INTRO AND WARNINGS
Warnings: This blog post deals with thematic elements including, but in no way limited to, alpacas, sex, nuns and the awkward feelings that result when all three are combined.
This is the story of two alpacas. It’s an old story, but a good story. You might have heard it before. Or at the very least, it should sound familiar. It’s got all of the proper elements of a compelling narrative. There’s a beautiful heroine that wants something but another something stands in her way. There’s a love interest. There’s a love triangle. There’s a mentor and a journey. There’s rejection and absolution. Will there be a happy ending? You have to keep reading to find out because that’s what makes it a story.
I first met Dulzura in 2005-2006 where she lived at White Violet Farms, a USDA certified organic farm operated as a ministry by the Sisters of Divine Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. When I made the decision to go forward with raising alpacas, I felt that the most important thing was first finding a good mentor and only then find the alpacas. I’ve never once doubted that decision. Good mentors are important to the story. Ask Luke Skywalker. Having found my Obi Wan Kenobi, I then narrowed down my selection to two bred females who would be the foundation of my herd.
On the surface, they shared many qualities: both were strong in character and will. Both were experienced mothers. Both were healthy and passed those qualities on to their offspring. Both had buttery soft fleece. Both had impressive lineage with known individuals in their pedigree. Both produced beautiful babies.
Both lived up to their names. Sapphire (okay, while not ‘technically’ blue, you got me) was a stunning gem who would draw your eye immediately with her sparkle. Dulzura, as translated quite accurately from Spanish, was sweetness, tenderness, and gentleness. Most of the time.
They were similar. And yet, so very different.
Sapphire was a show champion with many large and impressive ribbons from large and impressive shows. Dulzura was never shown. Sapphire was originally from a large farm. Dulzura was originally from a small farm.
Sapphire’s fleece was a true black, in color. Not necessarily rare, but hard to come by at that quality. Dulzura was a very common brown. Sapphire wasn’t exactly hateful towards me, exactly, but she didn’t make it easy. I mean it. She didn’t make anything easy. And she always seemed angry. I know some of it was her markings that just gave her perpetually angry eyebrows, but with Sapphire I always felt judged. Like I was stepping on her lawn or not measuring up to her expectations.
Dulzura was pure sweetness. Again, most of the time. When she was very very pregnant, you would really really know it. But otherwise, at least to me, she was sweet and calm and had eyes that reminded me of a gentle jersey cow. She’d bat her eyelashes and I’d just melt. While Sapphire waggled her judgy brows. Grumpy girl.
Sapphire was beautiful in every way that anyone could intuitively understand. She was just the kind of animal that you didn’t need to know anything about alpaca characteristics to look at her and whistle and say “that is a fine looking animal.” Dulzura was plain and ordinary with a face that was vaguely coarse and semi horse-like.
And yet she was the most beautiful alpaca in the world.
I felt a connection to her immediately. Maybe it was just the fact that I could get closer to her than I could to Sapphire. Early on, I would come up with all sorts of reasons why I felt more bonded to her than to Sapphire. She was calmer and could be easily caught and managed on herd health days. I could catch and manage Sapphire too, but she made me work for it. She was extra. All the time. Her and her judgy face.
I loved them both dearly and I continued to learn and to study and immerse myself into their world. They both gave birth to healthy beautiful crias. Sapphire birthed Juliet, a stunning true black female just like her mom. Dulzura birthed Bruton (aka Big Baby Burton), a common and non-descript bouncing baby boy with his mama’s beautiful eyes, slightly horsey-face, and plain brown wrapper.
THE REALITY OF FARMING
That first year with two babies on the ground, I did it all. I dipped umbilical cords. I weighed babies every day to make sure they were getting enough milk. I kept logs and records and really thought that I was contributing even when I really wasn’t. That was the whole reason that I chose these two veteran mothers so that they could teach me. And they did. I really felt like I was getting a handle on this whole alpaca-farming thing.
And then it came time for the girls to be re-bred.
You must know that I’m not completely naive. I once worked at a horse farm (which I still consider the best five years of my life) where I attended breedings. I passed high school health class and the requirements for graduation in the State of Illinois. I’ve had several litters of puppies. I raise chickens. Don’t even get me started on what I’ve experienced with the ducks. Dear God in heaven, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
There’s knowing how something works and then there’s the actual implementation of the thing and some of the things that you don’t consider when something seems like a great idea at the time. Believe me, I have a lot of hair-brained ideas that often result in my saying something like “oh yeah…I guess that would happen.”
We’ll get back to that in a second. Humor me while we go back and talk about my mentor farm. My mentor, Sr. Paul Bernadette (affectionally known as Sr. PB) brought their famed herdsire Providence Rennes. Rennes was everything that I wanted as a sire for my foundation herd. He had already sired my Jake and I wanted more of him. His temperament and manners were impeccable and his fiber was even better.
When Sr. PB unloaded Rennes from the trailer, I swear my heart stopped. He was even more beautiful since the last time that I had seen him and I couldn’t wait to get started.
As Sr. PB walked him down the lane towards the entrance to the girls paddock, he started clucking to them in anticipation. They responded with equal excitement to the point of fighting each other to be the first to meet Rennes at the gate. They pushed each other back and forth as they tested each other, looking for an advantage. The energy was not unlike what you would see on old footage of Beatles concerts. Rennes was the rock star and he had screaming fans vying for his attention.
Sapphire won the first round. It wasn’t a coin toss, but she was closer so that’s what we went with.
Round one began with the realization that I had not yet truly prepared for the reality of this moment. I knew what it was going to entail. And I knew that Sr. PB would be the one bringing Rennes. But I didn’t quite put the whole picture together that two specific events would be happening simultaneously.
I would be standing next to a nun.
Watching two animals have sex.
Yes, that part matters. Because you see while Rennes was dutifully doing his job, he did not do his job quietly. And Sapphire responded quite loudly in return. And I just stood there very quietly because, really, what do you even say while standing next to a nun watching two alpacas loudly have sex?
And as I soon learned, this was not a quickie five minute boom-bam-done kind of operation. Nooooooooo, sir. Alpaca breeding takes time. Lots of it. Twenty to thirty minutes of it.
TWENTY TO THIRTY MINUTES!
Twenty to thirty minutes of trying to fill the awkward silence by coming up with conversational topics like “so ummmm” and “I hear it’s going to rain tomorrow”. “Yup, it’s a nice day alright.”
For the record, Sr. PB was a true professional. I’m the one who made it weird. And you can just stop laughing now because I doubt you would have handled it much better. Maybe you would. I don’t know. For all I know there are workshops you can take on how to deal with standing next to nuns while supervising breedings.
SAPPHIRE 1 DULZURA 0
After giving Rennes a short rest, Sister PB and I prepared for round 2. Dulzura had been un-patiently waiting for her turn.
And yet, suddenly Rennes didn’t seem to care. Oh, he was a serious boy with a very strong work ethic so he did his job. But it was truly as if he clocked in and then mentally checked out.
Where he talked so lovingly and adoringly to Sapphire as he nuzzled and caressed and told (yelled) all of the secrets in the world. But Dulzura was just a task. A checkmark to be completed. Much like when I add “eat lunch” to my to-do list just for the sheer joy of checking off a box.
Dulzura was the checked box. A job. A duty.
I no longer felt awkward. Standing there. Next to a nun. Watching two alpacas having sex. Loud alpaca sex.
I felt immensely sad.
My heart hurt for Dulzura. I wondered if she felt the lack of care and attention. A part of me hopes not. Because even though Rennes was physically present for her, he really wasn’t. Even as Dulzura talked to him and showered him with affection, she received no reciprocity. I hope that she was spared from that pain of knowing that she wasn’t as special as Sapphire. As beautiful as Sapphire.
I knew that she had been snubbed, but did she?
Was it because she didn’t fit the classical beauty standards of the alpaca? Do alpacas even have classical beauty standards or was there something else happening? It just didn’t seem fair and I wanted to prove Dulzura’s worth to the world.
Dulzura was just such an incredible animal and it hurts me to this day that she doesn’t get the credit that she deserved. The world will always gravitate to the Sapphires of the world, while leaving the Dulzura’s behind.
It is entirely possible that by now you are starting to get clued into the fact that we really haven’t been talking about Dulzura this whole time.
See? I knew it and that’s why I like you. You’re smart.
Maybe even smarter than me because you’re picking up on this a lot sooner than I did.
WHY AM I WRITING THIS?
Why are you even writing this, Leslie?
There you go again, asking the really hard and important questions.
I so flippantly want to say ‘I don’t know’. And just leave it at that. But I can’t. As much as I want to and my inner self is screaming at me to shut up and hide in my closet, I can’t. But I want to.
Oh, how I want to.
If you’ve read my previous writings, you may already be suspecting that this has nothing to do with Dulzura and you are very right.
I’ve been on a healing journey for the past 6 months and I’m so very thankful of the progress that I’ve made. My story is still being written and I have hope for a healthy and prosperous future. It’s a good story. It has a heroine and something she wants but something is standing in the way. There are challenges and mentors. There’s no love interest, still, but maybe this will finally be the year. Doubtful, but maybe. But to finish writing that story, there are underlying emotions that also have to be addressed. We’re not separate from our bodies. It’s all connected the emotional affects the physical affects the mental and back to the beginning of the cycle you go.
I wasn’t quite prepared for how deep those emotions ran. Truly, I knew they were deep for I am the one that buried them. And then ignored them. And then stuffed them in a box and kicked the box under the bed and then put more boxes in front so that they couldn’t be seen for decades.
What surprised me the most was that they didn’t just stay there where I put them. Those emotions developed runners and spread like a miasma, infiltrating every secret and hidden part of me.
These feelings have suddenly come alive with remarkable speed and power. The box that I had so neatly used to contain them for over 40 years was no longer adequate to hold captive this angry and vengeful beast. For every tentacle that I shoved back, another popped out to overwhelm me.
It’s been a long month, physically and emotionally and I’m very nearly wrecked.
But I’m reminded that God uses the wrecked, the lonely, and rejected.
He also uses roosters and alpacas.
That was the feeling which first prompted the memory of Dulzura and the flood of other memories that swiftly followed.
I remember that day hoping that Dulzura didn’t understand that she was rejected. I truly don’t think she did. I think she was happy and living her best little alpaca life as Barry White music played in the background of her little mental soundtrack, whilst I cringed and whistled and tried my best to not think about the fact that I was standing next to a nun watching two alpacas go at it.
For alpacas, true rejection—that act of being forcibly separated from their herd mates, by their herd mates— truly is a traumatic event. It is the separation of self from safety, their one true source of comfort, and stability. A lonely alpaca endures a horrible existence divorced from their identity. While it is true that Dulzura was not rejected from the herd, she was ignored.
Which I wonder if that isn’t just as bad? Maybe not for alpacas, but I felt it for her.
I’ve been feeling it lately, as old memories continue to wash over me. Sometimes they sneak up on me suddenly and without warning. Horrible little creatures, they are.
There I am minding my own business, trying to be moderately productive, and the next instant, I’m fully remembering the trip to The Museum of Science and Industry back in nineteen eighty something.
It was pretty standard as youth group trips often are. I couldn’t tell you much about that trip or the exhibits of the museum. But I remember the foyer where we all gathered for instructions of where to meet up and when. I remember it being hard to pay attention because it was all just so exciting with the noises and the activity and the promise of exploration and adventure. Then it was time for prayer and we respectfully bowed our heads.
In the two microseconds that it took to end the prayer, say “Amen”, and raise my head, all of the other girls were just…gone. And I was alone, left standing with the chaperones and the boys who quickly made their way off to explore.
And I’m not sure, but I think I left a part of my soul in Chicago that day, just hoping that maybe it was an accident and not a coordinated effort with all the hallmarks of a surgical military operation to ditch me. That maybe, just maybe, they would realize that they accidentally forgot me and circle back around to gather me up so that we could enjoy the day.
I wasn’t rejected in the classical sense that day. At least, I wasn’t actively kicked out of the herd. No one said a word. But that’s just it, no one said a word. Being ignored, is maybe, in a way, a bit worse. Being ignored means that you didn’t even rate the effort of being fully rejected.
It wasn’t the last time that Dulzura would be rejected but each instance only made me love her all the more fiercely.
I once shipped the co-op one of her fleeces and they had the unmitigated temerity to send it back to me. How dare they. I was personally offended on Dulzura’s behalf because I knew that their metrics did not accurately reflect her fiber or her fiber’s value. Oh, I get why they did it. I do. But let me tell you that they were wrong. I don’t care that their micron count measured over 30. And I don’t care that most wool and animal fibers that measure over 30 microns tend to be itchy and scratchy. They try and label them positively as “strong” fibers, and that I normally agree that this is a good move because that strength is good and makes for hard-wearing and rugged products like rugs and socks.
But their metrics didn’t accurately value her uniqueness and quality. They didn’t account for the consistency of her blanket. And the fact that because her blanket was so consistent that your fingers didn’t feel the difference between the highest micron fiber and the lowest and that the contrast between those two numbers, that deviation, is what usually makes stronger fibers feel rough or itchy. Her fleece felt to your hand as buttery soft as a younger animals. You could squish it right up close to your face and just melt into it. I know that her fiber had value and worth. And I knew that they weren’t rating her right. They devalued her and I hated them for it.
Just as with us people, the world of alpacas has a different set of beauty standards. Some, like Sapphire, are those classical beauty types. Others like Dulzura aren’t. And likely never will be. Because just like a faceless micrometer can’t accurately measure how an individual fleece feels to a human hand, we are likewise equally as ill-equipped to measure our own worth and often the worth of others.
The standards are increasingly unattainable. Whereas beauty and youth used to be a symbolic placeholder for health, it has transformed into something else. Something artificial and air-brushed. Like the micrometer that rejects perfectly wonderful and useful fleeces, so has an industry rejected health and vibrance for poor photo-edited imitations.
But at least Sapphire would never have to know about any of that because by all that anyone would agree, she was beautiful and that she was beautiful could not be argued. I have her ginormous show ribbons to prove it. She has been independently verified to be worthy. To be beautiful. To be valued.
But who else would agree that Dulzura was also beautiful? Dulzura in her plain brown wrapper. Dulzura who would not draw passersby to stop their cars and sit and stare before slowly driving past once more. Dulzura, whose fleece was rejected by the co-op and whose loving adorations were rejected by Rennes. Dulzura who would mother anything that moved and would bravely challenge anything that dared to harm anything that she mothered.
Dulzura who was so severely loved and beloved by me, if no one else.
Was there anyone else who would look at her and see the most beautiful alpaca in the world?
I really want this. No, I need this, for my own sake.
A part of me wonders if God felt something similar when Samuel almost passed over David in favor of a bigger, more handsome, more kingly candidate, until God had to remind him “Do not consider his appearance or his height for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Or did He feel something similar when He allowed Leah, the unloved older sister, to have children whereas Rachel, the beautiful and therefore loved sister did not?
Was God hurt? Angry? Disappointed? It seems that God was moved. Moved enough to correct Samuel to bestow kingship upon David and bless Leah with children.
Did it hurt Him as much as it hurt me to take that phone call my Freshman year, when the friends of the football coach’s son called me to tell me that he liked me, but they couldn’t make it all the way through before they cracked up laughing and hung up the phone?
Does it disappoint Him to watch construction workers catcall beautiful women as they pass by? To see his wonderful handiwork vulgarized? Does it also anger him when the catcalling stops when I trail behind and they slap each other on the back and tell each other to get back to work?
Was He angered two years ago in Baltimore, where I spent a few days on a work trip and had the occasion to watch a young man cross an extremely busy multi-lane street for the sole reason of telling me “you are one ugly b****”. Then he crossed back and went about his day, leaving me to think about that moment over and over again years after he disappeared from sight.
Do I anger Him when I think about these things because I am using the very same standards of measure? That I’m giving so much of my self worth and validation to these strangers and not to Him?
Am I any better? Probably not. I think that frightens me too.
I don’t know that I have answers to any of these questions yet, but I’m searching. There’s certainly a lifetime of memories to filter and analyze and file away according to their sparkification of joy. It’s definitely going to take a while, but I guess I’ve got the time. I guess I’ve got to make the time. The way that I’ve been dealing with it clearly has not served me well, so I suppose that a fresh start could just be the thing.
Dulzura could not be measured by conventional means, but she was immeasurably valuable nonetheless. She was absolutely priceless. As a mother, a matriarch, a teacher.
I still think about her on peaceful nights. The nights that are not filled with the screams of fighting alpacas as so often happened those first five years. I miss those screams. Those looks of haughty anger shared between those two. Screams that I’ve always roughly translated in my head as “I HATE YOUR FACE” “I HATE YOUR FACE MORE” I miss getting caught in between their late pregnancy spit fights. Okay, I don’t miss that…
But I miss it when I think about the phone call that I had to make to Dr. Rodawold when Dulzura could no longer stand and 3 days of fighting to help her proved to be fruitless. I think about that morning when I went to check on her before work and that spark, that sense of purpose to mother anything that moved was no longer shining in her eyes and she just looked so very tired. And I felt punched in the stomach because this was finally it.
God bless Dr. Rodawold, who somehow managed to pick out the words “alpaca” “old” “put down” and was able to put two and two together to interpret my hysterical phone call.
He was so gentle with her as he told her in soothing tones and she nuzzled his face, mothering him even with her last few breaths, “you’re an old alpaca, but a good alpaca”. Over and over. And she was. She really, really, was.
My Dulzura. The most beautiful alpaca in the world. An old alpaca, but a good alpaca.
So what is my legacy? How do all of these painful memories benefit me? Other than giving my body a good hard spring cleaning and purging myself of the pain, emotional stagnation, and misery that I’ve been hoarding for decades. The offloading of thoughts that do not serve me. The formation of new ones that do. Thoughts that support physical and emotional healing resulting in life lived freely and without abandon.
Well, I suppose that’s a lot of it. It’s time to Marie Kondo my life. Throw the emotional clutter on my bed and pick up each memory and ask myself if it sparks joy. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, I’m going to deal with it properly once and for all.
So in that regard, I suppose that Dulzura’s legacy is mine. Or it can be. She did not focus on the rejection, only in living her best alpaca life. An old alpaca but a good alpaca. An alpaca who lived a good story and knew who she was.
Dulzura was sweetness and gentleness. She was devotion and ferocity, in equal measure.
She was matriarch and teacher. Daughter, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother. She was half of my foundation, the bedrock of my herd. Her influence continues even years after her passing and will continue on for generations more in her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was the most beautiful alpaca in the world.
Who am I? I’m still working on it but allow me to introduce myself:
I am Leslie.
I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt. I am a friend and a listener. I am a rule challenger and a rule follower. I am a contradiction. I am a contrarian. I love to make complicated things simple and simple things complicated.
I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am enough (2 Corinthians 3:5)
I am hopeful (Jeremiah 29:11)
I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)
I am not rejected, but accepted (Romans 15:7)
I am not alone (Isaiah 41:10)
I am beautiful.
And so are you.
You were not rejected. Like Dulzura’s fiber, you were measured with the wrong tool. An industrial-era yardstick that cannot possibly replace the hand of a master artist who knows your purpose and your promise and the masterpiece that He has envisioned for your life.
Now tell me…who are you?