Five lessons from two furry orphans

It was one of those cool evenings when the sky was just turning dark at the edges, the last 20 minutes before parents rounded up children for baths and bedtime negotiations. I was out for my evening constitutional along the fringes of our local playing fields when I saw them. They were the same color as the dirt road on which they crouched, visible only because they were moving in tiny, tentative hops and because the elderly woman whose house bordered the land was ineffectually spraying them with a thin line of water from her garden hose.

"Rodents!" she motioned at them, warning me away, her face knotted. I edged closer. Two tiny cottontail rabbits, smaller than my fist and sopping wet. The soccer field just a few feet away had been mowed that day; I assumed their nest had been destroyed. There was no mother rabbit in sight, just this nervous woman with her suspicion of all things furry. She shook her head at me, the crazy woman, as I picked up with my bare hands what she thought were rats.

Lesson No. 1: Your children will think you are the most magical mom in town if you bring home wounded birds and the occasional stray dog, but they will worship at your feet if you stroll in with orphaned bunnies. In I walked with one cupped in each hand. My husband didn't even blink. Out came the seldom-used cat carrier as children ran off to collect fresh grasses and clover.

Cottontails, we knew, can survive on their own once they are roughly six inches long, which meant a lot of sober fiddling with the tape measure.

Lesson No. 2: Attempting to measure a baby rabbit is best left to madmen and professionals. Neighborhood children came knocking on our door and lined up for the privilege.

Lesson No. 3: Baby bunnies can squeeze through nickel-size holes. When we opened the crate the next morning, there was only one bunny inside. We poked through the bedding, but he was not hidden, he was gone. An hour later, the other bunny was gone, too.

Lesson No. 4: Learn from Lesson No. 3. I had images of rabbits trapped in my walls or proliferating in my basement. We pulled couches away from the walls, poked in cupboards, and crawled through crawl spaces. No bunnies.

The dog was recruited. She snuffled along the walls and indicated by dancing on doggy tiptoe that she had found a bunny behind a dresser. The other bunny showed up the next day on the kitchen counter; somehow he had scaled the smooth sides and was waiting beside the microwave. I found him by touch while reaching for a drinking glass; my startled, horror-movie scream brought neighbors to the door. The bunny appeared to leer cheekily. Out came the measuring tape, and they were declared good to go. We released them in the wooded hedgerows near where I'd found them.

Well, one we released into the hedgerows. The other made a breathtaking escape, leaping from my daughter's eager hands directly into the neighborhood community garden.

The children and I keep our eyes open for "our bunnies." They probably never needed us in the first place, with our ludicrous measuring tape and illusions of indispensability.

Lesson No. 5: Nature graciously lets us think we know what we're doing.

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