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The Tortoise and the Hare, Massachusetts-Style

Eastern Cottontail

At this time of year, I anxiously watch the weather to decide when I should de-winterize the gardens. Too early? Cold snaps and snowstorms threaten the unprotected plants. Too late? The rabbits invade.

Don’t get me wrong—I like Eastern cottontails. They’re good neighbors, especially compared to the riffraff from the woods next door. (Moles wrestle each other on the lawn. Raccoons camp in the garage. Woodpeckers drill holes into the house’s clapboards. And don’t get me started on that four-letter word, mice.) In contrast, rabbits hang out with my husband and me in the backyard. They even weed the patio for us. And, on the occasions when they get a little carried away with the free food, it’s easy to redirect them. To save our prized flowers and vegetables from their eager pruning, we surround the Echinacea with chicken wire, fence the asparagus patch, and stack basil pots on top of overturned flowerpots.

Yet there is one part of life where cottontails and I cannot seem to compromise. I believe that the fresh green of the forest floor would be a lovely nursery. Mama Bunny insists on raising her young under dead grass. The year she nested under the salt marsh hay in our garden of annuals, we couldn’t plant our beans and peppers until mid-June. Another spring, her babies nestled under the mulch protecting the thyme. After their departure, it took several rainstorms and some heavy dousings with the hose before I was willing to harvest the herbs.

So, like Aesop’s fable, I’m in a race with a rabbit each spring. Which of us will reach the straw first—me to remove it or her to assert squatters’ rights? And, like the turtle, my only hope of winning is for the bunny to either fall asleep or for me to gain a head start. So… ready, set, go! Let the games begin.

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