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Large Animals

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

A guy came up to me to tell me “about a god.” Digger, my pugnacious black Pug, rumbled from his kennel in the back seat, a lukewarm complaint.

I was parked on a grassy edge of Riverside Drive; a two-lane road that mimics the course of the Flathead River and on occasion intersects its journey, to sketch a friendly-looking, working barn. Before the arrival of my gentleman whose bicycle was as ancient as he, triangular-shaped ears came into view in my driver side window, noses poking at me over the wooden fence. In addition to the llamas, there were alpacas, a particular one that aimed a take-me-home look at me. The brown spots on his otherwise white coat shouted at me, as did his eyes as he walked toward me and then suddenly turned his back in a huff for not showing enough enthusiasm. He sashayed away on the same worn path, but his curiosity gave way and he repeated his trip back and forth several times like an intrigued child pleading, “Draw me, draw me. Can you draw me?”

Montana has a reputation for big things, and thus is called the Big Sky Country. It boasts some very large animals. At the local dump a posted sign states: NO LARGE ANIMALS.

“Cows,” my daughter says, “have the same shape as the state of Montana.” But these are ordinary large animals that don’t draw attention like the ever attentive, in-motion, imported South American llamas.

I am at the point of calling the county court house to inquire what qualifies as a Large Animal. The many grizzlies that roam our mountains? Bison? Horses? How about mature llamas? Many deer around here are not much larger than some dogs that visit the inside of the dump to supplement their other meals. The overseer grumbles, “Oh, not them again,” when he is informed that dogs have been in the bins. Again.

But…I digress. I was attempting to draw the barn among the energetic South American transplants when a sudden commotion appeared on the driver’s side of the car. My windows were rolled up to keep the frosty breezy from blowing through. The sun was out, though, and a it was a spectacularly clear day with a generous amount of powdered sugar sprinkled over the Swan Mountain Range. The old man straddled the bike and wore a gray winter hat with the flaps pulled down over his ears. His cheeks were fresh and rosy.

I sat in the passenger seat and he stared hard at me through the glass and waited and I was pretty sure he would wait until I did something, so I took my sketch pad and hopped out thinking he might own the llama ranch. If I showed him what I was doing, it might eliminate an accusation of crossing a boundary, or a worse crime in Montana, being a snoop.

I rounded the car, prepared to make my defense, but without bothering with a greeting, he said, “There was a man who came by here and told me about a god.” Okay, I thought. The man is on a mission to proselytize. Droplets of moisture dripped off the tip of his nose. He didn’t notice or seem to care and let them fall as we talked.

“The man told me that a god is going to fly up to that planet.” He squinted up into the sky, “and he is going to explode it and make an ice age. What do you think of that?”

“What man was that?” I asked, wondering he was one of those old Montana boys who get a kick out of making up stories and teasing.

“He said that a god is going to burn that planet up. What do you think of that?”

“Well, that's pretty interesting,” I responded. “What man is that?”

“He said that when the planet explodes and there is an ice age, little planes are going to come down here and land. Maybe they are going to be my kids. What do you think of that?”

“Well, I'm not sure what I think of that,” I tell him. “It sounds pretty interesting, though.”

“The man is really the god himself and he is going to fly up to that planet,” pointing up again, “and he is going to explode that planet.” I looked up to see what planet he pointed to.

“That is pretty remarkable.” Suddenly, he got quiet, almost whispering.

“Don't tell my wife I told you this.”

“Okay,” I promised. “Where do you live?”

“I live right over there.” He gestured toward the north, and then immediately got on his bike and rode off toward the south.

I got back into the car, started drawing again until I had a picture I hoped captured the barn's personality. I wonder if barns absorb and reflect the events and personalities of those who wander through them.

I passed the old man on his bicycle about a mile from where we had met. Where was his home? Was it in the direction he was headed? Was someone waiting for him to return? Digger slept unperturbed all the way home, a rolling nasal sibilance issuing from his kennel.

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