The first thing to be done now that we had arrived
in Canada, was to purchase a house
and land from which our plant nursery would be run.
The three acre plot we decided upon
backed on to a mountain which meant that we had
daily visitors from the forest in the form of bears,
deer, racoons, skunks and rabbits.
It was, for me, a wondrous place in which to
look up and find a bear lounging in the shrubbery
at the side of the ditch which kept our property
drained from water that ran off the mountain;
or family of deer walking amongst the
trees which bordered us on two sides;
or to be joined by birds
as I worked in the garden beds.
One morning, I had been checking the rows of hostas
beneath the shade-netted portion of the field
nearest the house, when I was aware of … a sound.
It was the sound of … well … babies …
crying seemingly in the distance.
Reasoning it into the sound of kittens,
I walked in the direction of the tiny voices.
A heart-rending sight made me at once
quicken my pace, but at the same time,
watch where I was stepping …
There was One … and Another … and Another one.
Three rabbit kittens – their eyes still closed,
crawled blindly in different directions,
and cried loudly amidst strewn debris
that had clearly been their nest.
I pulled the front of my shirt from my trousers
and made a ‘hammock’ into which I lifted
the first tiny form .. then the second, and third.
Scraping marks told the tale:
a raccoon or some similar mammal had dug out
the burrow until it unearthed the babies.
But there was no blood – anywhere.
The mother, I presumed, had led the predator away
and now, I was looking at her family.
Gently pressing the three against my body for heat,
I began to look more carefully, lifting the shrubbery
as I did.
There – movement! And another baby rabbit
was lifted to safety.
Fifteen minutes of thorough searching later,
I cradled six rabbit kittens against my body.
Making the half-acre distance to the farmhouse
as quickly as I dared with the babies still
in my makeshift kangaroo pouch,
I poured a cup or so of skim milk into a deep
mixing bowl; heated it to warm, and,
with a teaspoon in my pocket,
returned back to the field with the youngsters.
I wanted to be there with the babies,
if the mother returned.
Positioned beside the exposed warren,
each in turn had their share
of the now-just-lukewarm milk.
The crying stopped.
Still having just the one hand to use,
I set about repairing the damaged nest …
straw from the barn made things cosy.
Gathering fragments of clearly pressed-down
rabbit hair (which can be seen in the above photograph)
I was able to re-line the nest, and place
each of the babies inside.
Ensuring that the original entrance way was
clear of any obstruction, a scrap of plywood
from the barn covered the kittens who, I hoped,
would now fall asleep from their previous exertions
and now-full tummies.
I would keep checking on them throughout
the rest of the day and, if the mother did not return
by mid-afternoon, would feed them again.
I was elated to see – at around three o’clock,
an adult rabbit sitting watching me
from the area of the re-built rabbit warren.
We looked at each other, and (in an action
that made no sense whatsoever) I calmly spoke aloud
in her direction, told her everything was alright,
and was relieved to see her unhurriedly disappear
(it had to be) into the nest.
For the next year, I would regularly find
two adult rabbits, with six others – smaller in size,
munching grass, leaves, and – when the time came,
our strawberries with complete nonchalance,
even when I was working a few feet away.
In November of 2017, we left that property due to
the incursion of human debris, open drug dealing,
police disinterest and roaring pickup trucks that
turned the once rural area into a foul suburb.
I am glad that I hesitated long enough to take
one quick photograph of that first rabbit kitten:
In 1981, I realised for certain
that the “love” and “friendship” of people
turns on whether or not I continue to be
of benefit or amusement to them —
once the novelty wears off,
or they become bored,
the “friendship” vanishes – and so do they.
But the trust and kinship of animals – wild, farm,
and domestic, has more than compensated for the
hypocritical, shallow, and instantly withdrawn ‘friendship’
that has been (temporarily) offered from any person
that I have ever met.
Unlike people, no animal has ever lied to me
by betraying kind-heartedness
that I had extended to it.
This photograph serves
as a reminder of that fact.