The first time I saw a rabbit in our yard, I motioned my husband over to the window. "Look, there, by the jasmine," I whispered, adding a drawn out "awwwww," in that tone typically reserved for newborns, puppies, and "American Idol's" Kevin Covais.
Boy, have things changed since then!
At bunny sightings these days, we're both more likely to say other things, most of them unprintable.
Granted, with their funny ears and cottony tails, rabbits are cute. But they are also, asI've discovered in the past few months, "Agents of Death" when it comes to most things green and growing. What I call landscaping, they call lunch.
And it's become obvious that they've also decided to call our suburban yard home. Apparently everything needed for a bunny's version of the good life can be found right here: food, water, sunshine, and shelter, not to mention a noticeable lack of foxes.
Every morning and every evening, I see them out there in our yard doing what bunnies do best – munching, playing tag, making more bunnies.
Just the other day I spotted a couple of the "kids," bunnies no bigger than the chocolate ones that nest in Easter baskets, huddled in the leafy shade of the big agapanthus in one of the flower beds. Talk about cute.
As far as I can tell, only one family – two adults and their growing brood – has taken up residence in our backyard, although there might be more, a tag team of sorts.
I'm beginning to suspect a commune of couples – with some staying behind on any given day to mind the nursery or redecorate the warren, while others head out for a bite to eat.
The moms and pops used to scurry under the bushes whenever I'd step out on the patio.
But they've grown bolder over time. Now they just glance up, idly, from their marathon salads with looks that say, "You talkin' to me?"
Some mornings I give the breakfast nook window a loud thwack or two to scare them into disappearing, at least for a while.
It used to work. Now they just pretend they don't hear me. But I'm not fooled. I see them stop chewing just long enough to exchange derisive twitches of their dark little noses. "There she goes again," they say with a smirk. Then it's back to their all-you-can-eat buffet.
I like to think of my overall philosophy as one of live and let live. But judging by all the dead and dying leaves on the shrubs near the back wall, this philosophical viewpoint is not shared by certain bunnies.
"Hmm. Looks like root damage," my husband says, surveying the wreckage.
We come to the conclusion we've got do something, but, for humanitarian reasons, rule out the poisons and pellets that would dispatch Thumper & Company to that Great Vegetable Crisper in the Sky.
I offer to do a little research to see what alternatives the experts suggest.
"You know what works?" one local landscaper informs me. "Plastic owls!"
The next day I'm standing in the checkout line at Home Depot with a pair of two-foot-tall owls perched in the cart's child seat. Catching the light, their amber glass eyes – wide and bright – look a lot more real than their plastic feathers.
But the overall effect is certainly realistic enough to scare a dumb bunny, I decide.
As it turns out, I'm the only one who is startled at the sight of those birds. It happens for an instant every morning when, still half-asleep, I snap open the blinds, and there they are, glaring at me from the seats of two lawn chairs in the middle of what is now Bunny Central.
The rabbits appear to have made a separate peace with the plastic predators. If anything, the owls have emboldened them even more. Since I implemented my "Who-o-o-o ya gonna call" approach to the problem, the bunnies actually have taken to lounging on the lawn in the shadow of the owls.
Now they don't just hop, sit, and eat. Instead, they lie down, snooze, catch a few rays, stretch out on their sides, and sometimes, I've observed, even teasingly tuck a paw behind their ears as if they were posing for pictures.
The owls seem to have confirmed for them that they've won. Sure, my husband and I might think of the place where they live as our backyard, but the bunnies now know, without a doubt, that wildlife has officially reclaimed it.
To date, all diplomatic overtures have been rebuffed. But there's another humane approach we're going to try next: rabbit repellent to spray on our plants.
Its claim to fame is that it smells like fox urine, an odor rabbits aren't particularly fond of. (I can't imagine that we would be, either.)
The bottle says it's 100 percent guaranteed, and that, in addition to sending bunnies packing, it is also biodegradable, environmentally safe, and will not harm plants or animals.
Reasonable, gentle folk that we are, we're willing to try anything. But if this doesn't work – bunnies, beware – the nuclear option is not off the table just yet.