We all have our morning routines. My day begins with opening the blinds, curious if it’s cloudy, blue skies or morning mist outside. I put on my flip-flops and scoop a big cup of birdseed from the bin by my sliding glass door. Since no humans can hear me, I feel free to greet my winged and four-legged neighbors more like I’m seven than seventy. “Good morning, good morning, everyone.” I repeat this lilting refrain with each toss of millet and sunflower seeds onto the patio pavers and into the duff under Manzanita shrubs.
Is it my voice or was it the sound of the door closing behind me? Immediately juncos and chickadees dart through shrub branches to land near the slatted fence just as the seeds fall near them. Chipmunks scurry in from four directions. A scrub jay swoops down from the roof. I run the hose to fill the water bowl, knowing it will soon be surrounded with sippers and sometimes a splashing bather.
My turn to bathe. I flip back the cover on my small hot tub and climb in. My inevitable “Ahhh” seems to call in even more hungry creatures. I’m now blissfully floating, noting passing clouds, circling ravens, and flocks of broad-banded pigeons. These neighbors don’t seem to mind when I sit back up, my head rising from the hot water, not even those nearby – a brown thrasher, sparrow, several juncos, and two chipmunks – who peck, scratch, and paw the dirt for their breakfast.
But maybe the sweetest part of my morning is the small brown rabbit who creeps out from under the white sage bush and methodically chews one seed after another. Silhouetted, her dark round eye peers out toward me. When I lean steadily closer with no abrupt movements, murmuring in what I hope is a reassuring tone, I can watch from only several feet away. Like a smitten lover, I tell her how perfect she is, particularly her cream-colored feet that stick out from under her rounded torso, and then there’s that fluff of a tail.
So this is my routine, day after day, week after week. Until it’s not. Where’s my rabbit friend? She hasn’t appeared this morning. Am I up too late, although generally that doesn’t seem to matter to the animals – they track my movements, not the clock. I miss watching her nose twitch, her ears flicker, how she scrambles back under the bush when the shadow of a large bird flies over.
I look for her the next morning as I toss seed and linger in the tub, but she doesn’t come. My gut tightens as I go back in the house to make breakfast. What’s happened? I can think of many possibilities. A grey fox often comes to drink at night, alert to mammalian smells. A bobcat occasionally triggers my night motion detector camera. There used to be coyotes nearby – perhaps they’ve come back. And there are always patrolling hawks and owls. I believe in the natural order of life, which includes the dance of predator and prey. In fact, I track the comings and goings of these hunters as tenderly as I do the rabbits and chipmunks. Yet I fear less natural causes might be a more likely explanation of her disappearance: opportunistic dogs and cats, cars, or worst of all, rat poison.
I’m surprised how affected I am – sadness trails me throughout the day. I check frequently out my windows, throw more seed in the afternoon and evening, just in case she happens to be nearby. Nothing. When she doesn’t appear the third morning, I go through my drawer of animal figures to find the white soapstone rabbit I bought in the Southwest, and place it on my dresser. I murmur that I am sorry she is gone.
The fourth morning, no longer expecting her, I glance through the rising steam to see who’s scratching for seed. Maybe the spotted towhee will appear. But there’s my rabbit friend! Chewing diligently. For a moment, I don’t quite believe it. But no, it’s her, in her exact same spot, those sweet paws peeking out. She doesn’t seem to mind my delighted flow of words.
Is it crazy how happy this makes me? That the world, or at least this small patch of it, seems right again. That my dire speculations, founded on observation and reasoning, can be thankfully wrong. Irrationally perhaps, momentarily, the natural world seems more resilient than I’ve felt in these threatened times.
Rabbits are not yet endangered, though like many species there are fewer of them. If she disappears, I will miss this rabbit and worry that it might be a while until another finds its way to this spot. But for today, I smile.
Marilyn DuHamel is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Ben Lomond. She regularly posts essays on her blog, Earth Dialogues, at www.marilynduhamel.com. Her intention is to help people care more deeply about the natural world, believing that what we love we will not turn away from.