Monday, July 1, 2013

Adventures in Bunnyland

It’s the first of July and in years past the wild rabbits have been eaten by the coyotes that howl in the woods at night. This year the coyotes have been silent and the rabbits are still around, living in the bushes and behind the woodpile, emerging in the morning and the evening to eat the yard’s clover and the planted beds’ succulent shoots.

Rabbits’ Guy says these are wild cottontails and that the rabbit-coyote populations fluctuate back and forth. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on their Living With Wildlife website says these were introduced in the 1930s as a game animal. They begin breeding— like rabbits— from mid-February through the summer with a 30-day gestation period. On any given morning or evening there are big ones and little ones in the yard and around the neighborhood and one can probably surmise what the others are doing in the bushes.

My old dog knows he can’t play the catch-me-if-you-can game: the last time he chased one he came back limping so now he chases after those pellets they poop on the lawn and gets yelled at. The neighbors call them “bunnies” because they look cute. Cuteness is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve read Richard Adams’s Watership Down and watched the killer rabbit segment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These are not wild animals to be trifled with, despite “bunny” being an American colloquialism deriving from the Scottish bun for buttocks. Heh, heh, the neighbors said, “Bunny.”

The first summer I lived on Lopez in the early ‘70s, the roads at night were filled with the Belgian hares that had been introduced in the islands at the start of the century. Jim Lawrence in his book Callused Hands, Hungry Heart writes about the blessing of “road kill stews” bestowed on the young, poor and hungry during those days on San Juan Island.

“There was so much protein crossing the country roads in little bunny suits, it was always just a matter of time before you or the car in front of you knocked one in the head without destroying the flesh. With a quick swerve to the side of the road, I’d lean out the driver’s door and throw the limp carcass behind the front seat, only to cook it for dinner a few hours later. Saved a 22 bullet.”
My mother tells the story of my uncle serving fried rabbit without telling his niece, who thought it was chicken. “What’s up, doc?” he said to her— repeatedly— until she figured out what he was getting at. He stopped preparing rabbit, however, after one had its front paws up, trembling, before he killed it. “It looked like it was praying,” he said.

Ruth Reichl tells Michael Pollan a story in the article “No Reservations” in the June issue of Smithsonian about publishing a profile in Gourmet Magazine about chef Thomas Keller killing a rabbit:
“So there’s this scene where Keller wanted to make rabbits and kill them himself. And he does a really inept job. He manages to break this rabbit’s leg as he’s trying to kill it and he says rabbits scream really loud. It’s gruesome.And we thought long and hard about whether we were going to put this in the story. And I said: ‘It’s going in because he concludes that if he’s alone in the kitchen and he’s finally killed this rabbit, it’s going to be the best rabbit anybody ever ate because he finally understood in that kitchen with this screaming rabbit that meat was life itself.’”
So, here’s to life itself hopping around in my yard.

--Mike Sato


  1. Well, at least they are out in the wild where you are not expected to provide for their every wish and whim. Ours live with us in the house and are demanding and thankless - basically have a billion ways to disapprove - no matter how hard we strive. It is the lot in life of all those who take in domestic rabbits that somebody let go into the wild. (Best feeling in the world!!)

  2. A reader writes: 'How appropriate you should be publishing a story about rabbits on the first of the month! Our family has a tradition of saying "rabbit rabbit!" as the first words we utter on the first day of each month -- for good luck, of course. I thought we were the only ones who said it until I saw an ad (in the 80s I think) in the NYTimes for Steuben showing a cute glass bunny with the headline "Rabbit rabbit".'