By Dave Gregory
Oh God, I remember the bunnies. They lived behind the corral, near the creek. The embankment turned into a series of islands when a massive spring flood filled the adjacent swamp. My brothers and I saw it from the bathroom window and went to explore. We jumped over rising water onto the first narrow island. Before we’d taken ten steps, three tiny brown bunnies sprang from beneath a leafless bush. Splash, splash, splash. Their powerful hind legs churned below the surface. We hadn’t known rabbits could swim. We lost sight of them in the torrent of dark, roiling water. That night we told Dad about magical rabbits who could run, jump, and swim. And probably fly. Dad, blunt as usual, withheld nothing. “They were likely orphans, whose burrow had flooded. Rabbits risk death when they swim. I bet they drowned when their coats grew wet and heavy. Or they died of hypothermia – it’s still too cold for their fur to dry. Even if they survived, they’ll never find their burrow again.” The news was devastating. I can’t remember which of my brothers cried. Dad added, “Something just as awful would’ve happened to you three, if you’d ended up in that creek.” He kept us inside until floodwaters receded – and claimed it was to protect any rabbits who might still be alive.
The deer spotted us, first. Caleena and I were hiking and approached a field, dotted with daisies. When she bent to pick one, hooves scattered. A doe and two calves had been grazing, ten feet away, at one with their surroundings. In a blink they were twenty feet away. Fifty. One hundred. Trampolining across the landscape, white tails in tow, they glided toward a line of maple trees. Caleena turned to me, eyes filled with tears. “We’re lucky to see such beauty,” she gasped and held her hand to the heart I would eventually break. At the time, I merely ruined the moment. “That’s pure terror,” I clarified. “They’re running from us, not for us.”
A brown bear foraged at the lake’s edge. I revved the engine of our small, open boat, bringing Healy and I closer. “Grizzly at ten o-clock. She’s posing for you.” My son aimed his new camera. “See that unmistakable grizzly hump above her shoulders?” “I see it,” Healy said. “She’s got two small cubs playing near the water!” He was right. “Good spotting.” As he pressed the shutter, the mother reared. Tall as the surrounding pines, she stared in our direction. Sniffing. “She looks thin. A standing bear is a curious bear. We can get closer,” I said. Healy’s shutter snapped continuously. The engine wheezed another note higher. Mother lowered her front paws, turned, and ran, cubs at her heels. “Why would she fear us?” my son asked. “She could kill us both with a single paw. I doubt any of her enemies make a sound like our engine.” My reply landed like a slap. “Not everyone in a motorboat is a photographer.” All three animals disappeared into the forest, drawing the curtain on the afternoon’s excitement. The engine decrescendoed and we turned toward deeper water. Every photo came out blurry.
Dave Gregory is a Canadian writer, a retired sailor, and an associate editor with the Los Angeles-based Exposition Review. His work has most recently appeared in MORIA, Reflex Press, & White Wall Review. Please follow him on Twitter @CourtlandAvenue.