Even in November, Eden is beautiful. The leaves lie sodden on the ground, and the sky is dismal and the animals look rained-on and ragged - but still Eden, in Morgan County, is beautiful.
The air smells good, for one thing. The earth smells good, too. There's water in the ditch. The barns are newly painted and ready for winter. Life is peaceful in Eden, Utah.So go ahead and make jokes about Paradise. She won't care. Marge Armstrong is happy here.
On a small farm in a small town at the top of Ogden Canyon, Armstrong works at two things she loves. She raises llamas and makes porcelain dolls. She's been working here for five years.
Part of the time she lives in Bountiful, where her husband is an orthodontist. With her son and three daughters raised now, however, Armstrong finds less and less to tie her to suburbia. Most weekends she and her husband, Gale, spend together in Eden, in the little farm house they bought on their 30th wedding anniversary.
And most weekends Marge finds herself staying on for a few days after Gale goes back to the valley.
"I feel grounded here," she says. "My out-door spirit needs to be around animals.
"I've always loved llamas. They are very calming to watch. And they are independent. I like that, too."
On her farm, llamas walk right up to gaze into your face. If you reach to touch one, though, he'll move back and lower his head.
"They are protective of their faces," explains Armstrong. "Put your hand out again. Keep it low. Let him come to you."
He does come back to stare again. His dark eyes are amazingly long-lashed.
"Llamas are ethereal," Armstrong says. She's right. If you keep your hand low, one of these exotic creatures will glide up and lay his head in it, so gently and so briefly that you won't be sure if he touched you at all.
Armstrong has named her farm "Eastward Inn Eden." She won't really be needed much on the farm during the winter - no pack trips are scheduled, the three pregnant llamas aren't due until May, and the Armstrongs house two boarders in the bunk house to look after the place.
Still Armstrong will be spending most of her days there, because she wants to. "And it's my turn to do what I want. Within reason," she says.
For Armstrong the road to Eden wasn't a straight and easy path. She glosses over the painful parts, saying only that she lived in a series of foster homes when she was a little girl in Wisconsin. A tangle of trees around a farm house and animals in the field are her happy memories from a difficult childhood.
As a middle-aged woman she has struggled to find meaning in her life. She's searched the scriptures and taken college classes, tried her hand at writing, and achieved in many fields from restoring antiques to breeding prize-winning dogs.
"I've evolved," she says. "Along the way I've learned: I'm not a social person. I don't care who is wearing what; it sort of bores me. It took me a long time to say that to myself. I know I do like people, but I like earthy people and troubled people.
"I talk to more people who interest me now than I ever have." She's active in a llama breeders association (and happily announces that the International Llama Convention is coming to Salt Lake in June). Over the years, doll-making, too, has brought interesting people into her life - people who also pour, fire, paint and dress porcelain dolls.
Armstrong's attention to detail brought her dolls prizes in the State Fair. For several years she sold her creations to Marshall Field's department store. She came to believe the quality would suffer, though, if she set up an assembly line to turn doll-making profitable. So now the delicate dolls are just a hobby again.
Lately, it's the llamas she thinks about most. Genetics, breeding, strengthening the stock and selling some."They'll be retirement income for us," she says. But a book on the wicker table in her living room explains more about her investment. Its title is, "Do What You Love and Money Will Follow."
Above all, Armstrong loves her llamas. "In the spring when we flood the pasture, the babies are out there playing. They leap and jump. They are so uncomplicated. When you watch them, you just can't be troubled."
Because Marge Armstrong discovered nature has healing effect on the heart, she wants to share her farm with others, especially women her own age. She says she has empathy for women who have spent a lifetime of dutifully caring for everyone else and are now, sometimes painfully, "reaching out" to themselves.
Beginning next spring, Armstrong hopes to have some rooms ready to rent in her little inn. She'll also take customers with her on day-long wanderings called Lunch-With-a-Llama. Armstrong makes the lunch and leads along the trail, talking about the history and flora of Eden, Utah. The llamas carry the packs. The walkers are invited to touch, lead and get to know the gentle creatures - and to find the peace their owner has.
The place Marge Armstrong was looking for didn't have to be called Eden. That's just a poetic coincidence. As is the fact that apple trees flourish in her garden.