Tag Archives: North Dakota

How Two Llamas Jumpstarted my Writing Career



flashback friday

In 1981, big things were happening in the world.  Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president, the Iranian hostages were finally released, and Judge Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the US Supreme Court

During the  tumultuous hostage crisis  our nation was glued to their TVs for days, watching world events unfold.

That summer I was hired by the local newspaper, the Cavalier County Republican, as a reporter. A 16-year-old kid in braces, I was thrilled to have a part in providing my journalistic slant on the changing world.

Except the news in Langdon, North Dakota, a small town you skip through on the way to Canada, wasn’t nearly as exciting.  For my first interview my editor had the scoop of the century; a local farmer had purchased two exotic animals.

The farmer was my next door neighbor, Don Quam, a man who could tell tall tales bigger than Paul Bunyan’s and tell you true tales you wished were tall tales, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his tan, creased face.  No, it isn’t a cliché, his eyes did twinkle.  Geneva was his perfect match, a spunky blonde who kept him in line.

Two Llamas Jumpstarted

Two llamas, two friendly neighbors, how hard could that assignment be?  Except  I’d never written a newspaper article before, not even in high school English class.  I hadn’t used a 35mm camera in a few years.  A pad of lined yellow paper, a pen, and a Canon camera were thrust into my hands.

While interviewing Don and Geneva  I scribbled frantically as they joked and spoke wise words worth quoting about their llamas, Lleo and Llouis. Because I didn’t have a telephoto lens, I cautiously entered the pasture for close-up pictures.  I’d learned the llamas were walking on lethal weapons and could spit.

My story was typed and submitted without any feedback from my editor.  I still wasn’t sure if it qualified as an article, but it was printed.

All errors aren’t necessarily mine, cringe, because the typesetter, who got an A in high school typing but not  in English, often felt the need to “correct” my work.


LLAMAS2 Stitch

(click on pic to enlarge and read or read full text below)

A few days later my jubilant editor waved a Grand Forks Herald in my face and pointed to a llama story.

He bragged that my first article was picked up by a big-city daily newspaper and assured  my career was off to a great start, thanks to Lleo and Llouis.

Thirty-three years later, the reporter in me wants to write a follow-up to my exciting career launch.  Would Liz Anne remember the llama spit?  Would she remember me?

Is it really suitable  to call someone thirty-three years later and ask, “Hey, do you remember being spit on by a llama?”

I know you’re wondering, too, right? Do ya’ double-dog dare me?

Stay tuned.  Monday’s follow-up is surely to be picked up by the Herald.


Tweet Two llamas jumpstarted a writing career.


Llamas can be put to good use on farms
by Melinda Brainard
CAVALIER COUNTY REPUBLICAN, Page 5, Wednesday, June 17, 1981

Lleo and Llouis have long, shaggy, blonde hair, cute little faces and spit when they are angry or are attacked.

No, they’re not members of the latest punk rock band. They’re a pair of llamas that reside at the Don Quam farm, The Little Pembina Ranch, north of Langdon.

Don answered an ad in the newspaper advertising the Wahpeton Zoo had llamas for sale.

“Well,” explained his wife, Geneva, “after Don read the ad, he called the zoo and they told him all about the animals.  When he hung up, Edwin Olson, a friend of ours, said he’d buy one if we did.  They were only six months old when we got them late last fall.”

Llamas are a member of the camel family and originated in South America, where they were used for beasts of burden.

But why llamas in North Dakota?

“To keep coyotes away from our sheep,” laughed Geneva. “We had read an article that told about a rancher who leased llamas to other ranchers to keep coyotes away.  See, llamas are very inquisitive animals and will scare the coyotes away.

“Yes,” added Don, “anything comes into the pasture and the llamas are right there poking their noses in, seeing what it is.”

“When we first got them they were especially curious about people on bikes.  They would walk right up to them and sniff them out.”

As to whether the llamas are doing their job or not, Geneva said, “We haven’t had any coyotes here yet, so we don’t know for sure if they’re going to work. But the day before we picked them up from the zoo, a deer got into their enclosure and boy, did those llamas put the run on that poor deer! That led us to believe that Lleo and Llouis would put the run on any coyote that shows up.”

Apparently the llamas are very compatible with the sheep.

“Oh yes,” Geneva said, “they graze right alongside the sheep and eat whatever they eat.  There’s no problem at all.  llamas are very easy animals to keep.”

“They don’t even bother to try to get out, though I’m sure they could jump any fence,” added Don.

“They even tolerate people taking their pictures,” Geneva teased. 

“They’re also very gentle and will eat out of your hand.  At first I spent a lot of time showing them to people, but I had to coax them over with All-Bran, or some other kind of cereal,” she added.

“Only one thing, they don’t like to be petted at all.  make sure you stay away from their hind feet, too; they’re lethal.  that was the first thing they warned us about at the zoo.”

“Though they used to be pretty wild animals, llamas can become domesticated.  I even saw a llama in a nativity scene once, so that shows how tame they can be,” said Geneva.

Though they are a member of the camel family, llamas have no hump and have long, thick, course hair that is brown, gray, black, or white.

They are relatively small animals, standing only four to five feet high, and their body is only four to five feet long.

“They really have cute faces and are very intelligent and bright looking,” pointed out Geneva.  “They have bi eyes with long eyelashes.  Their legs are long and skinny with shaggy fur and they have a very high spirited run.  But most of the time they just stand there and look darling.”

“A lot of the time they stand right next to each other, with their heads facing the opposite direction. That makes them look like the character out of Dr. Zeus’ books, a Push me-Pull me. This character is actually a two headed llama.  It’s really crazy looking when they stand that way.”

It seems that having such unusual animals in North Dakota would attract quite a few curious onlookers.

“At first there were many people out here to look at them, but I really don’t think too many people even know we have them,” explained Geneva.

“You should have seen one day when the llamas were down near the dam,” said Don, his blue eyes twinkling.  “Some kid darn near fell out of the boat trying to see what they were!”

“I suppose they are a bit exotic for this area,” said Geneva thoughtfully.

Female llamas bear one kid per year, but there will be no offspring for Lleo and Llouis, they’re both male.

“But they’re always together,” commented Don, “you never see them apart from each other.”

Llamas have a split top lip and no teeth on their lower jaw.  This unusual mouth structure enables them to spit a foul smelling saliva when they are angered or attacked.

“We’ve only had one experience with them spitting, laughed Geneva.  “My daughter, Liz Anne, was the one who got spit on.  Now we just make sure nobody upsets them.”

According to Geneva, Lleo and Llouis are the rather silent sort, but Don swears he’s heart them speak Norwegian on numerous occasions.

So, until a coyote shows his face on the Quam residence, Lleo and Llouis will just have to pass time by looking cute and innocent, and telling Norwegian jokes.

When Everything Became Black and White

On a North Dakota morning in July, I rose before the sun to begin a leg of my journey home to Washington. In the states where the sun dares to shine all day, driving into the sunset isn’t a poetic ending, it’s a  sun-blinding disaster when you get to the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

As always, my camera was standing by in automatic mode for quick shots through the windows as I drove on the country roads that were being utilized by only one car – mine.

After living nearly half my life on the prairie, I knew a new day wouldn’t  merely begin.





It’s the kiss of Creation that greets us every day.


The glory reminds us  there’s new mercies, new strength, and new hope for each day.


The prairie scenery, tinged with wisps of heavenly color and wrapped in fog, was a comforting and familiar friend. In my fumbling to capture the scenes searing peace into my soul, I accidentally moved a button on my camera.


When I pulled into an approach to shoot this abandoned barn, I was stunned by the image on my screen. Raw beauty stood starkly in the absence of color.


I had unknowingly changed the way I saw the world.


It’s not that we don’t enjoy the beauty of color, we long for clarity. simplicity. understanding. We want to easily identify and categorize every aspect of our lives.

Our longing for for black and white grows from real lives that can be complicated. burdensomeoverwhelming. Lack of understanding and moments of weak faith may cause us to illogically pursue easy answers instead of endurance.

If only it were as easy to change our emotional and spiritual view as our view through the viewfinder.


Montana 2012 250

In case the heat of the day makes us forget the promise of the morning, we’re reminded again in the evening.  We can’t let our longing for black and white strip our enjoyment in creation and our loving Creator.

And that Montana sunset I was driving into?  It was as resplendent as the promise of the North Dakota sunrise.

Making your home sing Mondays    WHWButton#2

Back When I Had a Magnum Opus

flashback friday

I was a columnist for the local paper in high school.

Sound impressive?

It was a county paper.

It was a weekly, county paper.

It was a weekly, county paper with a small circulation.

It was a weekly, county paper for a county so far up in the northeast corner of North Dakota, people thought we lived in Canada.  Some of my friends could spit on Canada from their property.

But, I loved people, writing, and driving all around the county, so it was a great job for me.  I marveled when I was handed a paycheck, because I would have worked for free.  But, since it kept me in Mountain Dew and jeans, I always cashed it.

After writing a few articles, my editor asked me to write a column. A weekly column.  I hardly knew what one was, let alone what to write about.  He mumbled “just write something” and walked away.  He came back with a camera, hollered, “Hey, Melly!” and snapped a picture  with my mouth open as I was hovering wordless over my IBM Selectric.  A few minutes later, with still nothing brilliant on my page, he returned and asked for the name of my column.

Name? It needs a name?  Name. Parents had nine months to pick out a name for their babies, I had less than nine minutes.  If I couldn’t come up with an answer quickly,   he would return with his wooden ruler and make my desk his drum and the entire office his stage. 

I truly think he believed his ruler could tap the pace for my brain waves, that the faster he tapped, the faster I typed.  It wasn’t his ruler, it was my youth.  Remember those days when brilliant thoughts poured from your….um brain… and…um…onto ….um….um….what was I saying?

Yea, the name.  Eleven  years of teachers answering all my questions with “Look it up!” I did what any smart student would do, I grabbed the dictionary off my desk. I opened to the “M” section to make an alliteration and mumbled through the words until I got to the “Ma” section. I didn’t love the title or the picture, but I had a column to write and couldn’t fuss over the particulars.

Melindas Magnum Opus 4

I had no idea the amount of taunting in the high school hallways I would endure from those split-second decisions, but telling myself to ignore torment dished out by classmates that couldn’t read my column kept inner turmoil to a minimum. Coping strategy was crucial for high school, wasn’t it?

I also had no idea the picture of me in braces  and “I really wore that to work?” would haunt me for decades.

Melindas first Magnum Opus

A cold Mountain Dew later, I had my first column.  It went straight to the typesetter without any corrections or editing, which I now recall with the clichéd chagrin.  It’s always awkward reading early writings, especially early teenage writing, but I’m struck with the irony.

I was young and ignorant, and had much to learn on the fly.

The Magnum Opus wasn’t the writing I produced, it was what writing for the newspaper produced in me.

Knots, Not a Noose Around My Neck

In Amsterdam, everyone wore scarves, even the men. At first I thought it was only a fashion statement, until the light rains came and the temperature dropped.  Needing extra warmth, I headed into the V & D store to buy a scarf. I don’t like shopping, I liked this store.  I was especially impressed that I bought a cashmere scarf for under €20.  That’ll learn me to shop without my glasses.  It was actually CASHMINK and made in Germany.  I consoled myself that at least it wasn’t made in America.

I was a little slow to buy into this new look, due to a traumatic teenage experience.  At the beginning of my 8th grade, my family moved to a farmstead in North Dakota. That winter, I was invited to go snowmobiling with one of the cute town boys one Saturday. I had never been on a snowmobile in my life, I hadn’t even seen one up close.  I spent Friday night in town with a friend, who  loaned me all the correct winter gear to go out on this adventure on the frozen prairie. 

Her dad insisted I wear a scarf.  He was from North Dakota, he knew how cold I would soon be.  Wanting to be cool  like the magazine models, I wrapped the scarf around my neck once and draped one tail gracefully behind my back.  As I hopped on the back of the snowmobile of Town Boy, I was thinking my long,  blond hair might be looking pretty styling peeking out from the brightly colored hat. 

Her dad came racing out of the house, his cigarette dangling from his mouth, his comb-over strands blowing in the wind, and wrapped that scarf around and around and around my head and knotted it behind my head. He kindly talked about it getting caught and all the dangers of the snow mobile. 

I was mortified.

 It ruined my hair-do, my make-up and I was breathing acrylic fibers through my mouth and my nose.  I pouted only until the Town Boy hit the throttle and thrust us both into the frigid ND winter.  Not wanting to be too forward, I was afraid to hold around his waist too tightly. After all, I had just moved there and had my reputation to worry about.  I realize now that was probably the idea behind the whole snowmobile date, but at the time, I wasn’t understanding those things.  I also didn’t know how to lean into turns, and I almost tipped us by staying upright as we flew a bajillion miles an hour over, under and through more snow than I’d seen in my entire lifetime of 14 winters. 

I sat on the back of the snowmobile, trying to hold on with my legs, peering through the narrow strip  between scarf strands, and wondered why North Dakotans thought this was fun.  With all passion of a true ND boy, Town Boy zipped and ripped around the trails.  I’m sure when he headed for a larger mound of snow, he was intending to impress me with his driving ability. The sled went nose-first up in the air, I went rear-first into the snow bank.

He didn’t even notice.

I sat in the frozen tundra and watched the man and his machine disappear from view. I didn’t know where I was or how to find town, but I knew enough to understand if I started walking and got lost, I could freeze to death out there. My only friend was that scarf  wound around and around and around my head. Town Boy eventually came back to get me, after being warned by his friends he had dumped his date. He was politely apologetic and probably mortified, he really was a nice guy. He  helped me back on and we continued flying frozen. I held on a little tighter, now concerned more about survival than my reputation.

After that date, I never rode on a snowmobile again.

Town Boy never spoke to me again, until the class reunion when we all turned 40.  “Hey, do you remember that snowmobile ride?” 

Do I?  I was scarfed for life!

So, you can understand why I had hesitation when all the fashion divas were urging me to knot something around my neck. I always associated scarves with that memory of being dumped on the first date.


Anyhoo, I knew when I marched around Amsterdam  with my scarf draped gracefully around my neck, I knew I had conquered my Scarf Phobia.

Hubby and I bought lunch at Albert Heijn’s grocery store, then ate on the back steps of a palace.  A stinkin’ palace, can you believe it?



As you can see, I still had a little problem styling my scarf.  I’m not a fashion queen, as the buckle shoes and the jean jacket state.


When I got home, I had found the answer to my problem as posted by Tiffany on Making the World Cuter. She always makes my world cuter.


Tie a Scarf Around Your Neck Without Choking Yourself

I saw the European Loop a lot in Amsterdam, but when I tried it with my scarf, it was too stiff.  Claustrophobic people with a huge scar around their neck, don’t do well with a lot of material tightly bound around their neck, it felt like a noose. Good thing she had a 24 more options!

Without strangling myself, I now have a bit of color  and a lot of warmth knotted around my neck to help me through the gray, Pacific Northwest winter.

Maybe,  I’ll even wear it to the next high school class reunion.