By the light of the moon

I awakened early one morning about 4 o'clock. From the kitchen window, I saw that the world had silently turned to crystal. It was a treacherous and exquisite domain, glittering in silver mail in full moonlight, every bough sheathed in ice.

Looking toward the slant rising to the barn doors, I saw the rabbits. There may have been as many as 25, upright on hind legs, dancing. I scarcely dared breathe. They danced to a hidden music with stately grace, threading in and out , never once slipping on the icy slope. Gliding in a perfect minute, they reached out, touching gently as they turned.

I was bewitched and have no recollection of how it all ended. Later that day , at work at the library, I remember spending all my break time searching for books on the behavioral characteristics of rabbits. I learned that they are extraordinary playful in view of the dangers they face, and that they are considered dull witted.

On my way home that night, I stopped at the farm next to ours. The farmer was elderly and I asked if he had ever seen rabbits dance. "No," he said, "can't say I've seen that, but I can tell you they'll stand on their hind legs and cry just like a baby when you've cornered them, hunting. Never could shoot them again after hearing that cry."

I turned next to books by naturalists. Sally Carrighar, in One Day At Teton Marsh,m told of a moonlit night and a racing, romping company of white, varying hares: "Some were jumping straight up and down springing high from their hind feet while their forepaws beat the air. Others were running under the leaps, to whirl back abruptly and begin jumping, themselves. Two were facing each other, hopping into the air and changing places with every leap. All the motions were droll and fast. The games were silent; the keenest hunter could not have heard any sound. But one hare kept watch. . . . They were like merry little white ghosts, having a frolic, as hares often do. Their joy had been sprung by their new safety, the gift of the snow."

William O. Pruitt Jr., in Animals of the North,m said that such play after a new snowfall indicated the rabbits were displaying a behavioral adaptation evolved through a millennium of taiga life for the purpose of reestablishing a trail network.

Ernest Thompson Seton observed, in Lives of Game Animals:m "Among many human races, there exists a prejudice against moonlight. It is interesting to note that the animals do not share this feeling; indeed, there are many species that make the moonlight nights their chosen time for sallying forth." J. Dewey Soper describes a moonlight gathering of snowshoes around his cabin on Hay River, Alberta, in 1913. He says: "One sparkling moonlight night, they visited the clearing in unusual numbers. . . . All seemed imbued with a spirit of festive joviality, doubling about with playful pranks and short sallies of wild abandon. . . . It seemed probable that the entire Rabbit population within a wide radius were conscious of this regal occasion. At one time, we counted 25 in easy view; double that number were possibly present. . . ."

I never found an account of rabbits dancing, but I did discover that John Burroughs had seen birds dance: "Once I saw a curious sight; I saw seven or eight cranes dance a cotillion, or something very much like it. . . . They were in a meadow about half a mile from the house. . . . I crept through the tall grass until I was within a rod of the cranes, and then lay and watched them. It was he most comical sight to see them waltz around, sidle up to each other and back again, their long necks and legs making the most clumsy motions. . . . There seemed to be a regular method in their movements, for the changes were repeated . . . they had danced until the grass was trampled down hard and smooth."

A few years later, at a library session at St. Mary's Lake, I found my cot on the screened porch was next to that of a librarian who also lived in the country. As we talked that night she looked out at the moonlit scene and said, "You know it was on such a night as this that I saw the rabbits dance."

I sat bolt upright. "You what?"

"I saw the rabbits dance. It was beautiful. They were so quiet, some of the little ones leapfrogged, but most of them were up on their hind legs doing a lovely dance. They didn't hurry and they all seemed to know the steps."

My words came tumbling out."Oh, I saw them, too, on a winter night, on the ice, in the moonlight. It was pure magic. I should have looked carefully to see whether one of them carried a watch in his waistcoat pocket!"

We laughed, concluding that since we'd never read of this, nor encountered anyone else who had seen it, perhaps the sharing of this enchantment was a special privilege, granted only to the keepers of books.

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