Only six weeks before, I was a seriously ill patient in a hospital surgical unit having my thyroid gland yanked out. But somehow I found myself plodding along a rocky dirt path with my husband, our youngest daughter, a troop of other hikers, and half a dozen shaggy llamas. Our goal was to experience the wild, close up and personal, and ultimately spend the night at a wilderness campsite in the high country.
We stopped for an early lunch in a refreshing grove of evergreen trees oozing with piney aromatherapy. I was too weary to eat my pita sandwich, but that was okay. It felt good just to sit and take the load off my pounding feet. The llamas welcomed the break, too. As our pack animals, they carried all of our personal gear plus the tour guide’s cooking utensils and food. What I didn’t know was that they also carried well-developed attitudes. Even so, our guide loved them fiercely, and they knew it.
And so, the llamas joined our little circle in the pines. “When I’m thirsty, I figure they’re probably thirsty,” our guide explained. “When I’m hungry, they must be, too.” So while we munched on our pitas, they gobbled up their rabbit pellets – or at least that’s what they looked like to me.
But when it became time to hit the trail again, Miss Molly Lama didn’t quite like the way Sammie Llama took the lead. He rubbed her the wrong way, literally, shifting her packs to one side, and before you could say jackrabbit she flipped her head around and spit on him.
Now if you’ve never seen a llama spit, you really don’t know what I’m talking about here. Llamas can be serious spitters, shooting out long, full, wet spits…very slimy and yucky. I didn’t know before this incident that llamas often have a pecking order. Molly was the lead gal around here, and Sammie challenged her. He should have known better.
Half way to our destination, we stopped again for a drink from our canteens. The guide faithfully presented the llamas with water as well, and they gulped down their long drinks right along with us. No spitting this time. There was peace among the ranks.
The afternoon became long and very dusty, but as a survivor this seemed like a fitting opportunity for me to prove to myself that I was really going to be okay after all. “Just make it to camp. You can do it,” I told myself.
The campsite turned out to be a luscious spot – a little piece of paradise among the tallest and greenest pines I’d ever seen in my life. The place smelled like freshly cut grass, pine cones, those little dangly air fresheners you hang in your car – and spaghetti. Yes, our guide cooked a scrumptious dinner for us over the campfire. Oregano and garlic wafted through the air like a little bit of Italy lost in the wilderness, while the llamas gorged on the lush grasses surrounding the camp. We were all happy campers.
In the morning our guide was up and at ‘em and had the llamas packed before I could open my eyes. I could hardly wake up at all! What was in that spaghetti?! Peeking out of my tent, I realized I was the last one to break camp. The rest of the gang decided to let me sleep in out of respect for the fact that I was still recuperating from surgery.
On the way down the mountain, I watched the others a little more closely and summarized my thoughts. A jovial group, we were all a bit looser than on the way up. Even the llamas seemed happier – probably because their loads were lighter, and the trek was downhill. They knew they were headed home.
I thought about the people in my life who were spitters like the llamas - those whose identities were defined by defensiveness and bitterness, and knew that I didn’t want to join their ranks. I thought about the sheer joy of being alive, exploring new territory, being part of a group, trusting a conscientious guide.
I’d loomed close to death with cancer chewing away on my insides just weeks before, and yet it seemed I started all over again on that trip with the llamas. All I needed was a trustworthy Guide to lead and faithfully provide my needs, a noteworthy destination and a group of fellow travelers.
Walking behind the sauntering llamas, the Lord impressed upon my heart that I was still here, I was still alive, because I had a job to do. I was to be a peacemaker for Him. And as for the spitters in my life, well, maybe I could become the one to love them into shape.