Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2010

I was listening to the local radio talk show a couple of weeks ago. The discussion was about all the rabbits that have shown up this spring. A distinction was made between 'wild' rabbits and 'feral' rabbits, but in terms of the damage they cause and the pests they are, I think the argument was strictly semantic. I understand about rabbits. One Fall, when our kids were pre-teens, a friend (and I use the term loosely) brought four rabbits to our place and asked if we'd take them. He didn't want them any longer, but couldn't bear to put them in the frying pan. We told him to put them in the barn and we'd see if they made it through the winter. I learned then that rabbits are survivors! We didn't see them all winter but at the first sprig of green grass here they came, all four generations of them, exponentially multiplied. We had rabbits, black ones, white ones, brown ones and spotted ones, all over the place. So the difference between 'wild and 'feral' has little bearing on the argument of how pesky they can be or how much damage they can do.

Several good ideas were put forth about how to either keep them from your trees and gardens or get rid of them altogether. Every other caller, it seemed, offered something to do with stew. How to get them there varied from traps and snares to a .22 at short range. With each of those suggestions the host replied "but we wouldn't want the grand kids to see that." And my immediate response to the radio and anyone listening was "And why not?"

I grew up on a farm back in the days when nearly everyone grew up on a farm or within an hour's ride to the grandparents to be on the farm. At a very early age I knew where we got eggs and how we got milk because I went with mom and dad to the barn and the hen house. I wasn't shielded from the harsher facts of where we got our food so I knew where hamburger and pork chops came from, also. No one said 'Don't look!" or "You can't go out there' when it was time to butcher. The trick was we didn't name the animals we butchered, so I had no emotional connection to the hogs and chickens or the cattle. E.B. White hadn't written 'Charlotte's Web yet. Any propaganda I read leaned toward Peter Rabbit, who we all know is an allegory to convince children to do what they are told. I didn't grow up to pull wings off flies because of my early experience with the facts of food although I have been known to swat a mosquito or two.

I believe we have raised a couple of generations of people who are too far removed from the facts of life regarding what it takes to feed ourselves and each other. I listened to an interview on NPR last winter in which kids in the East were hosting a Farm Life project where people could visit and see what a farmer does. One teenager told the interviewer that he'd had to explain to a visiting gentleman about eggs and couldn't convince him that they weren't produced in a factory. Scary! And there is a joke that goes around on e-mail a couple times a year (at least I hope it is a joke) about an animal rights group that displays the sign "Quit killing animals for food. Get your meat at the Supermarket!"

I know some people prefer to not eat meat, and I respect that choice, but when we co-opt the corn crop to make ethanol for fuel and use croppable lands to build mega malls or widen freeways, I think we may be tipping even the vegetarian lifestyle into the black hole of ignorance about where food comes from. This eco generation seems to believe that if it comes from the supermarket it is pure with never a thought as to how it got into the box or can or deep freeze in the first place.

The Talk Show never did solve the rabbit problem, but I heard lots of good ideas. One was to spread used kitty litter around the periphery of your garden to keep the rabbits out. Another was to use moth balls in the same way. I've heard of that for keeping deer out of the garden, might also work for moose, but had never thought of it for the rabbits. Of course if you have a cat that works well, and so do dogs, but it keeps them really busy.

The best deterrent might be an onion, a couple of potatoes, some carrots, salt and pepper to taste in a pot of just boiling water. How you entice the rabbit to join in is your choice.

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