it is saturday and it is noon and i am mowing. i shove the mower along the patchy grass in our small back yard, the only part of our property that is consistently level for more than ten paces. i mow under the apple tree, a scraggly thing as old as the house, close to a hundred, with only one gnarled main branch left. every year the sweetie suggests cutting it down. every year our neighbor, a tree man, seconds this idea, offering to get a menacing spruce out of the way in the bargain. but the apple tree continues to hunch in the middle of the back yard, offering a little shade for a circle of flat rocks we dug out of the ground when we buried our old dog max and his wayward ear. the tree offers up misshapen, rusted apples each fall but right now it is flowering and it is beautiful. when i mow under it and brush against a branch, small white petals drop all around me. it is not a bad thing to mow a yard with an apple tree.
i mow to the far end of the yard and am surprised when i turn to head back and see the middle of the yard scattered with brown-gray fur. it was not there when i mowed over that spot seconds ago and i know that means the small brown-gray animal flung all over my yard must be tiny. mole, i think. rat. because i will not feel as bad about accidentally mowing over an animal it is okay to hate. i would like to think possum, but there is not enough fur scattered all around for that.
i shut off the mower and walk toward what i think is the epicenter of this disaster, understanding a little more clearly now how my own dad felt way back when i was much younger, just before he brought his three small girls a pile of even smaller bunnies to feed and love and tend to because they had been orphaned. it is an awful thing to look around for evidence of what you think you have done in a situation like this. there is fur. fur everywhere like dandelion fuzz. but there are no tiny bones. no small bits of animal anywhere. there is a hole in the ground, though, just about in the middle of this ten foot debris field. i stand over the hole and get my eyes as close as i can. there is brown-gray fur in there over a breathing body. there is wiggling and squirming. there is the smallest rabbit ear i’ve ever seen. there is an open eye, staring right up where the blade had been a minute ago.
i run in the house and tell the sweetie. i tell him about the fur scattered across half the yard, about how somewhere there’s the rabbit that must have been in that fur but i don’t know where it is or what to do about the ones crammed into the ground. i run back outside while he gets his shoes. it seems to take hours for him to put them on and while i wait, i stare into the ground and try to see how many animals are in there. the hole is probably not much larger than my fist but i can see at least six separate animals in there.
when the sweetie comes out he tells me to look away while he tips over the mower to check for rabbit pieces. nothing. he asks for a box in case we need to do something drastic like raise a family of orphaned baby rabbits on our own and while i go in to get one he continues looking for rabbit bits. when i come back out, he is standing off a bit from the nest, holding something. he tried to run off, the sweetie tells me. he is worried an animal so small will be scooped up right away by one of the eagles or hawks roaming around or, more likely, by one of the neighbor’s all but feral cats. he holds up the baby, sleepy, surprisingly comfortable in the giant hand. the animal is almost unbearable. his ears look like furry orchid petals. his tail is a tiny black point that quivers a little. the sweetie knows i will likely die if i do not know how soft this animal is and he stretches out his hand and says, he’s soft. touch him. i run one finger between those little ears and it is true. the animal is velvet. **
because he is not frantic from having run over an entire family of anything with a giant whirring blade, the sweetie is able to offer up that i probably scattered a little fur blanket that was lying over the top of the nest and have managed to keep my animal maiming to a minimum. the sweetie puts the baby rabbit back in the ground on top of all the others and we gather up as much of the fur as we can and pat it down on top of them. i put a rock nearby so we won’t accidentally step on them. i keep my eyes peeled for those worthless cats next door. the sweetie looks up some information and finds that the little fur blanket is a real thing and that the mother will come back tonight to hear wild stories from those babies about the monsters that attacked from above, then gently tucked them into bed.
|look closely. you can see an extra set of ears.|
we are content to know the mother will return but i would feel better if i could see her. the sweetie says the interwebs promise a return at night and we will just have to trust nature and the interwebs. this is not my strong suit. i am meddlesome. so when i look out the window well before dusk and see a fat rabbit hopping up the driveway toward the apple tree, i am relieved. i yell to the sweetie and we watch her hop heavily on up the drive and under the spruce, toward the apple tree. the sweetie runs up the stairs and pretty quickly has a chair set up at the window on the landing. from there, we watch the big rabbit settle in over her babies. all of them. there is some rustling around under her belly as the babies find her and eat. she flattens and widens her body over them and settles in, chewing down stalks of grass.
**now, you may recall that back in the day, any wild animal baby touched by humans was destined to die a horrible death alone, its parents watching the ugliness from a safe and smug distance. but then some time around the turn of this last century, well into my adulthood, the animals changed their minds. their current policy is that no matter what humans do to try to “help”, animals go on about their business, which, in spring, is caring for babies.