Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Bunny Saga

Mandy’s love of bunnies began in the fourth grade when her teacher purchased one as a class pet. Mr. Cousins brought in a bunch of animals for the classroom one day: snails, fish, gerbils, a bird, and a baby bunny named Honey. Mandy was determined that at the end of the school year, when the teacher was giving lucky students the pets to take home, Honey would be her bunny.

(this photo is of Honey fully grown)
She didn’t have too much competition for the rabbit. Only one other boy had his sights set on it, since probably not many parents would give their children permission to keep it. So all she had to do was edge out Mario, her arch-rival of sorts during the elementary school years.

Mandy was a ruthless opponent. She volunteered to take the bunny home over the weekends. She brought in carrots and hay on a regular basis. She eagerly forfeited her lunch hour when the cage needed cleaning so Mr. Cousins wouldn’t have the chore of doing so. By the time Mario caught on and began asking to take Honey home over the weekends, he was about two months too late.

At the end of the school year, while names were being drawn from a hat to determine the winners of the frogs and the fish, Mandy was automatically declared the new owner of the baby bunny.

She spent the next several years with her constant companion. Honey learned to use the cage as her litter box, so she was granted free reign in Mandy’s bedroom. They watched TV together, and they sat side-by-side while Mandy played video games.

Sean built a pen-tagon in the yard for supervised daytime romps in the fresh air, and we marveled as the instincts kicked in and burrows were dug and filled with grass.

Honey died suddenly. We are not sure if she ate something which impaired her digestive system, or if she fell prey to uterine cancer as so many un-spayed females do in captivity. It was one of the most horrible things Mandy has ever had to go through. We raced to find an emergency vet still open on a Saturday night while Honey seizured and faded away. To this day I have a hard time thinking about it and it brings tears to my eyes, so I’m sure it does the same to Mandy.

A few weeks later we got Muffin to try to dull the pain. She was an adorable baby, a lionhead rabbit with cute little tufts of fur around her face and her tail.

Mandy and Muffin didn’t develop the level closeness that she had shared with Hon Bun, because by this time Mandy was dating and no longer spending every moment of her life in her room. Although Muffin doesn’t let Mandy pick her up or even pet her much, she enjoys our company, and will come to hang out with us as we sit and chat together on Mandy’s bed. She’s a good little girl.
(full-grown Muffin)
Remember that I said “girl.” This becomes important.

Around Christmastime this past year, we noticed some suspicious behavior. Mandy seemed to be up to something.

She had stopped at home to get her cell phone. Sean called me at work, because he noticed that she had rummaged around in her room and left in a hurry. He looked out the window to see her escaping with some sort of contraband under her coat.

“I’ll call her cell and see what’s going on,” I told him.

When I got no answer, he called me right back.

“I can hear her phone ringing in her room. She said she came home to get her phone, and then she didn’t even take it with her. I know she was hiding something under her jacket.”

By the time she came home later that evening, we both had those raised eyebrows and those questioning looks that most parents perfect when their darling children hit puberty.

“Okay, so do you guys wanna know why I’ve been acting weird today?”

“Ah, sure. That would be great.”

She unzipped her jacket and revealed a white baby lop-eared bunny. “Kurt got it for me for Christmas. I was afraid you guys might be mad. His name is Jack.”

You can see where this is going…

Jack and Muffin fought a bit at first as Muffin learned to share her territory with another rabbit and they worked out who would be the boss. But soon they were fast friends.
And more than friends.

We noticed that Jack was starting to chase Muffin around the bedroom. And although she ran, she didn’t run very fast. We could see that she was just taunting him, flirting with him, pausing and waiting for him to catch up…

We made Jack an appointment right away. But we were too late. By the time he had his required pre-checkup and his appointment for the snippity-snip was scheduled, I noticed something moving in the cage.

“Wait a minute… wait a minute… what was that?”

“What was what?”

“Something moved in Muffin’s cage.”

Mandy was alarmed. “Like a rat?”

“No way. It had a white ass.”

Yes, by the time we had found the two little babies, they were covered with fur, eyes opened, and they were running around the cage. They must have been very obedient little bunnies, because although we spent time with the rabbits every morning and night - feeding them, sitting with them, talking with them - we had never heard a peep from the cage.

Mandy named them Kyle and Sweetie.

Kyle is a skittish bunny, running away if you try to pet him or if he hears an odd sound. But he’s warming up to us.

Sweetie is just the opposite. She enjoys being pet, comes running to see us when we enter the room, and even enjoyed sleeping with Mandy up on her pillow when Mandy was still sleeping in her own room (I’ll get to that…)

What was most alarming was that Muffin was already weaning the babies, and Jack hadn’t even been snipped yet. Jack’s doctor agreed – Muffin was probably already pregnant with the next litter.

Luckily, the next litter was just one little baby, who we very creatively called Baby.

After Jack’s appointment, we figured we were set. Five bunnies. And Mandy wanted to keep them all.
(big daddy Jack)
But guess what? Jack must have hit Muffin up one more time before the surgery. One night at around midnight, Mandy found two naked baby bunnies back behind her bed.
And because Muffin kept climbing up on her bed to get to the babies, and because all the bunnies were becoming noisy in the night chewing on school papers and books, thumping little warnings to each other and running around, Mandy moved into the guest room.

She still wants to keep all the bunnies, but she wants them outside. So she begged her grandfather to come in for a visit from Ohio and build her a large, secure bunny enclosure in the back yard.

He’s due to visit in a few weeks. I’ll keep you posted…

Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Afternoon Hiking & Meeting Henry

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” ~Eleonora Duse

It was forecasted to be a beautiful day, so I got up early, put my hair in a ponytail, laced my sneakers and headed out with my camera and tripod. I was on the trail by 8:30.

I had the whole day to myself, so I meandered along the woodland paths leisurely.

I paused for a while at the dog cemetery. There was something very sweet about this place. It was evident that these pets were cherished family members. And given recent events I could certainly relate to that.

I paused again at a little waterfall. I love the sound water makes as it trickles over the rocks and gurgles into the pool below.

While photographing the waterfall, a red-sided flat millipede caught my eye.

And so did some mating mosquitoes on the bench where I sat to take a break.

Of course I had to spend some time at the pond.

There were lots of frogs and snakes to keep me occupied (and keep me vigilant as I stepped between the weeds).

When I reached the easternmost part of the trail, the dense trees gave way to reveal a sunny sky, a glorious river breeze, and the perfect bench from which to enjoy both. I took off my shoes, removed the pony tail that was tugging on my scalp and rolled up my dampened sweats. What a perfect resting spot.

It was then that I realized my camera battery was completely drained. In my haste to get out and enjoy the day, I’d forgotten to charge it.

Well that was okay. I packed everything up and headed back up the trail. I had been here before, and I would be here again. No matter.

But then, on my way up the trail, something caught my eye!

About 9 years ago while hiking with Mandy, we spotted their rubbery eggs littering a hillside above a cove along the river. The babies had already broken free and made their way down into the reeds and seaweed below. I made a note in my journal of what we had found there at the end of June. “Next year, we’ll come back in time to see them hatch, or at least see some of them descend into the water.”

And I’ve always remembered that. Usually in August, or maybe even July I think of it. But I never remember in June, so I’ve never gotten to see them.

And now 9 years later at the beginning of June, I had stumbled upon one on the trail.

I was amazed I'd even seen him at all. He was motionless, and he was so tiny! It was the sort of thing that Mandy would have noticed. She’s the one with the eagle-eye, spotting fossils as we walk, or interesting insects, or animal bones.

I have to call her, I thought. She’s the only one who will understand both my excitement at finding him and my disappointment over the dead camera battery.

“Aww! How big is he?”

“Well, if you hold out your palm, and then curve it up into a little cup, he would fit inside the cup.”


“I’m going to wait here a while and see if I can trick my camera into taking one more picture for me.”

“Okay, Mom, good luck!”

I did actually coax one more shot out of my camera, but the settings were all wrong and it came out completely black in the dark of the forest.

Now what?!

I had to call Mandy back. She would talk me out of this. It’s stupid, and it’s selfish… But she didn’t answer.

Am I really going to do it? I think I am. Damn it! I absolutely hate hate hate when people treat nature selfishly. I never want to disturb the wildlife. Even when I’m photographing something for a while, I’ll move on after a few shots, just so I don’t make it uncomfortable. I never want anything to be nervous, or feel threatened…

Or be removed from its natural habitat.

But there I was, taking my camera out of the camera bag and putting the little baby snapping turtle inside.

I wasn’t going to keep him, though. I was just going to bring it home, charge up my camera battery, and then bring it back. I’d been waiting nine years to see one of these things!

I was so ashamed…

Mandy was actually happy that I’d brought him home. She had really wanted to see him. We put the little baby on a plate of water while the battery was charging. It looked like he took a drink.

While we weren’t looking, he crawled off the plate and hid under the trail map.

When the battery was charged, I took the turtle outside to take a few photos in the yard. I mean, I had a baby snapping turtle! I should be able to get a decent shot of him, especially since he hardly moved at all.

I tried taking his photo in a few different places. He had such big beautiful eyes! And he stayed perfectly still. This is totally wrong. I’m using him. I have to bring him back.

After only a few snaps of the shutter, I went inside to grab the camera bag.

“You ARE going to bring him back, aren’t you Mom?”

“Of course! I just came in to get the bag.”

“You’re not thinking of keeping him, are you?”

“No. I don’t believe in keeping wild animals as pets.”


“I promise. I’m bringing Henry back right now.”

“Mom!!! Don’t you dare name him! Then you won’t want to bring him back!”

I was laughing. “I didn’t really name him; I’m just messing with you.”

Mandy fixed up a plastic container with some moist paper towels inside. It fit perfectly inside my camera bag so I could smuggle Henry back into the woods.

But when I went outside to get him, he was gone!

I looked everywhere. Mandy helped me. I thought instinct would direct him to travel downhill, so we focused our search on the side of the yard where it sloped into the trees along the border. The area within the trees was blanketed by an accumulation of leaves. With his instinct to hide, we were never going to find him.

After a half hour or so, we gave up and went in the house.

“I’m so mad!” I said.

“Me too,” said Mandy.

“I knew I shouldn’t have taken him. I knew it was wrong. I mean, not that he couldn’t survive here. But this isn’t where he’s supposed to be.”

Mandy and I sat in the living room and watched some television. I had promised myself I’d do nothing but fun stuff on my day off, no cleaning or yard work, but the wind was taken out of my sails. I ended up doing the dishes, clearing the counter, and gathering up all the recyclables.

With my arms full of emptied grapefruit juice bottles and a few cans, I headed out to the recycling bin, which was still outside by the street since garbage day. I set everything down so I could flip the overturned bin and fill it up.

And there was Henry hiding in the handle.

He’d walked all the way from the backyard to the end of the driveway, probably about 40 yards or so. If I hadn’t noticed him when I did, he would have crossed the road and been long gone. I couldn’t believe how far he’d traveled!

I was so happy to have found the little guy. I know I wasn’t supposed to take him, but I was definitely supposed to find him. Five minutes later we were in the car and on our way back to where Henry belonged.

But I had a dilemma. I was surprised at where I’d found Henry on the trail, because he was not near any of the streams or ponds, and the river was quite a distance away. Should I put him back exactly where I’d found him? Maybe to repay him for the ordeal I’d caused him, I’d bring him closer to the water.

I walked along the embankment of an offshoot of the river, a slow-moving inlet which was marked as a wildlife sanctuary. The bank was so steep, though. I decided to follow the trail for a ways until it dipped down near the water.
Once I’d found the perfect spot, I set down the camera bag and lifted the lid. Henry was ready to go!

I took him out and placed him under a tree.

The water was only about 5 feet away. Surely he’d find it. I decided to put a big oak leaf over him. Back at home he'd preferred to be hidden under the trail map. Maybe the leaf would make him feel safer.

I started to walk away, but I turned back. Maybe I should face him towards the water so he knows which way to go. I put him on the other side of the big tree root, facing the water. Then I put the leaf back on top of him.

Goodbye Henry. You’re a good turtle. Thanks for today. I actually felt a little sad. Mandy was right – I shouldn’t have named him.

I walked all the way back out the trail that ran along the inlet. When I got to the end, I stopped.

I wonder if he’s moved yet? I walked all the way back in. His little head was outstretched from beneath the leaf, looking in the direction of the water.

I decided I’d sit and watch his journey, feeling like a proud mama watching her child go off to kindergarten. Just wait until he finds that water!

As the tiny turtle climbed over little sticks and rocks and leaves, he occasionally tumbled and flipped over on his back, but he immediately righted himself with a quick twitch of his head. He’d pause for a bit, look around, and then resume his expedition. Finally, he reached the rocks at the edge of the water…

And then he was in. He dug his way under the seaweed and muck with his tiny clawed feet, and then his little head popped up above the water. He burrowed his way under the vegetation again, and then up came his little head, over and over. Was it possible for a little turtle to be happy? He sure seemed to be.

Good luck Henry…

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” ~e.e. cummings