The Ones in the Backyard

my closest neighbors aren’t exactly human

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

They think I can’t see them. But I can. Very early in the morning, I’m the first one up, staring out my windows into the grey-washed backyard. I’m barely awake, but there I am, watching. And I totally see them.

Shadowy beasts lopping from here to there. Black, pensive shapes going about their dark sky business, wary of neighborhood sounds and cars pulling from nearby driveways. Sometimes I’ll be in the kitchen when I catch sight of one. Through the window over the sink I watch as it slinks through the short alley between the house and the garage. What’s it up to?

On some mornings, when I don’t care about being sneaky, I’ll yank open the living room blinds with a sharp zzzzip. I catch them scattering to the gate at the back of the yard or the brush pile over in the corner. They’re like a little tribe of gnomes or tomtes, living their lives at night, lurking deep beneath the bushes by day. They’re mythical creatures that somehow hitched a ride across the ocean ages ago, hiding within the memories of our Scandinavian and German ancestors, taking form only to find a home in my own backyard.

Unless I catch a daytime glimpse of their longish ears or brown fur, I’ll go on believing I’ve got a bunch of squat, harmless elves living just over the back fence, amongst the lilac branches, thank you very much.

Yes – to most people, they look like rabbits. But how boring is that? Unless I catch a daytime glimpse of their long-ish ears or brown fur, I’ll go on believing I’ve got a bunch of squat, mostly harmless elves living just over the back fence, amongst the lilac branches, thank you very much.

But since the subject of neighborhood rabbits has come up, I must admit, I’ve been curious about why we have so many of them around.

So curious have I been, that I emailed a local expert to see if Eau Claire’s rabbit population is any bigger than those of other cities. According to Todd Chwala – superintendent of Parks, Forestry, and Cemeteries for the city of Eau Claire, and a guy who absolutely knows all about these things – we have absolutely no idea.

But Todd has his hunches. He says, “My hunch is rabbit population numbers vary from one part of the city to another, with higher density corresponding with neighborhoods that have excellent habitat. Or is that rabbitat?”

Good one, Todd.

As to these excellent rabbitat conditions of which Todd speaks, he adds, “Typical backyards and parks provide adequate food and cover for the bunnies, and quite possibly fewer predators such as fox, mink, hawks, etc.”

I’ve posted signage around my yard expressly forbidding fox, mink, hawks, and other critters of prey – so could explain why my yard’s become a rabbit super-hot zone. Unless Mother Nature produces some kind of uppity predator with a total disregard for well-placed signage, the rabbits will just keep a-comin’.

My neighbors complain about the shadowy rabbit society living around us. And so I wonder if city officials even care about all these rabbits.

To which Todd replies, “Yes, the city does care about rabbits ... as well as all of its resident wildlife. All have a purpose, as long as city living does not cause bunny numbers to exceed community carrying capacity, or public tolerance.”

It would seem public tolerance is most often exceeded when lovingly planted landscape plantings are damaged as rabbits, like scientists say, “eat the hell out of everything.”

If property owners are concerned about rabbits and the hell out of which they eat, Todd suggests planting things rabbits don’t find tasty. He adds, “Either that or a brigade of beagles. They love to chase ’em.”

The last thing I’ve been wondering about is rabbit size. Are rabbits getting larger every year, or am I imagining that? I’m pretty sure that, in just a few years, the rabbits in my backyard will be roughly the size of a Ford Escort.

Again, Todd Chwala responds, “Yes Mike, I could find reason to believe that rabbits are getting larger. Quite possibly the ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ philosophy has infiltrated resident rabbit warrens, much like it has become entrenched in our youth sports programs.”

I have a feeling Todd no longer takes me seriously.

I still welcome my rabbit neighbors. And besides the occasional bunny poop drop zone to avoid each spring, their presence is calming to me. And at times, it’s even magical.

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