rabbits

2023 is the Year Of The Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac and begins next Sunday – the 22nd. Believed to be lucky and auspicious, this year, in contrast with the far more aggressive Year Of The Tiger, is destined – if you believe in such things, to be much more peaceful – with an overall sense of ‘relaxation, fluidity, quietness and contemplation’ compared to the overenergized fury of 2022. Rabbits are seen as gentle, calm – if nervous and slightly suspicious- creatures; sensitive to emotion – composed, and tranquil, appealing, animals.

As a child I kept rabbits, and they were the first animals I loved. We had a white one with bright blue eyes which I rather unoriginally named Snowy, followed by a beautiful champagne rex breed called Bambi, who we had mated at a local animal farm and who had the most exquisitely cute fawn coloured babies that you weren’t allowed to touch for the first two weeks or the mother would ingest them – an early lesson in the more frightening side of beauty, although it was worth the wait. I remember my delirious excitement when my parents said I could finally open the lid of the hutch and see them all – I think there were nine – all nestled together in the corner, sightless, but so sweet I also wanted to eat them myself. Other rabbits that we kept included Chloe and Zoe – a grey dwarf and a black and white, and there were more, though I can’t distinguish them now in my mind. The impression that rabbits make on you is nothing like that of cats or dogs; although rabbits can be reponsive, even affectionate, they are silent creatures, except when agitated; they don’t do very much. Just sit there, looking, twitching, eating greens; bolting round the garden uncatchable and scratching…In fact, having lived with a cat for these last fifteen years, where interaction, intuition, telepathy, humour, and real communication exist on a daily basis – cats’ mood range is astonishing and something I continue to find fascinating even when she gets on my nerves – I realize in retrospect that rabbits are probably, as pets, rather boring.

Still, I did love them as a kid, even if, as always with me in virtually anything, there was an anguished ambivalence. Their claws – talons, really, which you were supposed to cut regularly – were like sabres jutting out from the paw: you could be quite seriously wounded if they dug them in. Under the noiseless mouth, innocuously chewing robotically on dandelion leaves, staring forward (the scent of these leaves automatically throw me back to childhood whenever I pick them by the roadside and rip them to smell that rabbit hutch mix of straw and ammonia if you hadn’t properly cleaned it out regularly enough, which became a real problem for me: a mixture of morbid apprehension/avoidance/ procrastination that would soon take over when it came to clearing out the droppings; partly just because I was lazy, and hated shoveling it out, but also from a fear of finding one of them dead – which once experienced is something of a shock to the system ; how their mysterious, blank placid faces would transform into frightening death masks ; rigid toothed snarls : a cold domestic mxyomotosis when you lifted up the roof and screamed for your dad to come and take the lifeless rock hard body away (and then a very sad burial ceremony, somewhere in the garden). I can see myself on a cold winter’s night, gingerly going out in the dark into the garden, treading past the rabbits’ spacious wooden abode, but sometimes lacking the courage to look inside; this haunted my dreams for many years: a swirl of leporine shadows and accusatory rabbit eyes, suffocating nightmares fused with the exquisite sadness of Watership Down – the animated film which was out at the time about a warren of warring rabbits that included Art Garfunkel’s total heartbreaker of a ballad, Bright Eyes, which just happened to be number one in 1979 at the time Snowy died — I can remember running out of the living room sobbing, disconsolate when it was on Top Of The Pops. Even now, while I have the film soundtrack somewhere on record downstairs, this music is just somehow far too poignant to ever listen to.

The art work for the original single sleeve – pictured here – encapsulates the dark and heroic savagery of the rabbits defending their territory in the (for a young child rather scary) film, narrated beautifully by the grave and deeply soul piercing voice of actor John Hurt; a melancholically enveloping, nostalgic pastoral, in which the rabbits were often anything but cute but instead rather violent and vicious (which they can be in real life; I found myself this summer, on the morning I was leaving my parents’ house, when there were still a few hours to go before we were going to drive to the station and say goodbye, and I found myself utterly absorbed in one of those ‘animal reality’ tv shows that I would probably not normally watch but which happened to be on the screen. It concerned the daily travails of the staff working on a stately home menagerie/animal park – goats getting ensnared in wire fences; moody rampaging bullocks ; balding lions with alopecia, mad chickens, that kind of thing, but this particular episode happened to be about all the extreme drama surrounding introducing a new member to the rabbit enclosure. The rabbit specialists working there gave quite in depth analyses of each bunny’s personality – this one is introverted, this one is a bit of a showoff, this one is depressed, that one laid back and contented, just like the human colleagues in an average workspace; all different, they all knew their place in the scheme of things and that the boss – by far the smallest – a rabbit with Napoleon syndrome which bit and nudged and bullied all the others into its own schemata would soon attack them into submission – a female dwarf that no one messed with; and sure enough, as the veterinarians predicted, the second they put a couple of new inmates in the pen then all hell broke loose.

The mass of rabbits were moving so fast that the human eye couldn’t make out what was happening – you would assume that the film had been sped up 77%; it was a hilarious blur of darting fur tails and ears and eyes and sharp teeth, the cohabiting females running at breakneck speed to nip and scratch each other into the correct pecking order; one of them docile yet gung ho enough to just go with the flow; another, more stubbornly non violent just wanting to get on with its quiet life – got quite badly injured – an incision right through the fur that would require antibiotics and having to be kept separately for quite a long time until could make any further attempts to reintroduce it to the colony).

The defensive and quick acting, teeth tearing reality, for me, though, doesn’t really take anything away from the fundamentally placid and appealing serenity of how rabbits still seem to humans; at least to me; I used to sometimes walk across Hampstead Heath when I worked in London, and on the meadows in front of Kenwood house, at dusk,the grass was teeming with them – calmly grazing and sitting; hopping to another patch. Sometimes moving; sometimes not. I loved stopping to watch. Just stand there for a while and unobtrusively observe. And rather than the cartooned oversimplification of much cute rabbit imagery – Miffy may be lovely, like Hello Kitty, if you say so, I prefer the true duality of the animals; beautiful, sociable, energetic, but aggressive when necessary, the more dangerous yang to the essential yin. They have a delightful shape, and smell good (they do – not the urine, which is pungent – but up close, you pick up a rabbit to cuddle and they just smell clean and fresh, of air and hay and rabbit fur – unlike other rodents like hamsters and gerbils, which perhaps not coincidentally I never took a shine to).

This is why, though now a cat keeper, I still collect rabbits. Not expensive and antique collectible ones, like those you have seen so far, but which I would definitely buy if I came across them at an acceptable price (I never go looking for these on the internet either), but, on ocasionl if I see a peculiar rabbit trinket or knick knack at a junk sail or local antique market I will sometimes pick it up to add the rabbits that happen to inhabit some of the upstairs shelves.

Speaking of which, please pardon the two week silence : I retreated into a much needed blissful hibernation over the New Year Period. One week or two spent intensely researching the culture of flowers until my brain burst; then after a New Year’s Day feast with our Japanese neighbours eating all the traditional food like o-sechi ryori I switched to my Japan book, which I had promised myself I would do, daring to finally open all the folders of writing I did last year – jettisoned, by the strong currents of the year, but also always waiting to be re-examined. There is so much of it it is hard to know what to do with it but I am certainly re-ignited; watching J-dramas on TV for research, trying to get my head around it all, but all this newness of knowledge and relaxing while always analyzing and reading and writing was essentially my idea of heaven. The weather was a stable temperature – cold, but blue skied and sunny – the perfect climate for headclearing afternoon walks. The morning, we would wake up whenever, and spend two or three hours with the cat in bed leisurely drinking tea and then coffee reading the papers from cover to cover, the sunlight illuminating the upstairs; later we would drift into individual projects for the rest of the day and evening – I am also in the middle of a long article I want to submit to a new perfume magazine – I felt, for a change, really at ease and in the moment: it was true contentment (I can’t actually think of a time I have been happier). I don’t know if the celestial Rabbit has anything to do with any of this, casting a benign and calming spell over everything, but if this is what the year holds for us – slower, tranquil, more dreamy (rabbits, though alert, patient and responsible, apparently have a tendency to evade reality) – then I am very happy to play along.

17 Comments

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17 responses to “rabbits

  1. Hanamini

    How lovely to have you back, and to read your about your rabbits and your tranquil times. I too had a rabbit when young, but somehow became allergic to it, so now it’s just dogs or cats. I’m loving some of the rabbit figurines, however. Happy Year of the Rabbit, and may all your efforts be plump, happy and calm. But you know we will enjoy them even if not.

    • Thanks for saying that in the inevitable advance (“the most unstable perfume writer on the internet !”)

      I am quite predictable – this time of year I am pretty much always at my best somehow – but things and the world take over, as they do for everyone ( this really did feel special though, somehow, hence today’s messy spontaneous piece).

      I really hope this year is more peaceful and less anguished too. Let’s enjoy what we have.

  2. My first pet is not rabbit but guinea pigs. I had them 16 years ago. Yes, five of them. Having rabbit could be a disaster if you don’t separate the female and male. I am not talking about the bunny poop. My coworker started to have a pair 10 years ago. Later he hated me wearing a shirt with a lot of rabbits in the office. I asked why. He said the pair of rabbit have grow into a huge family and occupied the whole backyard. Happy Lunar New Year in advance if I don’t see you again this week.

  3. OnWingsofSaffron

    Ah rabbits! Born in 1963, the year of the water rabbit, it seems 60 years later we‘re back to aquatic bunny again. Let‘s see what happens: last year was not exactly a kind year, ending with my first Covid infection (all was fine). Apropos rabbits: I had a white rabbit with red eyes called Ruby when I lived in Colombo back in the late 60-ies. One day it was gone, and I was told it had escaped. Many years later my mother told me btw that pitiful Ruby had been eaten by a rat snake. Oh dear!
    So, all rabbits must keep their eyes wide open!!

    • A shocking ending. You are right – they need to be vigilant.

      Do you think there is any truth in any of all this? From personal experience I have accrued enough confirmation over the years that there is truth in star signs in terms of personality and who I get along with even though scientifically it seems to be impossible

    • Hanamini

      I was told my Bunny (very original name for my white rabbit) had walked into the back of the washing machine somehow and been mangled by the machinery. The 8-yr-old me was traumatised! My husband is a rabbit. I’m a slightly older ox; we seem to get on OK, 28 years later. I do wonder about those things. They’re so general as to be applicable to anyone, and yet I find myself reading characteristics of such-and-such….

      • There is a hideous amount of truth in it all, I find.

        D is Virgo; I am Sagittarius – horrendous opposites and apparently the worst combination possible – though the calm erotic love nest that was the new year heaven would contradict this.

        Last year though things were at a real boil : splitting seemed feasible, even ( especially ? ) after 29 years : always having to be together covidly really brought out the worst of the innate tensions

      • ( ps I am a dog ; he is a wild boar )

  4. matty1649

    I love your collection of rabbits.

  5. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Very wise to tread the footsteps of the rabbit in the beginning of this year.
    Sounds very beautiful and quiet.
    No tailswishing snarling menacing from last years starsign.

    I loved the ending about the rabbit war same as I liked the series on netflix.

    Gung ho the rabbit way for 2023
    I am into Mahora this rainy unsnowy period

  6. MrsDalloway

    Ah, a relaxed quiet contemplative fluid New Year sounds perfect. Herbivorous.

    This sounds a nice Japan drama on Netflix, have you seen? https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2023/jan/17/the-makanai-cooking-for-the-maiko-house-netflix-the-joyful-japanese-food-and-friendship-drama-you-should-never-watch-hungry

    • Yes I was thinking about watching this although it is supposed to be quite wimpy and nothingy (which is simultaneously its appeal; no conflict; just pleasantness, ‘ambient tv’ – which is interesting in itself.

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