Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adventures in Bunnies

Oryctotagus cuniculus
(domestic rabbit)
  Once upon a time, in a land very near where I now sit, there lived two young boys. The boys were close friends and shared many good times. One such time, or rather, series of good times, was the annual outing to the nearest Agricultural Fair. In our case, this was the State Agricultural Fair as our county was actually too rural to support such an undertaking as an Agricultural County Fair. It was at one of those yearly farm get-togethers when my friend Johnny, who has since passed on, saw something that had him all excited and eagerly yanking me to one of the animal display barns. 
  As we entered the hay-perfumed sweetness of barn dwellers, I finally managed to get him to stop long enough to enable me to take several deep breaths of that wonderful smell that many farm kids learn to savor like a rose gardener smells her roses. Then, at a somewhat more sedate pace, he pushed me ahead of him through the thick crowds that always appeared on Saturdays. After passing through the length of the building, he stopped pushing me and excitedly asked what I thought. 
   I immediately began to tell him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his current mental state, however, I never got but one sentence out before he yelled over my voice, "No, no, no! There, there, there! We could do that!!" As I looked to where his extended finger was shakily pointing I saw stacks of neat, roomy, cages. On closer inspection it was clear there were plump, furry, animals inside in pairs. "RABBITS!", he shouted excitedly. Then he went on to recite a rather longish spiel that he must have gotten from the little blond girl tending to the bunnies.
   Before long it became clear that he had in his mind to enlist me into a partnership as farmers of rabbits. To say I was reluctant would be a gross understatement. Still, he persisted, rambling on  for several minutes between deep gulps of air until, seemingly spent, he went toward the little girl. I mean little as smaller physically than our brawny 12 year old boyish frames. At least that's how we thought of ourselves as compared to the townies due mostly to healthy appetites supplemented by hours of farm work daily. She looked up at his approach and he went all quiet like & she got a pinkish glow. Not surprisingly, years later they wed and together raised two fine sons who now work in the airline industry as cargo pilots and Dot still lives in their North Carolina 'retirement cottage'.
   Before long, they came over to me and Johnny introduced her as Dot, from a town not too far from ours, but not easily accessible from our town without driving along a long dog-leg shaped route. Seemingly suddenly struck dumb, he nudged her gently and nodded, whereupon she started telling me all the ins and outs of her rabbit raising business and how her father marketed them in the city when he delivered hogs to the meat packing company there. Although I was hesitant, Johnny was completely taken by the idea, very likely as a result of 12-year-old male hormones reacting to Dot's smile.
   Telling him I'd think on it while trying to figure out a way to get his mind off the possibility of rabbity riches and good times ahead, I led back toward the rides on the midway. But he had plans, plans far too important to be put aside just for carnival rides. Seems he'd even discussed it with his dad, who told him if he could raise the money he'd give him the use of the old goat shed attached to his barn. Now I saw my part in the plan! He knew full well that I'd been saving up to purchase a transistor radio to listen to at night. We had no electricity on the farms and my Uncle R was usually occupied listening to the Red Sox games on the old battery powered unit we had. Transistor radios were fairly new then and had seemed to me a perfect way to have access to the stories played out each evening on the local station in the little city nearby. John's plan was to join forces with him providing place, cages, and food and I'd be the purchaser of the bunnies. I resisted until Sunday, when he finally convinced me to use some of my radio money to buy three females and a male from his newly found blonde friend.
   Move forward in time about eight months, our operation was doing really well. We had loads of critters and were breeding as fast as the market would absorb. I had my money back and all looked rosy. Until, that is, came word from Johnny's dad that he was stopping all meat raising operations and most of the dairy too as he'd been offered a job at the local saw mill. The money was more than farming, the work steady, and the pay as sawyer was good. Still, we persevered, thinking up various ways to get the critters to the packing house. The local meat shop took some, but we were breeding far more than he could handle. Then the cold hand of reality hit as we realized that without the various feeds from his dad we'd have to buy our own. This, plus the cost of having another farmer cart our goods to market, sounded the death knell for our profit margin. 
   Well, we kept on wishing and hoping for awhile, until we realized that rabbits were really, really, really good at multiplying. Even our efforts to segregate the males fell to ill fortune. One little fella had himself a grand old time until we caught on to the fact our gals were expecting again. Disaster! As the population rapidly started to fill the place we decided action was sorely needed. 
   Being boys and somewhat too clever for our own good, we hatched a plan. Not having buyers for our brood, we decided killing them was unnecessary and crude. Our brilliant(?) plan? In the lake abutting the farms to the south was a mid-sized island with nothing on it but grass, brush, and a smattering of trees. That became the destination for our boatloads of caged rabbits until all were safely deposited on the island. To our way of thinking, we were happy, bunnies were happy, all was right in the world again.
   Until, one late summer afternoon a game warden and a Fish & Wildlife Department truck with two men in it pulled into our yard. Seems they were stuck with a problem concerning the overpopulation of the island with rabbits and needed F's road for easier access. For some reason, this rabbit crowd was unacceptable to them. Well, my Uncles suggested a way to solve the problem. Put foxes and/or coyotes on the island to eat the bunny excess. And so the island, by now called 'Rabbit Island' by everyone around, got a fresh injection of fox and coyotes. Problem solved.
   Except, it seems that both predators aren't shy about swimming to the place once the island inhabitants somehow alerted them of the bountiful bunny supply. By spring, the State Wildlife folks were back, but no longer taking suggestions. Seems they no longer had a bunny problem, but a canine problem as apparently a rabid animal had gotten to the island before developing the fear of water. Now the worry was that the disease would spread ashore as eagles, owls, & hawks were now present in high numbers, having spotted rabbits, fox, and coyote snacks for the grabbing.
   Finally, somebody at the headquarters of the Warden Service made the blanket decision that all island critters must be either trapped or shot and destroyed to prevent a rabies epidemic. This apparently was a costly undertaking if the local gossip was to be believed. John and I kept a very low profile during all this and let the F & W guys think all the trouble was begun by a few rabbits that 'must have crossed over the ice' and infested the place. That explanation was fine with us. We were a bit sad how it ended, but even today few know why the place is referred to as 'Rabbit Island' since there aren't any rabbits there. Just a few birds. 
   Seems we young lads had made a lasting impression after all. Until next we meet, be well and take care.
So cute too!