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.
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 then...re-ingested 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