"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor." – Beatrix Potter
Back in the very beginning of April, I went out to check on the state of things in the garden, and I was dismayed to find that something had not only been chomping on the leaves of my strawberry plants, but had also gone fussing through my garlic. It looked as if whatever it was had managed to eat half a dozen of the garlic plants. It had left behind a little cave of straw and a bunch of muddy footprints. My guess was I had rabbits in the garden, because we have them in the yard every year, usually in a burrow under one of our sheds. I poked around the garden fence some and I found the spot where they must have come in, where there was about a two-inch gap between the bottom of the rabbit guard wire and the ground. I plugged it up and went around to inspect the fence perimeter and it all seemed okay. There was no further damage the next night, so I assumed that the buffet was now closed.
Um ... wrong.
Some days later, I was moving some straw around in the garden and I unearthed a rabbit's nest. There were 4 babies and no sign of Mom. I suspect that Mom may not have been around for a few days, since I had plugged up the hole in the fence. I took another walk around the perimeter of the rabbit guard and I didn't see any obvious entrance point, and nothing else had been eaten.
Using a plastic garden shovel and a huge old Tupperware container, I managed to negotiate these rabbit babies out of the garden, and, without touching them, I put them on a bed of straw at the edge of the shed underneath of which is the known rabbit borough. I didn’t want to kill them; but to be honest, I pretty much knew that in disturbing and moving them I was probably sealing their fate. It was kind of a passive aggression. It left open for them a small window of hope. Maybe they would reconnect with their mother. Maybe they would manage to make it on their own.
Or maybe not.
But I felt that it was the best I could do for them at the time. I SURE didn't want them in my garden.
* * *
About a month later, I was outside in my pajamas early one morning, hacking down my rye with a shovel, and getting pretty doggone good at it, thank you very much. I was almost finished and was near the fence, when I did my step-hack sequence and was startled by the tell-tale scream of a rabbit. At least I was pretty sure it was a rabbit. I couldn't see the source of the noise. But I had a rabbit many eons ago when I was a kid, and I remember the time he got loose in the back yard and we had to catch him. I’ll never forget that scream he let out when we finally made a successful grab. And then there was the time at band camp when my best friend started marking time at the Drum Major's signal, and found that unbeknownst to her she was standing on a rabbit's nest. You can imagine the screams – the rabbits and the teenagers – and the ensuing hysteria.
So even though it flitted across my mind that I might have unwittingly dismembered a field mouse – sadly this has happened, quite by accident, before – it was no surprise to me when the baby rabbit, considerably larger than it was the last time that I saw it, presented itself, apparently unharmed.
I think I just scared the crap out of it. I know that bunny scream scared the crap out of me.
And it made sense out of that half-eaten strawberry I found a few days ago, still clinging to its vine.
What to do?
Of course, it couldn't stay. Absolutely no rabbits allowed to make their home in the garden. Interesting thing about the babies, they're quite able to squeeze themselves through even the closest-spaced wires of the rabbit guard. Rabbit guard indeed.
So I ushered him out, gently, with the shovel, where he proceeded to crouch in the tall weeds along the garden fence and to generally try to make himself invisible. Thankfully my dogs were all tied up at the time and did not notice the quick arc the bunny made across some open grass before settling into its hiding place. It occurred to me that I could solve the problem very quickly by letting them loose, but that – while sure to be effective – just seemed too cruel, especially with my daughter watching everything with rapt attention.
So, I headed over to the carport where I came up with a plastic pitcher and an old Frisbee, and I managed to get the little thing inside the pitcher without too much trouble. I carried him to the fence line at the back of the yard.
Toss him over? Nope. Way too high. That would be sure to cause cruel and unusual damage. And that's when it came to me.
The day before, on one my patrols around the yard, I happened to notice a hole that had been dug all the way through under my fence. Groundhog? Rabbit? A small neighborhood dog? I have no idea. I do know that it was nowhere near big enough for one of my dogs to get through it. Still, I had hauled a cinder block out from behind one of the sheds and plopped it on top and there you go, problem solved. No one coming in. No one getting out.
This hole was plenty big enough, though, to be a safe passageway for a baby rabbit.
So I took my captured charge back there, moved the cinder block with my foot, and let the rabbit go to scamper through into the yard of the neighbors behind me. Then I put the cinder block back and another rabbit problem was solved.
Were the neighbors likely to mind? Honestly, I didn't think that they were likely to notice. Their yard is not fenced, and the neighborhood is full of these wild brown hares. And besides, I know for a fact from my frequent walks around the neighborhood that these neighbors do not have a garden.
And is that it? The story’s over?
A few days later I checked that same spot at the fence and something had dug its way back in – just extended the hole the length of the concrete block and come right on back up at the end of it. At the time I guessed that my baby rabbit had probably dug his way right back on in, and over the course of the last few weeks a number of rabbit sightings have proved me to be right.
* * *
It’s been six or more weeks now since I found that nest in the garden, and Peter Rabbit is getting bigger. I see him out grazing in the grass from time to time. Sometimes my dogs will pick up his scent and give him a chase, which is how I learned where his front door is, and one day when I walked back behind the fence for some old pieces of ornamental fencing that I knew were leaning up against the side of the shed, I saw Peter out there in his “front yard.” He darted back under the shed as I approached him – sadly, past the bodies of the siblings that didn’t make it, still laying right there where I left them. So I know that Peter Rabbit is, in fact, probably the one that got away, so to speak, and he is living in the burrow under the shed where I put him the day I found him.
And yes, I know, it could be a different rabbit; I know that every rabbit I see could be a different rabbit – but it doesn’t really come together as a story that way ... does it?
A few days ago we were outside and in the garden and my daughter said, “Bye rabbit!”
“The one that just ran out of the garden.”
But it’s not a surprise. I knew that Peter was still getting in there, because someone is still eating my strawberries. Granted the strawberries, and thus the Peter Rabbit-like thefts, are few and far between, and nothing else has been touched. But still. I wanted those strawberries!
And yet, I had already about made up my mind not to worry about it – provided that Peter will confine himself to the strawberries. After all, I haven’t really gotten serious about strawberries. And if he’ll leave everything else alone, a few half eaten strawberries every day may be a small price to pay.
* * *
Which brings us to today.
I let my dogs out at 6:30 a.m., and there is an immediate ruckus. I look outside and my two young male dogs are running around the garden, barking at the fence line, and I know that we've interrupted Peter's breakfast.
I walk out there, and I can see him darting around, looking for a safe way out, but my dogs are mirroring his every move. I guess rabbit guard is best negotiated in a non-stressful environment.
So, I call off my dogs and come back inside, so Peter can get himself on back home – until tomorrow morning – when I'm sure he'll be back in there again, helping himself to something.
How much can one rabbit eat, anyway? I guess through the course of this growing season, I'm going to find out!