A Unique Holiday Story


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Author's note: I wrote this at the request of a freelance reporter who wanted it pitched to a local paper here. The editor, at first, decided to "assign it to a reporter" after reading it (what more they would need, I do not know). I rejected this on the premise that we had already done all the ground work, and that the writing was at least adequate enough to be edited-to-format. After an unpleasant conversation with a main editor, they killed it. Photography by Roy Yoerger.

"Raising alpacas, is a life style, that has changed our family.They are a mystical animals, living thousands of years, with man, yet on their own.The people that raise them, are usually committed to supporting each other, and those new to alpacas. We have met wonderful people, always ready to help and share their knowledge with us." --Barbara Yoerger, Owner, Evergreen Alpaca Farm

There is a true Christmas story going on here in Southwest Florida; a true manger scene that will never be repeated, and living humbly in North Fort Myers.

Christmases here are never like those "Up North," as people say--mainly because there is rarely any snow in Florida, since it is in a tropical latitude. But, after all, Christmas is a celebration of birth--of life itself.

This miracle of life reveals itself at the "Evergreen Alpaca Farm," owned by Barbara and Roy Yoerger. It is nestled off of Nalle Grade Road, among many other properties, small ranches, and so on. Barb and Roy are professionals,--Barbara is a seasoned nurse at Lee Memorial Hospital, and Roy is a former chemical engineer who now works for the State managing one of their facilities, They have been married for 33 years years, and share one another's passions in a way that makes one remember exactly what marriage itself is about: to see them together is a confirmation of how two, so in love, work together to bring great things about.

Sometimes, I think that they just like picking up strays--me being one of them.

I am a guitarist--a music instructor, composer, and performer by trade, also struggling away completing my first novel under a publishing deal. After an extremely challenging final year in Cleveland, Ohio, I decided enough was enough: I pulled up stakes and headed for Florida, with no more than two carry-bags, and my minitaure pinscher dog. Barbara and Roy had been looking for a guitar teacher for their son Leigh, who was my very first student here. The relationship between this family and I deepened, quickly--it was an unbelievable moment, for a teacher, working with this amazing boy-child, and his family, whose love and support seemed to know no boundaries. At one point, my living arrangements became very difficult, and, to my suprise (not theirs, it seemed), they told me that, if I wished, why not simply move in with them?

And it was just that simple. Suddenly, I was embraced by these folks; sort of a live-in teacher, one with no more worries, no more troubles, and all the time in the world to write away at my book, surrounded by the tranquil beauty of this modern farm. And Roy decided he wanted to start playing guitar, too--so I now had two in-house students!

At the farm, they not only raise the exotic, ancient breed known as Alpaca (Vicugna pacos), but keep horses (Barbara is an accomplished Equestrian), and breed Jack Russell terriers; a friendly bunch who constantly run around the turf, making friends to all that come. They live peacefully, with one of their sons, Leigh, a Tom Sawyer kind of prodigy, who has lived, embraced, the American Dream, maybe without even knowing he has done so. Everone works at the farm: tending the horses, maintaining, and, of course, taking care of the Alpacas.

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An alpaca is, to beginners, sort of like a llama, except it has straight ears, rather than bannana-shaped ones.They have been domesticated for thousands of years, mainly because of their ability to bear magnificent wool-like fiber, so as to make things such as sweaters, scarves, blankets,, and so on. Two of these amazing creatures were due to give birth on, or around Christmas. And they live in what looks very much like a manger. Two moms, expecting babies. Alpacas can do many things; they are herd animals and there are no cases of wild ones. They will spit, mostly at other Alpacas, rather than humans, but will occasionally do so. The best way to embrace one is by the neck.

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Barbara and Roy are carefully watching this process, because they have experienced it before, resulting in a still-birth. But, they hoped for the miracle of life, and all remained well.

Alpacas are, obviously, highly- unique and delicate creatures. As a protective measure, Barbara and Roy have a dog, named Duke, who protects the herd. Duke is a "Great Pyrenees," (as known in the United States), otherwise known as a "Pyrenean Mountain Dog." Such dogs were bred (mostly by shepherds) to protect a herd--if they did not display that fierce nature, they were bred out of the line. Duke is a gentle, beautiful animal: but he knows his job; he's big, and not to be messed with.

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I have had the opportunity to live with these folks, and I can tell you this; it is a tranquil, wonderous existence, what they do. It is, actually, a quiet one...it seems they constantly await births--be they Jack Russell puppies, foals, and of course the crias (Alpaca babies).

And, as I sit, I think of these alpacas, in their hay-filled stall, waiting for new life to come from their bodies.

It is a true Florida Christmas story, because, gentle reader, it is all about life, birth, and diversity--even down to these Andes-based mamas, waiting to have babies down here.

ADDENDUM: During the preparation of this article, Coco Bean had her cria (baby) 12/14 at 4 pm, and Hope had hers 12/16 at 5 pm.They have them during the day, as most preditors roam at night.

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Rich Engle

Edited by Rich Engle
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