That lion ate my alpaca. I mean, I thought of her as my alpaca, but she was pretty much her own animal. And “ate” isn’t so accurate as “vigorously bit in the neck, and then semi-disemboweled.” And I’m pretty sure “that lion” is THAT lion, the one who’s been on a biting spree, the one my neighbor saw jump off the roof of his stable, that one night, and couldn’t believe the wild, muscular length of him, like a T Rex with fuzzy ears.
That lion ate my alpaca, and while I still love alpacas, spinning and knitting their lovely, soft fur, I'm thinking that building an even higher fence is a fool’s game, and it's time to get out of the lion-snacks business in these hills. I don't want to be responsible for any more deaths, and I don’t want to be part of turning against the beautiful monsters living in the shadows of these hills. I’m out. Nature Conservancy, make me a deal I can’t refuse. Like anything. At all.
That lion ate my alpaca, and in his amber eyes, I saw I wanted to be on the side of wildness. I'm going to find a safe place for Minnie and Fred, and settle them there. Then, I'm going to head back into town and figure out how to live among humans again. Poor Zelda: she was a sweet beast. I loved feeding her, and clipping her soft coat, but I didn’t know how to listen, when she turned to big brown eyes on me, saying, Honey, THAT lion is not messing around, and no matter how much disco you play in our paddock at night, or how many blazing lights you add, we are not safe here.
I liked my cowgirl life. I liked not having to use city-ordinance recycling bins, and not worrying about which side of the street to park on. I liked walking around in the buff in broad daylight, knowing alpacas don't care, and lions hunt at night. But that’s over. It’ll be nice to sleep without disco blaring and seeping between the gaps in my earplugs, and half my mind tuned to massacre. I could always go hiking on the weekends, and spend time helping out with other people’s alpacas. Rita in Montana could always use a hand.
God! I hope that crazy fucker did a clean job of it, clamping his teeth around her poor throat, so she died fast. I hope her freeze-state worked, so that she died unafraid and without pain, knowing herself as interwoven with the world, knitted more beautiful and more true than any pattern ever looped together at the ends of my needles. Poor girl. Poor Zelda. I wish I had listened sooner.
But the city! God. The city. People's cell phones and late-night yapping. People’s opinions and offenses. My own getting offended, and needing my space. The city is an echo chamber, says the cowgirl in me, and yet even as I hear this, I think, Not really. Not completely. The city has open windows just like anywhere. I’m not a lion, or an alpaca. I’m a human being, and there’s a place for me somewhere that won’t drift inexorably to the dynamics of a fortified alpaca-cult compound. Where that is, I don’t know. But somewhere.
That lion ate my alpaca, and in response, I tore down my fences, and gave him my land. That lion ate my alpaca, and I felt a fool for my experiment in dominion. Dominion’s an asshole’s game, and I’m done being an asshole, or at least that particular subspecies of asshole. It’s time I bucked up, brought my animals to safety, and quit playing this alpaca-based game of Brave Ranchers of Masada.
Somewhere, there's a two-room apartment with a big window looking out onto at least a sliver of sky, town, and hills. I can sleep in the kitchen, which will leave the whole other room for eating, playing, working, and drawing. It has built-in drawers next to the closet, so I don’t have to clutter the space. I can eat grocery store sushi in the tub, and sing to myself with my head underwater. I can walk to the park, and on good days, the green heron will be there by the pond at dusk, up on stilts, needle-faced, an absolutely still beautiful monster that the joggers and stroller people never notice.
I won’t need to brush-hog, and I won’t need anyone to put their lives at risk when the hill-fires come near. I’ll be eating tacos on the dock, seeing the lights of the city twinkling overhead, a second set of stars.
That lion ate my alpaca, and I realized it was time to get on back to the human realm, give my land back to the land, and go face what I've been fleeing. Lonely in the hills can be blamed on hills, but lonely in town calls for breaking through my shyness, making connections, remembering the things I like about people, and myself. God. What do I like about people, and myself? Well, we all have the capacity to meet change with change. We know how to make beautiful things. We know how to work with fear, sometimes, and with sadness, sometimes too. Alpacas know they’re connected to the universe, without reminding, but humans forget sometimes, and we have the ability to help each other remember.
That lion ate my alpaca, and tomorrow I'm calling to find out if the Nature Conservancy will pay to have this place torn down. Enough’s enough. That lion’s got to have a bit more room to roam, you know? And I'm tired to death of my neighbors Rambo attitudes. We’re in the wrong place, on the wrong side of too many boundaries, and I don’t need ownership as an illness.
Goodbye, Hills. Goodbye, sound of coyotes, smell of sage, hot flicker of fire-spark afternoons. Goodbye, dream of rugged independence. Goodbye tawny moon. Goodbye, fences and fear.
That lion ate my alpaca, and I hope her blood runs right down to the hot pads of his enormous feet, into his ear-tufts and lion-balls, and out to the tip of his tail. That lion ate my alpaca, and the least he can do is be the wiliest, most magnificent damn free lion to roam these precious hills. The least I can do is shout hoorah! We have not yet cleared the beautiful monsters of this earth, nor their power to force us to be brave.
Outside, the bus engine thumps, while some woman urges someone to get going. In the hills I’d never have to hear this, but since it’s true, why ever should I not hear it?
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now