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Soon he is experimenting with hopping, and we hear him bouncing off the sides of the box at night. One day, I look in the box and find that he has escaped. With the help of the dog, who has fallen into the role of a protective parent, we find him quivering in a corner of the book room, a couple of dust bunnies drifting by his side. Clearly it is time for him to stop being a guest and start being a rabbit -- but is he ready?-and am I ready? For several days, I take him outside and put him in the grass. At first, he seems to move little and not respond, but soon he is darting here and there, nibbling at his favorite foods in their natural state, and sometimes almost disappearing into the grass I have left uncut exclusively for him. His eyes, set on the sides of his head, are wide open now, and scan almost 360 degrees. Crouching down and looking at him from a few inches away I can see the sweep of the landscape reflected across one dilated pupil, clover bobbing in the breeze, the world funneling in. I snap my fingers a yard to his right, a yard to his left. The little ears twitch in response. Nothing wrong with his radar. But will he use it effectively in the wild?


Rabbits, I learn quickly, for all their legendary intellect, have only two responses to danger at any moment: run or hide. I get the dog to engage him in a gentle game of tag, forcing the baby rabbit to run here and there, searching for cover. A neighbor, pulling into the driveway for a visit watches us at our "rabbit-in-training exercises" as the dog and bunny race about on the lawn. Her mouth drops open, and I realize what a strange activity this is. But as I watch the dog race past his playmate several times without seeing him, I know the strategy is working.


The next day the trainee very nearly escapes us during field exercises, and with the weather warming, it is clearly time to say goodbye. I take him to the end of the unused access road near the field where the ground is rich with clover and sourgrass. There are pines on one side, and leafy forest on the other. I put him down, and kneel once more to look into the mirror of that tiny eye in the rippling grass. I watch him pondering the choices of his being. Shall I run or hide? Freeze or fly? Will running make me lucky or transform me into lunch? This is the simple calculus he must master in the days and months ahead. Either choice may be deadly. He may bolt and attract the eye of a predator. He may freeze in the middle of the road as a truck roars toward him.


And now I know I am about to become one of the dangers he must escape. Not one of those dangers that swoops or dashes, but one of the shadowy, towering, two-footed kind. A predator with the eyes in front to hunt-and in front of those eyes, the half moon of a driving wheel, a plowshare ripping the prairie, a rifle barrel aiming at dinner. I wonder how many times I will walk past him this summer, concealed in the grass by my feet. I wonder if he will remember the ride in the dog's mouth, the great dusty cave of the living room, the flicker of the fire, the warm milk descending from a ceiling sky? I glance back as I walk away, but he is already oblivious to me. I have been replaced by the fragrance and mystery of the green field.


I discover I am humming some damn thing from the seventies:

I am dreaming of the dolphins in the sea

And sometimes I wonder,

Do they ever dream of me?

But behind me, there is rabbit and nothing but rabbit, burrowing deep into the heart of clover.



Rod Clark, Editor