There was a March Hare in my garden last night – well, a March Cottontail if you want to split hairs (har-har!) He sped across the yard, stopped and gave a shout, sped a bit more, stopped and cried out again, and so on all the way to the woods at the back of the lot. I’m not sure what was upsetting him, since my tom cat Jasper was sitting at my feet at the time. It may have been the cool front that was moving through – it had had the cat on edge all evening, too, pacing from window to window more and more frantically until I finally let him out.
The rabbit that ran across the garden last night – that plagued my winter garden, eating my bulb fennel and Brussels sprouts right down to the mulch – is most likely an Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. He is a handsome specimen. Now that spring has arrived in this area he seems to be leaving the garden alone, but eventually I’ll have to fence it. Welcome Wildlife has a wonderfully detailed post about the Eastern Cottontail, if you’re interested in learning more about them. The USDA’s Wildlife Habitat Management Institute has a leaflet on them as well.
In European folklore, the hare’s wild behavior in the spring – calling, boxing with other hares, leaping about – gave rise to the term mad as a March Hare. Cottontails demonstrate some similar behaviors during mating season, which make the usually retiring and shy creatures more visible in the landscape.
Rabbits have played various roles in world mythology. In China, the image created by the shadows of craters on the moon is one of a rabbit. According to this story, a fox, a monkey and a rabbit came upon some poor hungry humans. The fox took pity upon them and pulled some fish out of a nearby stream. The monkey felt sorry for them, too, and swung high in the trees to bring down nuts for the people to eat. The rabbit, though, had nothing to offer except one thing – himself. He jumped upon the cooking fire so the humans could eat him. One of the men – really a deity in disguise – was so impressed by the rabbit’s sacrifice that he placed him on the moon, thereby granting him immortality. Another rabbit in Chinese folklore is the Jade Rabbit who accompanies Chang-e, constantly mixing an elixir of immortality with his mortar and pestle. In Native American folklore, rabbits are sometimes tricksters.
In the Americas, rabbits and hares played an important part in the round of seasonal migrations for hunting and foraging societies. Although available throughout the year, in late spring and early summer – as the young began to forage on their own – rabbits would become especially plentiful. Each year, small family bands would travel from their individual foraging territories and congregate into larger groups for rabbit hunts. The young boys would set up nets around an area where rabbits were plentiful, and the animals would be herded together to be quickly dispatched using special curved rabbiting sticks. Examples of the sticks have been found in archaeological sites in the desert Southwest and in the western and southern parts of Texas, where the climate is dry enough to support their preservation. Once the hunt was completed, the women would process the rabbits by drying the meat and scraping and tanning the hides. Later, the furs would be cut into strips and woven together to create warm blankets and robes to fight off the winter chill.
Of course, these gatherings provided sustenance in other ways, as well. The warm evenings offered chances to make new friends or to renew old friendships, to talk to siblings or cousins or even mothers and fathers who perhaps hadn’t been seen since the previous hunt, or to grieve for those who would never hunt with them again. To share stories of triumphs and failures, of changes to the routes, of new resources that had become available, or old ones that had played out. It was a chance for young people to meet by the firelight and perhaps make arrangements of their own, to be approved or disapproved by their elders. It was a chance to build community.
So much from a small, solitary, nocturnal creature.
But enough about rabbits.
IN the garden:
The food forest is off to a good, slow start. In February, I planted a Brown Turkey Fig near one of the edges of the property, in an area where I’ll be putting in the kitchen garden eventually. I planted rue – Ruta graveolens – nearby as a companion. Both seem happy with the arrangement. The fig has come a long way from the bare twig I planted!
I also planted two bare root Black Mulberry trees, ordered from Gurney’s some months ago. I have happy memories of mulberries. When I was little, one of my uncles owned a junk yard. Behind the house that held his office was a huge mature mulberry tree, its branches low enough that I could reach the plump ripe berries from the open window. Oh, they were delicious! When my father saw me eating them, his only comment was, “Just don’t climb out the window.” It wasn’t until years later that I understood that my uncle’s business didn’t have a working toilet. That Mulberry tree was well fertilized!
I don’t know that my trees will be quite so prolific, but they are a species that’s fairly quick to produce, so I should be getting a few berries within a year or two. One is already putting out leaves, only a week after planting. The other, planted in a different area, is slower to start, but may not be getting as much sun as the more vigorous tree.
The bluebonnets I seeded in the front yard between the mature oaks in December are coming up, but growing slowly. I hope that means that they are busy creating nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots and will put on a burst of growth closer to blooming. I chose spots where an oak tree had fallen, leaving bare spots in the St. Augustine lawn. Once their brilliant blue flowers have faded and the plants have set seeds for next year’s blooms, the plants will be mowed back. Their roots will die back, as well, releasing the collected nitrogen into the soil and providing sustenance for the trees and plants to follow. This all is contingent on the proper bacteria being present in the soil, of course, but I have seen bluebonnets blooming in the area in the past, so I hope I won’t have to inoculate the soil. I could choose clover for nitrogen fixing, and may do so in the future, but I’d like to try with the native lupines before moving to imported species.
In my little kitchen garden, the two artichokes are doing quite well, as are a double row of garlic that I planted in December. The potatoes that sprouted in the pantry have produced three vigorous plants – not bad for something I tucked under the sheet mulch of newspaper and oak leaves on a whim! I sowed a line of carrots into the space left by the fennels that the rabbit ate, and the little seeds have begun to sprout.
I also sowed a mix of carrots, yarrow and cilantro under the elderly pear tree, and they’ve started to come up as well. The patch of orange Calendula seeds are well on their way. The only seeds that haven’t done well are the German Chamomile – it’s been nearly a month since I planted them in two different locations, and not a single sprout has made an appearance. I’ll be patient, though. Seeds know when the time is right, better than I ever will. If they don’t come up, I’ll try again, but it may simply mean my garden isn’t the right place for chamomile to grow.
The ornamental plants around the garden have been putting on their usual spring show, albeit a bit early in this unusually warm spring. The azaleas have all bloomed and are starting to fade, and the redbud trees – Cercis canadensis – have mostly lost their flowers. Both the flowers and young seedpods of this tree are edible; I may have to try them in a stir fry as they appear. The paper-white narcissus have been replaced by the snow-flakes, soon to be followed by the Dutch Iris. Granny’s bridal wreath spirea has been covered in fat, white clumps of flowers for a couple of weeks.
AROUND the hermitage:
I’ve begun stripping the kitchen cabinets and painting them. The cabinets are simple varnished plywood and have always made the large kitchen seem very dark and small. I’m repainting the lower cabinets a bright cornflower blue, and the upper cabinets light cream. It should lighten the room up significantly. I’ve also pulled the vintage glass cabinet and drawer pulls and run them through the ultrasonic cleaner at work. It’s amazing the amount of crud that is clinging to them after sixty years! With new nickel-plated bolts, though, they’re bright and pretty again. I’ll post step-by-step photos of the project once it’s finished, but here are some teaser photos of the current cabinets and the completed bar.
That’s all I have for now. Upcoming projects involve a chicken coop and additions to the food forest and kitchen garden plantings.
Until then: Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.