Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rabbits and Seals

I like rabbits. I really do. My sister had a white rabbit as a pet for years. People a few miles down the road keep rabbits to comb for Angora—something I’ve considered myself. When a careless driver hit but didn’t kill a wild rabbit, I stopped and even took it to the vet (it had to be euthanized—severed spinal cord).

My rabbit adventures, though, really started when a former irresponsible neighbor, after keeping rabbits for a bit, changed his mind and set them loose. [Where do people get these ideas about animals? Most animals in the wild never live to see age two—let alone abandoned pets. That puppy you let loose to enjoy its freedom? The one with the cute kerchief around its neck? It’s now dead.] Now that the rabbits were no longer his responsibility, at least one of them became mine—chewing its way through the skirting of my home, ruining my winterizing efforts. Eventually, the rabbit disappeared (probably dead), and when the weather warmed, I ripped out all the damaged skirting and replaced it with aluminum flashing, burying it a foot deep (to keep out mice, rats and voles as well). Whether by cause and effect or by chance, however, wild rabbits took up residence across the grounds, to stay.

To a point, I didn’t really mind. Hey, if they eat the grass—terrific! Once in a while one would get hit in the road—sad, and I’d have to do something with the carcass. My old shepherd mix caught one—I have no idea how, since she was almost 16, tired and very ill. Perhaps she fell on it. Dunno. I let her have it—bunny was half gone as it was, and I was going nuts trying to get my poor old dog to eat protein anyway.

Rabbits were evident from time to time. One year I planted 50 black cherry seedlings around the borders of the property (black cherry is native here, and the wood is valuable). By spring, every one was gone. Rabbits were the main suspects, of course, but without any hard evidence, no court would ever convict them.

I didn’t notice them much. My husky mix puppy caught one while on her lead, but since she’s essentially lightening with fur, no big surprise. We walk around the property sometimes, she on her 26’ retractable leash, and yes, she often explodes into a run after game, ripping my arm from its socket, but here in the country, that could be almost anything; she loves to chase birds, and we have lots of them.

She especially loved “helping” to plant my fruit trees. She didn’t understand what all this was about, but she quickly learned that first, playing with those strange sticks was verboten, and second, whatever we were doing, it involved a lot of walking and digging. Gotta love that! With gusto, she “helped” dig holes for the trees, and when I walked back to my shed to get each tree, she carefully guarded each hole (I don’t know what we’re doing, or why, but this is OUR hole, so just back off!). Four varieties of apple, two kinds of pear, a few cherry trees—a week of hard work and a summer of watering yielded my own orchard. Despite a few problems—beetles, for example—the orchard was healthy and progressing well.

Then, over the winter, the rabbits reduced it to dead twigs. Hundreds of dollars worth destroyed.

My electrician, a friend, over to replace a leaky meter, noted during conversation that his fruit trees had suffered a similar fate. An acquaintance of his at the Ag/Tech college suggested protecting the trees with black PVC tubing cut at an angle. Seemed worth trying. As soon as the school year closed, I bought an assortment of apple, pear, peach and plum trees. I mentioned my circumstances to the clerk. “Rabbits,” she said, shaking her head.

I headed for the hardware store for PVC tubing. I explained what I wanted, and long since accustomed to my quirky ways, the staff listened patiently. For what I wanted, they explained, I could use waterline. Comes in inch and a quarter. Fine. They’ll sell it by the foot—just need to cut it first. OK.

I sat in the car. And waited. And waited. I drank my coffee. I was glad I had bought the paper. I read it. Finally, the yard guy arrives with a large roll of tubing. “We had trouble cutting it,” he explains. I can see that—one end is squashed flat for a few inches.

“How am I going to cut it, then?” I asked.

“Oh, no problem—we just didn’t have a good saw. You’ll be fine.” Unconvinced, I stuffed the roll in my car and headed home. I backed down the driveway and leaned back, relaxing for a moment. A rabbit peaked out of the evergreen trees, then hopped about with impunity.

A friend suggested I cut the tubing in a spiral to wrap around the tree. I soon learned I’d be lucky to cut it at all, let alone get it around the trees. I soon settled for just cutting a slit, but just as soon realized (1) that would be difficult with a circular saw and (2) I was already lucky to still have my hand as the saw kicked back. So, I just cut the stuff in half, and took 3-4 halves and taped them around the trunk. That was going to take quite a bit a tape for several trees. Back to the store. The rabbits could easily reach past the first branches, so I also grabbed some 4’ chicken wire to circle the trees—along with black plastic sheeting to control the grass inside the fenced circle. And so, after a lot of trial and error, after a day’s labor, I had planted—a tree.

I managed a few more before dark, each in its own little concentration camp, acutely aware that for all the effort I was investing in cottontail prevention, the critters had ipso facto the entire year (or two or three) to breach security.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I’m reminded of the end of the first chapter of Joyce’s “Ulysses”:

"A voice, sweettoned and sustained, called to him from the sea. Turning the curve he waved his hand. It called again. a sleek brown head, a seal’s far out on the water, round.



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