The mornings are nice to sit outside, drink coffee and contemplate the world, one’s life or even the laundry piling up in the basement. I was doing all these things a couple of mornings ago, when a tiny rabbit sidled along the walk, hesitated, sniffed the air, then headed for the hostas by the back door, disappearing for good.
I don’t take much notice of the rabbits in my yard, especially since I learned to forgive them their lapin ways, eating all my tomato plants as they do. We just coexist now in an easy acceptance of each other and I feel all Beatrix Potter when I see them, then quickly return to my own thoughts, my own business at hand.
But that morning I sat up and felt a swell of tenderness, whispered, “oh, you made it.” And I was one with the universe for a moment.
I hoped this little fellow was one of a fluffle my young friend, Sterling, and I unearthed by accident a few weeks ago. She was handling the shovel, I was giving directions, as she dug a shallow hole in the flowerbed along my side porch. We had just pulled up a lemon verbena that threatened to take over and one I was tired of.
The ground is unusually soft there, which is fortunate, because Sterling didn’t have to dig too hard to turn the earth. On the second scoop of the shovel, she gave a little cry.
There was a baby bunny wriggling and squinting and squirming not four inches below the surface. We came closer and no, not just one. Three, four baby rabbits, maybe more.
To her credit, Sterling took it much better than I. It horrified me a little. But she asked quietly what we should do, and then, not waiting for a reply, began gently covering them back over. We placed the pulled up verbena over the space and hoped for the best.
It is a myth, I found out, that mother rabbits will not return to their babies if they sense human involvement. Friends reassured me they would be fine. My sister and brother-in-law have a rabbit maternity ward in their backyard, with rabbits routinely giving birth close to their house, and they watch the mothers feed their babies, toss them out of the little burrow to clean the nest, then toss them back in again.
But still, I was afraid to check on my little boarders. I just couldn’t do it.
So, I was happy to see the hopping little thing hide in my hostas. Later, I screwed up my courage and checked the hole, but not before researching how long baby rabbits stay in one. It is a short period, two weeks, or so, and that time had easily passed. They were all gone. So gone from the place, if I hadn’t known they had been here, I would never have known they were there. I planted my garden phlox as I had intended weeks ago, and marveled at it all.
I have friends who grew up along side creeks and woods and country lanes, or had grandparents they visited regularly in the country. They talk about the Gaines woods, or Anglin Falls, or “the narrows.” Sometimes they use words like “shoals.” They speak lovingly of mud.
And I don’t completely get it. I like nature, but I like it manicured, neat. Maybe it is the fecundity of our region, all that undergrowth and dampness, everything at certain times of year just on the verge of rot. I will hike with you, but let’s do it in the autumn, or a crisp winter day, when the path is clear, when we can see where we are headed, when the trees aren’t dripping wet for no good reason.
I had a colleague from Colorado who came to Kentucky in her early twenties on the Greyhound bus. She left a place of wide expanses and rocky outcroppings, slept through the prairie, and awoke with a start in Kentucky, all the green, the lushness, the closeness of our landscape. She had the heebie-jeebies for a week.
She soon appreciated the differences. Out west the landscape forces us to look out. Here, the landscape requires we look down. Under things. Look with specificity, find grandiosity in small wonders. Move carefully. Know the ways of rabbits, snakes, birds. Study bugs and bark, the fallen trees rendering back to earth.
I try to learn from my nature-bound friends. It is a long, long lesson.