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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Never mind the tail, this is a rabbits' tale

By Dick Hirsch

I saw my first bunny years ago, peering back at me through a plate glass window at a pet shop. I think it was on Grant Street. I had seen one before at the zoo, of course, but that didn’t count because the zoo bunny was an exhibit, a captive, while the pet shop bunny could be purchased and taken home. Those shimmering, plaintive eyes and the quivering chin beckoned potential buyers but nobody in our family had the slightest interest in owning a pet bunny.

Bunnies had a very positive image in those days, thanks, I suppose, to the classic story of Peter Rabbit, written by Beatrix Potter in 1902 and extremely popular, both then and now. Another personality creating positive public relations for bunnies was the inimitable Bugs Bunny, a very entertaining cartoon figure, first introduced in films in 1940. Bugs became famous, an enduring star capturing the attention of generations. Those two characters, Peter and Bugs, created a very favorable reputation for bunnies.

There was a downside to their behavior which attracted the attention of only a small minority, a group that looked beyond the stories and focused on the behavior patterns of those celebrity bunnies. They were tricky, cunning and sly and they frustrated the human beings with whom they had any dealings.

If you remember, Peter terrorized the hard working farmer, Mr. McGregor, repeatedly scampering through his fields and eating whatever he pleased, especially savoring the cabbage, lettuce and carrots. When chased, Peter hopped merrily away, disappearing in the field. As for Bugs, he made life miserable for a man named Elmer Fudd, taunting and teasing him until Fudd, who had a speech impediment, became belligerent, repeatedly threatening to “Kill that kwazy wabbit.” I enjoyed laughing at the predicaments in which Fudd found himself because of Bugs, but now I am beginning to sympathize with Elmer Fudd, an innocent and kind man with a pot belly, a big nose and a derby hat.

Oh, yes, I quit calling them bunnies many year ago. They are rabbits. Furthermore, I have begun to identify with Elmer Fudd because we have rabbits romping around our house and they treat me with absolute disdain. Here’s an example: Just the other day I arrived home late on a sunny afternoon after a hard day at the office. On the front lawn, in a prominent position near the beech tree, were two rabbits. I cannot be sure of their gender, but they were chewing on the grass, and they appeared to be very well-fed, having previously dined in the back yard. They glanced in my direction as I pulled up the driveway, but their attitude was one of complete indifference. I walked toward them. They looked at me, but only briefly. The one turned away from me and turned to his companion. I saw his lips move. Yes, I know he was chewing, but this was a different jaw movement. I imagined what he was saying in rabbit language: “Who is that guy walking on our grass?” I felt like an unwelcome visitor at my own house and was wondering whether they had rehearsed that famous line that Bugs delivered so many times: “Ehh, what’s up doc?.”

Of course I knew there was no sense chasing them, but I was perturbed enough to adopt a menacing posture as I strode toward them, uttering a few choice expletives. I’m sure they heard me, but I didn’t shout because I didn’t want the neighbors to hear, lest they conclude my behavior was irrational. As I approached, they hopped away toward the back yard, where they are intimately familiar with the morsels available there, the plants and flowers, many of which are to their liking. I didn’t pursue them but they usually proceed to their warren, located under the deck of one of our neighbors. I went inside the house, our house, wondering whether I should adopt the same sort of laissez-faire policy.

We never had rabbits in the neighborhood where I grew up. Our wildlife was limited to squirrels and most squirrels made it a point to run in the other direction whenever a person approached. Thus, I was unaccustomed to coexisting with rabbits; they have an attitude. They seem territorial. They are assertive and if they decide to settle in a certain area they have their own lifestyle, and humans are regarded as interlopers. Cute? Yes, they are cute, but I don’t like their attitude.


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