Several days ago, maybe a week ago now, a small herd of children appeared at the front door of the house we’ve just moved into. They were a mumbling lot, and hadn’t quite agreed on the approach to take with me, but the message was finally conveyed that they were here to try to catch their ‘wild rabbits’ and they hoped it was all right with me for them to go into the back yard, where the rabbits are. I gave permission, and have had several days’ free entertainment since.
Sometimes there have been five children running about, other times only two or three. Mostly though, it has been one boy, upper grade school age at a guess, who began his mission by sitting quietly out in the vacant lot behind our back yard and inching his way toward the bunnies.
These bunnies, you understand, are domestic rabbits, one white, one black, rather docile, and perfectly content to scrounge in the vacant lot and my back yard. They look fat and healthy. Before the children came, one of them used to come sit on the back porch to watch the world go by. I haven’t seen the rabbits in a couple/three days. But the children keep coming, sometimes for hours on end.
The solitary boy, the most diligent of the lot, has long since given up on being a rabbit whisperer and spends great gobs of time jumping up and down on the back porch, which is wooden and elevated (I guess you could call it a deck, if you wanted to get fancy). I suppose he thinks he will scare them out of hiding. This suggests to me that he knows very little about rabbits, or else I know very little about rabbits, one or the other. I have considered handing him carrots to try to lure the creatures with, but I haven’t had the heart.
So often, you see, when I look out, I can see that he is not exactly just a boy trying to catch a rabbit. If he’s not all the way up into saving the world single handedly in his mind, sometimes I think he’s edging that way. There are mighty adventures going on in his head, at any rate. I don’t know if he’s stalking dragons or tracking outlaws, or just what exactly, but he’s got his brain going. And he’s getting his exercise, too. When he isn’t making maximum sound by making mighty leaps on my porch, sometimes he is running full tilt (often toward a possible hiding spot, apparently in a wild hope that he's outguessed the rabbits). And then there are the quiet times. I never would have guessed that a boy that age could stand stock still for as long as he does sometimes, staring at the den under the storage shed, waiting for a rabbit, or something, to dare to stick out its head. So far I’ve only seen stray cats come out from there, and go under, but what do I know? Something had to dig that den, and likely it wasn’t cats. Truly.
When I was his age, I lived in a house that bordered on a vacant lot in a small town. That vacant lot was almost always full of kids. We played baseball. We played tag. We played king of the hill. We dug holes to China. We also built traps, variously called elephant traps and Cadillac traps, which were holes which we carefully covered with sticks and grass and then with dirt, in the express hope of making our friends fall into them. No one ever got seriously hurt, and we got to practice our ingenuity and negotiating skills no end (if you build Cadillac traps and catch somebody, you better be ready to convince them they got caught fair and square – or else you’d better be a fast runner and willing to be a hermit, locked inside your house, until they cool off).
I tried to take a walk every day this summer and fall. One of the things that struck me on those walks was that there were empty parks and vacant lots. The parks were well kept, but had more echoes than activity most days. I know this town has children, quite a few of them, really – but they don’t seem to go outside and play by themselves much. I’d see some in organized games – soccer, baseball – but rarely in games they got up themselves. The vacant lots of my day were vacant only of buildings. These days, they are vacant of children, too, for whatever reason or reasons.
I think that’s a loss.
At any rate, I’ve found this week that I have a high tolerance for the noise of a little boy jumping up and down on a wooden porch. It seems a small price to pay to let a little boy be simply a little boy for a while, all noise and whirlwind and schemes.
At some point I might suggest a new approach, in case the point of the exercise really is to catch the rabbits.
For now, though, I think I’ll let the kids do it their way. I’m having too much fun.
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