Friday, January 10, 2014

Rabbits in the Woods

There was a small patch of woods behind my house where I grew up. When I was a kid, it seemed big enough. There was a small feeder stream that ran into the pond beside my house. On a winter day that was not too cold I could get a good running start and leap over to the other side. If it was cold the extra clothing would hinder both my speed and leaping ability. If it was spring or summer there was just too much underbrush to move much less get a running start.
While we did not get a lot of snow, we could count on a snowfall that did more than dust the ground about once every other year. We lived for those snowfalls. We did not build a lot of snow forts or snowmen. We did play football and hunt rabbits.
There was something really neat about hunting rabbits in the snow. We had our family pets, but they were not rabbit dogs. So this was our first experience at tracking.
Everyone would meet up at my house and we would hike across the cow pasture towards the small patch of woods. We would do our best to step high at the outer edge in order to push down the briars. I was on the short side so usually me friends would lead the way in the beginning. It would not take long to spot tracks in the snow. We would find various bird tracks, some squirrels’, but the exciting finds were the long embedded ones. They were the hind legs imprints of the rabbits.
Because the patch of woods was so small, I would guess around three quarters of an acre, it did not take long to follow the tracks to where the rabbit was hiding. The rabbits were smart too. They would watch us and our eyes to see if we noticed them. Occasionally we would spot one forty feet away or more, but most often we would be within a few yards before we could see the long-eared fur ball. I even remember once trying to figure out why the tracks disappeared before spotting the creator.
And when we got close to them it was an amazing scene. I can only compare the flush of a covey of quail to how the rabbit would erupt from a dead still with us right on top of them. The initial launch through the snow would have all of us leap off the ground as high as our hearts would leap from our chest outward. Then it was a zigging brown blur shooting between fallen trees, resting stumps, and rotten limbs. Seldom did we ever even get a shotgun to our shoulder.
We would laugh. Hysterically. We were kids learning about nature and we were having the times of our lives. After a few minutes we would start chasing the brushed snow path once again. Looking back at those times now, there may have only been one rabbit in those woods. We could have terrorized the same rabbit year after year. Or maybe he was having as much fun as we were. Four or five kids laughing and playing and learning and appreciating that poor little rabbit.

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