Big Valley llamas touch the hearts of the blind

"POULSBO - I think it is almost like a swan with their long curved necks, said Mussie Gebre, describing one of the star attractions at Llama Rose Farm and Gardens Thursday afternoon. The analogy was fitting, but also truly amazing because Gebre doesn't speak, hear or see. Instead, he senses his surroundings. The young native of Eritrea (a small country in Africa) was very inquisitive, asking questions and providing input on what he had witnessed during the day. His interpreter, Anita Harding, who is hearing impaired, assisted Gebre in answering questions via a three-way sign language conversation with Karen Carlson. The trio was part of a 44-person group from the Seattle Light House for the Blind which visited the llamas, camels and garden at the farm on Big Valley Road. Gebre explained that, from what he learned, llamas' fur not only protects them from the sun, but also keeps them warm in the winter. When asked what types of animals flourished in his native country, he signed, I grew up here in America. But in Eritrea, we have lots of horses. Others spent the afternoon touching wool hats, scarves, shawls, blankets and the llamas in their quest for knowledge. I like their ears, Debbie Sommers explained via her interpreter Cherie Furtado, after petting Bolivia Ruffles and Flourishes, a brownish llama. Sommers went on to sign that she, too had learned a lot about the animals during her visit to the farm. I love the llamas, signed Janie Smith, with assistance from interpreter Leslie Myrick. I had a great time, but I wish the babies would stay small - they're cute when they're small. Owner of Llama Rose Farm and Gardens Winifred Whitfield described the crowd as very quiet compared to those which typically visit. Before the group arrived I paused to imagine just how the activities of the farm and gardens, which I perceive so visually, could be interpreted to those who could neither see nor hear, she explained. What an incredible experience it was. Upon their arrival, I certainly did not feel any great sense of separation from my guests, Whitfield added. In addition to petting the llamas, the group also discovered the different textures and smells provided in the site's lush garden environment. There, guests touched the big rough leaves of the Gunnera plant, the soft small velvety leaves of Lambs Ear and the giant rounded smooth leaves of the Petisides, smelling, roses, mint, Rosemary and Honeysuckle along the way. My guests brought their warmth, intelligence, energy and incredible eagerness for each and every new experience, Whitfield said. Others found delight in walking and petting the baby llamas, touching harvested llama fiber, yarn and garments made from the fiber. There were questions about llamas countries of origin, life span, gestation periods, personalities, food requirements - just as with every other tour, Whitfield explained, noting that it was a wonderful experience for her and fellow llama owners, Jeany Rhodes and Karen Brown, who assisted during the tour. The group also visited with the farm's camels, Gobi and Butterscotch, excitedly feeding them carrots while petting their heads and their big soft noses. I guess I would say that it was much like giving a tour to any other guest who spoke a different language and required an interpreter, Whitfield remarked. I am left with visions of one man who stood with a llama for a long time with both of his arms wrapped around her long neck, nuzzled in her fiber as she stood calmly for as long as he wanted to stand with her. "

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