Frabjous Times

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

The drama began in the late afternoon. Pam heard some commotion from our birds and went over to look out the window to see what might be going on outside. She saw an orange and white cat, previously seen stalking our yard, carrying something brown in its mouth. She went out the back door and startled the animal into dropping what it was carrying and running away behind our evergreens. On the ground in our side yard was a couple of small furry brown corpses.
I'd been upstairs at the time and happened to come down about this time. I saw that the two were small rabbits, with bodies maybe four inches long, one wounded in the abdomen and the other on the back of the neck. Just yesterday we'd seen a much larger rabbit, presumably the mother, browsing the grass in this area early in the morning. Pam thought she'd seen a third small rabbit that the cat was carrying off, but there was no sign of this.
Although we don't really have anything against cats, the two of us came to a wordless consensus that in this conflict were were on the rabbits' side. I might have felt differently if we were more serious about the productivity of our vegetable garden, but we really have more than we need as it is.
For a moment or two I considered just leaving the dead there to be scavenged later. Then I went into the garage and pulled out the shovel to dig a hole in the soft earth of our third small vegetable plot, the one left fallow this year. The dryness of the last several days made this pretty easy work. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another very small rabbit moving, maybe six feet from where I was working. It had its eyes open but seemed as if it could only be a few days old. It ran off along the inside of our stockade fence before Pam could have a look at it. For all we knew, it ran into the same evergreen growth that that cat had run into.
Then we saw a movement in the matted dry grass near my feet. Another small rabbit popped out, and then another. This was right in the middle of what passes for lawn, one I'd mowed just last weekend, and not a sheltered area at all. The two newcomers ran in different directions and hid among the low growth, despite our ineffectual efforts to guide them back to the nest. It seemed like the only choices for safety were poor ones, all in all.
I finished digging the hole a foot and a half deep and put the two dead rabbits in. In similar circumstances, I've discouraged digging by laying thorny rosebush cuttings on top, which I might still do.
We sat down to dinner. Norah Jones on the CD player. Spare ribs.
Maybe half an hour later, I looked back out the window of the bird room to see that orange and white cat lounging not far from the site of the mayhem, licking himself as if he'd just had a meal. I came running out the back doing my best imitation of an avenging Fury, and hissing him away from our yard. I saw that the spot in the dry grass covered a burrow in the sandy soil and wondered how many of the family would be returning to the spot.
Now we live in the suburbs where rabbits, ducks, and squirrels are pretty much the only sort of wildlife we see much. I was raised in the city, never owned a cat, and never experienced stuff like this as a kid. So now I'm thinking for the first time about what it means, if anything. I'll be watching that piece of ground for the next few days while I make up my mind.
(Title from Tennyson, In Memoriam, A. H. H.)
Originally published: 2003/07/05 20:25:42