At the time we lived in a house on the edge of my elementary school's property. A large field of tall grass stretched from our backyard to the school itself. In the middle of the field a mother rabbit had a burrow where she cared for her very young babies.
One day the school custodian mowed the field of tall grass. Of course the tractor passed right over the rabbit burrow, which scared the mother rabbit. She ran off, leaving the babies unattended.
I don't remember how my Mom knew that there was a rabbit burrow far off in the field, nor do I remember how she knew that the tractor had scared away the mother rabbit. I just know that one day I came home from school and was thrilled to find my mother's bedroom slippers filled with sleeping baby rabbits. For a six year old boy it was an unexpected delight.
My Mom had called a veterinarian about this small crisis. The vet had told her that the mother rabbit would not return to the burrow after being so badly frightened. He also told her not to try raising the baby rabbits on her own; he said they would die no matter what she did. The babies wouldn't suffer. They would just continue sleeping peacefully until they died.
No one who knew my mother would have been surprised when she ignored the vet's advice. Her love of animals forced her to take some kind of action. The rabbit-filled slippers on our kitchen floor were evidence of this.
My Mom didn't know what to feed the babies. They were clearly too young for solid food, and since stores didn't sell rabbit formula, she used her imagination. She put some dry oatmeal into a saucepan of milk and cooked it for a while. Then she strained off the oatmeal and set the liquid aside. When the liquid was cool enough, she took the rabbits out of the slippers and fed them a little of the milk-oatmeal liquid with a medicine dropper. Each baby drank only a very small amount. After a baby was fed she put it back in her slipper. The baby would crawl as far as it could into the toe of the slipper and return to sleep. In a short time, all were fed and sleeping soundly again.
I watched the first feeding with wide-eyed fascination. The baby rabbits were better than having a puppy in the house. I wanted to help take care of the rabbits, but my Mom was reluctant; she said the babies had to be handled very gently, and she was afraid I might accidentally hurt them. She let me hold one for a moment, and promised that as soon as they got older she would let me help with them.
The baby rabbits had to be fed frequently, 24 hours a day. My Mom didn't complain. She was determined that the babies would live. The milk-oatmeal liquid must have been adequate food for the rabbits because after a few days they were not only alive, they were growing.
Before long the rabbits were too big to all fit in the slippers, so we put them in a cardboard box with a bath towel in the bottom for warmth and softness. The babies were spending more time awake now, though they still slept a lot. Since they were active, I wanted to play with them, but my Mom said no, they were wild animals. If they became too tame they wouldn't be able to survive on their own in the wild. I realized then that these rabbits would not be a permanent addition to our family. We were only caring for them until they were old enough to be set free. I felt sad about this, and I spent as much time as I could with them, mostly watching them. Even as an observer, having the rabbits there seemed like an adventure.
This story is running too long for one entry. I'll finish it tomorrow.