Headed Toward The
Road goes ever on and on
out from the door where it began.
And I must follow, if I can,
pursuing it with eager feet,
until it joins some larger way
where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Still 'round the corner there may wait
a new road or a secret gate.
And though I oft have passed them by,
a day will come at last when I
will take the hidden paths that run
west of the moon, east of the sun.
from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein
The Silver Thunder
or . . . How we got started in the alpaca business
Ok. Let's see. This is Chuck talking. Sometime back, in about June
of 2003, I was searching on the internet and came across the concept
of alpacas. No idea why. Life is funny that way. Wasn't looking for
something life-changing or anything remotely like that, but the more
I learned, the more interesting it all began to seem.
When I told Nancy about it, she generally thought I was nuts. "You
want to raise WHAT?" That is, until a few weeks later when we finally
visited our first alpaca ranch. When she saw the animals in person,
everything changed for her. She fell in love.
That first visit was to Critter Country in Moreno Valley, California,
about a hundred miles from L.A., to the east, on the inland or desert
side of The Greater Los Angeles Area. (For those unfamiliar with Southern
California, this is "the edge of town". Since L.A. is very
crowded and all the cities run together, you don't reach any countryside
until you drive at least a hundred miles. This is very hard for country
people to comprehend.) Cindy and Mark Mendiola who run Critter Country
were very helpful, telling us all about the alpacas. We saw crias pronking
for the first time in our lives. We were fascinated. And of course we
fell in love with the very first cria (baby alpaca) we ever met, Kodiak,
when he came up and nuzzled my nose. Cindy had to talk us out of buying
him on the spot, explaining that he was only gelding quality (which
meant nothing to us at the time) and offering the excellent advice that
we'd be best advised to start out with quality breeding females. We
learned a lot that day. But the main thing was that our hearts were
won over by the alpacas, these wonderful critters that have since become
a major part of our lives. Critter Country will always hold a special
place in our hearts. Here's their website: http://www.alpacacountry.com/
So thus we took the plunge and began exploring this wonderful new
world of alpacas. We visited several of the breeders around Los Angeles,
learning so very much with every visit. We attended a few seminars.
After a few months we made the decision to buy: The decision that, yes,
we really did want to get involved with these beautiful animals. (I've
read that statistically, most people take about a year between starting
to look and actually buying. We purchased in September, so for us it
took four months.) Then we visited many of those same ranches again
as we searched for which particular animal to purchase. Lots of good
choices out there, but eventually we had to narrow it down to one animal
on one ranch.
Because we could only afford to buy ONE, we knew we'd have to board.
(Only later did we realize how important this decision was to be. For
us it became invaluable lessons learned by actual experience in the
form of on-the-job training every Saturday for nearly a year.) So which
ranch we purchased from became as important to the final decision as
which animal to buy. This is especially true for a first-time buyer,
getting their very first alpaca. As a brand new breeder, you want to
hook up with someone who can be a mentor for you and teach you everything
you need to know about caring for these animals.
Here are some of the great Southern California ranches we visited
(along with Critter Country mentioned above), all highly recommended:
Pacifica - John and Tina Malkus
(Great ranch setup page)
Four Seasons - Jeff & Marianne Bradley
Rolling Thunder - Nancy and Jimmy Stepp
Alpacas del Valle Cereza (Cherry Valley) - Lisa Shimeld and Brad Johnson
Alpaca Palms - Bea and Dennis Miller
All American Alpacas - Rick and Pati Horn
Buying our first
We are very pleased with our eventual pick. In September of 2003 we
purchased our first alpaca, Snowmass
Lady Guinevere, from John and Tina Malkus at Pacifica in
Somis, California. (Alpaca de la Pacifica is their long name, but I
like Pacifica.) Here is their web site: http://www.alpacadelapacifica.com
John and Tina were a huge help to us in getting started. They patiently
answered our never-ending questions and continuously taught us alpaca
lore and history. It was like a giant yearlong apprenticeship. They
introduced us to other alpaca people. They offered ongoing farming advice
on everything from how to know good hay to what kind of tractor to buy.
We learned medical stuff and saw births and breedings. We helped on
shearing day. And the learning has never stopped. We still call John
or Tina up for advice on a regular basis. We owe them a great debt of
gratitude. So thanks John, thanks Tina. We really appreciate all you've
done for us.
Now our first alpaca, Gwenny, came to us already pregnant. So by the
following December, three months later, we had our first baby. Gingerbread,
we named her, for she was born on Christmas Eve. (We began learning
that genetics is full of surprise and mystery. You can just never be
sure what you're going to get. With a grey mom bred to a white herdsire,
we had all kinds of grey and silver sounding names picked out. But when
Gingerbread popped out, she was . . . BROWN! She's real pretty, but
we were floored since we just weren't expecting brown. It's all just
so unpredictable. Part of the fun, I guess.)
So now we had two alpacas.
Since we lived in a little suburban tract home, we began to consider
where we could buy some land so that we could raise them on our own.
California is expensive, but we looked anyway. And looked, . . . and
looked. Started checking further and further away. Up the coast or into
the mountains, out to the desert. Eventually figured out that the only
land we could afford with any measurable acreage would be out where
it's baking hot and/or where no one else wants to live. Not liking either
of those choices, we started thinking about where else in the country
we might go.
Besides, things were changing in our lives. The kids were all long
gone from, not only the house, but from the area. One in Pittsburgh,
one in Tahoe, one considering a move to Oregon. They were the first
ones to suggest, "You gotta get out of that L.A. rat race"
and such things. At first, I didn't see the need. After all, I was born
here and it was home. I liked Southern California. Why leave? But slowly
it began to get to us. The traffic. The crowds. It had all been getting
worse for many years, but we had become accustomed to it. Now it started
to bother us. We noticed that every Saturday when we drove to Pacifica,
the freeway would come to a stop at some point due to traffic jams.
On a Saturday! In the morning! Every dang week! Used to be that it didn't
bother me - after 20 years of commuting an hour each way (for a 25 mile
drive) I was used to it. But now it began to get to us.
I got "Places Rated Almanac" and started comparing other
parts of the country, looking heavily at things like climate comfort
(weather), cost of living (cheap land), and lifestyle (less crowded,
less people, less traffic). We could ignore some issues: We didn't concentrate
on schools, for instance, since our kids were all grown up.
One area of the country that kept coming up high on the list was East
Tennessee. So we took a trip out to visit. Took the Amtrak, so we could
see a lot of the rest of the country along the way. Went via Chicago
to Pittsburgh where, after visiting our son, Ken, we rented a car and
drove on down to Knoxville by way of Ohio and Kentucky. Then took four
days to tour the upper portion of the Tennessee Valley from Knoxville
to Bristol. Visited a couple of alpaca farms along the way, hitting
all the main towns and staying in a different hotel each night. We were
impressed with what we saw. And this despite the fact that we were traveling
in the midst of winter. (This was on purpose, since I wanted to see
it "at its worst" rather than be wooed by pretty spring greenery
or colorful fall foliage.) It was also raining much of the time as a
cold December storm was blowing through. We decided that we loved the
We also decided that we liked the town of Greeneville. It was big
enough to have everything we might need, yet small enough to be friendly
and comfortable. Accessible from major highways, but slightly off the
beaten path. The surrounding Greene County had lots of rolling farm
land, all beautifully scenic. Lots of barns, lots of cows, lots of hayfields.
Everything an aspiring alpaca farmer might desire.
And friendly folks. As it should be, life is a bit slower here, dominated
by an agrarian way of life from time long ago. People have time to wave.
Passing drivers will acknowledge each other with a lift of the hand.
You don't have to know the other guy, it's just acknowledging "howdy,
fellow traveler." People will greet you at the grocery store, or
even offer advice, asked for or not, on what products to buy. It's stuff
very hard for a city-raised person to comprehend at first. Took us by
surprise the first time we visited the Winn-Dixie and a kid about fourteen
who was coming out the door as we were entering actually nodded his
head and said, "Hi." We were stunned, and only barely managed
to stammer back a suitable pleasantry in return. It's just different
here, and to us it's all wonderful.
We met the Durham's. Lara and Mike operate Appalachian Alpacas in
the Limestone area of Greene County. They were the second ranch we visited
on that exploratory trip. Their hearty enthusiasm for Greeneville and
East Tennessee won us over as we sat in their kitchen discussing the
area and talking alpaca. Those warm feelings stuck with us as we finished
our trip and headed for home.
Once home we made the decision. Ok, let's do it. (Well, it took several
months of talking, thinking, praying, but eventually that's what happened.)
The house went up on the market and sold on the second day. All our
stuff was packed into two giant containers (the big metal ones they
load onto seagoing ships or piggyback trains). These were then parked
in storage for later shipment across the country. We packed clothes
and computers, plus the last stuff that wouldn't quite fit into the
containers, along with our
three cats (who by the way have their own web page) into
two cars and a small trailer and headed across the country. The alpacas
came later via transporter. Oh, and we bought one more alpaca before
we left California. Celeste, a pregnant maiden who was due the following
Tennessee became our new home. This was in August of 2004. The Durham's
were a huge help in getting us set up in Tennessee. They provided us
with a rental house that we used for nine months as we searched for
property and then had our house built. They loaned us land on which
we could keep the alpacas while we finished our barns and fences. They
offered us friendship and included us in family get-togethers as they
taught us about life in East Tennessee. Thanks guys for being such a
huge help. We appreciate all that you've done for us.
So that's how a California couple living in a suburban crackerbox
changed their entire lives in order to raise alpacas on five beautiful
green acres and how they became trendsetters in the new eastward migration
as they came to live in Tennessee, the greatest state in the land of
Yes, folks, that's . . .
The Silver Thunder
East, Not-So-Young Middle-Aged Man
tuned. The Saga Continues
So, Just what is
a Silver Thunder anyway . . .
The Power of Thunder, The Promise of the Silver Lining.
We needed a name that was not geographically tied to a particular
area, since we started in one place but knew that we'd be moving to
another. And we like lightning storms. (Though Southern California just
doesn't have them very much - maybe three thunderclaps a year, on a
good year. Nowadays in Tennessee we might get a doozy of a storm, with
perhaps three strikes in a minute. We love it.)
We wanted a name that was somewhat poetic, somewhat majestic, somewhat
mysterious. And a bit unpredictable. We think we succeeded.
Our Adopted Home
Town: Greeneville, Tennessee
Click on map for enlarged view.
Click on "Tennessee
Home" for more info about our lovely little city of
Greeneville, located in Greene County, right at the eastern edge of
what the old-timers call Upper East Tennessee. We're so close to the
eastern edge of Tennessee that we're just about in North Carolina. In
fact, from our front porch we can actually see the North Carolina border
where it snakes along the high ridgetops of the Appalachian Mountains
just six miles to our southeast. It's so beautiful here. Come and see.
Thanks again for
visiting our website,
Chuck and Nancy
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page last updated 7/4/06