“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I know it’s a cliche, but the most wonderful things sometimes do come in the smallest packages. One such package arrived on a dreary December afternoon. I had just stepped into the dim light of my shed out in the back yard when something small darted right between my legs and out the door. I was startled, to say the least, but thought that it must have been a kitten from a neighboring yard. But there was something very odd about it. So I stepped out to have a look.
It was white and dark grey. A little bigger than my two hands. And it was not a kitten. After staring at it in disbelief for a moment–it was sitting not five feet away mildly looking back at me–I hurried back to the house to fetch my wife.
“Come outside,” I said. “There’s a creature that you’ve gotta see!”
She came. She stared.
“No. A bunny.”
And that’s how it all began.
In fact, it was a Dutch rabbit, with its distinctive white and gray coat. But we didn’t yet know the breed. In fact, we knew virtually nothing at all about rabbits (except a bit about the wild ones), and even less about bunnies. But the day was late, evening was falling, and we were due to attend a performance of the Nutcracker downtown in just a little while, and I was not yet dressed to go out. Things would have to wait until we came home. I left the shed door open.
Later that night, the dreamlike state of mind from the performance lingered after we got back home. Not even waiting to get out of my good clothes, I grabbed a flashlight and hurried back outside. Sweeping the yard with my beam, I did not see it. Then, going back to the shed, I found it once more. The little thing was inside, huddled on some canvas.
Over the next anxious days, we tried to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, it dashed back and forth across our backyard, flinging itself suddenly into the air in spasms of…what? Joy? Delight? Insanity?
What should we do? Should we try to feed it? It seemed to like our clover patch and the forsythia shoots. We tried hay. It was the wrong kind, we later learned. I left the shed door open, but it somehow decided that it didn’t like it very much, and it remained outside, often snuggling up in the leaves under the forsythias, or darting back and forth across the yard, playfully zigging and zagging in the winter air. We talked to it. It scampered by, sometimes coming within three feet of us. Sometimes it would stretch out on a bare spot of dirt under my old boat.
It all seemed just too…strange. As if a small furry elf-like being had taken up in our small, very ordinary backyard. We had to call it something. We couldn’t just keep saying, “Hey, Bunny! Come here, Bunsie, won’t you?” I, for one, was quite flustered at the realization that two adults had become so completely overthrown and obsessed by the wee thing. Not to mention the sound of baby-talk coming out of my own mouth, asking it where it came from, and “Whatcha doin’?” So I decided, in honor of the season, it should be called Christopher.
Christmas came, and so did New Year’s, and Christopher stayed in our backyard. The weather became colder and nastier. We put out boxes with blankets, hoping he would to nestle up within. I added more old towels to the pile in the shed, hoping he would take refuge within. Sometimes he did. Most times, he didn’t. Freezing rain and sleet came, pelting and coating everything. My wife constructed another shelter for it, a lean-to against the side of our house, just outside the back door. She made it out of boughs trimmed from our Christmas tree. We tried to coax him to come inside (not that we knew what we’d do then), but he simply did not seem to want to come in where it was warm. The ice grew thick. Christopher took to the improvised lean-to. We grew worried, continually checking on the mysterious visitor.
But Christopher became accustomed to us. Sometimes I thought he was actually taunting us with his antics, perhaps testing us as in some old fable. It was something of a magical little yard. One time, during summer, I was outside looking through the treetops at the stars. Fireflies blinked and floated all around. Then, as I walked to the other side of the yard to peer at another portion of the sky, the fireflies swarmed around me, hundreds and hundreds. And as I walked, I was enveloped in the brightly glowing cloud of their shimmering light. In wonder, I forgot all about the sky as I came to a stop. The swarm lingered with me for a long moment, maybe a minute, then floated away and slowly scattered, each firefly taking its own course.
On another occasion, during a different Yuletide season, I stepped out once again to look skyward. It had been a warmish day, but frigid air had settled at sunset, and now, as I slipped out in the small hours after midnight, not a breath of air moved, and there was not a sound to be heard. I eased the front door shut as quietly as I could so as not to disturb the peace. I knew the moon was on the other side of the house, so, remaining in the shadow of the front porch, I stepped down to the sidewalk and looked up. That’s when I saw it. The oak overhead, still clinging to its leaves so late in the year, glistened and twinkled with millions of tiny bluish-white glints against the dark sky, each tiny light as steadfast as the constellations above, but much brighter than the brightest star. I gaped, and I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. It was as if the oak had been somehow decorated for the season with countless tiny stars glittering from limb and leaf. I hurried to wake my wife and convinced her to abandon her slumber and the warm bed for the cold outside air, saying only that there was something she simply had to see for herself. I took her to the sidewalk.
“Look up there,” I said.
She, too, was amazed at the twinkling diamonds above. Of course, I knew the explanation. Dew had settled on the leaves from the warmish day, but became frost when the cold air descended. Then, at just the right moment, I emerged from the house, just when the bright moon, somewhere out of sight, illuminated the hoary tree. Had I been standing at a different spot, had the moon not been so full or positioned just so, or if the day had not been so warm or the night so cold, it would have never been seen. And I have never since seen anything like it, though I have often looked. The silent spectacle left me with a sense of wonder, just as the fireflies had done.
Just as this white and gray creature was now doing.
Sometimes, my wife and I would bundle up and sit outside just to watch his scampering antics. We’d call and “talk” to him, of course. And we’d murmur our questions to one another.
“Rabbits like carrots, don’t they?”
“Sure, why else would all the cartoons say so?”
He finally approached close enough to snatch away a bit of carrot. Yes, they do like carrots, we later learned. But to rabbits carrots are like ice cream; too much and bad tummy things happen. We didn’t know any better. Not yet. And, anyway, carrots might be just the thing to coax him inside. We were certain of one thing: We could not leave him to the elements much longer. The weather was simply too harsh. Not to mention there might be cats around. Or dogs. Or hawks. Or children.
Closer and closer he ventured to us as the days passed. Eventually, so close that he dared to accept a bit of carrot right from our hands. But he was leery of the back door.
“In there be a strange world,” we could almost sense him thinking.
We found some rabbit chow and started putting a bowl of it outside. He took to it, and we moved the bowl a little closer to the door each day. Then he thing started allowing us sit beside him while he munched. Then to touch him, to actually pet him.
By now, due in large part to my wife’s diligent research, we knew more than we had known but a fortnight earlier. We were certain that Christopher needed care. He needed safety from predators, and shelter from the cold. And he needed a regular supply of clean water and good food. So, we’d leave the back door propped open, watching from within as he hopped closer and closer. From time to time, he’d sit on the doormat just outside, casually grooming, taking time now and then to peer inside nonchalantly (see video below). We put the food bowl just inside the door. He looked at it, hopped inside to nibble for a moment, only to darted back outside cautiously. Maybe we were the ones being teased, not he. We moved the bowl a bit farther inside. Christopher, perhaps more hungry than he was cautious, entered again. We closed the door behind him.
That’s really how it all started. And it would be some weeks later before we learned that Christopher was actually a girl bunny! By then, the name had stuck. She remained the focus of our attention and wonder. And now that she was inside, comfortable and safe, she seemed very happy and quite inquisitive, exploring, following us around, and making itself right at home. She was inside, safe and sound. The adventure had only just begun.
“But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music…”
# # #
Quotes courtesy of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery