When Rabbits Ruled the World
by Doug Fredericksen
It was quiet, too quiet. At five am the birds would begin their chorus, but not today. There was a light, wet fog in the air which made the morning seem even quieter.
I left the building in the dark. There were no cars racing to work, no fireworks or gunshots from the nearby party that had gone on into very early hours the night before. It was clearly the time of the day nobody seemed to want.
This was when rabbits and coyotes ruled the silent world. The occasional trash truck would rumble down the street like some disjointed dinosaur. Lights would flick on behind curtains in dark, quiet houses, and the occasional garage door would creak open.
It was June, 2020, and the world was in the throes of disease, ecological disaster, and an economic spiral, but here in this quiet neighborhood none of that seemed to matter. I watched a baby bunny munch busily on some healthy gazanias. A huge crow found a cigarette butt and flew off with it in his beak, looking every bit like some raven gangster. Old unwanted furniture was stacked out by the curb and the early morning golf club employees were hustling around in their little carts placing flags and opening gates. They were hoping for a good day.
The last good days anyone could remember were at least four months ago, before the virus swept the world. There was a time when we gathered shoulder to shoulder in bars and restaurants, hugged our friends when we met, and played all manner of contact sports to stay healthy. But now we pulled away, covered our faces in masks, and more often than not stayed locked behind our own fearful doors.
All the recent news still seemed far away and fantastical at 5 am. I pulled open our front gate with the dirty end of my walking stick and shuffled past the cars in the driveway being careful not to touch any of the gigantic cacti that ringed the front yard. Rabbits scurried into thorny crevasses at the base of the cacti and quivered when I walked by.
My music cancelled out the quiet. With a twenty-year-old MP3 player and some wired ear buds I filled my head with the magical sounds of seventies prog…Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd. There was a time when musicians reached for the stars. Now it seemed modern music had become much like life…cruel, random, and forgettable.
These first hours of the morning were the best hours, free from tasks and free from distractions. It was easy to meditate as I ambled along. I was in the here and now, practicing mindfulness; one soft footstep after another, one boost with the cane every other step, and an atmosphere free of screaming families or toxic exhaust. It was the best time of the day.
Yet even the finest mornings, like when I sighted a snowy, far-off peak from the ridgeline or saw the rainstorms spread out like jellyfish and swirl over the city, could contain a threat in the modern world. It wasn’t thieves or skate punks that bothered us, it was us.
As if on cue, I sensed a disturbance on the corner just ahead. It was another early riser shuffling through the shadows. We saw each other at the same moment and both stopped where we were, a hundred-feet apart. He was older, probably in his seventies, and wearing old-school grey sweats. As soon as he saw me he pulled up his blue bandana to cover his nose and mouth.
I nodded and pulled my red bandana over my face while stepping out into the middle of the darkened street. There was no traffic, just another senior stepping to the middle of the road to give a walker a comfortable berth. This would have never happened six months ago.
We nodded amicably as we passed and then hurried on into the last dark moments of the night. There was a park ahead. It was a neighborhood park I used to play basketball in and smoke a joint once in a while.
Now the park seemed to be abandoned. The city left the trash cans to overflow, the weeds to grow, and the ubiquitous car or van parked in one of the two parking lots with its’ windows covered with blankets and t-shirts. These overnighters usually only lasted one night before moving on to a more hospitable park. There were battered, graffiti-covered restrooms in our park, but for the last several months the doors have stayed locked. I always wondered why they didn’t do a better job with the trash since they didn’t have restrooms to clean any longer.
In the early morning you never walked to close to a parked car. Sometimes the occupants were naked, sometimes they were drunk or high, but if they slept in their cars they were always broke, hungry and wary. There were usually beer cans, cigarette butts, and condoms on the asphalt by the doors. I gave them a wider berth than I gave the fellow walkers on my early morning strolls.
The old hillside park was blessed with a beautiful view of the quiet city below it. A winding concrete walkway looped through the park and became a ritual of my early morning walk-through. Every other day the sprinklers were on between five and six am; high arcs of concentrated water shot fifty feet in a circular pattern that caused me to adopt a Frogger-type strategy of stopping and starting to dodge the streams of cold, recycled water.
The city had stopped mowing the lawn at the park a few years back and had outsourced the chore to a private contractor. They mowed the grass regularly, every Monday morning, but they also mowed the rocks, sticks, leaves, and broken bottles strewn throughout the park. This left a short, even expanse of lawn that was ringed with a useless compost of broken glass and leaves. Even the local wildlife dodged this sharp, dangerous fluff.
Once in a while I would see a few kids playing basketball on the cracked court, shooting fading jumpers through the impossibly loud chain nets, or a couple who had sneaked away from their socially distanced houses to meet in the park and make out for an hour before school or work. As our pandemic drug on for months, these early morning park visitors became fewer and farther between.
One group I did see use the park regularly were the rabbits. They were spread throughout the park, doing a more efficient job with their busy mouths than the landscapers ever did. Occasionally a coyote would lope through the area and the bunnies would scatter until it moved on and they could resume their breakfasts. When I walked by they barely noticed me, except for a few of the young ones who would scamper off into the bushes with their mothers watching carefully.
The hillside park was built in the 60’s and had an incredible view of the city below. When it was built it was on the far edge of the city, a virtual escape from urban living. Now, sixty years later it was surrounded by large, expensive homes that also appreciated the view. The highest point in the park, a small grassy knoll, was the highest point in the city. Directly adjacent to the ageing park was a ridgeline that had become a Mello-Roos privately-owned park provided by the new homes.
There was a beautiful winding path from the grassy knoll across the ridge and down into the private park. In the early morning the lush green slopes of the private park were covered with rabbits, all munching away a couple of feet apart. A few usually stopped on the path and scuttled away slowly when they saw who was walking through.
This morning I saw at least three dozen scattered across the slope. They looked up quickly when they heard me coming with my cane but then went right back to their meal. All of them went back to their meal except for one, a big plump bunny who had parked himself in the middle of the path and faced me down.
He was heavy, at least eight or nine pounds by the look of him. It was obvious that this was the leader of the warren and it looked as if he was waiting for me. I walked steadily towards him but he didn’t move. He merely stared up at me with a strange look in his eyes. I stopped about ten feet in front of him.
“So bunny, are you going to move or do I have to go around you?”
The rabbit looked at me quizzically, as if sizing me up while all the other rabbits on the hillside backed off several feet. I didn’t remember noticing this bold bunny before. Like all rabbits I figured he’d scamper away as I got closer. As I walked straight towards him there was a gruff noise that came from the rabbit, as if he was clearing his throat.
“Go over or around me, but I’m not moving.”
I froze. All around me the rabbits on the grassy slopes stopped their munching and stared at us. I pulled one of the earbuds. Wow, I thought. I’m really losing it. Six months of isolation and now I’m hearing animals speak.
“Did you hear me?” the rabbit growled.
“Ok,” I chuckled, glancing quickly around. “Where’s the mike?”
“What?” The rabbit tilted his head quizzically. “There’s no mike. I’m talking to you.”
I smiled and looked back over my shoulder, expecting to see some kids with a walkie talkie. But as I looked around I realized I was totally alone.
“Sure you are. Well, if you’re really talking to me…what’s your name?”
“That’s not important right now,” the rabbit scoffed. “I need you to deliver a message for me. Are you paying attention?”
I stopped looking around for the source and stared right at the rabbit.
“Of course I am. How else was I going to get through to you?”
“Well, uh…I don’t know. What do you want?” I asked, still sure somebody was having a good laugh punking the old man that walked through the park every morning.
“I speak for all the rabbits you see on these slopes, and we want the same thing you do, safety.”
I couldn’t help myself and started to snicker.
“At least you don’t have to worry about a global pandemic.”
“Please be serious, big human. We know all about Covid-19 and your unsuccessful efforts at curbing it. But we’ve got our own problems.”
“What problems?” I scoffed. “All you do is chew grass all day, have sex, and dodge cars and coyotes.”
“You’d be surprised how complicated it can get. The things you see are the most important things to us, food, family, and safety. These are getting much harder to come by due to your actions.”
Now he had me. I stopped wondering who was responsible for this theater of the absurd and nervously fingered my walking stick. If I was really losing my mind, I thought, I wouldn’t be able to practice my meditative breathing. Slowly I counted to eight as I inhaled, counted to eight again, and then exhaled slowly. The rabbit tilted his head.
“Are you done? Come on now, we don’t have much time, pay attention.”
“Ok. Let’s say I really believe I’m talking to a sentient rabbit. Why aren’t any of the others talking?”
“Oh, they talk,” the rabbit said as he nodded towards the other rabbits on the hillside. “But they choose not to. Like most animals, we refrain from interacting with you out of a combination of fear and disgust. Things have gotten to such a point, though, that I was chosen to confront you.”
“Me? Specifically? Why would you chose to talk to me?”
“You’re different than most. We can hear your music through your headphones, and approve. Most of the rabbits are very impressed that you talk to us kindly every day. I’m the most senior and their leader so I was chosen to speak to you.”
“Well, I’m honored,” I smiled slyly. “But why is today different? Why did you choose today to speak with me?”
“Like I said, things have gotten to a very serious point. If we, and I’m speaking globally, don’t act we may cease to be.”
“Hmm. So are you talking about the COVID crisis? Don’t you think we’re trying our best to stop it?”
The big rabbit shook his head quickly and rubbed his nose on the grass next to the trail. He looked back at me with what looked like concern in his eyes.
“Hell no. You’re not trying to stop it. In fact, you’re making it worse. We see a few people wearing masks and distancing, but on the whole you’re failing. The virus is getting worse among humans. With the environment you’ve already made a mess of this planet and have us on a path to sure destruction. At any time you could use your science and make this world what it should be, but you won’t.”
“Wow,” I paused, it was the most damning thing I’d ever heard from rabbit. “Well, I agree we’re not doing much on the environmental front. But there are a lot of people trying hard to tame this COVID thing. Being a rabbit you don’t have anything to compare it to.”
“Oh, you haven’t heard of the hemorrhagic fever that is spreading through warrens from the Palm Springs area? It’s like Ebola for bunnies and we’ve lost millions. But look, we’re all sitting more than three feet apart and you won’t see any of this warren mixing with strange bunnies, no matter how sexy they look. We’ll tame this before summer is out, but you’ll still have your own virus raging. But it’s more than just the virus, it’s the environment as well. If you don’t get a handle on it you’ll destroy the whole planet. This virus is just a warning sign.”
My brain turned over in my head. Not only was I talking to animals, I was beginning to argue with them. The weird thing was, this rabbit was making sense.
“Ok, so let’s say I believe you. Why on earth would you bring this to me? What can I do?”
“We all have our roles to play. My role was to contact you. You were selected because of your kindness, your obvious environmental beliefs, and the fact that you always have your mask, even in the early mornings. You care, and we can sense it. What you need to do now though, is contact your superiors, whoever that might be, and make your beliefs known.”
“My superiors? Do you mean my wife, my boss, or maybe the President?”
“Yes. All of them. You could talk to them, write to them, or make big signs about these issues. If you and others like you don’t start somewhere we’ll all be destroyed.”
Just then I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. The rabbits on the slope scattered and the rabbit I’d been talking to moved to the edge of the path. A lone early morning hiker was coming towards us but walking about ten feet to the side of us along the grassy hillside. He was a senior as well, masked and walking with a cane and a water bottle. The senior waved and nodded toward the rabbit as he passed. I waved back, wondering if he’d heard any of the conversation. After he passed I waited a few moments and then turned back to the big rabbit.
“So, you want me to be your spokesperson?”
“Don’t be so egotistical. It’s not just you. Right now there are others like you being contacted by various animals. We know some will follow through, and some will just resign themselves to destruction. We’re counting on you.”
“Well, I do love a good cause. Do you think we can talk about this again tomorrow morning?”
The big rabbit paused for several seconds and looked me up and down.
“Look, it’s getting late and I’ve got to be going. Jeremy, the brown, has half a store-bought carrot he’s going to share with me this morning. We’ll see you again, but you need to get started. We’re counting on you.”
Before I could frame a response the rabbit turned quickly and darted off into the underbrush at the edge of the trail. The other bunnies on the grassy hillside were twenty yards away now and scattering into their own bushes. I was left alone on the hillside with the sounds of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway echoing through my earbuds.