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This bundle of long earred siblings, mistaken, at first for--gasp--rats, takes on rabbit characteristics as time goes by.
This photo, snapped on May 18, is the last before the fuzzy garden crashers hit the road without a backward glance.
IT WAS Mother's Day,
"We've got a problem," he declared.
Now, if you're a homeowner, you know this sort of declaration is inevitable. The only real variable is the degree of the problem.
Some are easily addressed with spackle and paint.
Still others require an after-hours call to your insurance company.
And then, of course, there are those that necessitate firearms and/or military-grade explosives.
Given that on the Sunday in question my husband was packing a BB gun on his hip, I figured we were quickly approaching DEFCON 1.
I started to bemoan the fact that my hazmat suit was at the dry cleaners when he motioned me over to the garden.
"There's something under there," he whispered, pointing at a rustling pile of vegetative debris in the middle of the raised box where we'd planned to install our tomato plants this year.
Naturally, my mind went immediately to its darkest corner, home of my greatest fears.
"Do you do you do you think it's a politician?" I stammered.
He stared at me blankly.
"You know, one of those door-to-door canvassing types, lying in wait to score a photo op with some unsuspecting, middle-class, suburban family just trying to plant vegetables? I read somewhere that if someone makes empty promises in your garden it can give the produce a bureaucratic aftertaste."
"Actually," he said, giving me the look he usually reserves for delusional people on the subway, "I was thinking more along the lines of rats."
I was momentarily relieved. Disease-carrying vermin don't hurt resale value nearly as much as politicians, and they're considerably easier to get rid of.
Still, I was pretty sure harboring rodents of any kind was against our homeowners association's bylaws, and we were already on probation for failing to hang an adorable seasonal flag from our front porch.
"There's only one way to find out what we're dealing with," I said, reaching for a trowel.
Before he could object, I lifted the pile of twigs, stems and leaves to reveal a den filled with five or six thumb-sized writhing, gray bodies. My husband tightened his grip on the BB gun.
"Stand down," I said. "I don't see any tails."
Tails, of course, being the primary indicator of rats. I also know from extensive urban zoological training that gills indicate fish, and feathers indicate birds and/or rogue Easter hats.
My husband set the BB gun down long enough to snap a photograph with his phone.
"Look at the ears," I said. "They might be baby bunnies."
Four out of five Facebook friends agreed with me (the fifth, my brother-in-law, insisted they were lambs), and who am I to argue with that kind of overwhelming consensus?
We carefully replaced the covering over the hole and, not wanting to disturb the brood, planted our tomato plants elsewhere.
Every few days I'd go out to check on the babies, making sure their hole hadn't filled with water and that the covering was still intact so they wouldn't be visible to predatory critters, birds or Easter hats.
Then, about two weeks after we found them, I walked into the garden to discover the hole empty.
No signs of a struggle. No goodbye letter. Just a hole.
I complained to a friend that I thought it was rude of them not to at least leave a forwarding address or a thank-you note.
"Perhaps they've grown into teenagers and will come sneaking back into the hole late at night, smelling of cigarettes and with suspiciously rumpled fur," she said, almost as if she'd done that very thing once or twice.
Alas, they never returned. What's worse is they seem to have sublet the place to a colony of ants who were none too happy to see us when we showed up last weekend with shovels and onion plants.
Then again, there are worse squatters to have in your garden than ants. I'll take ankle bites over empty promises any day of the week.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428