I have delayed writing this because it is just so hard to accept as real. Early this past Friday morning, we unexpectedly lost a long time and much beloved farmily member, Sir Romulus, the King of Llamas.
Just before daybreak on June 30, I walked to his pen to say good morning and offer breakfast to him and the cats. I found him already passed away, presumably in his sleep.
He had not been sick and was up to date on his wormer medication. He had a great appetite and was drinking lots of fresh water, and he had been as sociable and sweet as ever. The only irregularity I had noticed lately was that he was uninterested in the water sprinkler, even on the hottest afternoons. Llamas can handle almost any amount of cold, even ice, but they are susceptible to extreme heat; and Romulus in particular was opposed to being sheared. So I am worried that the heat was too much last week. I am also worried that he was heartbroken over losing Little Lady Marigold back in January. They were so bonded, after all, and we wondered then how much her death would affect him.
This unexpected loss has rocked us. I still can’t believe it.
We have known Romulus since before he came to live with us in 2011, and even during a short chapter when he lived again with Dean and Maribeth (during a season of particularly dangerous horse conflict) we visited him periodically and loved him entirely. We feel so lucky to have lived alongside this majestic creature for most of his life.
As a solitary male, Romulus was incredibly chill. He coexisted with the Bachelors beautifully.
But then he fell in love with a gorgeous white and caramel-colored llama named Yoko, who would come to be known as Seraphine, and they blessed our menagerie with gorgeous babies. Who remembers Dulcinea? She was her father’s spitting image, though neither of them was much for casual spitting, thank goodness. And of course, the indomitable Meh. Romulus produced this incredibly personable, scrappy little son who has spent the last nine years trying to impress and out-llama his dad.
Once Romulus became a family man, he tapped into his impressive protective nature. One day everything just flipped. He regularly tried to murder the horses if they grazed too close to his woman or their babies, and he even challenged the bison a few times for unknown trespasses. He would pin his ears back, bare his slobbery teeth, vocalize in a deep, guttural, grunting way, and charge forward, mostly on only two hind legs, his sharp front hooves flayed out like knives. It was, and this is no exaggeration, terrifying.
It was hard to be mad at him for these offenses, though, because he was so nobly engaging with perceived threats.
It also bears mentioning here that in the natural pecking order of powerful animals, Seraphine outranked her mate by plenty and had no problem putting him in his place.
Despite his dangerous behavior toward the Bachelors, Romulus never once hurt a smaller animal or a person. In fact, he was serenely curious about children, puppies, chickens, and squirrels. Often while gardening I would notice him and Klaus watching squirrels like Wimbledon in the oak trees. And of course, he had the sweetest disposition toward LLM.
I love this photo of a first meeting with baby Laika, two summers ago.
Because of his overall calm with us, we will never forget the day he almost accidentally tossed my husband. One day in the big barn, when Handsome had all the bachelors lined up for shots, he casually looped a lead rope around Rom’s shoulders, attempted to pierce the syringe needle into his massive neck, and experienced firsthand the explosive power of a full grown llama suddenly thrust upright onto his hind legs. Romulus yanked Handsome right up off the dirt floor, like a ragdoll into midair, one slack lead rope connecting them, and made his anti-vaccine wishes known in an instant.
That was the end of that.
Romulus was the very first animal who let me experience the sweet rewards of a long, slow acquaintance. The first few days he lived here, he had free range of the entire farm. He wandered anywhere he wanted and politely declined all attempts to touch him. He nibbled everything. He was quiet and studious and extremely stand offish.
I vividly remember the afternoon I took the photo below. Handsome was at work. I was alone at the farm, work caught up, doing very little except learning this new creature. He and I sat on the grass, about fifteen feet apart, just staring at each other. Staring and staring, Both of us sitting still with our legs crossed. He would tilt his enormous ears in twisty satellite directions, collecting data of his new surroundings, evaluating everything. I remember smiling or breathing in a new way and causing him to twitch, tense, and soften again.
Romulus could hold eye contact without blinking like it was his God given super power. Gradually I could scoot across the grass, just a few inches closer, every few minutes. That was not the day he let me touch him, but it was the day he stopped avoiding me.
Eventually, Romulus grew to love face petting and throat strokes, and of course he was never not hungry for graham crackers, chocolate chip cookies, etcetera. He had a special bond with Handsome and would come faithfully to his voice.
Unless he was holding a syringe.
I love that we never had to worry about Romulus hurting a guest. I love that so many people got to experience his strength and his gentleness.
Who remembers the llama soccer game with Rom, Seraphine, Dulcie, Meh, and all the twenty somethings who were visiting one day?
I will forever be grateful that just a few days before his passing, Romulus enjoyed lots of sweet visitors. Our big family was here for a reunion and anniversary party, and they showered him with attention and treats. Mellowed greatly in retirement, Rom was known as “the nice llama.” He always seemed content with just us over the years, but gosh he became beautifully social and thrived on face time even more than the horses.
We already miss seeing his elegant silhouette in the morning gloom. A few times since Friday, I thought I did see him. I miss scooping his sweet grain over the red gate and sometimes feeding him a little extra through an open cottage window. I miss how he could not resist a graham cracker or similar sweet treat. I miss his tip toe walking, his impossibly long, broomy eyelashes, and his eagle-like brow. I miss his shiny toe-talons and his dark brown, woolly fur. I miss the perfect white mask on his handsome face.
One more heart felt thank you to Dean and Maribeth for entrusting him to us, and for so much advice and encouragement along the way. Romulus was a gift, a lesson, and a blessing in thousands of beautiful ways.
our sweet Llama in the Middle,