kugel jumps off of the ledge, landing not-so-gracefully

Murder and Snacks: Five Ways of Wise Rabbits

In September, my girlfriend Lexi and I got three rabbits together. We found them in New Jersey at Willy’s Wabbit Wescue and our trio consists of a biological mother, who we named Kugel, and her two baby buns Bialy and Halva.

I have been totally taken by rabbits. My heart has been taken by their distinct little personalities, our living room has been taken over by their cardboard fort and endless tiny bits of hay, and my brain has been steeped in very soft fur and binkies to the extent that most of my conversations involve drawing connections between life stuff and rabbit stuff. This post is my effort to get that out of my system! Let us wax philosophical about rabbits.

1. They keep a low center of gravity

Wild rabbits are famously agile. Think of a lynx or coyote chasing a fluffball at breakneck speed across frozen lands. The rabbit obviously doesn’t have the weapons to stand and fight, but it does have those great hind legs and a body plan that is set to maximize agility and torque.

If I startle the rabbits by standing up too quickly or barging into the room, oftentimes the buns’ first reaction is to sink into their haunches and freeze. It’s hardly a perceptible movement, but when surprised, the rabbits tend to quickly reorient themselves into their default ‘ready’ ‘rocketship’ position and then — wait.

We tend to characterize rabbits as timid creatures that are easily startled. That is basically true, they are quick to flee and slow to trust. However, when startled, rather than fleeing recklessly, there is a moment where bunnies sink into a coiled up, low to the ground, ready-to-run position.

Of course, I’m talking about dumb domestic bunnies who live in a safe world far removed from their natural environment, but even these dumb bunnies display an economy of movement that I admire. Their ‘rocketship’ stance involves tucking all four legs under their body and hugging the floor, ready to twist left or right at a moment’s notice.

What this says to me is — when a challenge comes your way, it is helpful to have a default response that is a neutral stance before taking potentially costly action. Like the rabbits that just lower their body slightly, sink into the patterns that work best for you, and then pause and keep assessing. Tracking your go-to strategies for handling obstacles may help you to stay agile, able to switch it up at the right moment to send your challenger drifting in the wrong direction.

Kugel demonstrating her agility and grace and startling the other two buns

2. They stretch often

Oh my god bunny stretches are the best.

Rabbits, like humans, sleep for a good portion of each day. They are crepuscular and are most active in the evening and at night, and so are usually laid or loafed out somewhere in our living room during the day to sleep.

Whenever a rabbit wakes up, it will stretch.

This alone is a great little lesson! The rabbit stretch routine is very short, maybe 10-15 seconds, and consists of starting with font paws alll the way forward (think downward dog) and then rocks forward to stretch the hind legs alll the way back (think superman) while yawning with their little mouth alll the way open.

I estimate that each rabbit stretches at least 10 times a day for 10 seconds. While they can physically jump directly from sleeping in a loaf position to a full on sprint in no time at all, they definitely prefer to stretch before moving.

Do you stretch ever? Do you only stretch when you feel like you need it in a specific area? Do you have a proactive stretching routine?

I’m not a doctor, but my rabbit is and she recommends stretching whenever you get up after being stationary for a while!

3. They are convinced that whatever the other rabbit has is most interesting

Rabbits love salads. At the end of each day, Lexi and I bring them a nightly salad of greens. The rabbits hear us tearing lettuce or cilantro or cabbage leaves and start circling and hopping around, generally getting very excited because they know what’s coming.

As soon as the food lands in the bowl, each rabbit grabs a piece and starts munching, sometimes hopping a few feet away to protect that piece from thieving neighbors. The first piece usually goes without incident.

With that second piece, the rabbits notice each other again. That piece of lettuce that Kugel just grabbed starts to look reallllly good to Halva, our boldest bun.

So she snags it directly from her mother’s mouth and starts munching.

Kugel steals it right back.

Halva takes it back and hops a few feet away.

Kugel searches around for her missing treasure for ten seconds and then runs back to the bowl for a new piece.

Bialy steals that piece from his mom’s mouth.

Etcetera.

This behavior is absolutely hilarious. Watching the rabbits wrestle over a piece of lettuce is like two toddlers grabbing onto a toy truck. It is such familiar behavior that is odd to see, like look at these tiny little rabbit shaped humans arguing over who can have the lettuce next.

The takeaway here is whatever is relevant to you — don’t get distracted by what your neighbors have? Or maybe, steal from your neighbors! They have cool stuff!

4. They spend time both together and apart

Rabbits bond. Not all rabbits can live together harmoniously in the same group – there are social dynamics that dictate whether individuals will be accepted or if they will be met with aggression. Rabbits form hierarchies and reinforce those relationships through various behaviors such as grooming and humping. Our rabbits are a bonded trio, with mama Kugel being the most dominant, followed by our boy Bialy, followed by the girl Halva.

If you step into our living room, there is an equally good chance that all three rabbits will be lying down directly next to each other, that two of them will be next to each other and the other is on the other side of the pen, or that all three are equally spread out across the whole living room.

To me, this is the most beautiful metaphor from bunny land. Rabbits are intensely social creatures – it is not recommended to keep only one rabbit at a time because they will get depressed from being alone. However, they also need their space. It doesn’t seem like there is any conflict that prompts them to spread out. There’s no strict schedule, no territories that are claimed exclusively by one rabbit or another, no two buns that are more frequently together than the other two. It seems to happen naturally, or perhaps they are following intricate bunny rules that they discuss frequently beyond our earshot.

Just like the rabbits, we all need our space sometimes. We love to be together, but we also need some time apart. Each of us has a different balance in that equation, and we do not always do as good a job as the rabbits do at self-monitoring and providing the togetherness or aloneness that would be best for us as we need it. To be able to recognize which of those you need, in the moment, is a difficult skill that we all wrestle with at times. I am very sad; do I want connection, or do I need time to chill out? I am very happy; do I want to rejoice with someone, or am I enjoying the total wonder of the world all by myself?

Personally, I try to keep a ‘I judge not’ attitude towards myself. Some days I feel so much happier to be by myself all day, and I try to not question that. Let that part of the rabbit breathe. Other days I am calling friends and being social rabbit, and that also feels right. Bunny intuition (buntuition!) is a powerful thing to cultivate within oneself — ask yourself, where does this bunny want to be right now?

5. They only stay where they are fully safe and comfortable

This is a natural extension of number four. Rabbits do not stick around if they do not want to. Rabbits understand two things: murder and snacks — they would like to avoid murder and get snacks. Getting nice pets from their snack provider owners is a distant third concern. If you are petting a rabbit and it is not in the mood to be pet, it will hop away.

If only humans could live as honestly as this! We are constantly doing things we would prefer not to do. We have all kinds of extraneous ways to justify those actions, most of them related to the ‘snacks’ theme, but we have a much higher tolerance for BS than rabbits do.

Of course that is a very limited analysis and ignores that we live in societies with complex goals, and accepting dangerous work in a factory might be a rewarding path forward for someone who wants to provide for a family.

However, in an ideal world where harsh realities could be ignored for a minute, no one would put themselves in dangerous or uncomfortable positions in pursuit of snacks, because ideally the snacks would be laid out for everyone to have access.

We don’t live in bunny world where we are only and exactly where we would like to be at all times, but maybe there is an aspect of this mindset that we can employ to guide us through the many options we could each engage with through our lives. Do I prefer to work on teams with loud people or with quiet people? Do I enjoy the type of activities my work asks of me, or is there something missing from my repertoire that I would like to add? Is there anything in your life that you have assumed you need to bow down and accept, that maybe you don’t and could push back against, or exit the scenario?

One key to a rabbit feeling comfortable is that it always feels free to leave at any moment.

Are you a happy rabbit? What are the keys to your comfort?

Hoppy Monday!

On Being Alone

“Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?”H. D. Thoreau

I am currently quite alone. I’m with only my self and my computer and occasionally the ragtag Middletown squirrel squad as I sit on this bench on Main Street. Now only the squirrels know I’m here, and after I leave, I will likely never even think about this particular expanse of solitude again. It does appear unnecessary, or unimportant, or something petty or rebellious as I evade the confines of my stupidly elite education.

But I am not alone with my self. I am also with my best friend and most loyal companion, who often follows me even to unpredictable and uninteresting corners of the world. As many have tried and usually failed, it is inevitable to avoid your own company. Literally, I speak of being without others, without speech or conflict or any reminder of societal struggles. Literally, I intend to describe this phenomenon of being “alone.” Figuratively, I am sharing a coffee from Brew Bakers with an individual who looks startlingly like me.

Now, there is an essential difference between this process of being “alone,” and that sick and sickening condition, loneliness. This is so important to distinguish. To be alone, as I would describe it, is a choice. It is an active and powerful decision, to become purposefully alone, if even for a short time. To choose to be alone is a great privilege. Every time you actively pursue spending time with another individual, you place tacit value on that relationship— eventually, this value cumulates to be known as friendship. However, we are often so busily creating and maintaining our relations (as important as they may be) that we neglect to place this same value upon our selves.

In contrast, loneliness is certainly dissimilar. Loneliness is to be alone without so choosing. Loneliness is abandonment, and very quiet, and sometimes far too quiet. Probably everyone has felt this before, as humans are rather social beasts and are wired to desire company amidst a crowd. Certainly there are circumstances where we would prefer to be in the company of others, and are frustratingly stuck with our selves. This can be quite extreme, even paralyzing. Loneliness, the man-killer, most synonymous with that word, desperation.

But I might argue that the leading cause of loneliness is a lack of self acquaintance, and thus the surest solution is that precisely: to choose to be alone. I must emphasize the active nature of this decision, because loneliness is otherwise desperation. To choose to be alone, as to choose actively your own company over that of others, is an enormous privilege and a path to something of self-acquaintance. You are the most vital person to your life. Who, more than you, merits your utmost time and attention?

I cannot define solitude for you. In my solitude, I choose often to write reflectively, as this is a selfish and constructive exercise that benefits only myself. Sometimes I walk, alone, hopefully with no destination in mind, but realistically on the way to lunch with my friends. We are busy creatures, individually too similar to that ragtag squirrel squad scurrying from place to place.

Scurry in solitude. I strive to be often alone but never lonely; to be self acquainted is to make a most powerful ally. Hand in hand, you and yourself have confidence to go anywhere, the resolve to resolve anything, and vitally, a sense of self-reliance. Just as my friend Kennedy says that fear can be your ally, solitude too can be your absolute and everlasting friend, if only you’ll choose to be alone.

TL;DR: Choose often to be alone, so as to never be lonely. And read solitude, again and again.