I punched a llama in the face today. I don’t feel bad about it either.
That bastard had it coming.
My friends Pamela & Gigi manage a 50 hectare ranch pretty much on their own. Being a city girl, I'm in awe of how fearless they are with large herds of animals. Me- I'm a city girl, an artist. I'd much prefer a fence between me and any animal larger than a golden retriever. I never knew this about myself until I went to the ranch to do some plein- air painting.
For the past week, I’d been sticking close to the house, painting sheep and horses. Pamela teased me about not wanting to get too close to the animals. She thinks its funny. It is funny. I'm usually pretty fearless. I've jumped out of an airplane, surely I can handle farm animals.
I hadn’t painted llamas yet, so I headed towards the far pasture where I'd seen them before. Pamela & Gigi were gone for the morning but Pamela had told me I’m welcome to go wherever I want.
When I got to the far pasture, the llamas were nowhere in sight. I considered going back to my shady spot next to the pens filled with baby sheep. Then I thought no, its time to be a big girl. I tossed my pack over the fence and crawled under the wire. Maybe the llamas were taking refuge from the heat under a tree over the hill.
I followed an animal trail through shoulder high brush. From the top of the hill I could see horses by a pond drinking in a small valley below.
I carefully picked my way through brush with two inch thorns until I reached another fence. Careful not to trip over the sharp craggy rocks, I followed the fence line, looking for a good place to hop over. If I couldn't find the llamas, I'd paint the horses.
A black head popped up about 200 meters in front of me.
A llama! How cute!
He quickly cut through the brush and headed in my direction. I glanced around. I was on a steep section of the hill, a barbed wire fence on my right, and one of those super thorny bushes to my left.
The llama walked towards me, eyes locked on mine.
Was I imagining it or did he have a weird look in his eye?
I took a step forward to get past the thorns. The llama was now a few meters in front of me.
Huh. That was fast.
Even though he was down hill from me, I felt like I was looking up at him. Wow. Llamas are pretty damn big, I thought.
He stared without blinking.
A Monty Python scene flashed through in my head. The brave knights of the round table attacked by a fluffy white rabbit.
Without warning, he charged.
Ok, the fact that he never took his eyes off of me, never once blinked, might have been a warning to someone smarter than me; someone with even the slightest knowledge of livestock.
But I never imagined a llama would attack.
If I had imagined it, I would have added better sound effects. I would have made it more heroic: a roar from the llama, answered by my own battle cry… or maybe just me screaming in terror as I bolted for the hills.
In the real world, neither of us uttered a sound and I didn’t move. There wasn’t time.
In that split second, I thought about Olympic runners, how their head and body don't seem to move while their legs are just a blur. The llama's head and body didn’t seem to move either; they just got bigger.
I did hear his hooves pounding the earth. They were pounding hard and fast.
In my head, every single expletive I know in English and Spanish fired off in rapid succesion. I felt a cushion of soft fur against my face and chest before dense chest muscle knocked me to the ground. He smelled sweet, like sage. I would have expected him to be stinky and gross.
My backpack loaded with paint supplies prevented my head from smacking the sharp rock behind me. I opened my eyes. Against the bright blue sky, I saw the silhouette of a huge black animal lunging at me.
Really? This is really happening? I’m going to be on that stupid TV show, 100 ways to die? The end of my story is a fucking llama??
I turned my head to the left, barely avoiding a head butt to the face. I felt my cheek press into the fabric of my backpack and something soft behind it. His head connected with the right side of my head, just above my ear. Ouch. My head was ringing.
Small bits of trivia fluttered to my consciousness. If a Grizzly bear attacks, you play dead. If a black bear attacks, you fight back. You should punch the black bear in the nose, it's sensitive. Punch him in the nose. I heard this about sharks too. If you punch a shark in the nose, you supposedly have a slight chance of getting away. Where did I read that?
I had nightmares like this when I was little. Something horrible happening, my mind racing, thoughts coming fast, perfectly crafted plans for escape, but my body wouldn’t move. I’d try but my legs were too heavy to run, or my arms were too weak to push myself up.
I felt that same helplessness, only the throbbing in my head was real. This was not a dream. The llama was real and he was coming at me again.
Finally my synapses connected. Punch him in the nose!! I felt something in my hand. I was still clutching my Nalgene bottle. Good. I screamed (FINALLY!) and punched him as hard as I could right in the face. Fur, soft flesh, then bone.
He stepped back.
I have absolutely no memory of getting up or taking my pack off, but there I was- on my feet, my pack on the ground in front of me. My eyes were on him but I was looking at the barbed wire fence in my peripheral vision, calculating how to get over it without turning my back on him, or making myself in any way vulnerable to another charge.
I stomped my foot and roared my best gladiator battle cry.
He took a step back, but he had a cold look in his eye.
He wasn’t scared, he was pissed.
The horses were all looking up, water dripping from their muzzles.
I made a break for it and hopped the fence. Honestly, I have no idea how I did it.
My backpack was on his side of the fence. I lunged for the strap. It was almost out of my reach but I got just enough to reel it in.
He charged again, but stopped at the fence. I crab crawled away. Can llamas jump, I wondered?
From the time I first saw him until I hopped the fence was about 30 seconds. It took 10 minutes to stop shaking, and another 25 for my heart rate to return to normal.
On my way home I saw him at the fence by the side of the road. Head held high, he watched my car go by. I swear he was memorizing my face. That llama and I have unfinished business.