Matriarchs & Merlins

By: Simon Webster | February 22, 2019

Photo: The Illustration Room/Tanya Cooper

So there I am, pliers in hand, trying to speak soothing words to the alpaca that has put her head through a square of wire fence and can’t get it out again.

“You have really stuck your neck out this time, señora,” I say, in a Mexican accent, which is no doubt highly irritating to camelids from the Andes, but I can’t do Peruvian. 

“Do not fear. I will have you free in no time. Please do not make any sudden movements.”

She is quiet. Almost too quiet. Surely she’s not…? No, she just blinked. 

What’s going on? This is the feisty one, the matriarch, the spitter. And she’s not even so much as humming (which is how alpacas worry), never mind regurgitating anything putrid to lob in my face. Doesn’t she see me as a threat? I’m almost insulted. 

She’s stuck her head through the mesh to get to the lucerne, which is being stored in a sort of anteroom off the chook house. Obviously not satisfied with the generous rations that I dish out, she has decided to self-serve and got herself in a bit of a pickle.  

But she seems quite content with her situation. She is sitting (or squatting, or whatever you call it), there’s plenty of food within reach, and she’s getting a rest from all that endless looking out for predators, and deciding where to poo, and dominating the rest of the herd, which I’m sure can be quite stressful.

It’s tough at the top. She’s probably glad to have a bit of me-time. It’s like an executive mini-break. 

Anyway, I’m just about to snip the wire, while whistling a passable rendition of the soothing Peruvian pan-pipe hit, Flight of the Condor, when I find myself yelling “Merlin!”
at the top of my lungs, right in the alpaca’s ear.  

Merlin (who is a dog; this may be the Northern Rivers but we don’t actually have wizards on farms, well, not this one, anyway) has a guinea fowl in his mouth. And the guinea fowl, unlike the alpaca, is not at all happy with its sudden loss of freedom. In fact, it’s kicking up a right stink. 

So I drop the pliers and begin chasing the dog around the yard, while the guinea fowl makes the kind of racket that only guinea fowls can, and the dog looks simultaneously the most excited and guilty he has ever been.

Eventually, the bird breaks free and somehow flutters over a fence into the safety of a lantana thicket.

The dog runs up and down the fence line like a lunatic (you can bet your bottom dollar he has a taste for this malarkey now), and I try to placate my small human helper, Plot the Younger, who is in tears, before heading back to the scene of the dramatic alpaca rescue.

She’s still munching away, oblivious. I snip a couple of wires, and she reluctantly gets up and wanders off through the clouds of feathers that float on the air like confetti, towards her companions, to tell them all about what she did on her holidays, and spit on them a bit.   

Related topics

Gardening Basics, All Gardens, Issue 100 – March/April 2018, What to do now
View all

More articles by Simon Webster