Of Rabbits at Daybreak

Everyone knows that if you want to power-walk during the dog days of summer, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.

(Though the subject of this column isn’t “dog days,” I’ll veer off topic long enough to clarify that the term references the period from July 3 through August 11, when the sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the “Dog Star.” The tilt of the earth during these 40 days is such that the sun hits the northern hemisphere at a more direct angle and for more hours than at any other time of year. Long, hot days, for sure.)

It’s extra-important to be out the door early if you’re actually walking a dog during the dog days. And if that dog has a heat-absorbing black coat, which mine does, a dawn departure is crucial. Walking at daybreak offers Kamala and me the chance to see lots of things we otherwise wouldn’t. The sky turning pink. Long, long shadows cast by tall, tall trees. Dew on the grass so heavy that it sometimes looks like rain.

Best of all are the woodland animals that haven’t yet taken cover from the scorching summer sun. Deer. Foxes. Possums. Raccoons. Skunks. Though it’s fun to see these critters, it’s frequently a tug of war when you’re holding the leash of a hyper-alert and muscled-up rescue dog who was bred to hunt but not trained to heel when she was young and pliable. Kamala and I are still working on leash manners. I’d be lying if I said she doesn’t sometimes go nuts when she encounters wildlife. Or, truth be told, when she encounters cattle or goats or cats or other dogs.

One exception is the rabbits that hang out about halfway up the hill we frequently climb.  They cluster near an ancient aluminum fence that blocks access to a field that hasn’t been bush-hogged all summer. Wild blackberries grow there with reckless abandon, blackberries I’m unwilling to go after for fear of rusty barbed-wire and ticks and copperhead snakes.

These rabbits are teenagers, old enough to be away from their mama, whose nest I suspect is hidden somewhere within the brambles, but not old enough yet to have all their wits about them. Sometimes I spot as many as seven or eight. I wonder if these rabbits are siblings. Are they neighbors? Friends? Do rabbits have friends? They seem to have mastered the art of “If I hold perfectly still, maybe nobody will notice me,” which almost always fools Kamala. I don’t know why. Even if she doesn’t see the rabbits, surely she must smell them. But with nary a bark or even the eerie high-pitched whistle she emits whenever she senses something exciting, she strolls peacefully on by.

I reward her with a mini-Milk Bone and a pat on the head and up the hill we go.

One cool, foggy morning in early August, the kind of morning that comes as a surprise and a delight during the dog days, I spotted something smack-dab in the middle of the narrow road, right in front of the ancient aluminum gate. Please let it be a clump of hay, I thought, or a pile of leaves or a crumpled Taco Bell sack. But even from a distance, I knew it was a dead rabbit. Its body was flat as a cow patty but its head was intact, ears sticking up slightly above the asphalt, unseeing right eye staring at the sky.

I gave Kamala’s leash a quick jerk, urging her on up the road before she could figure out what was going on. Our little friend deserved to lie in dignity until the buzzards came for it, a poignant reminder that–like summer—nothing wonderful lasts forever.

(August 21, 2021)