Once upon a time there were a man and a woman who loved to garden.
They loved the digging, the planting, the mulching, the watering, weeding and tending. They loved the nurturing. Its what they did.
Together they battled shape-shifting dragons and storms to preserve their harvest, both physical and spiritual. In their often meandering wheelbarrow travels they encountered vertical scaling squirrels; a wandering, egg-laden mama snapping turtle; blacksnakes and copperheads; fearless, clueless herds of deer; ticks, slugs and skinks; and every species of ant, worm and spider known to man. The woman wore colorful gloves; the man always had a shovel handy.
There came to pass one spring when it was just all too much, or at least thats what the man thought. He was tired of nature. Splintered pine tree branches ringed the house and garden, hung up among other trees, each one leaning dangerously, and weeds were moving swiftly in all directions. He went to sleep thinking, We dont really need a garden this year, do we?
And then one morning he woke up thinking of those ripe, juicy, fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes in July. He went out early to clear the overgrown garden. The weeds were so thick and ropey they clogged the rototiller tines. After an hour he was only an inch deep in the soil. Who will help me steer this bouncing, roaring beast? he thought to himself.
Just then his wife (they were married, you know) came out with a tall, dripping glass of ice water and called over the revving engine, Why dont you let me take a turn? And so round and round she went, in wider and wider paths, turning the soil deeper and deeper, darker and darker. They were on their way.
Until all of a sudden she stopped abruptly and ran out of the garden to find the man. Shed seen something in the tall grass just inside the overgrown edge of the garden that shed never seen before.
Now over the years, the man had fortified their garden against all animal intruders. At first, it was decorative (and comical), a 2-foot wire fence. At least it was a border. A 4- foot fence was added a few years later. When all the deer in Hillsborough showed up to laugh at that, he went nuclear with an 8-foot hurricane defense. Bring it on, he smiled.
Noticing that the man and the woman still hadnt started their garden, a whole month later than usual, a pregnant mama bunny had squeezed through the fence and made a nest for her family. And thats what the woman had seen. Four baby bunnies, curled together in the brush, eyes closed, ears pinned back, six inches from the spinning, chopping steel tines of the ground-shaking rototiller.
An ethical quandary had presented itself. A Tale of Peter Rabbit in reverse. There is nothing cuter or more powerless than a nest, in the wild, of baby bunnies. You could hold all four in the palm of your hand. Leaning over them, the man and woman could see every breath. Of course they knew not to get too close, not to disturb their nest and not to touch the babies. But it was hard.
Parents themselves, the husband and wife knew the mother was close by, maybe even watching.
What should we do? they asked. In her previous life, the wife had been in educational media and website design, so she went straight to the Internet. Cottontails born in the wild without a mother, raised by man, rarely survive. Mothers often leave their nests during the day, coming back in the evening and early morning to nurse their young.
The bunnies eyes would open at five to seven days, their ears would pop up in nine days. They needed to be kept away from dogs and cats. Thats one reason the mama chose inside the garden fence to raise her family. They would be safe there.
As they planted tomatoes and green peppers away from the nest, the man and the woman would steal looks at the discreet leaf and grass pile bordered by a few protective logs. They peered through the fence, from the outside, and talked in whispers about the cottontail family in their midst, asking each other for Flopsy or Mopsy updates.
The summer days rushed by and the bunnies grew. The man and woman never saw the mother. They laughed at the irony of planting a lifetime food supply 20 feet from the nest; the mama would be so relieved. The entire bunny family could choose cilantro, dill and basil when they got the munchies.
One morning, there were flies around the nest, a bad sign. One of the babies had died. The man and the woman feared for the others. As they knelt over the nest to shoo the flies away and check on the other cottontails nestled together, the biggest bunny, eyes wide open, extended to a full 6 inches, leaped two feet from the nest, and hopped away safely.
The husband and wife never found the cottontails hole in the fence, though they didnt look very hard.