• New book aimed at helping people learn to relax, alpaca style
Retired Homer High teacher Nina Faust figured her “Type-A” personality wasn’t always an asset, not when it came to relaxing and letting life come as it may.
That changed when Faust grew intrigued by the personalities of her first alpaca pets, Indigo Wheels and Gypsy, beginning in 2003. In a book recently published, Alpaca Relaxation Guide, Faust lets the animals spell out a basic philosophy for getting on in life. She, in fact, lists them as the authors on the cover, “By Gypsy and Canela with help from Nina Faust.”
This may well be the first book ever “authored” by a pair of alpacas. Each page is illustrated with a photograph of the pets, whose endearing expressions indeed seem to be saying a whole lot. The photos were taken in all seasons, many of them depicting the scenic mountain and ocean backdrop of Faust’s Inspiration Ridge home.
The book opens with Gypsy Prince saying “We are Alpaca Relaxation consultants, specializing in Type-A personalities who need to learn to relax. Our owner, Nina Faust, was one of those so we have been perfecting our techniques with her.”
Canela, also known as the Golden Boy and Mr. Lala, takes up the conversation by saying they started their consulting work on Faust by teaching her to hang out in the barn and chill out alpaca style.
Since alpacas are herd animals, you can’t leave them alone, Faust explains. She started out with Indigo and Gypsy, herd mates, and while Indigo displayed a lot of smarts, something was going wrong for him health-wise.
“He started spitting on me and got stubborn. I didn’t understand what was going on. In the second year, he started to get paralyzed,” Faust said. “Indigo taught me patience. He was in terrible pain, and sometimes all I could do was sit with him.”
She took to wearing a rain coat and goggles to deal with being spit on. Apparently, it’s really unpleasant: green slime hocked up from their bellies that smells terrible. At the end of three years, along with the local vet, she made the decision to euthanize Indigo and held him as he died.
Gypsy, now alone, also grieved. Faust spent time sitting with him in the barn and “while we both cried” on the day they put Indigo down.
To solve the loneliness issue, Faust and her partner, Edward Bailey sought out the Simpsons, alpaca farmers in Anchor Point. While they went to transport the alpaca, Faust called in the caretaker to spend time sitting with Gypsy. Earlier she had seen Canela, and judged him for the right traits to make a good herd mate for Gypsy.
“This was a good match,” she saw, as soon as Canela entered the fenced area to join Gypsy.
For nearly 10 years now, Faust has worked with her alpacas to train them. In the spirit of reciprocity, they in turn lent their meditative skills and spirits of relaxation to help her slow down and enjoy life. Faust had retired in 1995 after 21 years of teaching.
“I was ready to do some other things. We were vacationing in Florida when I saw an ad on television for alpacas. We came home and built the pen and barn and a year later got the two out of Anchorage,” she said. “I had read some things, but I didn’t know all it entailed. One book that really helped is called ‘The Camelid Companion,’ that explains building trust and doing what’s safe.”
A method called clicker training offered a way to positively reinforce alpaca actions. They’re smart as a dog, but more passive and slower to react. It calls for taking “tiny steps and as the animal progressively does these steps, you click and then they get a reward.”
Gypsy uses her lips to pick up things, like her halter. She even turns light switches on and off. They can go through hoops and tunnels and ring bells. They come when called.
In the book, Faust shares how she interprets the special brand of companionship alpacas know. “Reflection can be a relaxing pastime. Take time to just hang out with friends or family. Chew your cud (gum, maybe?) and ruminate on life.”
Faust knows well the journey of a Type-A personality. When her family moved to Anchorage in 1969, she won a full scholarship to attend college at Alaska Methodist University where she studied math and English. She taught 13 years in Anchorage, then Bailey was hired as head biologist of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge. At Homer Middle School, in 1981, Faust helped start the new Quest Program for gifted students. Since it was a half-time job, she used the other half of her day to master computers, which she knew would be coming into wide use soon.
About 17 years ago, she and Bailey founded Kachemak Crane Watch, which documents the cranes who migrate each summer to Homer. She also taught herself cinematography, and documented for film how a crane family raises their colt on her preserve.
In her review of the book, Susan Keefe acknowledge stress as a big worry these days – “but not if you are an Alpaca.”
“A delightful book, the Alpaca Relaxation Guide is a playful look into how Alpaca’s relax and how, by studying them you can gain inner peace,” she wrote.
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