Notes from Zone 6b - love and loss in the lettuce patch
June 19th, 2012
01:00 PM ET
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Eatocracy's Managing Editor Kat Kinsman attempts to vegetable garden on a roof deck in Brooklyn, NY in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b. Feel free to taunt, advise or encourage her efforts as this series progresses.

Very early one summer morning, my husband crept into my home office, and was alarmed to find two rabbits staring at him. It wasn't the lagomorphic presence that rattled him - just that there should have been a third pair of eyes blinking back.

He ducked down and peered deeply into the cluster of old potato chip boxes that Claudette had fashioned into into a makeshift warren. No bunny. It was then he noticed that the dog fence cordoning off her living quarters had been nudged apart just wide enough to let her tiny body slip through. She'd made a break for it, and there was only one place she could have gone.

With his heart in his throat, Douglas tiptoed through the French doors (which must have blown open in the middle of the night) onto the roof deck, which was one story up and not fenced in. He braced for the worst - the remnants of a battle with the neighbor's cat, or a small, still body on the pavement below. Suddenly, a small flash of white caught his eye and relief melted him down to a crouch, eye level with our little rabbit, who'd nestled herself down into the garden's lettuce patch for a sun-drenched nap and a snack. She'd earned it.

As long as I've gardened in Brooklyn, I had Claudette by my side as I planted, watered, weeded, fussed and feasted. In addition to being a calming, charming, constant presence, she'd been an integral part of the process. For a gardener doing their best to avoid chemical fertilizers and soil amendments, rabbit poop is black gold.

Lagomorphs (hares, rabbits and pikas) eat only vegetables, fruit and grasses and process them in a deeply efficient, if somewhat gross way. Components of food that aren't absorbed into the body on the first pass are excreted in the form of a soft, rubbery cecotropes and by the rabbit. The rest comes out in the form of dry little pellets, chock-a-block with nitrogen and phosphorus that make for unparalleled garden compost.

So while rabbits are the bane of suburban and rural gardeners, digging up and scarfing down every bit of produce they can get their greedy little paws on, I reap all the rewards of bunny ownership, and very few of the risks. Except for one.

On an afternoon one year ago, I went downstairs to get Claudette a cold grape from the refrigerator. When I crept back into the room to share it with her, one pair of eyes blinked back at me instead of two, and Claudie's body now laid lifeless in her potato chip box. The remaining rabbit, Digory, had lost his bonded partner - sweet, placid, fluffy Maude - the year before, and now he sensed that something else in the room had changed. He pressed his plush face against the bars at the edge of his pen and watched as I slumped to the floor and howled.

I'd guessed that Claudette wasn't much longer for the world. At nearly ten years old, my feisty and voracious rabbit had been slowing down. Her once-solid body felt wispy and brittle-boned as I ran my hand down its silken length. Even the night before, though she'd purred as I stroked her body for the three, four, five thousandth time in our life together, her fire was beginning to dim. I knew it was just a matter of time, and thought about letting her hop out to the lettuce patch, but she was just too weak. I sat in the garden until my husband got home, certain that there was some sort of "circle of life" lesson to be found if I scrabbled in the dirt long enough, but if there was, I was too sad to hear it.

This spring is the first I've gardened without Claudette, and I feel it deeply. Yes, she was just a rabbit - a pest to some, a dull pet to others and a tasty meal to many - but for a very long time, she was mine, I was hers and the garden was ours together. Some part of her still nourishes the soil, my soul and everything that grows in it, and I'll think of her every time I nibble a few leaves from the lettuce patch.

Previously - Down the rabbit hole

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. New York Mets Jersey

    We're often confused at the next step to take, making pros and cons lists until our eyes bleed and
    New York Mets Jersey

    October 16, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
  2. Jacobunny

    I echo the other comments here and extend to you my deepest condolences.
    Thank you for describing the amazing bond people can generate with rabbits.
    Hopefully, more folks will consider and treat bunnies as pets and not as livestock.

    June 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  3. Bunbun

    thank you for highlighting how great bunnies are as house pets. I write this as my house rabbit sits on my foot in his usual pose as I work from home. Sadly my attempts at lettuce growing aren't as great but in the meantime he's enjoying his organic cilantro :)

    June 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  4. SnapinTurtle

    I never had rabbits, I had guinea pigs. Still, this story cracked open a whole world of love and hurt that I shared with my little critter friends. My Merlin passed away 14 yrs ago, and it still grabs me unexpectedly. Then there was Maggie, then Ivy and Chloe together. They are charming animals and excellent study companions. I completely appreciate the bond with Claudette, and her friends.

    June 20, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  5. Mom of Three

    I have owned three rabbits, and even though they were mainly inside bunnies, the joy of bringing them out to the garden with me when I weeded and planted was so great. My last bunny died a year ago, and he is missed. I feel your pain, but how lucky would another rabbit be if he or she got to share that with you in Claudette's honor? The idea that anyone can "replace" an animal is stupid. You can't just go "get another one." But with each new pet I get, it's a totally different relationship. They are all rewarding in their own ways. I hope you can share your garden in the sun with another lucky rabbit someday, when you are ready.

    June 20, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  6. Tiffany

    I'm sorry you lost your friend, their lives are too short. I'm sure Claudette felt your love and care deeply.

    June 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  7. marragor

    Thank you for sharing.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  8. aljo

    When your heart is ready, contact Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. They have some wonderful bunnies that need a home and who would love to help you with your gardening chores. I'm very sorry about Claudette. It's hard to lose a life companion.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  9. lindaluttrell

    What an adorable story! I did not know "rabbit poop" was such a rich fertilizer. Pets enrich our lives so much that it makes it so hard to give them up. When I have finally mourned the loss of one dear little friend, I know there are many more out there needing a good home. Thanks so much for the endearing story, bunnies are so precious!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  10. Mark Glicker

    Poor rabbit.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  11. bunnyowner1

    Oy, I just cried at work. I am a rabbit owner myself, and this just broke my heart while simultaneously uplifting it.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  12. die die

    :( so sorry.

    June 19, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  13. jillmarie

    Sorry to hear about your rabbit! Pets are true family members, and it is devastaing to lose them.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  14. JellyBean

    Wonderful read, thank you.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  15. Truthâ„¢@Kat

    Thank you for a sensitive and deep composition. Please accept my condolences, as anyone who has ever lost a companion animal knows just how devastating it can be. Be well!

    June 19, 2012 at 7:52 am |
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