The commonly held public conception that park rangers are experts on every topic under the sun is a bit of a compliment to National Park Rangers. Park Rangers are considered a sort of walking encyclopedia of information. Many times these expectations become a bit unrealistic.
Several years ago our telephone rang after two in the morning. I groggily picked up the receiver thinking that I would be speaking to the park dispatcher, but it turned out to be one of our neighbors. He told me that he had just been outside feeding his dogs (my first unclear thought was, what was he doing feeding dogs at 2 a.m.) when he heard a loud grunting sound from the woods next to our house. He thought it was a bear. The neighbor was concerned that the bear may attack his dogs or family and wanted me to do something about it. His description of the noise did not sound like any bear I had met. I stepped out onto our deck and surprisingly heard a distinctive grunting sound from the farm across the rural road from our property.
I knew the sound was not coming from a bear, but my curiosity was peaked so I got my flashlight and not knowing what I would get into, put a pistol in the pocket of my sweatpants and walked to the end of our driveway. I could still make out the sound that was now further away down the road to my right. I started to walk down the road shoulder following the now moving sound. Behind me I saw lights coming in my direction and a slow moving car rolling toward me. My developed sense of caution caused me to step behind a tree as the car approached. As it neared I could see that the sedan was occupied by the neighbor who had called and his entire family, including his sister in law. They wanted to see the bear. I assured them that the sound was not coming from a bear and advised them to go home. The family continued to follow me down the road.
As we neared an area where a large barn was located, the sounds continued but seemed to stop moving. I eased stealthily through some brush to get near the field’s fence, determined the general location of the sound which had become deeper and more guttural, and then turned my flashlight on the spot. What the bright light revealed were two llamas trying to make a baby llama. My light startled them and the grunting noise stopped as they ran off.
I have since added an expertise on llama love making to my list skills.
You can learn about some real bears I have met in my book, “A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.”