Sunday, December 04, 2005

Never forget: a cairn for Mister Bun

A cairn is a pile of stones, usually pyramidal in shape. Sometimes found high above timberline, where they are used to mark a path through frost-heaved scree, or along rocky Arctic promontories where they announce, “I was here,” they also denote a monument, usually of someone of renown. Thomas Pennant, in “Voyage to the Hebrides,” published 1772, wrote, “As long as the memory of the deceased endured, not a passenger went by without adding a stone to the heap…To this moment there is a proverbial expression among the highlanders, allusive to the old practice; a suppliant will tell his patron, I will add a stone to your cairn; meaning, when you are no more, I will do all possible honor to your memory.”

Sara Everton, protagonist of Harriet Doerr’s novel, “Stones for Ibarra,” finds an ever-increasing pile of stones stacked outside the hacienda’s front gate on the anniversary of her husband’s death. When she asks a hired hand what it means, he says, “When people pass by and remember, they bring stones.”

I was told that if I write this there will be people who think I’ve gone off the deep end. “It’s just a rabbit,” they’ll say. Some will understand, though. If it helps, substitute dog/cat/horse/hamster. But let me be up front about this column—this wasn’t written for you. This is for me, and a certain little snow-white Angora rabbit with sometimes-pink eyes and sometimes-blue eyes, with a temper that could be easily assuaged by his favorite treats, who loved super-premium-gourmet rabbit food and Post Raisin Bran, who loved nothing more than to lay beside me and get rubbed for hours and hours, and who was by any and all means spoiled rotten. As were we.

Mister Bun came into my life ears first. Lori had just returned from a meeting and carefully set a cardboard box on the kitchen floor. Before I could ask what was in the box, a pair of white tufted ears and two curious, frightened red eyes slowly rose out. When our eyes locked, he slowly sank out of sight.

Lori had stopped at an Angora breeder’s home north of Manhattan with the intent of buying a young rabbit and wound up rescuing a middle-aged bunny with bowel problems. This was excellent from Mister Bun’s standpoint because he had been slated for destruction. It was also a big step up from a small cage behind the house. Here he had the run of the place, his cage situated in the back room just behind the computer. He was possibly the only rabbit in Kansas to have his own remote-controlled air conditioner, though in honesty we shared it.

Once he got over the intimidation of new digs, he was quick to capitalize on his newfound freedom. Regular rabbit pellets? Forget it—he wanted gourmet stuff. Sleeping in a cage with the door closed? A resounding thump from his back paw let us know his disgust, so I wired the door open. He loved being with us, and would spend each evening lying beside me on the livingroom floor. The new furniture we bought was left to Lori alone; I had a pillow.

Sometimes he slept under the kitchen table, sometimes against a bookcase, sometimes in the back room, almost hidden under the desk, with only his ears poking out. He had his favorite places and kept to them with a rhythm only he knew. He was lonely for another rabbit—a girl rabbit—but accepted me as his soulmate. He disliked being brushed and tossed the comb around whenever he saw it.

For almost four years he was my constant companion—my muse, my friend, my familiar.

Three weeks ago he stopped eating. He had been losing weight and acted as if his front right paw was crippled. We were seeing the slow decline of a rabbit who’s led a full life, the vet said. But the decline wasn’t that slow. Several days later he started eating again, voraciously, and we fed him a steady diet of apples, bananas, wild alfalfa and the little green and yellow treats found in his gourmet food. Things he loved and should have eaten in moderation. For two weeks he rallied, even gaining weight.

Then his other front leg went out. He remained outside of his cage, and I hand-fed and watered him. A day later his back legs stopped functioning, and he could no longer eat from his dish. I would spill some in front of him, selecting only the treats. Every free hour was spent by his side, stroking him to a blissful daze.

On Wednesday morning I rubbed him for two hours, and then, when the first wan sunlight gilded the hackberry tree, I wrapped him in a towel, took him outside and set him on the grass. Though almost paralyzed, he began eating. “You’re a wild bunny now, Mister Bun,” I said. His eyes were blue when I shot him.

That afternoon I began stacking rough stones above his grave. I chose flat ones of native limestone, found along the river where the bones of the hill are exposed. They were carefully chinked together to form one layer, then two, then three. On top I set the last of the gallardia blossoms and an apple.

Yeah, he was just a rabbit, a little snow-white long-hair Angora rabbit with sometimes-pink eyes and sometimes-blue eyes, who would sometimes run after me for one last rub before bedtime, who would thump his back leg loudly when sensing danger or being peeved about something, who would steal my pillow when I left for a moment and not leave until I rubbed him some more, who had a sweet and loving disposition unless we tried sneaking in generic Raisin Bran, who spoiled the two of us rotten. He was just a rabbit—just a rabbit!—and his name was Mister Bun.

Bring stones.

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