our baby rabbits eating pink clover
Here's the conclusion to the story I began in my last entry.
The rabbits were no longer tiny. My Mom decided that it was time for them to start eating solid food. She called the veterinarian again to ask him what to feed them. He was frankly amazed that the rabbits were still alive under my mother's care. He recommended pink clover as the best food for the rabbits. This left us with the problem of finding enough of it to keep the rabbits fed.
My Dad drove my Mom and I around the outskirts of town looking for pink clover. He clearly found the drive to be an annoyance. I didn't understand why he had never shared our enthusiasm for raising the rabbits. He had little patience with the babies, and searching for pink clover was obviously pushing his limits. My Dad wasn't mean to us about it; he just acted like all the fuss was unnecessary. The rabbits were so much fun to me that I was confused by his attitude.
Finally, to my Dad's relief, we found a field where pink clover grew in abundance. We didn't know how much we would need, so we picked a lot. Back at home, the rabbits nibbled at the clover at first, but quickly began eating large amounts. One rabbit would start eating at the flower end of a stalk, and another rabbit would start eating at the opposite end. The two would meet somewhere in the middle.
We discovered that picked clover would only stay fresh for about 24 hours, so we made daily trips across town to get more, much to my Dad's displeasure. We also learned that even young rabbits are good at leaping. One day a rabbit jumped out of the box and ran behind the refrigerator. My Dad had to pull the refrigerator out from the wall to rescue the rabbit. By the time he had the young one back in the box, my Dad was stewing about the "confounded rabbits." After that we kept a window screen over the top of the box with books to weigh down the corners.
The rabbits grew rapidly after that. My Mom said that soon it would be time to set them free. She hoped they would be able to adapt to living on their own. The rabbits were still wild: They wouldn't let us pick them up without a struggle, and petting them was out of the question. There was an exception to this. One rabbit was tame. We could pick him up and hold him; he actually seemed to like it. Looking back on it now, I'm afraid he may have been too dependent on us to survive on his own.
One day my Mom decided it was time to set the rabbits free. We all got into the car; my job was to sit in the back seat with the rabbits and make sure they didn't get out of the box. We drove across town to the field of pink clover. I knew that an exciting time in my life was ending.
We walked out into the field where my Dad set the box down and turned it on its side. Some of the rabbits rocketed instantly from the box and out of sight. Two others ran a short distance away and stopped, apparently confused by their freedom. They crouched for a minute, then began exploring their new surroundings. The tame rabbit remained inside the box, unwilling to leave. My Dad turned the box over, depositing the rabbit on the ground. Tears threatened to fill my eyes; I could see that we were betraying the young rabbit. We had been a foster family to him. My Mom gave the tame rabbit some words of encouragement, then she and my Dad started walking back towards the car. After a moment, I followed. From some distance away, I looked back to see the tame rabbit still sitting there. I couldn't tell what he was looking at, but I felt certain that he was watching us walk away and was wondering why we were leaving him. I had a great sense of loss and guilt at abandoning him. He was my favorite of all the rabbits.
Leaving the rabbits was hard after caring for them for what seemed like a long time. All of the rabbits had lived, largely due to the care my mother had given them, despite the veterinarian's dismal prediction. I should have been pleased that our efforts had helped the rabbits grow up to be healthy, strong, and hopefully ready to live on their own. But instead our house seemed empty without the rabbits, and a sadnesssettled over me that I hadn't experienced in that way before.
That night, lying in bed in the dark, I thought about the rabbits in the darkness of that field. Was each rabbit lonely and afraid, facing the night alone for the first time in its life? Or had they gathered together as brothers and sisters to share comfort and companionship against a world much larger than any they had ever known? I drifted off to sleep in the security of my family and friends. I hope the rabbits did the same.