The Way of the Rabbit
Poppy is a beautiful silver rabbit whom we got from the SPCA as a companion to Gaw the philosophical guinea pig. So first let me tell you about Gaw even though this is not his story.
Gaw was originally named Pansy for some completely inexplicable reason. We took him in because the people he was staying with couldn't keep pets. We couldn't either, but when I explained to our landlords that my son was so desperate to have a little friend that he was playing with and even naming the woodbugs, they relented. Gaw had a very sagacious look even when he purred. It was the look of a wise being.
Once in our own house, therefore, Poppy at the impressionable young age of 8 months, met Gaw and was no doubt taken with him. Gaw taught him the lessons of life and leadership and eating each day, though Poppy would play hooky once in a while by jumping up onto a chair and hiding from Gaw - or possibly that was the location he'd been instructed to do his meditations in ... these things are hard to know.
And when Gaw felt that Poppy had learned all that was needed, he decided to depart his guinea pig form and go on to other things, but again in his own style - Gaw died in front of Poppy, my son and myself, happily eating away in his 8th year of life.
Poppy was about 4 years old now and we went to the SPCA to find him a companion. Going into SPCA's is generally a painful experience - there are so many who yearn for a caring home, yet so few will ever know one. However, these rabbits were setup in luxury! Housed in large cages, they enjoyed a multilevel suite with all the amenities a rabbit could likely wish for. In fact, I rather doubt any of them wished to leave.
We brought back a very friendly fellow named Buster, a fairly large brown and white individual who had been treated for sinus problems. He got along wonderfully with Poppy for a few months and then died rather suddenly due to a common rabbit problem called middle ear infection. It was touching to see Poppy prod and lick the dead body of his companion trying to get some movement out of him. Rarely have I seen such diligence and caring given to a friend who is no more.
We went back to the SPCA to try again. The worker this time chose a very timid fellow who had been born there and just didn't want to leave. He was nevertheless taken since we humans have this habit of knowing what's best for everyone. His name was Martin and Poppy took as good care of him as he had done with Buster. Martin became Martoon and was eventually shortened to Toony.
Then we learned that we had a chance to bring Toony's mother, Pebbles, home as well. The intent was excellent, but like Toony, Pebbles had no wish to leave. Why should she? She'd lived at the SPCA for two years. It was her home. She too had been treated for a sinus problem, so we were a bit concerned, but we were enticed by the notion that two years was a long time to be without a home (even when you had one) and that the mother and son reunion would be a joyous one.
Well it wasn't. Neither Pebbles nor Toony had the slightest interest in each other and the former was even more timid than her son. Poppy did his best to make her feel at home, but she wasn't happy to be in the company of other rabbits.
My son, Kyron's music teacher, Iris at this time was breeding rabbits. Well, she really wasn't breeding them, but they were breeding at her place because she kept feeding them. Soon the population had grown to around 50 and they were wandering all over her property. Some of them weren't given a fair start in life and died early, but there were two we know of who beat the odds.
The first was Simon. He was a small rabbit who had to be taken in and cared for by Iris because he had serious health issues when he was very young. However, through her efforts he became stronger and it became possible to release him. Of course, he hung around with all the others as an ordinary member of the pack. Simon, though wasn't an ordinary rabbit. Despite the slow start he'd been granted, he had a sense of responsibility and eventually became the lead rabbit that all the others followed through the bluejay quarrels, the otter attack (which claimed the life of more than one rabbit), as well as the counter-attack on the feral cats which kept these away. It was a true 'underdog' story if there ever was one! Being the leader does not come without a price though and Simon died at the usual age of 5 which is fairly common for top rabbits. After Simon, Iris stopped the feeding and the rabbits gradually dispersed.
The other rabbit was a small white runt that was continually picked on by the bigger creatures. Iris not only felt sad for him, but thought he was likely in danger so she asked if Kyron could take him home. This little fellow's body was just a bit longer than his ears and so, primarily for that distinction he was named Yoda. He was put in a box in the bathroom with Pebbles initially just so that the two male rabbits didn't go after him and things went admirably the first day.
On the second day, we heard a great commotion in the bathroom. Yoda had gotten out of the box and Pebbles was chasing him all over the place. Fortunately, he was considerably faster so she never caught him.
Gradually all four rabbits were brought together and Poppy maintained an appropriate level of justice. While Yoda was small he protected him from Pebbles. When he got large enough to take care of himself he let them be. And when Yoda reversed the tables and started going after Pebbles, Poppy brought him back into line. He always tried his best to make Pebbles part of the group and succeeded to some extent, but we now feel it would have been much better to not have moved her from her place at the SPCA.
One day we returned home to find Pebbles dead apparently from the same middle ear infection that had killed Buster. It is curious that both had similar sinus issues, both had been treated by the same vet and both had died suddenly.
So now there were three and this is where our story really starts.
Poppy had already gained the respect of the other two and kept them nicely in line. Doing so required only a little effort since everyone was quite good-natured. Still, it didn't hurt to assert one's authority from time to time by chasing the other two around the room, which Poppy dutifully did.
Toony's reaction to this routine was expectedly submissive. He was for law and order so he went along and played timid. Yoda wasn't quite sure what to do though because he wasn't sure what a hierarchial structure really meant - in fact, we've never been sure whether he understood the concept of a structure in the first place. So while he would run away from a charging Poppy, it was unclear to everyone including himself as to why he was doing so or where he was running to. While he accepted Poppy as the leader, the deference was rather moot since he didn't seem to have a clue what a leader was. As far as Poppy was concerned though, it didn't matter.
While Poppy had established himself as the ruler and Yoda had taken on the role of court jester, Toony proved to be the intellectual of the group and chief advisor to King Poppy. In preparation for this role, he'd allowed Poppy to trim his whiskers, something that Yoda either didn't permit or meet the requirements for filling the position.
When not being timid, Toony appeared very calm and thoughtful. He especially liked to play that game with empty toilet paper rolls which the others never seemed to see the point of. The idea was to put a roll upright and Toony would snatch and toss it. You'd have to set it up again and he'd go through the process once more. He'd also take it from your hand if you held one to him, but it is likely he preferred the original to the variation. We still haven't figured out what the purpose of this game is, but one only need to take a look at human games which involve grown people chasing after a ball or throwing things and one may be just as puzzled.
Yoda entertained himself in a different fashion. He would hop into our bed which is on the floor enclosed by planks of wood designed to keep the rabbits out. However, just as Yoda didn't have the concept of 'leader' clarified in his mind, he didn't seem to appreciate that he wasn't supposed to breach the barrier. He liked going into the bed partly to escape the other two and partly because it was fun in there - blankets and sheets to push around and chew up.
One game he liked to play was to attack the bed sheet when it was waved in front of him. He'd really get quite energetic about it and growl as he swiped it with his front paws. The other thing he rather enjoyed was to hop all over me during the early hours of the morning just about when I was in a state of not wanting to wake up. He particularly liked to find the highest point of elevation when I was lying on my side and stand on his hind legs to peer over the barricade. Then he'd run all over the bed again and return repeatedly to that position. Amazingly he never ran over Oooochiiii the cat who slept near my head or use my face as a launching pad.
At some point in their existence, Poppy decided they should assist in our day-to-day affairs. We have several computers networked together and that seemed to him like an ideal opportunity to show what an effective and helpful threesome his crew was. Networked computers have all these wires running from each other and can look rather untidy. No doubt this was the issue in Poppy's mind, he and his charges being such a clean set of individuals.
The rabbits were accustomed to coming into the computer room from the adjoining bedroom, so their presence wasn't anything new. So it was much to our surprise when we started noting that we couldn't connect to the internet or access one another's computers one fine day. Now you must understand that this really was a surprise to us since being Unix users we don't enjoy the multiple delights the Windoze operating system offers such as its celebrated blue screen of death. Therefore, unlike the typical and unfortunate windoze user, we don't experience issues - our systems run flawlessly!
Well we checked the network config files. We checked the physical connection to the ethernet cards. Out of desperation, we even did the windoze rebooting ritual! No luck! We were perplexed and finally decided to examine the cables connecting the various computers. The cables were there alright except there seemed to be more of them. Our helpful rabbits had chewed them into various pieces!
Our rabbits go out during the warmer weather to an enclosed space near the compost and spend a couple of hours there playing with the cats and guarded by our dogs. Their activities range from eating to digging burrows to chasing each other to just laying around.
The protocol for these outings is very rigorous. Poppy is the first to be carried down the stairs and put into the area. While he's checking out the terrain, Toony is brought down. Just at the bottom of the stairs, Toony, unfailingly starts to wiggle and flail about. As soon as, Kyron's feet touch the ground though, he's completely calm. Finally, Yoda is brought to the place and proceeds to seek out the other two, Poppy acknowledging his presence and Toony running from it. Sometimes the chase becomes so intense that no one knew who was running from whom and all three of them would take off madly in all directions. When it is time to go back inside, the order of return was reversed: first Yoda, then Toony (no wiggling going back), and finally Poppy.
Once Poppy actually got through the narrow fencing beyond the enclosure. We all, dogs included, rushed to get him back in a panic. Poppy clearly had no intention of running off though. He hopped around a little as if to show everyone they really had no chance of catching him and then squeezed his way back through the same opening and started munching on grass while we looked at each other in relief.
Yoda disappeared too. We searched all over and under since the rabbits had made a burrow beneath the compost. We even hosed that area since it was the only way to literally flush them out when it was time to go inside. No Yoda. We waited and kept looking. For one hour, then two, then three to no avail. After dinner we tried again, but still no sign. I went up to the second floor to survey the backyard hoping that this high vantage point might reveal some insight. It did, but unexpectedly. Instead of spotting a white furball hopping about the yard, what I saw was Yoda emerging from under the compost. We rushed over in relief and he just looked at us with the what-is-the-big-deal expression. It seems he had found a home away from home and was somewhat reluctant to leave it on our time.
The years went by and our rabbits enjoyed each others company as we enjoyed theirs. Of course, the other characters were in the picture too. Oooochiiii the cat who slept at my head had plenty of occasion to experience Yoda's frolicking in our bed. Bin Bon cat wasn't regarded as civilized by our rabbits in his younger days because of his unwieldy pawing and was generally ignored, though as he matured his behavior changed and the rabbits started tolerating him. The Oh-Oh cats Opi and Obi got along famously with them the latter being particularly fond of Yoda, while the former was fond of everyone. Opi could be seen on many occasions grasping either Martoon's or Poppy's head in her paws and licking the same gently (she actually does that with my head too). And while he was with us, the Soleil the rooster stayed with the rabbits sharing their meals and companionship.
After Soleil died, a strange development started between Poppy and Yoda as the latter started to rebel. It is difficult to say what the mechanics were, but when Poppy would try to bring Yoda into line, Yoda would fight back. Eventually, we had to keep the two separated. Yoda had been neutered years before, so we were surprised this was happening both indoors and out.
One day Yoda did escape from the outdoor rabbit space and though we saw occasional bits of his fur over the weeks both in our yard and during our walks, we still haven't been able to lure him back or catch sight of him. We are still waiting for the return of the Jedi, though we figure he is busy creating his own empire amongst the wild rabbits outside which is after all where his origins lie.
Several months later, Martoon who had reached the age of about 9 years, passed away. Again, Poppy attended to the body just as he had done with Buster. Martoon left with the unpresumptuousness with which he'd lived his life - never demanding, always cooperating.
Though his longtime friends were gone, Poppy was not alone and moved into the next part of his life with the same dignity and grace he had learned from Gaw and had always shown. We were unsure as to whether to bring another rabbit into the picture since we know Poppy likes to manage things, but chose not to because we felt that Poppy may prefer not to bear that burden after all these years. Instead, we spent more time with him as did Opi in particular.
Poppy took it all in stride as the wise rabbit he was. He'd spend the nights in his bedroom domain, but during the day he'd take up residence under the piano from where he could survey the goings on of the household. Opi, of course was his closest companion, but Bin Bon had grown to respect him and the two occasionally hung out together as well. Even the rambunctious Jumpr dog maintained decorum around him.
Poppy's already robust health seemed to improve in these new surroundings. He was active, explorative and energetic showing no signs of slowing down though being more than a decade old. We thought of him as our very own ever-ready bunny.
As the weather warmed, he'd go out to the rabbit area to eat grass and run around quite often with Opi mutually chasing and being chased.
Every afternoon, I'd share some apple with him as he sat under the piano. This was followed by a pear. Then we'd enjoy some goji berries which he liked to take from my hand one by one. During our dinner, Kyron would sit by him while giving him his own dinner that was the precursor to the main nighttime meal which took place usually around 2am in the morning.
Last night, he came charging out from under the piano right into the kitchen because he knew Kyron was getting a bit of raisin bread for him, a treat he occasionally relished. This appetizer was obligatorily followed by the usual 2 almonds, before the inevitable meal of greens and veggies after which it was time to settle down to await the arrival of a new day.
This morning after waking up, I went to pet him as I do each morning, to find him lying lifeless. It appeared he had died only a couple of hours before, quite suddenly, though looking into his eyes and the relaxed postion of his body, it appeared to be a peaceful exodus. Quite possibly, he had been eating at the time, just as his guru had done years before. Perhaps the ever-ready batteries had finally run out.
It is difficult to say though. Richard Bach wrote: "Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you're alive, it isn't."
Poppy had lived with not just zeal, but with responsibility, awareness and self-discipline. He had taken the teachings of Gaw and had applied them to nurture the existence of many beings from members of his own species to cats, dogs, birds and humans. He had shared his composure and resoluteness with everyone, reminding us that what is always important in life is not so much to just live, but to live one's purpose ... what the Hindus say is our dharma.
As such, I think Poppy chose to depart because his mission as a rabbit was indeed over. He had honored his dharma with the highest integrity. May we do no less.