Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bunnies and Young Children

Although I do seem to have acquired the nicest, most friendly bunny on the planet; still, I have never thought one should press one's thoughts about one's bunny on others, or boast about him in everyday conversation…just as one should not do with one's children…but it is quite difficult not to just mention what a good bunny he is every now and then. Except I am now going to do more than that. Feel free to make a graceful exit now. It's just that I feel a solemn duty to counter some of the information you might find online about bunnies. I do not claim to be the world's leading expert on bunnies (that would be boastful) (and I was not, till recently, a bunny owner), but I have loved them for many years, you know, and I have studied them quite a lot since getting one.

This is the trouble with what some people say about bunnies: it's wrong. Because I read many, many sources that said: "You should NOT have a bunny as a pet if you have young children." This is written by bunny-lovers who, presumably, imagine a harrowing life of fear and suffering for a bunny at the hands of these hypothetical young monsters. "Perhaps you might consider getting a bunny for one calm, responsible, older child (10 and up), with constant adult supervision. But NOT if there are young children around. Certainly not if there is MORE than one child! If you have more than one child, consider getting a fish. A bunny is not for you!" they say. (I'm not entirely sure they approve of even HAVING multiple young children at all, these people. The very idea seems to hold a kind of horror for them. If they had known we were getting a bunny to come live with us and our six children, they probably would have gone down in sorrow to their graves. And then turned over in them.)

I understand. They want to protect bunnies (as do I). They want bunnies to have happy, stable lives (as do I). But in their well-meaning-ness, I'm afraid they give the wrong idea. They make it sound like the very existence of bunnies and small children in the same room is asking for total disaster. When in reality, kindness and love and gentleness can be taught to young children with bunnies—just as it can to young children with babies. Of course it takes effort and time. And of course I wouldn't turn the entire care of a bunny over to a four-year-old. But a loved, well-cared-for bunny is not only good for children—but they are also good for him! Our Nutmeg loves the children. He plays with them and hops around them and snuggles in happily when they pet him, and he misses them when they're gone. He likes his big family! 
How do I know he's happy with us? Well, he does all the things a happy bunny does. He comes running to greet us after we've been gone. He hops around and around our feet in circles and follows us around until we trip over him. He leaps straight up in the air and turns sideways while he's leaping. He bounds around the room and then boings up next to us onto the couch and bops under our hands with his nose until we pet him. I honestly can't imagine a happier bunny.
And now that we have had him all these months, I sort of feel like I need to evangelize for pet bunnies. They are such delightful, good pets. I feel bad that in years past they were mostly just thought of as the boring kind of animal you put outside in a hutch and forget about, because they can be so curious, and loving, and playful. I know I've only had one of them, but one is enough for me to see these things.

And in saying this, I understand that some people get tired of their pets and don't treat them with love and just give them away when they're tired of them, and maybe for crabs and lizards that's okay, I don't know. I feel instinctively that that would be wrong for a bunny, but I know pets don't always fit their owners. I'm not an expert on the morality of animal ownership, and I never really wanted other pets anyway, because it would be one more thing to do. And I don't want anyone to have a bunny who won't take good care of him, of course, but I'm afraid that maybe people are being scared off by these "NO-BUNNIES-AROUND-CHILDREN" sources when they could be enjoying and loving a sweet bunny of their own. So let me tell you some things that are good about bunnies. And why you (and your young children!) could love one.

First of all, they are clean. They are SO easy to litterbox train and they LOVE to be clean. It's my favorite thing to see Nutmeg washing his little face and paws and ears.
Also, they are so quiet. They do make some tiny noises, we've discovered (tiny squeaks and little teeth-grinding sounds like purring when they're happy) but they will never keep you up at night yowling or barking. Thank goodness. But at the same time, Nutmeg, at least, seems to tolerate our general bustle and noisiness quite well. If there is a LOT of running around he will retreat to his little bed or withdraw into one of his cardboard boxes (he loves boxes), but then he will happily curl up and sleep there without being bothered at all. Even when the blender goes on, he usually just perks up his ears a bit and then settles back down. Maybe because he has been getting used to us from the time he was a baby.
And as far as the children scaring him? Ha! He is made of sterner stuff. He will run easily away from them if he wants to escape their tender ministrations—but more often HE is the one hopping toward them curiously, hoping they might have something interesting to sniff, or good to eat, for him.
And they do love to give him a carrot or a sprig of mint or an apple—though Goldie usually has to be talked out of eating it herself first.
And you know, when a bunny lies on his side like this, that he feels safe and happy. They don't let their guard down enough to sleep so…languidly? unless they are sure there will be no hawks (or scary, toddling babies!) coming to get them anytime soon.

I suppose I should mention, for fairness' sake, that bunnies can like to nibble things. It's in their little bunny natures! So you have to watch them when they're out and about, to make sure there are no cords and things for them to nibble. Nutmeg will sometimes get nibbling our carpet and if he gets very absorbed in what he's doing he'll start wanting to yank out the long fibers, and we have to become very stern and stop him. But he does that much less now than he did when he was new, and if you give him lots of things he CAN nibble (phone books, wood toys, boxes, etc) then he is mostly content with those. Some bunnies are worse than others about this, I guess. But it's really not such a VERY bad thing, and he won't tear apart your whole house like a dog might. There. See how fair-minded and balanced I am? :)
Another face-washing picture. I can't get enough.

Also, another of my favorite things, besides paw-and-face-washing, is the way he settles in when we pet him. He LOVES to be petted, which is right and just, since his soft, velvety fur is obviously MADE to be petted. He is the softest thing in the world. Really.
He has these stages he goes through when you start to pet him: first he looks like a little bunny loaf, and then he sort of scootches his front and back feet out slightly so he gets even lower to the ground, and then, if he's VERY calm and happy he will lie all the way down with his feet back and out to the side—only—since bunnies can't really lie down normally because their back legs are so long and their front legs are so short (which is the same reason they have to hop instead of walk!)—he CAN'T just gracefully lie down, so he has to just flop himself over all at once. It looks like he's falling sideways off a chair or something. It is the funniest and cutest thing to watch. Sometimes he's so excited about being petted that he flops immediately, and we all love it and take it as a great compliment when that happens. Sometimes a particularly enthusiastic or sudden flop will make him roll all the way over to his back so that his white tummy shows…after which he usually seems a little bit sheepish and tries to convey an extra sense of dignity as he rolls back the correct way to be petted again.
Flopped=relaxed and happy. I especially like it when he puts his chin down on the floor like that.

Another thing we like is when Nutmeg plays what we call "The Tree Game" with us—I don't know why "The Tree Game" except that it sort of seems like he thinks you are a tree or a maypole to hop around. How it works is, you stand somewhere, and then Nutmeg comes and hops around you in circles like a madman—first clockwise, then turning around and going counter-clockwise, then skidding to a stop and going clockwise again, then going through your legs in figure-eights for a change of pace, then skidding around in circles again. And then you sort of quickly step over to a new location and he careens after you until you hold still, and once you're in place he starts hopping around you again. He especially likes it if you move from place to place very fast—he seems to consider this an exciting challenge and sometimes gets so enthusiastic in following you that he runs right into a wall or a chair—or gets under your feet instead of next to them—after which he sometimes flips his ears and shakes himself a bit as if to say "What? I didn't feel anything." He will also play this game with two people at once: weaving in and out between you and making eights around both sets of legs (or, if you stand right next to each other, going in a bigger circle around both of you at once) until you get dizzy just watching him! After a rousing round of The Tree Game he is often totally tired out and he'll nibble at your ankles until you pet him and he flops by your feet. We tried to read about what this behavior means, and all we could find was someone suggesting it was "mating behavior," but he was neutered several months ago and he still does it all the time, so I think it's just exactly what it looks like: a happy bunny playing with his family. I always knew I liked bunnies but I never knew they could be so FUN!
He loves soft things and seems to think they are all his little bunny friends. Abe made this impressive citadel of bears the other day and immediately Nutmeg hopped up on top and started licking, licking, licking. Just snuggling in and grooming them like it was the most natural thing in the world. (Can you even find him in this picture?)
This grooming behavior is pretty sweet when it's with stuffed bears, but when he starts doing it to Sam, I just can't stand the cuteness! It's like he thinks Sam is another bunny. When Sam lies down on the floor, Nutmeg will sit and nuzzle Sam's hair and lick his forehead and sniff his nose for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and it's SO funny! Sometimes Nutmeg does this to me or to one of the kids too, but usually when the kids are around he's more playful and wants to run around rather than sitting there grooming.
Well. I have probably said more than you ever wanted to hear about bunnies. But, O Future Google-er of "bunnies and small children?," take heart! Such a thing is possible—and could, indeed, bring you great joy. Just remember what it says in the book Marshmallow:
A bunny's a delightful habit
No home's complete without a rabbit!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Storm Mountain

That title sounds dark and foreboding, but it's really just the name of the campground. We love this place! Some of the trees are bare by now, but many are still holding on to their vibrant leaves. Such pretty colors and such surprising contrasts!
Tiny Abe, across a meadow
Slightly-less-tiny Abe, across another meadow
Why was this baby so wide-eyed and awestruck, you may be wondering?
It was because someone (Sebby, to be precise) had given her this big, dangerous-looking stick.
Oh, she was so happy about it.
She carried it everywhere. They would not be parted.
She kept clasping it to her bosom…
And kissing it! Oh, dear and beloved pointy stick.
Twin sliders…
and huggers.
Some attempts at jumping.
Malachi with some bright leaves.
Malachi with a branch poking into his head.
Boy and stump.
Oh, these boys!
Ah, that's better.
Eeek!
Playing. Bright trees.
More playing. Leaf shower!
The older boys took Marigold to the car ahead of the rest of us, and when I got there and opened up the back door, there she was, still buckled into her stroller, sitting in the trunk! I was so surprised! The boys thought it was SO hilarious, they laughed practically all the way home. Goldie, too, was quite pleased with herself and the ensuing silliness.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Memorials

I've been thinking a lot about my dad lately. I'm not sure why. Actually, I do know why: it's because our friends from down the street just had their sweet little three-month-old baby pass away, so I suppose all of us in the neighborhood have been thinking about death and resurrection more than usual. (As if I need any more encouragement to be pensive and thoughtful in the Fall!) It's been five and a half years now since Dad died. But grief is such a strange, incomprehensible thing, isn't it? With my dad, I've always felt like I should restrain my sadness for his sake, because he was so ready to be free of his body, moving on. With baby Tommy, I feel restrained because he's not mine to grieve.

Leslie Norris has it right, of course:
If I were young I could
     Make eager grief of this grave
And let the warm sorrow come
     And cover me like a wave,
The cathartic tears ease out
That soothe the constricted heart. 
It would be over and done –
     A romantic memory made
Out of this drift of rain
     And the passive part I played
But spontaneous youth is gone;
The moved heart is a stone… 
So I'll not denounce this death
     Nor embitter the ordinary air
With blown words that my breath
     Is now too small to wear.
Sufficient that he is gone;
The great man dies alone…
And yet I've also been thinking about memorials; about remembering and making real those things, and people, who are sliding ever more to the past. Wondering how to do it. How much to do it. I've always had such a horror of being overly sentimental, or of coming across as shallow or trite in the things that matter to me so deeply. But this article has made me think a lot about the power of simplicity in grief. Speaking of the little roadside memorials you sometimes see at the site of traffic accidents, it says:
…They testify to a deep human need for memorials. It is a new form of folk art, and it is extremely conventionalized in its expression. For one thing, its repertoire of forms and materials is very narrow: crosses, flowers, handwritten signs, and heartbreakingly, in the case of a child, stuffed animals. There is very little else, and no striving for originality. Their creators look for widely-understood symbols, and they yearn for resolution and closure…In a way, these anonymous roadside sculptors understand what many contemporary artists do not: that monuments, because they are public art forms, must be legible. And this requires a great degree of convention…Not long ago it was fashionable to sneer at such things…But true momumentality has everything to do with simplicity…
And I think it's true. You learn it in poetry: how the simple details say so much more than the sweeping pronouncements. True, they have to be honestly put forth, not manipulative (unlike stuff like this, which is almost a whole photo-genre in itself), but transparent allegory serves such a useful purpose: as that article says, it "uses interlocking symbols to comment on the things we care about"– and those symbols don't have to be less meaningful for being common: The fallen leaf. The soaring bird. The rain.

So I guess I'm allowing myself, these days, to think about those simple things, and let them form part of Dad's "memorial" in my head, whether or not they are powerful enough or all-encompassing enough to truly, adequately, "memorialize" him. I'm trying to let myself explore what space he left here, whether or not it was "too soon" for him to leave it. Thinking about things I have almost forgotten, things I wish he could be here for, things I wish I knew about him. Why did he love that e.e. cummings poem he had printed and posted above his desk? When and why did he start the book of photographs he took of Timpanogos from his office window, spanning years and years, in every light, in every season? I wish when he had asked me what I meant in my poems, I had tried talking about it instead of insisting that it couldn't be quantified. I wish I could hear what he thought of Sebby making speakers and Malachi playing astronaut. I wish I could see him eskimo-kiss with little Goldie. I wish I could ask him to tell me more about his parents, or about his job. It is strange to think how little I really know about what he thought and who he was.

And for little Tommy, too, I'm allowing myself some sentimentality, for all I didn't earn it by truly knowing or loving him while he was here. I'm watching the light on the mountains, the abbreviated flare and fade of the gold sunsets, and letting them remind me of hardship, and separation, and the hollow spaces that sometimes take years to soften and fill in.

I'll end with Leslie Norris, again; this from his poem "Autumn Elegy":
September. The small summer hangs its suns
On the chestnuts, and the world bends slowly
Out of the year. On tiles of the low barns
The lingering swallows rest in this timely 
Warmth, collecting it. Standing in the garden,
I too feel its generosity; but would not leave.
Time, time to lock the heart. Nothing is sudden
In Autumn, yet the long, ceremonial passion of 
The year's death comes quickly enough
As form veins shut on the sluggish blood
And the numberless protestations of the leaf
Are mapped on the air… 
                               Yet, if I stare
Unmoved at the flaunting, silent 
Agony in the country before a resonant
Wind anneals it, I am not diminished, it is not
That I do not see well, do not exult,
But that I remember again what 
Young men of my own time died
In the Spring of their living and could not turn
To this…
                             Now as the trees burn 
In the beginning glory of Autumn
I sing for all green deaths as I remember
In their broken Mays, and turn
The years back for them, every red September.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Canyon leaves

What with one thing and another, I was afraid we'd basically missed Fall in the mountains this year. There were some cool, rainy days where all the trees looked dull and I thought maybe the leaves would all turn brown and fall early. But then the sun came out again, it got warm, and to our great delight, there was still plenty of Fall beauty to be found. If we can manage it, we'll be out playing in the leaves again this week and hopefully next, because we know how fast all this will be gone!
It was the most perfect Fall weather!
What an obliging 12-year-old Abe is, posing for pictures. I think he has learned that if he just goes where I tell him and smiles at me, it will all be over a lot faster. He's so handsome!
As is this Sebby-boy! He posed for pictures too…but only when I could find him. Which wasn't often.
Lovely bright colors. I love it when the leaves on the ground are still vibrant and soft.
Some leaf fights may or may not have occurred. Daisy has never laughed so much in her life. (Except, of course, for every night when she and Junie are supposed to be asleep in bed…)
Lovely Daisy-girl.
We brought picnic foods, of course.
Girls waiting nervously to be bombarded with leaves
Goldie was the busiest busybody in the world. She insisted on walking up hill and down dale, falling every couple seconds because the ground underneath the leaves was rocky and uneven. She bloodied both knees and had scrapes on her hands and all up and down her shins, but she still didn't want anyone to carry her or hold her or otherwise obstruct her absolute free movement from place to place. Of course, she also turned accusing and betrayed eyes on whoever was nearest whenever she fell down, so I guess she had the best of both worlds.
At least she looked cute while doing it.
My little matchers. How they love to match. People often ask me if they're twins (despite the height difference), although if they were twins, they probably wouldn't LIKE to match.
They are such friends. I'm so glad.
They did manage to contain Marigold for a few moments and get her to walk with them.
This was all well and good as long as Goldie persisted in thinking it was a hilarious joke.
And then she grudgingly permitted herself to be assisted up a hill by Daisy, by means of Daisy saying "Walk, walk, walk," with her in a jolly voice.
But Goldie soon shook off her fetters and began, again, to roam free.
Always turning up where you least expected her!
And here is darling Miss Junie. Last time we were here, she was just like Goldie was this time—wiggle-y, free-ranging, tough, independent, and MAD MAD MAD at any attempts to contain her. Now she is mostly just a delight.
Abraham was the best and most powerful of the leaf-throwers, so everyone wanted to gather by him and stand in the leaf-rain.
But the girls made their own valiant efforts too.
Even little Goldie, who, when she saw everyone else throwing leaves, tried to join in.
My Malachi. What would I do without him?
I love this picture. A leaf-waterfall and a sunlight-waterfall, spilling down over the same rock!
Seb, looking sly about something.
How I love these leafy little elves of mine!