This piece, written some time ago, frames a recurring theme in my life. While I often try to write with dryness and irony, the fear of letting go and becoming vulnerable to loss underlies much of my non-fiction writing. Loss might be a cherished relationship, an unrealized and unrealistic goal or dream, or a habitual comfort. The act of “letting the bunny go” can bring people to different places, from painful reality checks to supreme epiphanies. In the end, it is a process for personal growth and self knowledge.
I heard scratching one night as I was grabbing hay flakes in preparation for my late night stable check, and when I shone my flashlight in the corner of the hay barn, there was the smallest cotton ball on the tiniest rabbit rump I’d ever seen. I was standing between him and the open side of the barn, he was pushing farther into the corner, perhaps hoping the solid wall would provide him with an escape route. In the corner of my eye I saw the bevy of feral kitties sitting just outside the barn, patiently waiting to escort me on my rounds. No wonder the bunny had thought better of heading out the door.
I took one of the 16-oz plastic yoghurt cups I was using to dish out grain and gently scooped up the unresisting animal. He filled less than half the container—about seven liquid ounces of rabbit. Wasn’t sure what I would do with him, but I was convinced of what I wouldn’t do—turn him loose so the cats could run a short foot race and vie for who got this little morsel—this lapin tartare—to toy with and devour. No, he would be my ward for the time being.
As a rule, I don’t keep animals that don’t measure to my mid-thigh in stature; the glaring exception is the “flock” of feral cats that have taken up residence at our place. (Really, I don’t consider that I keep them as much as they just keep coming around and wearing me down with their pretty ways.) Thus, I have nothing to house a small rodent type pet except a broken-down cat carrier from the days when I had tame cats that tolerated trips to the vet.
I padded the carrier with fresh alfalfa, filled supplement measuring cups with water and grain, and marveled at how, really, a bunny is the perfect pet for people with extra horse feed on hand.
The next day, a short trip to Petco changed all that. Was I the last person to learn that an entire industry has built up around the “keeping” of small rodent-type pets? I strolled down aisles and aisles of cages, waterers, feeders, athletic equipment (to keep your rodent fit), and rodent toys to prevent boredom (must be small enough not to intimidate; large enough to encourage wrestling).
Then came the food aisles. There was the staple feed, comprised of the items I had given the rabbit the night before—ah, but with special vitamins—all processed into an easy to nibble pellet. It was designed specifically for healthy rabbit development, carrying the proper balance of nutrients to prevent deficiencies and growth abnormalities. In the end, I walked out with a modestly priced cage, a water bottle (which the bunny never got hang of anyway), a small package of mega-nutritious rabbit pellets, a small zippered bag of snacks that appeared to be made of the identical ingredients found in my health food bars, and the world’s smallest bag of shavings (because I couldn’t be sure the shavings I had in the stable were 100% dust free). So it was that I spent $45 and turned a little wild rabbit into a pet.
I set him in our screened in porch where he could hear the birds chirp and watch the doings around the pond. I also found him a little cardboard box he could duck into when he felt insecure. It was so endearing to see him duck into his “cave” and peer out at me as I changed his water or added food. At the weekly cage cleanings, “Peter” (or maybe “Beatrix,” it being too early to tell) would oblige by hopping into his box, after which I’d close the flaps and transport him out of the cage.
When Pete was in his box, I could reach in and stroke him ever so softly on his head. Once, while doing so, I discovered a huge tick attached to his neck, just behind the ears. After removing it, he seemed receptive to letting me massage and scratch that area; I flattered myself that we had bonded.
Alas, the day came that the bunny grew too big for his box and rejected being handled for the cage cleanings. For a while, I could still corner him and force him to hold still while I caressed him in what I thought was a gentle, loving way. While I did this, he would press his face against the bars of the cage and squeeze his eyes shut as if in deep and fervent prayer, probably that I wouldn’t fricassee him for dinner.
Eventually, I just couldn’t catch him anymore. One day, after watching his lithe, sinewy body evade me for almost a half hour—all that good nutrition having created an über rabbit—I sighed and thought, “Of course… You are a wild thing that God has made to run in the fields and forage for itself. In my concern for your safety, I am keeping you from fulfilling that destiny.”
I took his cage outside and we stood next to the pond, facing the dense, brushy hills that border the property and breathing the fresh summer air. And then I let him go.
He seemed to know this was his chance and he took it. He didn’t stop to look back; it wouldn’t have been in his interest to do so. Instead, he focused on the world ahead of him and scooted.
Sometimes it’s that way with the children that we raise. We struggle against the separation that we know is coming, is their birthright to pursue. They push back with all the savagery and desperation of…well, a caged animal. At a certain point, we have to learn to “let the bunny go.”—BEJ