Just as making 231 pies hasn’t been enough to heal my grief from Marcus, yesterday’s 10-mile bike ride to Selma was no cure for the heartache left by Mr. X. Not even close. So I went for another bike ride this afternoon. I left the house earlier this time which meant warmer temperatures and more daylight and therefore I planned to ride twice as far. I would have ridden the opposite direction, to the town of Floris, but then I would have had a headwind on the way home. If I hadn’t checked to see which way the wind was blowing my day may have turned out differently, better. But you can’t know these things until it’s too late.
Starting off on the same route as yesterday, I pedaled past the first town, called Selma, and was almost to the second town down the road from Eldon, called Douds, which was 10 miles from home and my designated turnaround point. But shortly before I reached the Douds junction I spotted a little brown bunny on the side of the road. I was expecting it to either dart out in front of my bike or run the other way into the grass. It didn’t move. So I stopped, got off my bike and took a look. It was a baby.
I see so much road kill on these rural highways, which always makes me sad. And it’s so much more in your face when you are on a bicycle. You get a close up view of the glazed over eyes of the once majestic but now fallen deer. You see the gory, bloody guts of the raccoons and opossums smeared all over the pavement. You see much more when you are going 15 mph than you would traveling at 55. Too much.
I didn’t want to see this bunny become another victim of the road. But should I interfere with nature?
I always remember that Ray Bradbury story, “A Sound of Thunder,” how when a group of adventurers travels back in time to hunt dinosaurs they are warned to “stay on the path” because interfering with nature – killing things that weren’t already destined to die anyway – could alter the entire course of history. One of the time-travelers steps on a butterfly and the world is forever changed. (For the worse.)
Maybe picking up a bunny off the side of the road isn’t quite that extreme. But it could potentially alter the balance of nature. The bunny was surely injured and therefore easy prey for another animal, a fox or a hawk, perhaps. In trying to save its life I may subsequently be robbing a hungry animal of a meal and in turn altering its chance for survival.
I thought about leaving it there. But then I thought about Marcus. Or, more specifically, WWMD. What would Marcus do? Marcus was the kind of guy who valued life so much he couldn’t bear to throw out an avocado pit. He saved them all – and seeing that avocados were a staple in our diet we had buckets of those pits collecting in our house. Marcus would have insisted on helping the bunny. So I set aside my “let nature run its own course” philosophy, scooped up the baby, and carried it over to a safe spot, away from the highway, next to a barn.
I had a hard time just leaving it there, so I stayed with it for a while. I sat down with my back leaning against the side of the barn, cradling the bunny in my arms. It laid still, its breathing steady.
My bike was still lying by the side of the road so cars passing by probably thought I’d had some mechanical mishap. If they could have seen the tears streaming down my face, they would know the problem was with my heart and not, say, a flat tire. I was overcome with sadness and couldn’t stop myself from crying for life -- and for death. For this innocent little bunny struggling to live. For the dead deer and raccoons I had just passed a few miles back. For Marcus and his life cut short. And of course it was bound to happen, the tears finally flowed for Jim -- oops, I mean Mr. X. I had ridden bikes with him on this same route just two weeks earlier and the memory underscored how deeply I had fallen for him and how much I was missing him.
I sat there a while longer, forgetting that I was supposed to be exercising and not crying – and certainly not channeling Dr. Dolittle. But there I was, wet cheeks and all, studying the little bunny a little closer. Its right eye was dull and crusted over. I thought about how I could clean it out with saline solution and a warm washcloth when I got home. Home? If I took it home then what? Take it to the vet, for starters. Then I thought about what I would name it – if it was a girl, then Xena, as in Warrior Princess, for conquering her battle of survival. I thought about how my life might change having to care for a bunny, perhaps a crippled one as it had most likely been hit by a car. I thought about how my two terriers love to chase bunnies but I would teach them to respect this one. The bunny would play outside with us while I throw the stick for the dogs. The animals would eat their meals together. There would be room for the bunny to sleep in my king-size bed. And we would all live happily ever after in the American Gothic House. Oh dear.
I rode home with the bunny zipped up in my bike jacket, occasionally taking one hand off the handlebars to hoist the little thing higher so the pumping of my legs didn’t disturb it. I could feel the heat of its body so I knew it was still alive. And several times it tried to wriggle free, which I took as a good sign.
Once I got home I put it in a large cardboard box, the one I had used to transport 60 pounds of apples home from Aldi last week. I put a soft towel in the box. I chopped up some cabbage. I tried to get some water to its lips by dripping it off my finger toward its mouth. And then I felt the tension fill my body. I wasn’t sure this little creature was going to make it through the night.
One of my sources of solace (which I forgot to mention in my list yesterday) is a hot bubble bath. So while the bunny lay in the cardboard box, dazed and confused and wondering how it ended up in a box on the kitchen table inside this crazy woman’s house, I soaked my own dazed and confused body in steaming hot water. The water was so hot that I needed to go lay down afterward, drained as if I’d come out of sauna. I rested in my bed for a half hour and returned downstairs with plans to shred some carrots for my new little friend – potential family member.
I peered into the box and saw the bunny’s head was tilted back in an awkward position. It was lying on its side with its eye open. I had a bad feeling. I reached down and stroked its light brown fur and felt the coldness of its body. Hard. Lifeless. Like Marcus lying in his casket.
I must have thought by saving the bunny I could make everything right with the world again. I was sure I possessed magical powers to keep this baby alive. Because I certainly hadn’t considered what would happen if the little thing died. Right there on my kitchen table. But grief is familiar to me. I know what to do with it. The guttural screams emitting from deep inside my body no longer frighten me. I let them come because I know that the energy of pain and despair needs to be released -- MUST be released -- and with that release comes some relief. Until the next time. All I can say is that it's a good thing my neighbors are too far away to hear me.
Tomorrow I will bury the bunny in my backyard and say a little blessing for it. And if after that I feel up for another bike ride I will, regardless of the wind, most definitely go the other direction.