Archive | Adventure

Prairie Restoration: Part 1 – “The Big Picture”

I’m starting this series to document our prairie restoration project near Worthington, MN.  When we started thinking about how to manage our land, I could find few resources that documented what to do and what others experienced.  I hope to do three things: 1) document the project for personal preservation, 2) solicit any feedback from anyone out there who has done this, and 3) perhaps serve as a resource for people asking the same questions as I am.

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Background

Lisa and I bought out property in Worthington, MN a few years ago, it included a total of around 40 acres.  Five of those acres comprise our house, outbuildings, and yard.  The remaining 35 acres are approximately 5 of  fastidiously planted grove, 15 acres of prairie and wetlands, and 15 acres of tillable farmland.

We knew we wanted to improve the current (unmanaged) prairie/wetland space.

We had no idea what we wanted to do with the farmland.

Big Picture Goals

Our property sits in the Lake Ocheda Wildlife Refuge.  For us, this was one of the largest selling points when we bought the property.  We really enjoy the wildlife–every day I’m surprised by something nature does.  We have dozens of pheasants, several roaming herds of deer, two great horned owls, and (depending on the season) bald eagles, geese, ducks, and coyotes (unfortunately).

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Our overarching goal is to enjoy our property.  I love walking through the woods with our dog, Kota, or driving our side-by-side on our trails.  I run and mountain bike on our trail too, and in the winter I cross country ski every day.  I use EVERY square foot of the property.

Part of our enjoyment is the wildlife.  We want encourage and support more of it–we want to make the property function well for them.

I started several (now six) beehives.  I’ll save this for another story, but it’s one of the ways I get out and enjoy our property–and it gives us something great in return.  So, creating pollinator habitat is now a major goal.

The Prairie / Wetland

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The 15 acres of wetlands and prairie will require a lot of ongoing work.  As best I can tell, the land was never managed well.  It’s filled with brome grass and invasive plants.  Our plan is to conduct a series of controlled burns, then start working to introduce native grasses and help them out compete the non-natives.  I’ve heard this can be challenging.  Right now, it’s not my first priority.  What I am addressing with it is cleaning up the incredible amount of trash dumped in several spots and still clearing up brush from 2013’s destructive ice storm.

The Farmland

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Initially, we didn’t know what we wanted from our 15 acres of farmland.  The previous owner was renting it out, so we decided to stick with that plan for the first couple years until we had a better sense of direction.

Lisa comes from a long line of farmers, so we thought about farming it ourselves.  When we started to do the math on the cost of owning enough (even small) farm equipment to get the job done, that was quickly nixed.

I suggested raising more exotic kinds of animals, ideally American bison.  I love bison–the symbol of plains.  The first problem is that they require really really strong (and tall) fences.  That seemed like a lot of work and money.  Also, herds of bison needs hundreds of acres, not dozens.  I also suggested caribou, but the fence was still an issue.  On top of that, it would make our 15 acres relatively unenjoyable–I can’t really walk the dog through a bison herd unless I want to get trampled.

Finally, we turned to the CRP (conservation reserve program) which helps landowners restore land to native grasses.  This did everything we wanted–we could use the land (walk, run, etc), it can support our bee project, it looks beautiful, and it supports wildlife.  On top of that, CRP provides some financial assistance in establishment and maintenance of the land.

So, we decided on native grasses with an emphasis on pollinator habitat.

The Plan

This project will be multi-year, with many steps along the way (which I plan to document):

  • Site preparation – Remove fences/wire, remove trash, clear brush
  • Plant native grasses on farmland – continued management
  • Controlled burning on prairie land
  • Interseed native grasses into prairie
  • Pollinator enhancement – native bee houses, new beehive technology
  • Wildlife habitat enhancement – foodplots, deer feeders, bird houses
  • Dirt work – reshape areas, repair bridges, consider building pond

Questions for the Internet

  • Do any readers have suggestions/advice for us?
  • Anything you would like me to document or try in our process?

Next post: Preparing our site

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Photo of the Week: Lightening with Lightning (Timing is Everything)

On our Brazil trip down the Amazon River this summer, Lisa was performing surgeries while I joined the boat crew for a visit to a village further up river.  On our evening return to pick up Lisa and the medical crew, our boat went directly into a massive storm.  I stood on the top of the boat and watch us plow in to the storm front.  The wind hit so hard that it blew parts of the boat off the roof and blew out the window wipers on the command deck.  We were immediately called below.

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It was now pitch black, with rain we could not see through–even with a spot light.  Unsafe to continue traveling up the river, we had to pull directly in to shore and land the boat while waiting out the storm.  Lightning and thunder rock the night.  We could see nothing.  I got my camera and tried various combinations of exposure and shutter.  It all came down to luck.  I couldn’t get long enough flashes of light to know how the camera would react.  On top of that, the boat was rocking slightly, making it difficult to get a steady image.  One photo turned out.  It was actually quite interesting to see–the camera could see what the eye could not.  From the boat, we could not make out what the land looked like.  One surprise in the photo was how much the red boat light illuminated the shore and trees, giving the image a more eery feeling.

With lightning, timing is everything–essentially all luck.  I got lucky with this one and it made for an interesting photo.

 

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Where Did Summer Go? Highlights from a Season Gone By

This summer was a blur–different, I would say, than any summer before.  I wanted to reflect on this summer if only for my own sake and reflect on some changes and highlights.

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For me, thee big event of the summer was the May release of my book, Go & Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time.  Two years in the making, it was fun to finally see it come to fruition.  The strangest part of the experience was sharing intensely personal experiences in a public forum.  But, it’s good–the message resonated with people and, I hope, helped some.  I received messages from readers I didn’t know across the country and as far away as South America and Asia who read the book.  It’s interesting see see where a message can go.

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Village Life on the Amazon – A Photo Essay

We visited several tiny villages last week on our boat trip down Brazil’s Amazon River.  I wanted to share a short photos essay from my favorite village.

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Amazon Reflection – I could not build a better movie set.  In life, I think reality rarely lives up to the mental images forming the way we hope a place looks.  When it actually, it can surprise us.  In this tiny riverside village, the scene looked like the movie set I would want to design, yet it was authentic.  It surprised me.  The sky was brilliant and wate was still.  I captured this brilliant reflection amidst some interesting boats.

Church, child, and rainbow

Abstract Church – This photo comprised a rare moment where three things I would want to photograph lined up in one shot.  At the forefront of each village, immediately after the main dock, stands a church.  Most are fairly plain, but this one had interesting abstract lines and angles.  A cool building.  Then we got a beautiful rainbow (double if you look closely).  Then, this little girl–with a pink balloon we gave her–walked right in the foreground.  I think there’s something symbolic about the church, God’s promise marked by the rainbow, and an innocent child.

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The Staircase – Hills seemed rare in the Amazon.  If you saw one, you could expect a village on it–the only natural way to protect against the annual rise in the river.  This photo was the long walk, and climb, in from the dock (our boat–a floating hospital–sits at the end).

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Cross Silhouette – The cross in front of the church at the forefront of the village.  I love the colors in the sky this evening.  Our boat moors at the end of the dock.

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Village Kids on the Dock – I just like this angle and the colors.  It’s from the second floor of the boat looking down on the dock where dozens of kids from the village came out to see us off.  They crowded the dock climbing up on the boat and railings.

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A Week on the Amazon River

This past week, Lisa and I travel to the Brazilian Amazon for a fascinating week on the Amazon River as Lisa participated in medical work in rural areas.

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Our local church, Malibu Presbyterian, takes an annual trip to the Amazon River.  They load up on a large boat and head out to rural villages where medical care is thin or non-existent.  Since Lisa (a nurse) first heard about it, she’s been wanting to go.  The experience was more than we expected.

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Photos from the Amazon River Trip in Brazil

Brazil Photos are in process.  In short, we spent about a week on a medical boat traveling up and down the Amazon River.  The medical team perform performed 18 clef palate surgeries in a remote village over three days.

Here are photos from only the past two days on the river.  More coming soon!!

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See the others as they come:

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Five Reasons to Visit Uganda

Yesterday, I was a guest on a radio program talking about our recent juvenile justice work in Africa.  One of the initial questions was about the “perils” of visiting Africa: Is it safe?  Is it a major endeavor?

Life on the outskirts of Gulu

I think most people want to visit Africa at some point in their lives–if not for some humanitarian purpose, then at least to go on safari or see the mountain gorillas.  Africa is indeed an amazing and diverse continent that is not to be missed.  Uganda, in particular, is a great country—I just made my fifth trip this.  If you’re considering a visit to Africa (or you’ve never desired to visit Africa, but might unexpectedly find yourself there one day), it’s a good place to start any journey.  As a matter of fact, Lonely Planet ranked Uganda the #1 travel destination for 2012Rwanda is also at the top of my list–and I recommend seeing both countries on the same trip.  With Rwanda fast-paced development, it’s surpassed some of the “rustic charms” you might expect from Africa.  Kigali feels like a European city–an example of the direction much of Africa is heading.

Here are five good reasons to visit Uganda:

  1. It’s Relatively Safe and Stable – Uganda is relatively.  In the 6 years that I’ve been sending large groups to Uganda, the only incident we had was a stolen laptop once.  I suspect we would be hard pressed to have the same results in Europe.  It’s also relatively stable.  I say relatively because there is the occasional protest—we watch things carefully, but no political situation has yet stopped us from going.  But, if you look around Uganda, it looks like a safehaven.  Congo: basketcase.  Sudan: Basketcase.  Burundi: basketcase.  Kenya: Mixed—as I left Uganda they had terrorism warnings.  The only neighboring country with stability is Rwanda—a personal favorite to visit.
  2. Safaris – Kenya and Tanzania typically get highest marks for safaris in the region.  While I haven’t had the chance to go on safari in either country, the gave drives in Uganda have not left me disappointed.  When I bring groups, we always make the 5 hour drive north to Murchison Falls National Park.  Entering Murchison is like driving into Jurassic Park on red dirt roads through a dense forest.  You finally arrive at the Nile where you have to take a ferry to the delta where the animals make their home.  No trip to Murchison is complete without a boat ride up the Nile to the base of the falls.  If you’ve ever been on Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride, you will feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t real, but some Imagineer’s version of Africa.  I recommend staying at Paraa Lodge—everything you would except from a game lodge.  Then, early in the morning, you rise to go on a game drive.  Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and even—this year I finally saw them—lions.  The only missing animal in Africa’s big 5 is the rhino—they no longer live in the wild in Uganda, but there is a rhino farm if time permits.
  3. Diverse Cultures – Uganda has diversity.  We learned from our work with kids that there are dozens of actively spoken languages and dozens of self-identifying people groups.  Northern Uganda is not like Kampala, and it’s definitely not like Karamoja.  Those who live in the south sometimes can’t understand a word spoken by those from the north—they could easily be different countries!  With so much in such a small country, it makes for an interesting visit that will keep you on your toes.
  4. Adventure – Uganda has a growing adventures tourism industry, with a lot of room for more.  My favorite thing to do in Uganda is go whitewater rafting on the Nile River—some of the world’s best Class 5 rapids.  In addition to rafting, there are the game drives, bungee jumping for those comfortable with local safety inspections, visiting waterfalls, climbing mountains, and, of course, simple travel throughout the country is an adventure in itself.  I would bet that the adventure travel industry sector in Uganda is only getting started.
  5. There’s Even More to Do – Despite visiting five times now, I’ve always got more to do.  I want to climb Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains.  They are fairly serious climbs—no day trip from Kampala.  I learned of some islands in Lake Victoria that I would like to visit one day.  I’ve never been to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari and I still want to visit Karamoja.  I guess I need to go back–several more times.

As Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase remarked mid-way through our recent trip, “I would have never thought about bringing my family on a vacation Africa, but now I wonder why not.”  Try it for yourself–you might be surprised.

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Back in Uganda: The Masindi Project 2 is Beginning

I am back in Uganda this week for another installment of the Masindi Project—a juvenile justice initiative Pepperdine conducted in 2010.  On this trip, I’m joined by Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase and Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church.  Michael is a lawyer turned pastor.

The long road back to Kampala

So far, things have been very busy.  We arrived in Uganda late Friday night and slept 3 hours at a hotel before departing to head north.  When I bring groups to Uganda, I like to start the trip with a quick safari over the weekend to get us out, active, and over jet lag.

On top of that, Paraa Safari Lodge is one of my favorite places in the world.  I looks like the kind of lodge that Disney would design, except that it is a real safari lodge!  I also love it’s celebration of African explorers—the walls are covered in paints of Livingstone, Speke, and the great Nile explorers.

The night we arrived at the lodge, we did the Nile cruise.  Again, much like Disney’s jungle boat ride, except that it’s all real.  Along the river banks you see cape buffalo, warthogs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.  It’s calm and relaxing.

Early, early the next morning, we arose for the game drive safari—you head out before sunrise.  I had one mission this time: see lions.  They had eluded me the past two visits.  We drove out quickly, blowing past the elephants and giraffes to try to find the lions early.  Thankfully, we were not disappointed.   A pride was spotted and we tracked them for a while.  We saw 4 or 5 lions up close—within 10 feet at one point.

After the safari, it was back to Masindi—a long 2.5 hour bumpy ride on dirt roads.  We pulled into town about 3 p.m. and checked into the Masindi Hotel, another one of my favorite hotels in Uganda.  It claims to be Uganda’s oldest hotel (built in 1923) and lays claim to being frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his trips to Africa.  I think they even claim he recuperated here after he crashed in an airplane.

We were also joined by all of the Pepperdine Law students and Professor Gash on Sunday night at the Masindi Hotel.  We briefed the team on what to expect the next few days as start the Masindi Project.  By evening, the local legal aid lawyer, Susan, and probation officer, William, arrived at our hotel and brought a few of the available case files.

The boys' remand building

My team will have about 7 or 8 cases.  So far, we have two files.  Both involve teenage boys accused of rape and imprisoned at this jail.  One of the victims was 3 years old, the other was 12.  The file also always thin, so our job is to figure out what happened in build the case for justice to be done.

For the most part, the kids here have been held for 1-2 years, far over the 6 month maximum that you can hold a child under Ugandan law.  A few have even crossed the 2 year mark, which means they arrived soon after I left on the first Masindi Project trip.

We head out to the jail in just a few short hours.  I will keep you posted on how this week transpires.

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Go and Do on sale THIS WEEK!

My new book Go and Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time goes on sale this week!

As many of you know from my previous posts, I have been writing a book for two-and-a-half years and it is finally available this week!  Go and Do will hit shelves this Thursday–ahead of original projections.

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Go and Do is a message that I needed several years ago.  I remember a series of moments during law school where I wondered what the purpose of it all was–what did I want?  I couldn’t find the answer until dared myself to join a more important adventure: Discovering what it means to respond to a hurting world.

I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the same way.  As a student at Pepperdine, I knew dozens of my peers searching for the same answers.  They felt alienated from the heroic–the heroic ideals that drew them to a profession like law in the first place.  But, it wasn’t just law–I saw it in our undergraduate students and a growing groundswell beyond, especially in my generation.

When I started direct the Global Justice Program, I saw students light up when they imagined themselves breaking down the doors of brothels or rescuing children from prison in Africa or serving in refugee camps.  What did was all share about this experience?  I wanted to find out–I wanted to express the “why” behind this.

But, there was much more once I started to dig.  It was one thing to answer: “Why I am drawn alleviate suffering in the world?”  But it was whole other thing to actually get there.  Go and Do is in part, the “why,” but more important, the “how” and “what.”  How do I get out of my routine?  How do I pull the trigger to go somewhere or do something that scares me?  How do I tell my friends and family?  And then: What do I do once I’m there?  What if I don’t accomplish anything?  What if I have nothing to offer?

These were the questions I asked.  And I wish I had this book to answer them.  I wrote Go and Do because I know I’m not the only one who had these questions.  I wrote the book I needed to read.

If you’re asking these questions too–even sense the hint of them–I hope this might be the book for you.  Or maybe you know someone else who needs this message.  I’d be honored if you ordered it–especially now as the book rolls out to market–but, more importantly, I hope it resonates with you.  I hope it dares you to do something.

 

Pre-Order the Book Now

Go and Do will be available on April 19—pre-order the book now from these online stores or a bookstore near you.

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Llama escape! A Day Like No Other.

“Whoa!” I duck under a clothes line running flat out.  Left or right, I think with a dog kennel right in front of me.  The llama goes right, I flank left.  With top speeds of 45 miles per hour, I cannot keep up with this beast.  But, now, I’ve got it cornered in a backyard fence.  It knows it trapped.  The beast turns toward me and lunges, sprinting just to my right, around the fence and between a house and garage.  People on the street are watching this spectacle.  The police are now patrolling the neighborhood to look for the beast too.  I watch the llama cross into a nearby field.  Within seconds, its halfway across the field.  I’m exhausted.

How did I end up in a high speed llama chase through a residential neighborhood?  Good question.  Let me back up.

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Llamas plotting their escape.

In yesterday’s post, I told you about how Lisa’s parents spontaneously bought a llama herd with our earnest encouragement.   These lovable, docile animals seemed to take nicely to their new home and pasture.  That is, until these escape artists uncover a weakness in security.

The day after the llamas arrived, Lisa received a call from her mom in the evening: Two llamas had escaped!  The dog had chased them into the pasture fence and the impact knocked open a back gate.  It was after dark, so the llamas could not be spotted.  The llama farmer was called, who assured Barb that the llamas would not go far from the herd.  In all likelihood, they would return soon.

The next morning we returned to Worthington.  Lisa went out with her mom to round up the llamas.  Around 10:30 a.m., I decided to head out after some work at the office.  I figured they would be done with the roundup and the llamas would be back in the pens–or at least close to that.

As I drive out of town and turn onto the highway about a mile from Lisa’s, I see the most bizarre thing: A giant llama is running full-speed up the ditch on the other side of the road.  Uh… That’s not good, I think to myself.  I turn the car around to watch the llama cross a busy highway and back.  Lisa’s cousin is chasing it in another truck.  I follow the llama and help corner it into a residential neighborhood and away from the highway.  I jump out of my car and the foot chase begins.

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Over, the next 30 minutes, the run through the neighborhood ensues with the llama running off into a field.  Everyone has now lost sight of it.  On my long walk back to the car, Lisa pulls up then joins me in the truck.  We start driving the direction the llama was last spotted.

“It was headed east,” I explained.  “Yes, but they turn and go the other way quite often,” Lisa tells me from her morning chasing llamas.

We take a gravel road in the general direction it was heading.  It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.  They can travel miles in any direction in a matter of minutes.  We drive a mile south and a mile or so east.  No sign of the llama.

“Well, we might as well turn around,” Lisa said.  “Yeah… Let’s just get to the top of this hill and look.”  We drove to a rise in the road.  And, what do you know, there’s the llama running down the gravel.  We laughed at our luck.

For the next hour, we drive behind or alongside the llama, trying to corner it into a fence or find a way to make it stop.  The llama won’t give up.  It just keeps running.  When we stop, it stops, but too far out of our reach.

We took to foot, driving close and trying to chase it down–no luck.

Next, Lisa got in the back of the truck with a rope to try to lasso the llama.  I pulled up alongside the llama.   Every time we made an attempt at throwing the rope, the llama would turn into the ditch.

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My favorite photo from the chase: Lisa attempting to lasso a sprinting llama from a moving truck.

About seven miles from the farm, we could tell the llama was starting to tire.  It was stopping frequently and slowing down.  It stayed on the roads and avoided the soft fields  where it was difficult to run.

Lisa and I switched duties and I took to running after it with the lasso.  The llama was slowing.  Our rope was short and every throw would get obliterated by the strong wind.  I hit the neck several times.

Finally, a mile later, the llama stopped.  It knew it no longer had the will or stamina to out run us.  But it was angry.  Really angry.  It wouldn’t go down without a fight.  So there, in the middle of nowhere between empty fields in Minnesota, the llama and I had it out.

“we don’t have to do this any longer!!” I screamed.  “Brahhhhhh!!!!” the llama roared.  “Ahhh!!!” I screamed back.  The llama looked out into the field and gave a distress call–as if looking for its herd.  I threw the rope.  It hit the llama, but didn’t lasso the next.  The llama screamed again and took a fighting stance.  Throw two: another miss.  The llama spit at me several time–it was a very very mad llama.  Throw three: Around the neck!  The llama fought and screamed, and I pulled.  I spit and got me square in the forehead.  I yanked the leash.  Reluctantly, it gave in.

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I tried to pull it to walk–the llama resisted, continuing to spit.  Lisa came with the llama halter.  “Grab it around its neck and put the halter on it,” Lisa tells me.  Umm… okay, so I just simply grab this furious llamas around the next?  We wrestle for awhile–the llama hates that I’ve got an arm around.  Then I have to force this halter over its angry, spitting mouth.  The llama does everything it can to resist–this is now a duel to the death.

After five minutes, I finally succeed.  The llama has been wrangled.  And, its suddenly quite docile again.  It follows me rather easily.

Lisa heads to a nearby farm to see if we can wait there with our llama until the trailer can arrive.

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So here I am, walking down a long dirt road, pulling a llama that we tried to lasso from a truck, then had a fight to the death, then wrangled into submission.  I never would have ever expected a day like this or a situation quite so bizzare–no doubt I’ll remember it forever.  And, all I can think is: That. Was. AWESOME!

And the second llama?  Word came in that it was 1/2 a mile away in a swampy marsh at the end of a tractor salvage yard (a place where tractors go to die and be parted out).  We searched the yard and these old tractor salvage guys pointed the llama out.

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Can you spot the llama??  Hint: Its dark-brown head is under the two tallest trees on this side of the pond.

We walked through the muddy swamp and reeds until the llama spotted us.  Another chase ensued as the llama took off and into another field.  And, with that, we all gave up.  The vet was called and a tranquilizer gun was brought in front a nearby town.  As of 30 minutes ago today, it took 4 tranquilizer darts to subdue the beast.  The llama is now in captivity.

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