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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has a Story: Boy, rabbit learn hard lessons at a young age

By Josh Dean, Arnada
Published: June 10, 2023, 6:03am

On every farm of a decent age, there’s a series of barns in various states of decay. Like the rings of a tree, each barn marks a passage of time — another generation of good, hard people making good of the land. I recognize those people and their barns in rural Washington and Oregon today. And they often cast me into memories of a now distant place and time: my childhood in rural New Zealand.

I was told my grandfather found the baby rabbit beneath a floorboard while picking through such a barn. My mother, grandfather and stepfather stood in a semicircle about me as I clutched their small gift to my stomach.

I remember it was so carefully still, its hot little body tense and almost indiscernibly quivering. I knew it was precious, in part because of its fragility, and that it was special, a sort of honor, to hold it. I did not understand the risk, or the problems inherent to the event. I only understood awe and that little ball of heat radiating through my sweater.

I was a boy who awoke in the small hours of the morning to spot opossums with a flashlight so my brothers could shoot them. Even though I never once found an opossum (I think I didn’t have the patience), I believe that had I struck upon one, I would have stuck my light to it strongly — suspending it rigid and exposed so that my brothers could bring it low. For what? Well, possums are pests in New Zealand.

But, to tell it true, today I doubt I could confidently shine my torch upon a possum as my brother raised his air rifle.

Perhaps the series of events of loss on that farm changed me. Perhaps a conscience grows with age, or I have just lived in cities — without the fields and the sporadic spilling of blood — for too long.

It didn’t strike me strange that the dogs stared at me, since the adults all stared as I clutched my prize. So it was a surprise when that taut little body, which had been so carefully still — that I had cradled so gingerly in fear of hurting it — suddenly snapped, leaping into the exposed air.

I suppose it saw its chance. But sadly, so too did the dogs, and one caught that baby rabbit before it could grace the ground with its growing legs and paws (which had been carefully building in power to avoid just this sort of event).

I had held it, and then I had not been able to hold it, and my love for it — that warm feeling in my stomach, commingled with its warmth upon my stomach — collapsed with rot and guilt.

The adults let the dog keep the rabbit. It was my fault, and they let him keep it. It was dead and done — as much as the moment was dead and done — and now it was time to go back to work. But how could our little rabbit, in a single mistaken moment, go so brutally and so shockingly from a precious rarity to a chew toy?

The dog was not concerned as he shook that rabbit to death, and couldn’t have understood how he shook me also. Me, who I believe he loved as a dog loves his boy. Did he know that it was not long ago that he had been small and hot against my stomach? Did he not remember the kindness I had shown him when I rushed out in front of sprinting horses — many times larger than either of us, I’ll add — so that I could scoop him out of harm’s way?

I know now that it’s just what dogs do. Just like trying for an escape is what rabbits do. And failing, and learning, is what little boys do.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.