There are a couple of things I really need out here in and around our little house in the vineyard when living the American dream in Willamette Valley.
1. I need Hope.
2. I need Faith.
Certainly, I require more than hope and faith to survive, but on special days like today, Faith, and taking the leap (or in this case hop), made doing the right thing a little more tolerable, and cost us just a few less tears.
Everything has meaning out here in our wild west, the soil, weather, seasons and every living thing from the tiny voles and mice to the cougars and coyotes. The presence of the red and white hawks, the bald eagles and the turkey vultures assume both nature’s wondrous form and and vital function.
It has become critical to have the animals we raise be part of the contribution of the balance in nature and enhance this experience in some way. So, when we got the ever-so-small New Zealand rabbit as a baby bunny from our dear farmer gal neighbor friend, my little daughter made what my husband calls “The puppy promise.”
You probably know it and have maybe even made it yourself. Goes a little something like this: “I swear I will hold it and love it and clean up the poop and feed it and water it and take it for walkies and use my allowance for its food and”…breath, breath…“pet it and play with it and you’ll never ever, ever have to do ANYTHING for it daddy, because it’s my pet and please oh please can I have this cute bunny, daddy, pleeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzuh!”
Mama was totally on board with it, mainly for, in a word, poop. Rabbit poop is great for my garden and I love my garden, simple as that.
It was absolutely precious to see my daughter with her small bunny in late summer and early fall when the weather was lovely.
She kept her puppy promise and I helped by building the hutch, buying the Timothy hay and food and ultimately relocating the hutch to the “barn” I retro-fitted for my hens, so that “Jack Lapin,” the rabbit, wouldn’t be lonely at night and in the early morning when we couldn’t be with him.
With the changing season, however, came a waning in my daughter’s attention to Jack. Bunny was also changing, I noticed, every day when I went out to feed and water the animals, (I keep my puppy promises).
Man-o-geez this was a bunny no more.
A big ol’ rabbit was now occupying what was once, I swear a large hutch and had now become a very small, cramped cage.
I did not like this Sam-I-Am. I did not like it in the smelly hutch so small, I did not like it in the barn, I did not like it here in the dark, I did not like it, not at all!
Time for the talk with the puppy promise breaker.
It didn’t go well. Tears and shouting, scolding and being sent to her room got my little daughter to go out later that afternoon and do what had now become the “chore” of caring for Jack the rabbit.
The days and daylight began to dwindle to shorter and shorter amounts of colder and wetter times outside doing all of our chores.
The hens have stopped laying altogether, as they are molting and energy goes into feather production over eggs, but still I feed and water, clean their perching spot and let them out to range freely every morning.
Our cats have been moved out to the porch and are excellent mousers and Jack is, I feel, trapped in the cage inside still.
I tried a different approach with my little daughter after several daily reminders of how cruel it seems to be a living creature of such beauty and energy and be trapped inside a box instead of living a full and free experience.
I frequently wondered out loud, “How would I feel if I was closed up in a cage all day?” to which my girl would chime, “I love Jack!” and then storm out to the barn to feed and water the rabbit.
When all of the Christmas presents were opened and after the wrapping settled, the big cardboard boxes, as usual, were the toys my little son played with the most. It occurred to me to have my daughter join in the game of box play.
Once she got inside her box I said, “Okay now let’s see who can stay inside the longest.” The winner gets a piece of Aunt Nancy’s peanut brittle (I know my children’s currency).
Ready. Set. GO!
My son brought in his stuffed animals and Nintendo, and was content for a while, but my daughter couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit in her box with her book. I gently, lovingly, sidled up beside her, took the book, closed the top of the box and whispered through the cut out handle holes, “Now what if you were here for the rest of the day, tonight and tomorrow?”
Then I left the room.
Yes, the next clear and dry days, Jack was let out for walkies in our immediate front yard. Yes, my daughter stepped up once again with the poop and water and food. I was happier, but still feeling the weight of the idea of this sweet creature being caged for so many of the other hours.
Last night my little gal got up out of bed, came to my husband and me with tear stained cheeks and said she would like to have Jack be happy and free to come and go like the chickens and the cats.
She further said, “I read that if I really love something and I set it free, it will come back.” I added, “It just might, my little love.” I held her tight, kissed her face a dozen or so times, with words of praise to her for having such a good heart.
Today we took Jack, the Timothy hay, and our high spirits out front and down the path to our seasonal creek which is a spot where we have seen other wild rabbits and cute critters many times.
We opened the cage door. Jack hesitated.
Our rabbit hopped out, then back in to its cage. Then one big leap and into the blackberry thicket like a brilliant white light on this frosty foggy day.
We stayed and stroked Jack for a while, then loaded the cage into the wheel barrow and headed with full, full hearts up the path to our home. We looked back a few times and remarked at how great it was to see Jack the rabbit hopping freely in the green grass and already starting to claw at the soil instead of the stainless steel cage that will never, we vowed, house any living thing again.
I have Faith that we will see Jack when we are out hiking by the creek, in the vineyard. I Hope my daughter’s heart feels good about doing the right thing by this darling creature, and I know we all learned many lessons this day…and to finish the quote, “if it doesn’t return to you it never really was yours to begin with.”
See you next Sunday with our next wild adventure living the American dream in Willamette Valley and our next leap of faith!
Shellie Croft spent a year sharing her American dream stories on 8 Women Dream. You can now find these stories on her blog Shellie’s Consumption.