Every night before we go to bed, my husband tries to convince our dog to sleep in later the next morning. “Rusty,” he’ll say to the ninety pounds of fur that makes his bed beside ours, “Don’t wake us up until 7:30 tomorrow.” Rusty wags and nuzzles as if he agrees, curls himself up like a giant snail, and falls fast asleep. Most nights he doesn’t run to the window in the middle of the night to bark at Jax, the neighbor’s dog, but sometimes he does. Most nights, I sleep through it.
Every morning since school ended and summer began, Rusty wakes up at 6:15. By 6:30, the dog can no longer contain himself. He bats at the bed, turns in circles, and, if we ignore him for more than a few moments, lies back down with a dramatic, drawn-out sigh, the sort of sound a child makes when he’s letting the air escape from a balloon as slowly as possible.
It is a sigh that says, “Hello, the birds have been singing for an hour already,” and “Seriously? You are going to sleep through all this daylight?” It is a sigh that never fails to make us laugh. It is a sigh that is heavy in its finality, yet is followed within seconds by a leap to his feet and a renewed round of pawing the bed. If we show signs of moving, he’ll stretch his long nose toward whosever pillow he’s closer to and stare lovingly into sleepy eyes.
It’s hard to resist such a persistent call to play. He sniffs me on my way into the bathroom, as if to make sure I haven’t changed too much overnight, and he turns in circles while he waits as patiently as he can (which isn’t very patiently) for me to do all the things humans have to do before they leave the house in the morning. It’s clear he thinks I’m overdoing it. Clothes? Shoes? Brushing your teeth? Aren’t you ready yet?
The biggest thing I’ve learned since having this dog who drags us out of the house at least four times a day for walks is that bunnies are terrible at hiding. We inadvertently terrorize them every morning as we bound by. The rabbits, and there are thousands of them in my neighborhood, come to a dead stop as we approach. Their stillness, they seem to believe, renders us blind.
Rusty has gotten pretty good at not lunging toward them each time, but still, I gather the slack of his leash into my fist as we pass, just a few feet away from a rabbit that is standing stock still in front of a bush he might more wisely have chosen to hide behind.
After we pass, we lumbering animals who could not possibly outrun those springs with fur, the bunnies bolt across the street. I can only surmise that evolution gave them such prolific reproductive systems to counteract their poor survival instincts.
One time on a walk like this one, Rusty found half a bunny under a bush and had it in his mouth before I knew what was happening. I couldn’t get him to drop it, so I ran the rest of the way home, one rabbit paw hanging out of each side of the dog’s mouth like a giant cartoon mustache. I stuck my head in the front door to get Fred’s attention, hoping he’d agree that extracting a dead rabbit from the dog’s jaws was more his job than mine. While I was distracted, Rusty happily ate his dead half rabbit for breakfast.
Another time, our neighbor’s little yappy dog got beat up by a rabbit in their back yard. Half of the dog’s jaw was chewed away and for weeks he wore a bandage that made him look like an old cartoon of a person with a toothache.
This is the moment in the essay where, when I show up faithfully to write each day, some muse floats into my fingers, and, wham! epiphany! explains to me why I’m writing about rabbits.
While we all wait for that to happen, I’ll tell you that after I walked and fed the dog this morning, I got on my bike and set out for a rambling ten-mile ride. The sky was blessedly overcast, the clouds heavy with ash rising from fires in the Jemez and Pecos mountains. Seeing me approach on wheels this time, not alongside a wild animal on a string, more bunnies demonstrate a new set of bad survival skills. They dash at me out of the ditch, and I find myself braking repeatedly to avoid hitting them, as if they were deer on Pennsylvania highways.
I had been thinking I’d write about abundance this morning, not a bunny, but it appears that today’s muse is a comedian. I’m grateful to my dog for wagging me out of bed before the light grows old each morning.
Do me a favor, don’t tell my husband.