Rodent wrangling and ambiguity

Kate Stel Care for the Earth, Living in Community Leave a Comment

This week, on Tuesday morning, a group of us headed over to the garden. We hoped to beat the day’s heat and get some weeding and other work done before it became unbearably hot and humid. Sister Paz Vital and I were working in a fenced-in garden plot that contained rows of okra, cabbage, radishes, kale and a huge grouping of tomato plants. Suddenly, I heard a rustling in the corner of the garden near where we were working. The many, many weeds in that corner shook. A rabbit emerged, bounding through the garden. “BUNNY!” I yelled to Sister Paz. Confused, it ran around and around, back and forth as Sister Paz and I attempted to corral it towards the gate, weaving in and out of the forest of tomato cages. Eventually we expelled our rodent invader, locking the gate behind him (as if he got in through the gate, anyway).

Upon reflection, I realized this isn’t the first time I’ve chased down a rodent. Once, as a child, a chipmunk ran inside our living room during the summer through an open screen door. My sisters and I, screaming loudly, assisted by our faithful black Labrador Pebbles, vanquished the beast. It left a trail of stolen sunflower seeds from the birdfeeder outside in its wake.

(I’m now 2/2 in my rodent wrangling efforts.)

Our gardening adversaries include: bad weather, abundant weeds, various damaging insects, and now an especially voracious and determined rabbit. Although not a welcome guest in any garden, rabbits are traditionally a symbol of abundance and new life in Christian iconography. (I’m not so sure the two rows of beets eaten off by this particular rabbit feel particularly lively or abundant at the moment, though.) According to the Hebrew Bible, rabbits are classified alongside unclean animals, unfit for human consumption. (Our garden rabbit will be delighted to hear this.) So, the rabbit becomes a somewhat ambiguous symbol, either representing uncleanliness and vice, or abundance and life. Likewise, in our time rabbits are seen as a nuisance, garden-invader, and carrier of disease, or as a lovable pet or story character. We don’t want to welcome this rabbit into the garden, it seems perfectly capable of sneaking in anyways. But, it’s untimely invasion gave me the opportunity to reflect on ambiguity (and to google “rabbits in the Bible,” just to double check).

Likewise, summer is both beautiful and restorative, but also filled with unpleasant and inconvenient summertime happenings. Ticks, deer flies, and mosquitoes, sunburn and humidity and soaring temperatures run rampant. At the same time, local produce is available, the lakes are warm enough to enjoy, everything in sight is verdant and fecund, and the days are long to enjoy, uncluttered by the pressures of graduate school coursework. Our environments and communities, our animal and plant neighbors, and we ourselves are ambiguous. From the rabbit’s perspective, Sister Paz and I interrupted a feast with terrifying screams and persistent pursuance. The rabbit simply seized an opportunity which, if faced with the same chance, who among us would pass up?

It’s hard to sit in the grey area of ambiguity. Within our troubles, enemies, foes, there’s an alternative perspective living and motivating, which it might benefit us to ponder. Even if this particular foe was only a rabbit.

(Afterword: Today, Friday, I joined the sisters to work in the garden for a while. Before I got out there, Sister Paz had discovered a tiny hole that was actually a nest of baby rabbits right in the middle of a row of beets. I think we found the reason behind our rabbit!)

Kate Stel is working as an intern at Holy Wisdom Monastery this summer. She will be writing blog posts, helping to plan retreats, working in the garden, attending Sunday Assembly worship, assisting Greg Armstrong and the Friends of Wisdom Prairie with their ongoing earth-care efforts and soaking in the contemplative character of the monastery. Kate is studying at the University of Chicago Divinity School as a Master of Divinity student and is delighted to spend the summer out of the city.

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