Today I found something unexpected while I was gardening. While flailing a hand scythe into clumps of grass and clearing out dead leaves in a neglected box garden, I discovered a baby bunny the size of an avocado sheltering under a head of lettuce. He was very still. His eyes were open. He did not move and didn’t appear to tremble. I was moved with cuteness and excitement. I went inside and got my husband; together, we quietly observed him, made supressed squealy noises, then went about our business doing other things. I moved to clear out the other side of the garden box, and there I found this bunny’s baby brother, even smaller (the size of an apple) nestled with his nose in the chives. As I stood there, I recognized a few feet away, a little warren that had been crafted with care out of our thyme bush: a circular tunnel, dusted on the edges with soft bunny fur. Just like that we had a nursery in the middle of our front yard. The whole experience lent a tenderness and a kind of sacredness to what would have otherwise been a glorious afternoon in the sun. It turned into summer just about three days ago.
Later this evening I went out to an art opening with my friend Kirsten. When she picked me up, I ceremoniously shared with her the bunny situation. When she got a peak at them, she also got verklempt with delight and excitement and tenderness. We were very careful not to remove a large dry leaf that I had placed over the first one for shade. There was a hole in the leaf through which we could see the bunny’s eye, still unmoving but very much alive. I went to the art opening and enjoyed it. I spent some time catching up with Kirsten, looking at the art, supporting our friend who had work in the show. It turned into a very social evening. I met a several really nice people. She dropped me off at home at about 8:45 pm, it was still light out here in Michigan. I checked on the bunnies, amazingly they were still right where we left them.
That these little bunnies had not moved in the time where I was networking, looking at art, handing out business cards, trading thoughts and ideas with Kirsten - in all of this human doing, that creature stayed still. I imagine in the bunny world, the mom must have said You stay, you stay right put, don’t make a sound, don’t make a rustle. And I’ll come feed you tonight after dark. It looked almost as if the bunnies were hibernating or in stand-by mode. Their eyes were open, there was an alertness, but there was no trembling, and no darting about going on.
When I came home, there they were. Presence itself. Just there. Like the face or the form of eternity in which all comings and goings are held. All over this neighborhood and town, bunnies are nestled, still, hidden - animals alert and unmoving, a wider presence than the mind can hold.
When birding with others, everyone looks together. Each of us sees different things, and the quality is open, observant, quiet, and quite sociable at the same time. It’s one of the only kinds of crowds I enjoy. Birders help each other hear, see and learn birds. They describe in extreme detail where: up the tree and at 4 o’clock, and next to that dead branch and then over six feet , then look straight through where those two leaves are. Do you see him? Or listen: do you hear that? That’s a warbling vireo! Information travels from one birder to another like a warbler from branch to branch.
Some of us are strong spotters and others know the songs and calls. Some have failing eyesight but know the markings of a species, or the flight behavior of a particular bird.
In birding, the senses open up and alertness mingles with connection: to people and to the larger stream of wind and temperature and conditions that bring in birds, and the bird nerds walking beside me. During spring migration, at times, the wind blows the birds down, or the heat swells from the south and a cloud of new birds float in. It’s extraordinary.
A birding posse is like one organism with many pairs of eyes, many ears and a wealth and history of knowledge, all pooled together in a slow moving, disorganized cloud. If you’re not a birder, it can be extremely irritating: everyone stops for 5 to 30 minutes about every 20 feet. Yet it’s a very unusual way to spend time with other beings: both the birds and people. Everyone loses a track of time and the world beyond the immediate senses.
When I go to certain parks on my own, I will inevitably encounter someone with a pair of binoculars, or a few people, and we share our sightings and what we’ve heard. The park becomes lit up with shared experience and community, all in reverence to the incredible variety of birds that land and move and dive and jump as the light and conditions prompt them.
Yesterday I saw over thirty blue jays in migration overhead. I usually think of the Blue Jay as a showy, loud and slightly manic backyard bird. As a community however, in a shared pursuit, I felt a new respect. My neck certainly hurts from craning up so much toward the tree tops (a condition called warbler neck), but I’m ok with that. I am more than just me when I bird with others, connecting with the more than just one bird, part of the phenomena of spring migration.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.