Although I enjoy a good gore-splattered horror film from time to time, I’m very grateful I didn’t chew up a warren of baby bunnies with my tiller the other day.
The backyard garden has been in the ground since late April, and getting out there in the evenings, as the fading sun paints the Western sky with varying shades of orange and purple, is my daily meditation. While the kids play with the dogs and the neighbor mows his grass, I stake up tomato plants and pull dead leaves off the pepper seedlings and inspect the kale for cabbage loopers, tossing them over the garden fence like hen treats for the strutting chickens that we keep for eggs.
The sweet potato slips are always the last to go in the ground, these tiny stalks with worm-like roots that will gestate and grow over the next several months, until I dig them up before first frost. I always set aside a section of the garden bed for a couple dozen slips, but to get soil packed hard by winter rains loose enough to accommodate the tubers, I run my tiller over that patch a few times before planting.
I had just started my first pass a couple of weeks ago when the ground moved in front of me. Shutting off the machine, I gently pulled up a ball of leaves and twigs and fur and broken weedeater line to reveal a nest of rabbits, bunched one atop the other in a quivering ball of fear and trepidation. Their eyes were open, and one made a break for it, getting as far as the middle of the garden before I threw on a pair of work gloves and eased him back into his den. I covered them back up and wheeled the tiller back to the garage, because I didn’t need to plow the garden nearly as much as those rabbits needed a little bit longer to stay safely hidden away from the predatory eyes of dogs and hawks and other creatures.
That evening, as my wife put the kids to bed, I stood on the deck and watched their mother creep up the fence row and squeeze through the chain link, stopping every few seconds to survey her surroundings and ensure that she wasn’t putting her little ones in danger. As she made her way to the nest, her babies pushed through the makeshift cover and nursed, and I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of wonder that this miracle of nature was taking place in a backyard garden in the Maryville suburbs.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have noticed the other creatures with which I shared this world. I wouldn’t have cared if I’d turned a nest under with a plow, most likely because I wouldn’t have owned a plow or a house or a yard in which to till a garden. And I certainly wouldn’t have spent a few minutes in the gloaming of the day, looking down on a mama rabbit tending to her little ones while my own were preparing to drift off to sleep.
For the next several days, we kept an eye on the nest to ensure it wasn’t disturbed. We lifted the cover back once to show my youngest son, who stared in wonder at wide-eyed baby bunnies staring right back at him. In the twilight, mama would return and spend a few minutes, vanishing into the darkness at the first sign of danger and trusting in nature and night and whatever deity rabbits believe in to keep her babies safely hidden away. The sweet potato slips came in the mail, and I just put them in a Mason jar of water, mumbling an unspoken agreement to that same rabbit god that they’d be OK until it was time for the furry residents of my garden to move on.
Sometime on Wednesday, they did. I went out Wednesday evening, and the nest had been disturbed. Grimacing, I knelt beside it and began to peel back the protective duff, expecting to find a passel of half-eaten rabbits that had fallen prey to nature’s cruelty.
But they were gone. Mama, or maybe the bunnies themselves, had filled in the hole and vanished. I said a silent prayer that they were OK, feeling silly about praying for rabbits, and got the tiller back out. The sun was down and night was coming on by the time I finished, but it felt good to have waited.
It felt right.
Thursday morning, as I walked out to my truck to come to Cornerstone, there was a lone rabbit sitting in the yard across the street, watching me. It was too big to be one of her kids, but it might have been mama. Or it might have been some other critter, wondering if I had any space to spare for another nest.
Either way, I nodded and smiled and went on my way, watching as it hopped into the undergrowth and chuckling to myself that rabbits, of all things, should inspire me so.
I hope maybe they do you, too. Here’s your motivation for today, friends. Be kind to all creatures great and small.