Why nurture ‘the little pests’?

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When my husband came back from a morning jog, he drank coffee on the patio as usual. Glancing into the large planters where his tomato plants still bore ripe red fruit, he made an eye-opening discovery.

During the night, after he watered his plants, a mother rabbit made a nest inside a planter and gave birth to five tiny, slimy bunnies.

The neighborhood has plenty of rabbits; our box gardens are surrounded by chicken wire. But the three large planters on the patio, which is enclosed by a stone wall and is used by us daily, seemed like an unlikely nesting spot. Live and learn.

We were a house divided. One opinion was to toss them out in the yard and let nature take its course. Another opinion: “Oh, but they’re so cute.” I’ll leave it to you to decide whose opinion was whose. A call to the Humane Society yielded an invitation to box them and bring them in, but also the advice that within two weeks they would be grown and gone if we chose to leave them there, right by our back door.

Momma Rabbit wouldn’t be around much, because her presence would alert predators to her babies’ existence. Just the other evening, I’d seen a large hawk tearing apart the remnants of a smaller bird on my neighbor’s lawn.

Of course, after vacating our pot, the youngsters would exit into the neighborhood, where they would learn to wreak havoc on my hosta, and devour the marigolds that I had planted in the mistaken belief that marigolds repelled rabbits.

What possible sense did it make to provide a nurturing environment for these little pests?

It’s now Day Eight of the “Oh, but they’re so cute” public opinion victory, aided by a phone call to our granddaughter Charlotte’s mother, who said, “I don’t want to have to tell Charlotte that Grumpy kills bunnies.”

Several times a day, I check on my boarders and talk to them. I recorded a video for my kids, and send occasional photos. They are not those adorable fluffy white Easter bunnies. No, they’re homely brown garden-variety rabbits that populate Nebraska cornfields. But as they’ve grown, and gradually began to step all over each other as the pot grows more crowded, they’ve provided a lot of adorable entertainment.

And food for thought. With Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si,” we’ve all been thinking more about the natural environment and our relationship to it. As a mom, I have a tender spot for any creature whose maternal instinct is so strong that somehow, between the hours of noon and three, she sneaks onto our patio and covers her little brood with soft grass to protect them against the hot Nebraska sun. And I’ve never caught her in the act.

Near the tomato pots, a small statue of Saint Francis looks over our patio. His presence reminds me to ask the great saint for guidance in exerting gentleness towards this fragile earth, its resources, and all my companions on it.

Next summer, the chicken wire will extend to the base of the planters on the patio. We’ll spray more of the fowl smelling rabbit repellent on the flowers. We’ll continue to wage, not war, but passive resistance against our furry friends.

In an often harsh and unforgiving world, I think we have a house in agreement: yes it was a minor thing, but a good thing, to give five little rabbits a chance.

The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.


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