The last few weeks I’ve been playing cat and mouse with this little fur-ball. Since all wild bunnies look similar, I don’t know for sure if it’s the same bunny, but I’d like to think so. It’s almost always feeding in the same part of the pasture every morning when I go out to feed the horses. I’ve been watching it since it was less than half the size it is now and it lets me get pretty darn close before casually hopping off to a safer distance, which usually isn’t more than a few short hops away.
When I was about ten years old I caught a wild baby rabbit. My siblings and I were skipping rocks from the bank of a pond when I suddenly saw several very tiny bunnies struggling to swim to the shore. I have no idea how they came to be in the water, but I suspect our hunting dog happened upon them and when they fled their only “safe” escape was into the murky, catail filled water. I didn’t hesitate, but plunged into the pond fully clothed and tried to save the babies. Unfortunately, I only managed to catch one.
My parents were not particularly thrilled that their daughter was soaked to the bone with smelly pond water and insisting we keep the bunny to save it from a fate I couldn’t bear to contemplate. In spite of my father’s insistence that wild animals (and babies in particular) tend to fare poorly in captivity, I saw no other alternative. I desperately wanted to try to save the little critter’s life. Having rescued the bunny from drowning, I felt personally responsible for it’s questionable future.
After grumbling a warning that caring for the bunny would be my sole responsibility, my parents gave me a small plastic container and a towel, which I used to swaddle the shaking baby. I carefully dried it’s wet, matted fur as I murmured soothing words that I hoped would calm it’s badly shaken state of mind. As I cupped the little body in my hands I fell instantly in love with my frail, tiny charge. I hoped against all hope that it wouldn’t die, but my father’s warning hung heavily in the back of my mind. I’d been raised with plenty of exposure to wildlife and nature, and deep down in my heart I knew my father was right; the bunny would probably not survive the night. Despite the small ache of dread I felt, I proposed to my siblings that we name the baby. Several suggestions were offered, but after watching the little tyke warm up and start taking an interest in his surroundings I dubbed him Twitchell, for the way his little nose twitched, constantly testing the air.
When we got home my father dug through the medicine cabinet and found an eye dropper. We warmed some milk on the stove and I tried to feed the baby bunny with the dropper. Much to my parents credit, they didn’t try to take over and I eventually had a moderate degree of success. It’s a wonder I didn’t drown the poor thing trying to feed it, but with a little more practice both the bunny and I got the system down. The next morning my stomach was in knots as I approached our makeshift bunny hutch. It felt like Christmas … I was excited to see if Twitchell had survived the night, but I carried a touch of steely resolve against disappointment in case he hadn’t. Much to my delight, not only had Twitchell survived, he looked enormously stronger!
True to their word, my parents insisted I come up with a way to feed Twichell when I had to return to school the following week. We lived on the bus route and due to a nearby busy road, I’d never been allowed to walk or bike to school. But now that I had a baby bunny to feed I was going to have to devise a way to get home at lunchtime. I proposed that I ride my bike, which meant riding to school, then riding home at lunch, then riding back to school for the afternoon, then riding back home at the end of the school day. Like any typical kid, I thought this was an easy solution, but little did I know just how much bike riding that would entail! Although my mother was a stay at home mom, the idea that she’d provide transportation was never even a consideration. Back then, parents didn’t cater to their children’s every whim; I asked (begged, even) for this responsibility and they were not going to come to my rescue and “fix it.”
So I rode my bike back and forth to school multiple times a day. I barely had time to eat lunch myself after biking home, feeding Twitchell and cleaning his cage. But I didn’t care. I was thrilled that the baby continued to thrive and was starting to actually enjoy my company. My parents often reminded me that wild animals belong in the wild and I would have to release Twitchell when he was old enough to find food for himself. I did my best to understand this, but deep down I hoped they’d change their opinion when they saw how much I loved Twitchell and how dependent he was on me.
Fortunately, my parents never wavered. When it became obvious that Twitchell was old and healthy enough to fend for himself, my parents made me set a release date. As the day drew near my heart filled with dread. I knew we doing the right thing, but I felt protective of Twitchell and I didn’t want to see him go. When the fateful day came, my parents made a family event out of it. We all dressed for a hike, I put Twichell in his portable cage and the family headed for the fields and meadows at the end of our street. I remember Dad held my hand as we walked and talked about how Twitchell would be happiest if he was free. He told me he was proud of what I’d done; how I’d saved the little bunny, then stuck to my promise to care for him through thick and thin. But now it was time to do the hardest part. I had to let Twichell be what he was meant to be: Free.
We picked a nice place where I thought the grass was good and there was plenty of cover if a roaming dog or hawk happened by. I reached down and opened the door of the cage, half expecting Twitchell to come bolting out. But he didn’t. Not quite sure what to do with his freedom, Twitchell took his time coming out and hopping a few feet away. He ate a bit of grass then looked at us, waiting perhaps for me to come collect him like I usually did. When I didn’t move toward him he hopped a few more feet and continued to eat. I closed the cage door and we began to walk away. When we had gone a couple of yards we turned and watched as Twitchell hopped into the long grass and vanished from sight. “Goodbye little bunny” I whispered. “Have a good life!”
From that point on I’ve called every wild bunny Twitchell. Each morning I look forward to seeing my young pasture bunny. “Good morning Twitchell!” I call to the little critter. The bunny wiggles his tiny nose, stares in my direction for a few seconds, then drops his head and eats while I pause to remember the Twitchell of my youth. As a child I learned wild animals need their freedom to survive. As an adult I’ve learned humans aren’t all that different.