Live Long & Prosper

Shadden Publishing

Down the Rabbit Hole

Posted by on Jul 22, 2018

Down the Rabbit Hole

Each day on the trail
I pick up the trash.
  Restore order small scale
Clear debris with panache
Flush cottontail and quail.
That’s not a newsflash.

Discovery of the proverbial white rabbit, however, certainly is unusual. Like Lewis Carroll’s famous creature, I found myself fretting “Oh dear, Oh dear, I shall be too late.”  In this case, I feared I would be too late to save the poor little thing, obviously, a pet, escaped or abandoned, from our Arizona elements. With summer heat at its most intense, usually 105+ and that snow white coat, I figured its odds of survival at near zero. How to help it? I feared without intervention, it would not last a day. Since I was a child, I’ve held a few stories told by imaginative prophets among my favorites. One of those is Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Of course, I’m not alone in that as it remains one of the most popular children’s books. It’s still on my bookshelf because there are new levels of meaning for every age. But, really, how often does one expect to cross paths with a white rabbit out of place and short on time?  Reality threatened this little fellow at every turn. I’d no idea how to help it at all. Escape was one thing. If this one escaped a place of loving imprisonment, well, I guess that’s one thing. But if some owner abandoned it to the desert, that’s an outrageous act of unkindness.

The Jackrabbits and cottontails seem well adapted to the desert here but they blend into the gravel, granite, and sand a lot better than the domestic bunny. They seem to know how to dig, find or use underground access to protect themselves from the heat and predators. Allegorically, the “rabbit hole” is a dark place one enters without regard for how one will get out, no exit strategy.  Like Alice, one can stay out, get out or one can “fall” in deeper and deeper. The best shelter this house bunny had at hand was provided by the mesquite brush. But, a problem there, snow white isn’t hidden very well by sparse gray-green. And, he didn’t seem to know how to dig a hole. He had enough instinct to try to find shelter at the grate of a storm drain. The culvert walls provided a little shade and a rabbit could just slip through the bars to escape predators if it was that intelligent. There was a bit of water pooling there from irrigation and recent thunderstorms. Give nature credit for instinct. It let me get close but then considered escape the best alternative after all and ran far faster than I could rise from a crouch.  It was clearly very frightened and with good cause. But, it didn’t choose to squeeze through the bars. The rabbit had good cause to be frightened as I said. Rabbits of the desert are what is said to be “acclimated.” That is to say, they don’t scamper about in the mid-day sun. The rabbit habit is more the hours around dusk and dawn. Cooler by a bit, to be sure but also precisely the hours when aerial predators chasing mammals are either fed or not yet hunting. Crawling predators possibly are another story, but then the rabbit’s speed is an advantage. That leaves about two dozen types that walk the paths along with me.

“Do cats eat bats?” Alice wondered. I don’t know for sure but probably yes if they have a chance. Although relying more on stealth and surprise, feral cats protected by the city join the list of just about every other predator competing for food in the desert, even the urban desert. Almost every predator will eat rabbit. Hence the marvelous foresight to engineer the natural equation of rabbit reproduction at 1 + 1 = 50.

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Not the least of threats, the heat here in Arizona. With daytime temperatures in July over 105 degrees, UV protective sleeves, hats or a swimsuit at the pool are far more common than fur coats. The rabbit had found water thanks to the monsoon and it wouldn’t take long to drop any food preferences in favor of the park lawn or even the mesquite. Surely for such a small creature which apparently didn’t know how to dig a hole, the sun and heat are merciless. Heat prostration, heat stroke, and dehydration are indeed cruel ways to kill a pet one no longer wants.

Leaving well enough alone, I was dismayed at someone’s callousness but didn’t know what could be done. Unlikely animal control would respond quickly as they have had coyote and wildcat calls in addition to all the stray dogs lately. My memory sifted all the little facts I’d picked up over the years on rabbits and trapping such creatures. Next day, I was amazed the bunny had beat the odds and was still there although it seemed weaker. Well, weaker but it could still scamper away at the startle.

I went to Google for advice. Did you know that rabbits are the third most popular pet in the U.S?  I sure didn’t. There was a caveat on this wiki though, that this popularity is mostly in urban areas. It seems those who live in rural areas hold a different view and application perhaps, for rabbits. In urban areas, rabbits are smallish, cuddly and wantonly sold by pet shops and hardware stores. In rural areas, rabbits eat your garden vegetables and flowers and attract coyotes and snakes. Lots of other simply fascinating facts can be found at that wiki. Rabbits aren’t rodents at all, did you know that? Quickly, my mind replayed a medley of random memories holding rabbits. My mind’s eye displayed various related topics: music, literature, art, holiday themes, cartoons and even family stories of my grandfather (an immigrant and city dweller) raising rabbits for food during the Depression and WWll.

Grandpa lived in a fairly large city, swollen beyond its capacity during the frantic race to rebuild the fleet for WWII. He was a single parent during that time, a man ahead of his day. He had two small girls to raise alone during the Great Depression (1929 – 1941 in the U.S.).  After WWII commenced, he worked two jobs (PGE by day and a welder on ships by night) and sheltered young couples working in the war production one way or another, especially shipyards and the US Navy.  Childcare might routinely be exchanged for space with beds. Somehow, people made it work. After years of desperate deprivation, the sputtering, dying economy was forced into overdrive by the war. But, the effort required the direction of so much of the nation’s resources that little was left over for newly affordable consumer goods (like food). Food production was energized as well but it was going to the armed forces. Grandpa had enough yard to plant a small garden. He built a rabbit hutch and fed the rabbits the remains and trimmings of his garden that his family couldn’t use. My mom remembered that he had a few left over and was able to provide meat to his cousin as well during those difficult times. It was a vivid recollection for her as they made the luxury drive (gasoline was rationed) to the cousin’s home and ended up leaving the meat by the door as the cousins refused to answer the bell to receive the essential but, I guess, embarrassing gift. Or, perhaps my grandpa was selling them the meat, hard to say today. My mother remembered they were grey rabbits, nothing special and she knew grandpa butchered them but she wasn’t going to watch.  I don’t remember her cooking or talking about rabbit while we were growing up a couple of decades later. In the 1950s, I remember seeing it displayed in butcher shops but I don’t see it anymore. I’m not sure why. It is very good. “A Taste of War,” by Lizzie Collingham described the rationing of food and goods.

In the end, perplexed about my particular bunny situation, I resorted to social media. On Nextdoor.com, I posted a little notice so that the owner would know where to look for the escapee if that was the truth. A woman kindly responded by going to the place I described and catching the white rabbit. She said she had rescue experience with such and I’ve very glad about it. I had meanwhile discovered that the rabbit rescue business is more robust than I would ever have imagined. Is this a common problem? Check it out at www.redbarnrabbitrescue.org.

There is also a rather brisk commerce in all things “bunny” at www.houserabbitnetwork.com. Amazing.

And, of course, with memory stirring things up…… I just can’t get White Rabbit by Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane out of my head.

 

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