Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

We live in a ranch home on a corner in a modest subdivision. But with all the wildlife around here, you’d think we live on an actual ranch.

Last week I wrote about all the birds – from mallards to robins – who’ve taken up residence in these parts. This week I have a darker story to tell.

Our robin friend, named “Fern” by my daughter, worked for days building her nest in the cozy hollow of a wreath on our gate. She soon laid three delicate turquoise eggs and sat on them stiffly through two days of hard rain. My daughter and I noticed one afternoon she wasn’t on the nest, so we took a peek. Only two eggs remained, and what was left of the other one sat in the grass, half a shell oozing blood.

My daughter, lover of all creatures, tried to solve the mystery—tears collecting in her eyes. We thought Fern would return to her nest to care for the other two eggs. A week has passed since we found the crushed egg. Fern did not return. Classic foreshadowing.

The warmest day last week, I worked on a painting project in the back yard that’s been brewing in my head all winter. As I glanced around the yard, a tiny lump of gray fur caught my eye: a baby rabbit hiding along the fence. Staring for a while, I could see it was alive, so I walked quietly around the yard to find its litter-mates.

The baby had four tiny siblings, three of which had been neatly decapitated by some hungry creature. The fourth one was still intact, except for a little notch in its fur that signaled a broken neck, its eyes wide open.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” I said to myself like some prim gardener, scooping up each one with my shovel. Slightly in shock, I laid them at the side of the house in a dirt patch where grass refuses to grow. I had to come up with a disposal plan before my daughter came home from school.

After dithering a while, I decided to leave the remains and let her decide if she wanted to see them. She wants to be a veterinarian someday, so it might be interesting to see the innards of our animal friends.

When she got home I told her something very sad had happened. Fully informed, she bravely set out to have a look. After making out the remaining body parts, tears were streaming down her face.

“Who did this?” she cried.

“Some animal that was hungry,” I said. “Maybe a cat, maybe a fox.”

“It’s the circle of life,” she said through tears. So I sang a few lines, doing my best Elton John. She nodded.

“But guess what: there’s a survivor,” I added, having saved the good news. I led her over to the terrified rabbit by the fence.

“Aw! His name is Belvidere,” she said, matter-of-factly.

The fat mother-rabbit returned to the yard not once but twice that afternoon. We watched her glance around in the general direction of the dead. She hasn’t returned since.

Later that evening when we went out to the backyard, Belvidere was gone. At my daughter’s direction we bowed heads and prayed for Belvidere, though I feared he was already a goner.

Truthfully, I don’t even like rabbits. They destroy the garden bite by tiny bite. But I do hope little Belvidere is out there somewhere, learning the hard truths of creature life and keeping this suburban ranch a little bit wild.