Happy New Year! Here’s hoping your dreams, wishes and resolutions for 2017 all come true.
Maybe you’re going out on the town, maybe you’re watching the ball drop in Times Square, maybe you’re planning to stay in and watch When Harry Met Sally, which is a perfect movie for New Year’s Eve (and the late Carrie Fisher is in it, terrific as ever in a supporting role). But if you’re not going out and you want a movie to inspire you for this turning point where we say “so long” to the old and resolve to improve ourselves in the new — to embrace change and seek out new opportunities — then consider renting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Amazon has it on instant video). It’s a film with a great romance at its center: the one where a timid man chases after something, and in the process, falls in love with Life.
Three to four days a week I go running through the agricultural research fields that border my neighborhood. They are the property of the nearby university and go on for miles, and when I’m descending a particular hill in the middle of this vast acreage, I can see the fields spread out below me like a patchwork quilt, laid out in rectangular fashion and the colors of them all different, as some were planted in corn, some in oats or wheat or soybeans, and the remainder in various kinds of hay. But there is one solitary field at the far reaches of this property that nearly stops me in my tracks every time I pass by, because it was planted in sunflowers last summer, and now in winter the spent flowerheads — hundreds of them — float eerily on their bare, filigreed stalks. On a misty gray day they look otherworldly. “If you build it, they will come,” I think to myself, imagining a gathering of buntings, grosbeaks, cardinals, finches, and chickadees, even though the winter sky above me is circled only by crows.
When I first acquired my pet rabbit, a year and a half ago, I had him set up in a hutch in my yard, which was the way I thought rabbits were kept. As soon as the little girl who is my next-door neighbor saw him, she came over to get acquainted and find out his name. I told her she could name him, since she was quite good at it (she had named the wild rabbit, who liked to hop around on my raised flower bed and eat my plants, Nibbles) — and accordingly, she said she’d have to know what activities he did before she could name him. “He mostly just likes to hide in his box,” I said to her, pointing to a nesting box I put in the cage, so she suggested we call him The Boxing Bunny. “Hmm, how about Boxer?” I asked, and with a broad smile from her, the name was settled on.
Not long after I decided to bring him inside and make him a house rabbit (because I’d grown smitten and keeping him in a hutch seemed wrong), I realized that the original handle she’d suggested for him was quite fitting. He has remained Boxer in name, but in title he is surely The Boxing Bunny, because every day (twice, if he can cajole us into it) we set up what we call a maze of cardboard boxes in our bedroom, and that is how we play with him. There are a few boxes that have a permanent spot in our room now, so that he can come hide out in them whenever he pleases, but the maze or path of boxes that we set down for him during play time is really how he likes to interact with us. Rabbits are prey animals, so naturally having hide-y boxes is essential to his sense of security, but it’s apparent by the excited way he interacts with us that he views this activity with us as playful. When he hops into our bedroom in the mornings, the first thing he wants to do is be petted, preferably until the petter’s arm feels like it’s going to fall off. And then he will begin hopping into the boxes that stay permanently in our room, from which he sticks out his head as if he wants us to pet him, and after a quick rub on the head he is off to the next box, poking out his head again just long enough to lure us to him, and then ducking out to run underneath the bed. With that cue, we gather his cloth play tube, his rattan tent and more boxes to set up a path or maze, configuring them in new ways each time and adding other items to challenge him a bit. When he’s figured a path through them all and retraced it a couple times, then he’s done and will either flop down for more petting or scamper off to his pen to eat hay.
Having a rabbit in one’s house is a very big commitment. They are highly social animals that, in the wild, live in extremely large groups in underground warrens, and they require time and attention from their owners to thrive indoors. In the words of many experts who have written and done videos about caring for house rabbits, they’re “high maintenance” animals. Electrical cords have to be covered or put up where they can’t be chewed, good furniture might have to be stored somewhere else, and unless they have the companionship of another rabbit (mine doesn’t), you can’t just abandon them with a bowl of food and water when you want to go on vacation or away for the weekend (yes, a pet sitter must be called in, one willing to spend time and give attention, not just treats). Neutering or spaying is also essential — even if you only have one rabbit — for their comfort and yours, as it curbs certain behaviors (I found out rather quickly that neutering is crucial if you have a male rabbit as a house pet, and I’ve read that female rabbits become more calm and enjoy a longer life if they are spayed, too.)
All of which is to say, I wouldn’t casually suggest to anyone that they consider getting a rabbit and making it an indoor pet. For the person who is able to dedicate their time to a rabbit, however, they can be truly wonderful pets — the kind of pets who love petting (rabbits, when they live together, are constantly grooming one another, and human petting is thus looked at by the rabbit as grooming). For my husband and I, every day is a winding road of cardboard boxes that we get out and put away, and playing means sitting on the floor with him the way one would a child. But for us, it’s worth it. We adore him and are so glad we brought him inside.
My mom sent me an email today with a whole bunch of photos — all of them pictures of the charming and whimsical street art of David Zinn, an artist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not only are his works enchanting, they are temporary, composed entirely with chalk, charcoal and found objects (like sidewalk cracks and grates, brick work, leaves that have fallen on a street), which elevates both the work and the artist, in my eyes. Zinn’s choice to make them temporary shows a respect for property (public property is just as sacred as private property to me … no matter how talented, I don’t care for street artists or, worse, grafitti artists who leave their permanent mark on things that belong to others) and the very fact that the art has a short life (apart from them being captured in photographs) lends them a moment-in-time quality that is true to life. The truly captivating moments of life are fleeting and born of coincidence: we feel lucky we took the bus instead of the train, because we bumped into a certain someone special we otherwise would have missed, on the day they were getting ready to pack and move to another city. Though not as dramatic an example, I imagine the viewer who happens by one of David Zinn’s chalk drawings must feel a similar sense of luck, knowing that he is glimpsing something magical that won’t be there a week later.
For those, though, who wish to have a more permanent piece of art, they can purchase photographic prints of the artist’s work (the prices are very affordable) at his website, zinnart.com.
To All Who Celebrate It, Here’s Wishing You a Merry Christmas!
It’s Christmas Eve and I’m wrapping presents — my family will be here tomorrow night to receive them and have Christmas dinner with us. Now that everyone is older and the kids (my nieces) are all grown up, presents aren’t a big deal … there is less stuff to wrap, so doing it is pretty relaxing, and I’ve had time to reflect back on some of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood, which include:
- My father putting out hay for Santa’s reindeer. We lived on a dairy farm, and he made a show of scattering a whole bale of hay at a place in front of the barn where my sisters and I could see it from the window when we got up the next morning. It was the first thing we checked, and it was evident by the tracks on our snow-covered driveway and the remaining strands of hay (the large flakes were gone!) that the reindeer had stomped around and eaten it up. (My father loved animals, and I think this is one of the ways he reinforced the notion that we needed to treat them well … a theme he frequently touched on when we were growing up.)
- Getting Heaven Scent perfume for Christmas one year. It came in a frosted glass pendant in the shape of the moon (or a star, I can’t quite remember) that was suspended on a long necklace. I loved the smell of it, it was so pretty!
- Also getting a talking Mrs. Beasley doll — an exciting gift not because it was a surprise (I think I circled it in the Sears’ Wish Book catalog numerous times so there would be no mistaking that I wanted it), but because Mrs. Beasley was the famous doll of a little girl named Buffy on the TV sitcom Family Affair. I loved that doll so much I took photo after photo of her with a camera I “earned” through one of those company promotions where you collected so many cereal box tops and sent them in to claim your prize. A couple rolls of film later, I realized that dolls, no matter how real they seem, don’t take good pictures.
- My mother’s belief that we should have plum pudding with Christmas dinner. My sisters didn’t care for it, but it was delicious to me (I craved those dark, boozy- flavored desserts that most kids hate from a young age — plum pudding, fruit cake, rum-raisin ice cream, mincemeat pies and the like). This was one of my mother’s constant gifts to us: she was always interested in broadening our tastes rather than placating them with a constant supply of Oreo cookies. Not that there is anything wrong with Oreo cookies, but I appreciate that she wanted more for us.
- Lastly, Santa’s letters (courtesy of my mother), in which the handwriting was scriggly and trailed off the page to the point that we asked her what was wrong with him — and her answer was, “He’s very, very old!” Considering how beautiful my mother’s handwriting is, I realize why this detail was so important in convincing us that a man with a white beard and red suit had actually visited us and eaten those cookies he thanked us for.
What are some of your fondest Christmas memories? Here’s wishing you a jolly holiday!
I’ve been in love with Lyle Lovett for years, and paired with Kat Edmonson, the two of them make the holiday classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” absolutely purr. Click the link to hear them perform it (thank you, YouTube user “jaygeiser”, for posting it).
Oh, and pass me the cocoa, will you?