the way out here

Down the rabbit trail

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 10/28/20

I’ve had such a busy year with building up the homestead that I feel almost a constant need to craft or harvest something for sake of a story. As I sat down to write this, however, I remember …

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the way out here

Down the rabbit trail

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I’ve had such a busy year with building up the homestead that I feel almost a constant need to craft or harvest something for sake of a story. As I sat down to write this, however, I remember my earlier columns’ focus on the details of nature I enjoy so much. In an effort to reprise my naturalist side, I’ve taken to sifting through the many critters and creations at my disposal to feature. It’s easy to get distracted with mature whitetail bucks running around, the final harvests of pumpkins and other cold-hearty crops reaching their prime, and a slew of other rarities that make for vibrant photos and fascinating yarns. Naturally, in the midst of my choices, I decided to focus my fascinations on an animal that mimics the elusive and indiscriminate wanderings of my own mind: a rabbit.

I have a very love-hate relationship with rabbits. On one hand, I find myself ever the Mr. McGregor of my garden, a cantankerous guardian of all of our hard-fought produce. On the other, I am an avid admirer of these spirits of freedom. They, of course, make up such an important foundation on the food chain. Very nearly where vegetation meets mammals on said chain lies the very bread and butter of many a Northeastern predators diet—Mr. Rabbit. I would be lying if I ever stated that I was not one of the omnivorous superiors to the rabbit, but for those that reside in my yard and can stand to limit themselves from my fortified garden, I hold truce with these lucky few. Although, I must say that my cat doesn’t regard this distinction and will regularly avail himself to cottontails of nearly all sizes.

I find it interesting that they browse for vegetation out in my yard amongst other animals, both domestic and wild. Between the very feet of a deer, I once saw a rather unabashed rabbit padding along as the deer above sought apples on a low-hanging branch. As I watched, the deer yanked one of the branches enough to release a few apples which fell within inches of the peacefully distracted rabbit, thumping to the ground and startling it into the air. As it jumped up, however, it’s back struck the underside of the deer who was in turn startled and leaped up as though attacked from below before running off into the brush. After collecting themselves, both cautiously returned with hesitancy to their meals.

Speaking of meals, it very well may be that rabbits have the privilege of holding one of the most interestingly titled culinary preparations. Hasenpfeffer is a traditional German rabbit stew; it is one of the more famous rabbit preparations available. While my wife may not pull from a traditional recipe, her ability to make nearly any kind of meat into a crockpot dinner keeps my mouth watering. As the rabbits would pursue, carrots and potatoes are excellent accompaniments to the main course. In this, I deem that they in fact receive their last meal of sorts when found upon my dining table.

Apart from their decidedly delicious purposes, however, rabbits make otherwise good neighbors. They browse amongst our chickens and add signs of life to the property. Without them, perhaps other predators would steer their focus to my livestock and I would be prone to losing more chickens. In this way, they would serve as a buffer to my livelihood rather than a threat, as is sometimes the case with the garden. Because of this, they are difficult to quantify as either enemies or friends.

The way out here is much like ecosystems you hear about on the nature channel. Like the birds that pick the scraps from a crocodile’s mouth, we live in the same spaces. While they live in imminent threat, they are, for the most part, ignored for the good they serve in between. We are perhaps symbiotic in this fashion with the humble rabbits, at least while outside of old McGregor’s garden.

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