Hope is a Thing with Fur
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
Nearly three weeks into bunny parenthood and I’m in love, and I’m apathetic, and I’m tired. Against all odds they are alive. Actually the odds that I found on the internet, in more than one place, is that baby rabbits have only a 10% chance of survival without their mother. So, pretty close to ALL odds. But I can’t grow complacent. They are still nursing, scheduled to wean any day now. On whose schedule, I’m unsure. I feel like it needs to be on their schedule, so morning and evening I shake the jar of instant goat milk, pour some into the same small bowl—the bunny’s bowl—and microwave it for fifteen seconds. I separate them to make feeding sane, although scooping one up to put in the time-out box is not sane either any more with their size and squirminess.
They eat solid food now, a lot of it. Wheat germ and alfalfa hay were the first winners, followed by fresh grass. Then yesterday I went to the fancy market to get myself a fancy melon and in the refrigerator were bunches of fancy organic dandelion greens. The bunnies love them. Occasionally they will nibble an apple slice, but they prefer the greenery. And now one of them reaches up and plucks a leaf from the mesquite branch I’ve attached to the side of their cage. They have become poop machines. It’s a good sign. I do laundry every day because I would rather use old towels as bedding than find that much newspaper and straw. They seem happy with the towels. My house is a mess.
A week or two ago I had dreams where I was forgetting bunnies. Not my bunnies, but the other ones. I would forget the other ones and leave them out in the cold or not feed them. It took a fair time, on waking, to convince myself that there were no other bunnies, just my two. One night I dreamed that I left my bunnies in the car overnight and they died of hypothermia. It’s hard to imagine now, with our temperatures rising toward 100, that just a couple of weeks ago I was worried about my bunnies being cold. But we had two weeks of hot water bottles and mid-night changes.
The dream last night was different, not of threats to their survival, but coming up with the next great pun: Project Bun-Way. No joke. This is what I came up with in my dream, and all night I was manipulating photographs and tag lines. Again, waking was a relief.
The next stress is acclimating them to the great outdoors. As soon as they wean I should be putting them outside in a sturdy shaded cage for long parts of the day, leading up to some overnights before releasing. I don’t have that cage, and I’m not sure where to find it. So for now I’ll use the cage I have and maybe make some modifications. But I don’t have the time to be at home with them all day. I guess I’ll need to figure out camping out with the buns.
Each year of late seems to be about a particular animal. Two years ago I saw burrowing owls for the first time and then repeatedly. Last year I saw a badger for the first time and then repeatedly. Desert cottontails are common as the wind, but these are different: these are mine. They are mine as much and as little as anything can be possessed—best appreciated because of the impermanence, not in spite of it. They are not tame and I couldn’t ask that of them. Their instincts have carried us this far and will see us through, as far as we can go. I needed to accept on first meeting that they will die—maybe just not today, and again not today, and maybe not even today either. I don’t think about the honor every time I hold them because I am too busy ensuring they are eating safely or they aren’t jumping out of my hands. Only in the quiet of evening with a rain shower outside, one bunny still as a stone and the other mindlessly nibbling on a full stomach, can I consider the miracle.
Here is the miracle. And it’s not a miracle, only the sublime parallels of my life. I wrote a story over the winter, a really good story, my best and truest story. In the beginning of the story, my character has died and gone to some version of heaven, and is sent back because there was a mistake. Until the angel guy can reunite her spirit with her body, her spirit is left to plunk down on some ranchland outside of a town remarkably like Marfa. She finds a jackrabbit in whose body she can cohabitate for a couple of days. She leads a bunny life. And in some ways the bunny saves her, because when her body shows up and is quite broken, and she rejoins it, she digs a hollow under an acacia to stay warm, like the rabbit taught her.
I’m sorry to say that when I first found my bunnies on the street, panting on the pavement on a hot day, little mouths rimmed with dirt, I conducted a hierarchical assessment of species identity. Had I determined them to be mice, I might have left them there. But their little ears, at only a couple of days old, gave them away as rabbits. And I picked them up and never looked back.
And now as evening turns to night, I turn to Mary Oliver because she knows this kind of holy.
What secrets fly out of the earth
when I push the shovel-edge,
when I heave the dirt open?
And if there are no secrets
what is that sweet smell rising?
What is my name,
o what is my name
that I may offer it back
to the beautiful world?
Have I walked
where the sea breaks raspingly
all day and all night upon the pale sand?
have I admired sufficiently the little hurricane
of the hummingbird?
of the blackberry?
the falling star?
Will secrets fly out of me
when I break open?
And me? Have I appreciated this holy gift, this heavy responsibility, this long walk of unbearable grace? It’s times like these I feel there is no middle ground, only the enduring pendulum. And today I receive a small gift, a returned book from friends with a nice card and a wooden cut-out of a rabbit, so very much like my rabbits. And maybe for me, now, hope isn’t a thing with feathers. Rather, perched in my soul is a tiny beating heart with fur and long ears and a little mouth that somehow kept opening and kept wanting to live. Against all odds.