It’s been nine months since the War Department and I pulled up stakes in our old house of twenty years and moved…a whole five miles north. That move was significant, though. In a world where Baby Boomers are downsizing, we bought and updated a house twice the size of the one we left.
We’re in a neighborhood, though one that’s not brand spankin’ new. I don’t like bare yards with twigs for trees, and flowerbeds full of skinny bushes. We wanted some real vegetation, and that’s what this thirteen year-old house had.
Lined with twenty-foot tall Leland Cypress trees that most folks call cedars, the back half of the yard totaling about three quarters of an acre is relatively private. In the middle of that, we dug a big hole, filled it with concrete and water, and landscaped what I like to think of as a mid-century pool.
On the back of the house is now an eighteen-foot high cedar patio cover, thirteen feet deep, and stretching around an “L” shape that’s nearly fifty feet in total length. That’s where the War Department and I were sitting the other morning, enjoying the first cool front of the year.
This is my time, when the oppressive heat and humidity of summer is pushed back down to the gulf where it belongs. Now cool air from the north makes it pleasant to sit outside with our coffee in the mornings, and adult beverages in the evenings.
When the girls were little, the War Department referred to those drinks as Big People Yuck, so they wouldn’t want a taste.
Sipping coffee, I enjoyed the pool’s cascading waterfall. Blue jays argued in the trees, and dove peeped past. Geese called high above, pushed southward by the cold fronts pushing down from the Canadian border and looking for one of the neighborhood’s small “lakes” to overwinter.
Two ducks sizzled past barely over the treetops, the air streaming over their wings.
That’s when the War Department pointed at a three-foot palm tree only fifteen feet away. In the flowers planted at the base was the new bane of our neighborhood.
“There’s Chocolate Rabbit.”
She’d named it because each evening the cottontail sits in profile under a tree in front of the house, looking exactly like those chocolate Easter rabbits we loved as kids.
I’d been trying to trap this one for relocation with no luck. Absolutely still, the rabbit watched us with one eye. Our little rescue dog, Willie the Killer Shih Tzu, studiously ignored the long-eared rodent, possibly trying to avoid conflict.
“I’d go in and get the pellet rifle, but I can’t shoot it now. You’ve already named the danged thing.”
“Well, don’t shoot Baby, either.”
There’s another one, barely big as my hand, hanging around our little vegetable garden. I sighed.
“Quit naming these rabbits. We want to get rid of them.”
Because of Willie, I’ve been worried that the rabbits will bring in predators. Not long ago, a neighbor about a mile away lost a small dog when a coyote jumped the fence. Rabbits bring coyotes and bobcats, which really don’t discern between wildlife and small pets.
“You know, we haven’t found any body parts in a while, but I’m afraid whatever was here when we moved in will come back.”
“I wish you wouldn’t always talk like a writer. Body parts.”
“Well, it’s true. Remember, I found a rabbit head laying right over there.” I pointed to the edge of the cypress tree limbs only inches above the ground. “There was a leg there, too. They were both fresh.”
“I don’t like to think about it.”
“Well, the thing that worried me the most was when I found the back leg of a cottontail on top of the shrubs out front.”
Back in the spring, I went out to trim the shrubs and found an entire haunch lying on top of the manicured bushes. I’ve since wondered how it got up there. Thrown by an excited coyote? Maybe a bobcat ate it on the roof and accidentally dropped part of supper over the edge.
Then I wondered about hawks. I’ve seen them pick up squirrels here in the city and sail over parked cars to the nearest dining location.
“I put out traps, but these two are smarter than the average rabbits.”
Once trapped, I’ve taken the captives on trips out to the country, where I release them after spraying one foot with neon paint, just to be sure they don’t come back. So far, we haven’t seen any repeat offenders with one bright orange sock.
She sipped her coffee.
“They eat your plants.”
“We can put out more.”
“They bring in carnivores.” I pointed and nudged Willie with the toe of my boot. “Willie! Kill the rabbit!”
He opened one eye, and seeing that I wasn’t offering a treat, went back to sleep.
“At least chase it out of the yard.”
He snored quietly.
“You know, when I get the pellet rifle sighted in, and you’re not with me, your rabbit might cease to exist.”
“Don’t tell me about it. But you realize it’s illegal to shoot a pellet rifle in the neighborhood.”
“It has a muzzle break on it. Almost silent.”
“Tell that to the local constabulary when they come to haul you in.”
“I’d just tell ‘em I wanted the ears. That’s what people eat first when they get a Chocolate Bunny. Hey, maybe I can make rabbit foot good luck charms out of him.”
She spoke to the rabbit, who was still watching from under the palm.
“Run, while you can.”
It closed its eyes and dozed off, just like Willie.
“He’s so key-ute!” The War Department cut a look at me. “Great white hunter, huh?”
“Shhh. I’m taking my coffee and enjoying the weather.”
Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Hawke’s Target.”