At the break of a dawn last spring, out of the corner of my eye, when I caught the first fleeting glimpse of a baby bunny running across my backyard, I had written it off as my illusion. I thought it was just a large squirrel that I was imagining to be a rabbit. I wasn’t. It really was a cottontail rabbit. In the following days and months, I saw many more. Some days, three or four at a time.
I spent hours looking at them munching away Dandelions in perfect silence. Now I know, rabbits have a particular way of gobbling flowers. After plucking a stem from the ground, they always start chewing it from the root side, the little flower-head dangling all the while – which they relish in the end. It must be the most delicious. My happiness in watching them was so elemental and abundant, and, filled me to the brim with such transcendental peace, it almost daunted me. Those moments were sacred, and I folded my hands in gratitude.
How can one take this privilege for granted? When they wandered about in the yard, I would not step outside, lest I frighten them, even the slightest. I would not let anyone touch the so called weeds – White Clovers, Daisies and Dandelions – their staple food.
This year too, that food has popped up in plenty, scattered all over the ground, perhaps more amply than last year. I have also kept a beautiful earthen plate on the grass, filled with fresh water every day. But, while spring is swiftly transforming into summer, I haven’t seen any sign of their return.
Some evenings, with a pang of yearning, I stare at the hole in the backyard fence from where they entered at twilight hours, ever so quietly. Ethereal orangish rays of the setting sun filter through that hole, making it look almost other-worldly and deepening the mystery of the angels whose gateway it is. I have whispered in my heart and also called them aloud – to come back.
In a lyrical poem from the Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, a sublime poet of silence & solitude, Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875–December 29, 1926) writes these invigorating words:
Go to the limits of your longings
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
While I await that much craved glimpse of two big ears entering through the fence hole and ponder the enigmatic ways this all – the universe and the beings within it, interconnect and interact with one another, I came across a serendipitous solace to my soul. I discovered a tender story providing timeless wisdom on how hope, love and attachment work – a century after it was published in 1922. Only the classic storybooks for children are capable of imparting such kaleidoscopic insights in the lightest, gentlest of ways. This one is called – a The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams (July 22, 1881-September 4, 1944)
The story is about a small boy. Among his many toys, there was a stuffed, velveteen rabbit gifted to him on a Christmas Eve. Though he liked it, he quickly grew fascination for modern, mechanical toys that could move, jump or perform tricks that made them feel as more “real” as compared to a humble stuffed rabbit which could do no such things.
The poor little rabbit feels insignificant, but a stuffed Horse, the oldest toy in the nursery, tells the young rabbit about what it means to be “real” and how toys can become real if a child loves them enough.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
For some reason, one night the boy was given the velveteen rabbit to sleep with. From then on, the rabbit won his deep affection. It accompanied him everywhere he went. Be it daytime games or evening hugs, they were inseparable. Unfortunately once, the boy fell very ill with scarlet fever. As he started to recover, the doctor instructed to burn all his infected belongings, specially that stuffed rabbit the boy constantly kept close.
The rabbit who was so used to the boy’s boundless love is now lying on the top of an open garbage sack in the yard waiting to be dealt with by the gardener. It topples down on the ground. Old, worn out, faded and torn, the rabbit is thinking about his joyful years with the boy and this painful fate he is facing after all, when, a real tear comes out from his eye, and falls on the soil. A flower grows on that spot and a tiny fairy emerges from it. She tells the rabbit that because it was Real to the small boy, she would bring it to a place where he can be real to everyone. She kisses his nose and makes him a real rabbit.
In the truly moving final scene of this story – Months pass and when spring arrives again, the little boy goes back into the woods, where a wild rabbit comes to him. The rabbit looks to him markedly like his beloved lost toy though doesn’t know (nor will ever know) it’s the same. In a silent moment of unsaid, unknown recognition, both behold each other.
Although an event of reunion, this profound final moment of the children’s book feels like un unbearable loss too. Love is tough, but it has the power to make you Real. Love is about longing and yet letting go.
Before reading this wholly enriching story, I had attempted to seek remedy for my anxiety through a logical (also a much inferior and disappointing) route.
When I typed in Google – “Why bunnies are not coming back to my backyard?” – In the top most results, a number of articles appeared that catered to this question instead – “Why bunnies keep coming back to my backyard?”.
Also there, were – “How to get rid of rabbits from your garden”, “How to keep rabbits away from your lawn”, and, “How to keep rabbits out of your yard”.
Google search works by matching keywords of the most searched terms. I observed that my question contained almost all the words of the most frequently received queries by the search giant, but it broke my heart to see that most people had the objection against bunnies coming to them, and not the other way round. Their queries didn’t have a “not” in them.
“WHY bunnies are NOT coming back to my backyard?”.
Wouldn’t this question be more important, urgent and relevant? In a world where we are facing loss of natural world every single day, aren’t we good only as long as they are coming?
What would your question be, dear reader?
Article ©2022 Gyaneshwari Dave
Excerpt of “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”
From Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Riverhead Books, 2005)