Barney is his name; comfort is his game.
I live in a relatively rural place. It’s Massachusetts, so you know it isn’t all that wild. But for someone who grew up in Greater Boston and has lived, studied and worked right in the city, our part of the state is like living in the wilderness.
We have a big male black bear who cruises the neighborhood, and a gorgeous bobcat who peeks out once in a while. We have deer and foxes and turkeys and coyotes. There are more birds than you can begin to appreciate.
And for the past three years, for some reason, we have sweet little cottontail rabbits.
While these little guys used to be a rarity, these few years we have had one or two living right in the yard and sharing the dandelions with us.
This year’s bunny is named Barney. I don’t know why exactly, except that the alliteration must have appealed to my grandkids.
We first noticed Barney back in about February. The ground was frozen, and the earth was clumps of mud and dead leaves. We saw his tiny grey face one morning in the protective cover of a fallen pine tree. The kids and I watched his little twitching nose as he washed his face with one white paw. Then he squished himself back under the log.
I worried about him that night, as an icy rain fell. Silly, I know. I told myself that I worried because he was important to the kids. I didn’t want them to be sad. But I knew that wasn’t really it. I worried because he was so small, and fragile. He was alone in a cold, dangerous world. His innocence touched my heart and I imagined getting him safe and warm somehow.
Over the next few weeks, Barney would make an appearance some days as the sun set. He would hop along, carefully avoiding snow and ice clumps. I watched him chewing on dry oak leaves. I saw how he stood on his hand legs to carefully peel the bark of cherry saplings.
I started to leave him bits lettuce, carrot tops and celery leaves. He ate them, but never while I was watching.
He began to seem like a pet to me.
As the spring has come, Barney has grown considerably. He still lives under the fallen tree, but he spends time in a windfall of dead branches and hops between my rhododendron and forsythia, where he can hide when he feels scared.
With everything that is happening in this crazy world, Barney has become both a talisman and a mentor to me.
If I go two days without seeing him, I find myself up early peering out the windows. I feel responsible for him in a ridiculously inexplicable way. I am anxious when I don’t know that he has survived another night in the land of foxes and fishers and coyotes and cars.
But then I see him. My heart rate slows. I smile.
I often see Barney outside now. Right there on our front lawn, almost always with a dandelion stem in his mouth. He no longer accepts my offerings of food, and I laugh when I imagine his reaction to seeing them. “Great,” I imagine him thinking. “Dead, wilted, human scented, soap smelling green stuff. I live in a literal giant salad bowl full of clover and grass and leaves and shoots and dandelion stems. And she thinks I’m gonna eat THAT?”
Sometimes when I see him, I stand very still. He goes about his business with me there, chewing rapidly and fixing his shining black eye on my presence. I have noticed that he seems to have a good sense of social distancing. He is almost always about 6 feet away. If I take a step toward him, he takes a hop away.
The other day my little grandsons and I were out in the yard. We were admiring the millions of little Forget-me-nots that bloom all over. As we reached in to pick some, we saw that our Barney was sitting very still in the middle of a patch of flowers. He wasn’t moving at all. We stood there, admiring him, and making soft noises.
After a minute or two in which I guess he realized that we weren’t planning to eat him, Barney hopped, rather calmly, out of the flower bed and under a bush.
The kids were enchanted. I was inspired.
This is how I want to meet the challenges of my world. I want to go on calmly eating in the face of danger. I want to take my time to assess how real a threat it is that I am facing. I want the courage to calmly keep myself generally safe, while also having the confidence to live under my own fallen tree.
Barney, as far as I can tell, spends no time at all wondering if he should have done something differently. He doesn’t appear to be worried about tomorrow; unlike the chipmunks that race around here all day, he is not storing food for a later date.
Instead, he is soaking up the sun, eating what tastes best to him, avoiding disaster as long as possible and having a good bunny in the summer life.
He’s kinda my hero.
He’s also very very cute.