Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Vacation: Part I

Still reeling a bit from our whirlwind Baltimore, New York, DC trip last week. Had a wonderful time hanging out in some of my very favorite cities, people watching, seeing great live shows, visiting historic sights and enjoying some terrific artwork and delicious food. And of course I'm always happy to spend time with my very best friends in the world, who always welcome us into their home like family and take great care of us. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Itty Bitty Baby Cottontails

I was over at my mother's house last Friday when I got a call from my husband. "When you get home, don't let the dog out in the backyard," he warned me. I knew what that meant but I asked anyway, just to be sure: "Baby bunnies?" Yes, indeed.

Our fenced-in backyard is divided by a short picket fence into two sections. We have the regular yard, where our dog, Charles Edmund, is free to putter around off-leash, and we have the garden side, which, despite the fact that it's not so much a garden as a rose bush, some small azaleas and a whole lot of weeds, is forbidden territory for Charlie. I'm not sure why this momma rabbit decided to start a family in the one place on our property where our dog can get to her young but I can only assume she had her reasons for selecting the spot that she did. But I can certainly understand the appeal of the location. The nest is situated at the base of our Crepe Myrtle, just a foot or two from the fence. It's a shady, overgrown spot and the young are very well hidden. I'm sure my husband and I wouldn't have found them at all had Chupacabra Charlie not discovered them first. 

Charlie and our backyard bunny population have a history. Last summer he managed to catch and kill a small rabbit. It wasn't a newborn but it certainly wasn't full grown. I didn't see the event itself, only the aftermath. I imagine Charlie was attracted by the rabbit's movement, caught it, probably shook it back and forth a bit like he does with his stuffed toys, and it died of fright shortly thereafter. The little thing was intact when I buried it, which was a sad affair but mingled with the sadness I felt something akin to admiration because, to be honest, I didn't think our lazy butterball of a beast was capable of catching wildlife (and I still feel pretty confident that a full-grown rabbit could easily outrun him).

I was uneasy for the next several days. I didn't want this to become a regular occurrence. I took Charlie out on his leash, which didn't amuse him, and my husband took him for long walks around the neighborhood. We never saw any sign of other small rabbits in our yard, we never even knew for certain that their nest had been in our yard, and, eventually, things went back to normal. This year, as spring turned into summer and we began to spy more adult rabbits in our garden, I started to worry again. Clearly, for good reason.

This is why, when my husband called last Friday with the warning to keep Charlie out of the yard, I immediately assumed the worst: that Charlie had killed another baby rabbit. I was relieved to learn that this was not actually the case. My husband let Charlie out on his own but went to check on him when he heard barking coming from the backyard. Charlie, as far as we can tell, discovered the nest, removed two of the tiny babies (they're so newborn that their eyes haven't opened yet), placed one on the ground and carried the other one about ten feet away. He didn't attempt to eat the newborn and must have held it in his mouth with as much delicacy as possible (the only thing that shocks me more than my dog catching a wild rabbit is the idea that my dog could, in any way, be delicate) because, according to my husband, it was unmarked and moving around when he discovered it. My theory is that Charlie probably reacted to the little rabbit in much the same way that he does when we give him a really special treat - he won't eat it, he'll simply fret over it, carrying it from room to room, quietly whimpering, so afraid that someone will try to take his prize away that he can't even enjoy it - he must have been so overwhelmed and delighted and confused that he simply didn't know what to do. 

My husband was able to get Charlie inside, locate the nest and reunite the displaced baby with his siblings. For the next few weeks Charlie will not be permitted in the backyard off-leash. He was really sulky about this on Saturday but yesterday he seemed much more resigned to his fate. I've been going out and checking on the tiny rabbits two or three times a day. I've photographed and filmed them but I don't handle them or even pet them (though it's so tempting). For the past two days, around dusk, I've noticed a small adult rabbit sitting, in exactly the same spot both times, in our garden. I don't know for certain but I think there's a good chance that this is the mother. She sits perfectly still and watches me when I come outside and, if I see her, I try to go back into the house as quickly as possible to keep from scaring her off. 

My husband has warned me not to get attached to Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter (yes, of course I've named them) but how could I not get attached? They're amazing. I can't believe there are teeny, tiny, newborn creatures living in a hole in my backyard! I think it's fascinating. And of course I think of Watership Down all the time, because how could I not? What a wonderful, immersive novel. I read it for the first time eight years ago and was absolutely blown away by it. Adams manages to do something so special with that book. He creates memorable characters but keeps the anthropomorphic elements at a minimum, so that readers can sympathize but the animals are still allowed to actually be animals. Instead of molding the rabbits to fit our view of the world Adams takes us into their world. I've never read anything else like it. It's compassionate but not sentimental. And that's how I'm trying to be.

Will I be upset if something happens and these little ones don't, for one reason or another, survive? Of course I'll be upset. But I have too much respect for the natural world to let my feelings dictate my actions. I think it's reasonable and responsible to keep the babies away from Charlie but I know I have no control over other predators or any other kinds of obstacles that they might encounter. I know they're not my pets. I know they're not mine in any way. But I am incredibly grateful that I've been allowed a glimpse into their world.