Some people, myself included, remember their first boyfriend, their first kiss, the first time they slept… in a tent, and so it goes from our first memory to our last. Our collective life experiences are now frequently called “the dash,” referring to the dash between the dates of birth and death written on a tombstone.
Being the editor of Wild Fibers has fattened my dash considerably (although being on deadline four times a year has likely shortened it). I remember the first time I flew over the Himalayas at sunrise, and the first time I sat down to my plate of olives and horsemeat. I also remember the first times I saw a musk ox and rode a yak! But when I look at the cover of this issue, with its elegant white llama standing tall on the Altiplano, I remember the first time I ever saw a llama. And it was long before I ever slipped behind the editor’s desk.
Shortly after I moved to Maine nearly twenty years ago, I went to the Common Ground Fair, the mecca of all things organic, healthy, and green. Maine’s abundant land and low population density (43.1 people per square mile) attracts an impressive number of back-to-the-landers, and the Common Ground Fair is where they convene, nodding sagely at demonstrations of ox teams plowing the field and worshipping the latest models of self-composting toilets while eating falafel wraps slathered with hummus and dressed with sprouts.
The Common Ground Fair is where I saw my first llama, a tall, handsome, black boy. I was in love and could barely wait for our first kiss. From that moment forward I have wanted a llama, and every year that I return to the Common Ground Fair I think back to that first time I fell in llama love.
When I discovered Fibras Andinas, a new llama yarn manufacturer in Chile, it didn’t take much persuasion to book my ticket to Santiago. Llama fiber has unjustly been regarded as the poor cousin to alpaca, but Jorge del Carpio, president of Fibras Andinas, is changing that, producing luscious llama yarn sourced directly from the shepherds. With twenty years of unrequited llama love to appease, my time with Jorge was guaranteed to make my heart sing. And it did, albeit to a different melody than the one I had imagined. (See “The Man With A Plan,” page 44.)
Several years ago, Mother Earth News began sponsoring fairs remarkably similar in flavor to the Common Ground Fair at prime crunchy sites throughout the country, including Puyallup, Washington, which has to be the most commonly mispronounced city name after Calais, Maine. (Calais rhymes with Dallas!) What distinguishes Mother Earth News from Common Ground is a true dash of Hollywood.
At the Mother Earth News Fair, people come to chat-up the pros and cons of composting worm bins and raising freerange poultry, but they can also talk aquaponics and solar panels with Mr. Green, himself, Ed Begley, Jr. An Emmy- award winning actor, Ed is best known for his roles in St. Elsewhere and Six Feet Under and hosting his own reality TV show, Living with Ed. He’s frequently seen driving his electric car or pedaling his bicycle around Los Angeles.
I travelled to Puyallup (it rhymes with nothing!) to give a workshop on the world of wild fibers and, no doubt, enjoy a falafel wrap or two. What I didn’t expect to find was a llama cart in the parking lot. Make that my first llama cart.
Niki Kuklenski has been driving llamas for as many years as I’ve been attending organic fairs, and I had no intention of stepping on the plane back home without having my first ride. My subsequent conversation with Niki, featured in “Llama A La Cart,” (page 70) not only affirmed my deep love of llamas and their diversity of uses, but also makes me think that Mr. Begley should consider adding a llama cart to his list of green modes of travel.
Moving away from the llama theme but still adhering to a list of firsts, I want to provide an update on the Cashmere Craft Center project in India. The first Cashmere Craft Center that will be built in the High Himalayas, where nomadic women will spin, knit, and weave cashmere, earning vital income (most of which goes towards their children’s education) while still being able to stay at home and enjoy the life they know and love best.
Since traveling to India last December to make a video about the project (watch it on our Web site: wildfibersmagazine.com) and officially launching it in our Spring 2014 issue, we are now halfway towards our goal of $45,000. I have been on the road a lot in the intervening months, giving talks about the project and raising money. If you don’t remember another thing in this issue (besides that Calais rhymes with Dallas), please remember this: Thank you!
I have been deeply moved by so many people’s support of this program. I cannot even begin to express the feeling in my heart when a complete stranger came up to me after a talk and handed me a check for $500!
I may have a bad case of llama love, but I am equally smitten with all of you, who love and support the work of Wild Fibers. Again, thank you.
Taking my first ride in a llama cart with Niki Kuklenski
driving. Photo by: Robert Wooldrige