Dear Switchback fans,
I never was a big fan of rabbits. Even as a kid, I remember rooting for Elmer Fudd when he was up against Bugs Bunny. There was something about Bugs that rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps he was too smug, too confident that he was going to get ol’ Elmer to once again shoot himself with his shotgun. When reading Peter Rabbit, I always thought Farmer McGregor was, to some degree, in the right. It was his garden after all!
The “Hey, let me help myself to everything that’s good” mentality, to me, is embodied by the rabbit. Even though I am not in love with squirrels, either, I do have at least some respect for them. They eat nuts, hang out in trees and generally stay out of the way. Even the much maligned rat is on my respect list. The rats in our neighborhood do their thing mostly behind the taquerias that line Clark Street. They prefer to keep out of sight. Yet, they are constantly public enemy number one. No one goes around poisoning rabbits, but there are more rabbits than there are humans or rats in our neighborhood.
When I was growing up, the pest was not rats, rabbits, or even mice, but deer. “Rats with hooves” was what one farmer called them. In truth, the farmer should have said “Rabbits with hooves” because both deer and rabbits think it is perfectly fine to eat things like flowers. Purchase a creeping phlox at Home Depot? They might as well have a calorie listing, because that is manna to the rabbit. Or daisies, or any sort of native prairie plant. Even the tough cup plant, with its rigid stalk and unappetizing, scratchy leaves, is on the menu. I come home from being on the road and there it is, my “what once was a prairie flower garden.” Sticks sticking out of a denuded plot of land and there, sitting in the middle of it, is this rabbit. And of course, she has that “What?” look on her face as she is chewing on the last of my columbine.
One day, I found her eating all my tulips. This was a female for sure because after I chased her out of my “what I thought was rabbit-proof” yard, she returned. She hid out under the woodpile for a bit and then, decided that it was time to teach me a lesson: She delivered a litter of about 20 baby rabbits there on the spot. I stumbled onto them the week I was desperately trying to replace all the plants that had been eaten with plants that I thought rabbits wouldn’t like -- like cactus (turns out they like cactus). These young rabbits were fairly naive. I caught about three in a bucket and got them to the railroad tracks where I figured they at least had a fighting chance. The others got wise and scrammed, egged on by their mother.
One evening before dinner I had a "what to do about rabbits" discussion with our next door neighbor, Dave. A farm boy like me, Dave got that shovel-grabbing look on his face and said, "I know what to do about rabbits." Annie overheard us and sternly declared, said "THERE WILL BE NO BUNNICIDE ON THIS PROPERTY." Annie, a city girl and totally unaware of such things as the fact that rabbits can eat whole trees, looked at me with a look of disdain. She didn't realize that she'd done it; she'd said the “B” word: Bunny.
Now, for those of you who dislike rabbits like me, when the word "bunny" is uttered it conjures up an image of soft, cute, cuddly, friendly, non-invasive, non-denuding, big eyes almost ready to swell with tears sort of creature. (Which reminds me that I never was into the Easter Bunny, either).
“We have to do something,” I pleaded, knowing that once the “B” word is uttered, these miniature rabbits were now on the protected species list at our home.
“You will not do anything to those bunnies and certainly not in front of Amanita,” Annie said. And with that, the tiny, evil rabbits laughed and ran off into the ferns and out of sight, waiting to gnaw the paint off our house.
So, I trudged over to the hardware store. Never mind that Brian and I had to be on the road to a gig. This was war. I bought 50 feet worth of chicken wire to put over the so-called rabbit-proof fence that I bought from the same store last year. (I saw our female rabbit clear three feet of it and over to the condos to the east, thus rendering my fences de-fence-less).
With a steady, cold rain pouring down on me, I slowly rolled out the wire fence and hammered it into the areas of our property that had the slightest gaps in it. I kept at it until Annie opened a second-floor window to yell at me to cut it out and get going to Iowa. My hands were scratched and even some blood oozed onto the earth as I stood out in the pouring rain, punctuated by thunder booming and the occasional flash of lightning, raising my arms to heaven and shaking my fists at the curse that is the rabbit. Meanwhile, the rabbits were under the yew trees, watching me as they nibbled some hosta plants just for the fun of it.
As of this writing, I think am now down to one “bunny.” Yes, a cute, sweet, doe-eyed (see what I mean?) bunny. Predators seemed to have cleared out the other rabbits, or it could be that everything that could have been eaten has now been eaten at our property.
We now have coyotes in Chicago and I am all for them eating rabbits, squirrels and the odd yapping poodle. Even a mountain lion wandered down the train tracks and made a very brief visit (until it was shot by the police) a couple years back. That tells me one thing: rabbits are here and they are by no means going away. And I will fruitlessly (and plantless-ly) try, but never win in my attempt to create a rabbit-free zone on my property.
Later this month, the peach tree will ripen and we hope to have the same number of luscious fruit as last year. But I swear I saw the bunny and a squirrel the other day having a meeting. They were looking at the peach tree and then at me. I am pretty sure they both then laughed. It still is war.