By late July and early August, the Oklahoma drought had begun to take its toll on vegetation and wildlife in the area. The usual water sources; ponds, streams, and creeks, dried up, leaving vast areas of soil shrinking and cracking. Like the crazing often seen in fine china dinnerware, the woodland floor took on a texture of wild-running cracks and fissures. Only the hardy, deep-rooted plants survived. Wildlife had to venture to the river, about a mile from here, for water to drink and in which to cool off .
Being critter-friendly here on the ten-acre ranch, we placed a large tub down below the slope for wildlife to get a refreshing drink of well water. I also set up three small bird bath water stations up top near the house for our winged friends to sip and bathe in. Of course, Daisy deer always seemed to enjoy a good drink from the shallow pans too. And often, a squirrel would have a long sip from the bird baths as well. Occasionally, I would run a sprinkler at the base of the slope near the feed and watering station, mostly to keep a good stand of Bermuda grass growing. The sprinkler offered an occasional, refreshing reprieve for various woodland birds, and Daisy often rested in the soft, green grass that flourished from the sprinkler’s moisture. Here, she could keep an eye out for other deer, while staying cool in the shade.
While visiting Daisy at the water tub late one August afternoon, I spied a small cottontail rabbit nearby, nibbling the tender shoots of foxtail grass that had grown in the area I kept watered. Though my furry friend seemed too busy, nibbling away, nose twitching, to be bothered by my presence, her eyes still appeared to watch me carefully, just in case! I thought about my good fortune in getting this chance to observe Ms. Cottontail from such a close distance, but was soon chastising myself for, once again, being unprepared! No camera. Ugh! No pictures! And Ms. Cottontail was so close I would not have even needed the aid of a zoom lens! Aaaaagh!
A couple of mornings later, I was again down at the water tub, cleaning and filling it with fresh well water. With all sorts of critters frequenting the tub, it could get fairly polluted in short time, and so I was in the habit of changing the water out every other day. As I worked at my chore, I noticed Ms. Cottontail hanging around again! This time, she was further back in the woods, nearer spots in which she could find excellent cover. She seemed a little more cautious, however, and hopped off under a log and into some nearby brambles as I approached her.
That evening, I went down to the canyon prepared, this time, with my trusty camera in tow. And, to my delight, I found Ms. Cottontail in her usual dining area, nibbling the young blades of foxtail that were growing in the lush patches of watered grasses and weeds. She seemed in no particular hurry to evade me or scamper away. I watched blade after blade of grass disappear into her mouth. Busily, she hopped a few inches, and found another tasty blade. I hoped I was putting off calm energy so that I would not spook her, and marveled at how calm she was. I always try to be respectful of the woodland animals and birds while I do my photography, allowing them to be in the moment, without intruding. My calming energy must have worked, as Ms. Cottontail allowed me to photograph her for a good ten minutes before disappearing around the corner, into a thicket of brambles and wild vine.
As is usual on this ranch, I got busy with other work around the place over the next couple of weeks, and did not think much more about my meeting with little Ms. Cottontail, nor of doing any writing about her. I had not been in the mood to write lately, instead getting caught up in the busy work I am famous for, and getting sidetracked. Then, as I shined my flashlight around late one night when I let our 3 little dogs (Bear, Zoe, and Tori) out for the last “bathroom business” call of the night, I caught Ms. Foxy in the distance.
“Oh no!!”, I exclaimed in despair. Suddenly, I thought of Ms. Cottontail! No wonder I hadn’t noticed her around lately. Any time the foxes appear on the property, the rabbit population dwindles and eventually disappears. This thought made me sad. Though I know this is the way of nature, and that we are all part of the food chain, it is never easy to think of those at the bottom. I hated to think my gentle, timid, shy bunny friend had become Ms. Foxy’s dinner.
Another couple of weeks went by after the night I spotted Ms. Foxy. And then, early one morning while letting my tribe of three hairy house beasts out for their morning business, I was elated and wonderfully surprised to see the glowing red eyes of Ms. Cottontail beaming in my flashlight! She appeared to be nibbling on grasses just north of our house. When caught in the beam of the flashlight, she made a fast run to the neighboring fence and ducked underneath, into the thorny cat brier on the other side! Apparently, Ms. Cottontail had come up top to safer territory. Although I see Ms. Foxy up here sometimes, she mostly frequents the woodlands below in search of food. Ms. Cottontail must have known this, as for several mornings following, I caught the red glow of her eyes and her sudden movements with my flashlight. Ms. Cottontail was surviving and flourishing in a broadened territory.
As always, when intrigued by an animal sighting in our woodlands, I pondered the rabbit as a messenger to me. The cottontail brought to mind thoughts of fear (predators) and anxiety, shyness and being timid. And since rabbits are soft and cute, we humans often think of them as fragile and helpless. I became amused thinking of their prolific qualities as well. How many times have we heard the saying, “They’re multiplying like rabbits!”?
And so I began to research and investigate more about the habits and species profile of the cottontail rabbit. Through this, I began to understand much of a rabbit’s life is about surviving in an environment where predation is a continual threat. After pondering my own personal thoughts in relation to the rabbit’s place in the world, the word “fear” kept coming to mind.
At once, I knew just what my fuzzy little friend was trying to tell me. Without great examination, I was sure the message was about a “trap” I was in. I had been focusing on a situation that had existed for many years, and just never seemed to be going away. Instead of getting better, and healing, I had let myself become more anxious and restless – fearful. I was horribly uncomfortable, often freezing up and doing nothing positive while in crisis mode. And, like a scared rabbit, I too wanted to dive into the brambles and hide, rather than to face the situation.
While continuing my research, however, I began to see the rabbit in a different light. I was surprised to discover that the seemingly gentle cottontail is actually capable of fighting back! Contrary to my belief, I learned they do not always just freeze and hide during a time of crises. More than simply adjusting to their environment and living in constant fear, their fighting instinct provides them the spirit to transform and broaden their surroundings into a place where they can live and thrive. Suddenly, I wasn’t seeing my friend Ms. Cottontail as a timid, fearful creature on the run… I saw her as a strong, fighting spirit. I began seeing Ms. Cottontail as a warrior!
Here in the safer zone around our home above the woodland, Ms. Cottontail has created her place to live and thrive. As humans, we can apply these same skills to the environment around us. If we observe the ways of Ms. Cottontail’s kind, it can help us discover our creative abilities and teach us adaptability, enabling change and transformation. Although we might initially feel shy or timid, we may eventually discover a strong backbone and fighting spirit within ourselves. After all, sometimes those who appear timid or frightened at first glance, are actually people who have access to a great resource of power and inner strength.
With these new realizations of Ms. Cottontail in mind, I decided it was time for me to take a hard look at my own fear and anxiety. I had been dwelling on these disabling emotions far too long and had only been focused on the negative aspect of the problem. On closer examination, I understood that my struggle had actually been very helpful to me, showing a form of protective strength. In the ongoing battle with my fears and anxieties, I discovered a strong, fighting spirit within. I realized I had allowed my ego to keep me on a distressed path for far too long, and it was high time I emerged from the brambles and faced my fears square on! Funny, it took observing the gentle, timid Ms. Cottontail to show me that a warrior spirit, capable of finding a way to live and thrive in its environment, lies within each one of us!
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…