Discover more from The Intrinsic Perspective
A larger animal waits for a smaller one to die
I open the door while holding my son in my arms and outside there is the rabbit. It is on my lawn essentially cartwheeling, but each time it cannot move farther than a few inches. It’s too late for my son not to see it, and he’s smart enough now that if I put him back inside he’ll know something is wrong. And there’s nothing to hide from him, as there’s no blood anyway, nor any sound, just a few frantic flops across the ground before it is still. A platonic rabbit, incredibly cute, except it’s lying on its side with one leg held suspended at an awkward angle. This is the only evidence of injury.
“Hop! Hop! Hop!” says my son, just learning to associate sounds with his favorite animals. He is smiling, and does not know how terrible it is to see a rabbit who cannot hop at all.
I carefully approach. Looking up from where it lies on the lawn its brown eye is mammalian, almost human in its wetness and soulfulness. But it’s not looking at me. The eye fixates on me momentarily, but then flits away again to resume looking beyond me. Looking up, at the sky above. It is a beautiful day out, and the sky is very blue, and a few spotted clouds move slowly. One of the first days of nice weather after a long winter, with the air hinting of spring. Which is why the rabbit was out, and why it was slow and stupid and careless in these early warmer days, and why Minerva, my German Shepherd, had in the morning caught it and bowled it over, probably breaking its leg. All unbeknownst to me. She was just supposed to be going to the bathroom. And it’s not her fault. I should have watched her more closely out the window. Minerva did not savage it, she likely merely chased it, and in the chase the rabbit received a possibly mortal break.
For some reason I am haunted by rabbits. They crop up in my life like some sort of sigil. If asked to name my favorite movie, the beautiful 1970s watercolor Watership Down is a contender. One of the very first essays I ever wrote was about animal consciousness, and rabbits in particular. But leaning over the rabbit lying on its side as it looks up past me at the brilliant blue bowl of the sky, this is not what I immediately think of. Rather, I remember a scene from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, one I had not thought of in years. It is a scene wherein a character, Prince Andrei, suffers what is perhaps a mortal wound in the historical “Battle of the Three Emperors” in 1805 while fighting on the side of the Russians against his idol Napoleon:
"What is it? Am I falling? Are my legs giving way under me?" he thought, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the fight between the French and the artillerists ended, and wishing to know whether or not the red-haired artillerist had been killed, whether the cannon had been taken or saved. But he did not see anything. There was nothing over him now except the sky—the lofty sky, not clear, but still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds slowly creeping across it. "How quiet, calm, and solemn, not at all like when I was running," thought Prince Andrei, "not like when we were running, shouting, and fighting; not at all like when the Frenchman and the artillerist, with angry and frightened faces, were pulling at the swab—it's quite different the way the clouds creep across this lofty, infinite sky. How is it I haven't seen this lofty sky before? And how happy I am that I've finally come to know it. Yes! Everything is empty, everything is a deception, except this infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing except that. But there is not even that, there is nothing except silence, tranquility. And thank God!"
It is Prince Andrei whom I think of as I watch the rabbit’s eye flit only occasionally to me and then quickly back up to the blue above.
Oh little creature on my lawn who cannot move your broken body, you are now my problem.
What do I do? A first thought: I could go put it out in the woods and let nature take its course. For what is the life of this one little rabbit? After all, I eat meat. While I’ve debated going vegetarian for years, I never have. What is this rabbit to the pigs, to the cows, to the chickens I regularly send to the slaughterhouse? Why care for it, and not them? I’ve even eaten rabbit a few times in fancy restaurants in New York or when I was briefly in France and feeling adventurous.
But so what? What am I? Some sort of slave to logical consistency? No, I’m a human being. I’m free to contradict myself, regardless of it makes sense.
So I find a cardboard box and tape it up into a little makeshift home. I use a toy shovel to slowly maneuver the rabbit’s body in—at the activity the rabbit spasms and flips over. Once it’s in the box its eyes shut tight in what can only be agonizing expectation. It has retreated inside itself, waiting. I hush it and close the flaps of the box to make it dark inside, leaving enough of a crack for air to circulate. Lifting the box I am shocked, for the cardboard container weighs exactly the same as it did when it was empty, as if there were no animal inside at all.
Leaving the rabbit in the box in the shed, I return to put in a small bowl of water and a full carrot, even though a bunch of SEO-clickbait websites about caring for wild rabbits tell me not to give it any food. Surely a rabbit can safely eat a carrot! But does it know about bowls? Will it just knock the water over? I do all these things expecting it will die.
I look up animal rescue services and wildlife rehabilitation centers. By now it is past 5PM, and the closest animal rehabilitation center is closed, although it has an emergency hotline. Is this an emergency? What counts as a wildlife emergency? It’s an emergency for the rabbit, but I think that’s probably not what they mean. I think it probably means: I am trapped inside my home with a crazy raccoon, please help. I decide that if the rabbit lives through the night, which looks to be luckily warm, I’ll drive it to the center in the morning.
That night, the temperature drops more than predicted. There is a debate within the house: Do we bring the rabbit inside? Surely rabbits live in the wild. They know cold. I look up at what temperature pet rabbits supposedly freeze to death at—we are a few degrees above the critical line, but also it has shelter, a box, and then the shed around it. Additionally, we have a small child, and this is a wild animal. What if it has fleas? What if it has parasites? What if it escapes, only previously shocked, not incapacitated at all, and runs through our house doing arcane wild-thing acts?
I lie in bed thinking: Oh bunny, your fate was ordained long ago, in Wuhan, China. Some idiot made bat stew, or some equally-dumb graduate student poked a needle through their glove. And later, during the Covid pandemic, a young couple got a puppy to get them through it. So Minerva lived on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, right at the height of panic and plague. With everyone trapped in their houses it seemed as if nature was rising up and overtaking the city. Everything was closed except the parks, in which Minerva and I would walk late at night, training on the leash, but since humans had retreated mostly inside their houses the rabbit population had exploded; there were rabbits everywhere, in every park, always scattering on our approach and hopping away into the dusk. Every night during walks we would chase after them, laughing, Minerva as a little puppy straining on her leash, her body thrumming, delighted beyond belief to be hunting as a pack, even though it was all a jest, we meant none of it, we couldn’t catch a rabbit if we tried. To this day rabbits are the only thing she will chase with abandon and I know why—it is because of the bounding joy of running with her new owners during those puppy-dog pandemic nights.
In the morning my breath steams the air as I trudge out to the shed and open the box, expecting a corpse. The rabbit is still on its side, but its little belly also still moves up and down. It has eaten some of the carrot and drunk the water, somehow, in the dark, managing not to spill from what must be strange alien glassware. Its small pellets of shit are obligingly in a corner.
Placing the cardboard box in the trunk of the car I begin the 40-minute drive to the wildlife rehabilitation center. Minerva rides, as she always does with me, shotgun in the front seat and with a head out the window.
The wildlife rehabilitation center is at the end of a long dirt road and consists of a small barn and attached house. As I approach an eerily tall bald man answers the door to what looks like a regular house, although colonial and out of time, as if I have wandered up like a dust bowl migrant to politely ask for work at his door. Towering behind the screen he tells me someone will come out to take the rabbit, so I wait by the car, and eventually a woman with blue hair and a mask on arrives up the dirt road.
“The culprit,” I say, by way of introduction, gesturing to Minerva. The rescuer remarks on how beautiful Minerva is and gives her a friendly scratch. And it’s true, Minerva really is, everyone says so. She keeps her gorgeous head stuck out the passenger window and watches as I take the box out of the trunk. After what was assuredly a jarring rollercoaster ride of unearthly momentums the rabbit’s face is now smooshed downward into a corner of the box; it is concentrated inwards on some dark internal process unfolding like a sickly rose inside of it.
“How often. . .” I don’t even finish. What am I going to do? Plead for the life of one rabbit? Tell them to spare no expense?
“Impossible to say,” she says. “We just do all we can. We practice humane euthanasia in any cases where we feel the animal won’t recover. Sometimes they do though, and we release them.” She does not sound very confident this is one of those cases. When she looks inside the box and sees the rabbit with its downward smooshed face she says only, “Oh, poor little bunny.”
As I am driving away I realize I forgot to tell them its name. That seems important, another deadly oversight on my part. If I had told them its name, perhaps they would have been less likely to euthanize a “Prince Andrei.”
Cruising with one hand on the wheel I reach over to pet Minerva, who is blood and bone, and who eats blood and bone, and who is only here and so beautiful because her ancestors ate so much blood and bone. I think of my son, who does not know about death yet, who lives in a world that’s eternal and unchanging, where animals and people last forever, where no matter what happens everyone returns happily again after the night’s sleep. I didn’t use to think that innocence was so important—“Everyone has to grow up,” I would have said—but now that I’m a parent I would trade anything, an arm, a leg, an eye, my very life, to keep his world innocent forever.
On the highway back the car I’m driving seems not to move. Rather, it is the sky that moves, the clouds and the blue and the expanse of it all slipping overhead, as if a great covering blanket were constantly being pulled back above.
The sky! The sky! Tell me, little bunny. What did you see?
What did you see in the sky?
To receive the full content of The Intrinsic Perspective, and to help put out more writing like this, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.