But Jimmy Stewart Had Harvey…

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I have rabbits coming out of my ears.

 It’s spring in the Sierras, a time of false hope and broken promises, at least as far as the weather is concerned. It’s also a time when a young rabbit’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, with predictable results. I have baby rabbits in the barn, in the tool shed, in the brush pile I need to take to the dump, doing gymnastics on the rocks behind the house, dancing among the roses, practicing mixed martial arts on the front patio…

Actually, they’re pretty damned cute. I like rabbits. I always try to give the babies plenty of warning I’m on my way so that Pete, my indefatigable Boxer, won’t accidentally hurt one. I let him chase the grown ones to his heart’s content because it’s the lazy man’s way to exercise him. All I have to do is stand in one spot and watch, and eventually Pete will give up and come back, tripping on his tongue and looking as frustrated as a Boxer can look. I’ve never known any of my dogs to catch a rabbit, with one unlikely exception.

When my parents moved back to America, my father retired from the Foreign Service and became director of a small museum out in the country in Virginia. The place was very isolated and my father, who would have been hard pressed to shoot himself in the foot with a firearm, relied on our bullmastiff, Roger, for protection.

From my point of view, except for his visual impact, it was a poor choice. Roger was one hundred and thirty pounds of amiable laziness unlikely ever to harm anyone except by stepping on someone’s foot. He excelled at drooling and sleeping and little else. But he did love to chase rabbits, tail up, tongue lolling, ears, flews, dewlaps, and loose hide all flopping, copious strings of drool flying. He must have appeared apocalyptic to the rabbits, but it was all show, sort of like the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” I was in the backyard with him once when he set off in pursuit of a foolish cottontail cheeky enough to slip through the field fence that surrounded our half acre of yard. Unfortunately, as they got to the fence, the rabbit made a critical mistake and tried to go between the wire and the post and got stuck. Roger skidded to a halt and stuck out his nose. The rabbit promptly kicked him in the nose, and one hundred and thirty pounds of Death and Destruction went ki-yi-ing back to the house while the rabbit wriggled loose and went on its way.

But one summer evening we were sitting out on the front porch, my father and mother and I, watching the sunset. Roger had ambled off somewhere, and when he reappeared out of the woods I could tell, even at a hundred yards, something was wrong with his jaw. My first thought was that he might have gone into our neighbor’s pasture and gotten kicked by one of the steers. I went to him, bent down to touch his head, and he dropped a baby rabbit into my hands.

It was tiny, small enough to fit into a teacup, never the mind the enormous maw that had just spat it out, and completely drenched, from stem to stern, with drool. It was the wettest rabbit I have ever seen, but except for possibly needing CPR to get the water out of its lungs, it appeared unhurt.

Roger and I went back to the porch and I put the rabbit on the path in front of the steps and we all, Roger included, sat and watched. For about five minutes nothing happened. Then one eye opened. A few more minutes, and the other eye opened. A few more minutes and one ear began to sort of twitch and tremble as Br’er Bunny tried to un-stick said ear from his fur. Roger’s drool must have been rabbit equivalent of Elmer’s Glue because it took a while before the ear rose slowly. Then the other ear cautiously moved into vertical.

There was a brief period while the rabbit assessed the situation and considered his options and then he went from zero to sixty in three-point-two seconds and vanished into the woods.

Roger clearly felt that catching one baby bunny was the culmination of his life’s work and he didn’t even bother to stand up to watch that rabbit run, “presumably,” as my mother commented dreamily, “straight to his analyst’s couch.”

It was an absolutely typical comment of my mother’s. She believed psychiatry was a fraud designed to separate self-indulgent and self-pitying people from their money, but the idea of a rabbit needing psychiatric treatment appealed to her. She also frequently used to wonder out loud if perhaps Roger might be happier if he received analysis, but since she frequently got me and the dog confused, scolding Jameson for digging holes in the backyard and asking Roger to bring her a glass of water, perhaps it was just a case of transference.

If she were still alive, she might suggest I go outside on such a beautiful day and chase rabbits.

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