ass. They can lock onto the virus’s spikes and block it from attaching to cells. So scientists in the U.K. are right now working on a “llama-derived antibody therapy.” They “can produce coronavirus-specific antibodies to order” so even if the virus mutates, they can engineer for the new strain, and man I want these people to succeed. I’ll settle for anything, of course, any path to a working vaccine—mold led to penicillin, so even mold would be fine with me—but I hope it’s llamas. If the vaccine does come from llamas, then whatever luck, or God, or science carries the load for us is doing it with a sense of humor and whole lot of style, and that’s the kind I want to believe in.

The kind that cures us with llamas.

The kind that keeps the world alive with bees.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new books Facts and Figures and The Last Tiger is Somewhere are available from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle and Unsolicited Press. Previous books include The Book of Sharks and 88 Maps. His first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is forthcoming from Stormbird Press.
Read Rob Carney’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by Terrain.org and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to an interview on Montana Public Radio about The Book of Sharks.

Header photo by Ccapri23auto, courtesy Pixabay.

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