Category Archives: life with rabbits

BUNSTER’S LAST GIFT

My rabbit Bunster has taught me many lessons.

I took her in on a raging impulse. We’d moved into our new house, our aging cats had moved on, and we had no furry responsibilities. It was freeing. But it was also a little lonely.

I saw a little handbill at our local Agway store–“Free Bunny!”. Hmmm. Well, a rabbit wouldn’t need a litter box, or walks. Surely this would be a low-maintenance pet? I called the number. The nice woman said her daughter had left for college and could no longer care for the rabbit. I went to her house that same day, and brought Bunster home.

The first lesson was not to make assumptions about animals. I thought rabbits were like large hamsters–perfectly happy in a small cage and not needing much from me beyond basic care. Boy, was I wrong. First, the cage I was given was way too small. Bunster was so stir-crazy from being in a cage she could hardly turn around in, she used to grunt and lunge at me when I opened her cage to feed her. She terrified me! Had I acquired a vicious rabbit?! Shades of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Visions of killer rabbits haunted my dreams.

She finally escaped one day into our mud room, and transformed into a totally different beast. Soon she had the run of my studio, too. I was dismayed at the amount of bunny poop I had to deal with. But I did it.

The next thing I learned about her was that rabbits have personalities. Bunster was completely devoted to me. She would doze at my feet as I worked or wrote, nibbling the hem of my jeans if I ignored her too long. (For a decade, all my pants had nibbled hems.)

She would occasionally play with something, too. I heard a jingling one day, and found her grabbing my keys with her teeth and flipping them over her head repeatedly. (Maybe she wanted to learn how to drive. I wouldn’t put it past her.)

She hated to be held, but one day while I was at my computer, she leaped into my lap. We both looked at each other in astonishment. Then she grunted and fled, never to repeat the caper.

She was an ambassador for visitors to my studio, and she took her responsibility seriously. I would keep a bowl of Cheerios handy for guests to feed her. She would grunt and thump her hind foot if they were too slow with the treats.

She was a devastating force in a fiber studio. She chewed through power cables, extension cords, fabric, furniture, rugs and wood furniture. Many people wondered why I put up with it. I honestly don’t know. Maybe I thought she would change. (Hah!) I do know I became better about putting things out of her reach (about 16″) and quickly found someone who could repair chewed cords. And I loved the tiny scraps she made as she demolished my fabric collection. Many of them appeared in my collages.

Her biggest lesson was about fear. I would forget that to a rabbit, everything in the world is dangerous. One day I introduced my new cat Gomez to Bunster. He sniffed her and looked up with me with adoring eyes. Then he slowly reached out and grabbed her by the neck wish his teeth. No, Gomez, I was not bringing you lunch. Fortunately, Bunster was unhurt, though thoroughly miffed.

She was quite the escape artist. Visitors would unwittingly give her an opportunity to dash out the door. I could usually nab her and bring her back inside. But one day, she was just gone.

I searched for two days, despairing of ever seeing her again. While I was hanging posters around our neighborhood, someone came by in a car. Seeing the poster, she told me she’d taken a wounded “wild rabbit” to a local vet the day before. With hope filling my heart, I called, and sure enough, it was Bunster. She had survived over 24 hours outdoors, through a thunderstorm, neighborhood dogs, hawks, coyotes and feral cats. She’d collapsed in a rain puddle, exhausted and frightened. But someone found her and took pity on her. Even a small life is worthy of our help. A miracle indeed.

She didn’t run off again after that.

And of course, there is so much a rabbit can teach you about fear.

Now Bunster is old. Really old. I thought bunnies lived to be 5 or 6. Turns out it’s more like 10 or 12, with good care. Bunster is at least that old, maybe more. Her sight has dimmed, though her hearing seems good–when I bubble “Bun bun bunny bun bun!” at her as I walk by her cage, her ears perk up. She can certainly hear a box of Cheerios being opened. Her appetite is excellent, especially once I decided she doesn’t have to “eat healthy” anymore. She loves Doritos and nuts and crackers. Someone gave her a Cheeto recently, and she scarfed it down.

But her once-beautiful fur is ragged and rough. She is frail, and moves with difficulty. She sleeps a lot, dreaming of large fields of clover (I hope) and sunshine. Every day she is still here is a gift.

Her last gift to me is one of quiet contemplation. She lets me hold her now, something I yearned to do for years and is now so easy. I hold her like a baby, gently, supporting her carefully. If I keep my movements soft and quiet, she relaxes into a dreamy state. Together we sit, and ponder, alone with our thoughts, her feeling my protective hands around her, me feeling the now-so-light weight of her diminishing body.

I’m so grateful for these last few precious months. Or weeks. Or days. I have no idea. One day I think it’s her last. The next, she’s back to her perky, demanding self. More Cheerios! Quite petting me! Where’s my hay! Should I have her put down? She doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable or in pain. I will try to simply follow her needs. Maybe, I hope, I won’t be called upon to decide anything.

As I read the news today, full of cruelty and anger, revenge and strife, of thoughtlessness and sickness and pain, there is solace in this: Holding an elderly bunny.

She is giving me the gift, in the middle of this perfect storm of feeling un-moored, adrift, uncertain, unsettled, the gift of peace, and content, and reflection. I look at this seemingly insignificant little creature who has meant so much to me, and I am astonished. I had no idea, when I brought her home that day, how much she had to teach me.

We are adrift in time, in these soft moments.

She is my hope. My meditation. My prayer.

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Filed under life with rabbits

MORE TALES OF THE BUNNY and More Lessons from the Move

The excitement of our anticipated move to California is wearing thin, as the stress of culling and packing piles up. I’ve had an indoor/online tag sale and a yarn sale. With the help of my good friend Roma Dee Holmes, the process was manageable and profitable.

But now comes the studio. And things are getting really, really hard.

Compounding the agonizing and confusing process of what goes and what stays is my upcoming Open Studio. I need to have my studio still look like…well, my studio, not a FEMA-worthy disaster site.

And of course, there is the Big Question yet to be answered:

What do I do with Bunster?

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster is about 129 in bunny years. She used to have the run of my studio, sitting at my feet ready to chew the hem of my jeans if she didn’t get enough attention. She would follow visitors around, knowing I’d given them Cheerios for her. She kept my friend Russ Moline of The Moses House in business by chewing through power cords for my sewing machine, my computer, and my work lamps. (He keeps my sewing machines repaired and happy.) He always had the same advice for curbing her chewing habit. “Hasenpfeffer!” he’d say cheerfully.

A few years ago, I realized I didn’t see as much of her. She hid. A lot. I realized she was losing her sight, and her hearing. She was stiff and moved more slowly. She stopped using her litter box. I hated to do it, but I set up a big cage for her with hidey boxes, a heat lamp and plenty of food and treats. She’s comfortable there, and I try to spend time with her every day.

Some days I look at her and think, “Not much more time.” Other days, she aggressively snatches a Dorito out of my hand with the same piggy grunt and runs off to happily munch her salty snack. (She’s 13, we think, and I now let her eat anything she wants.) She lets me hold her now, and I do so as much as I can.

But will I be able to bring her to California with me?

It’s one thing to have a huge cage in our mudroom. It’s another to have one in a small apartment (which is all we can afford in Santa Rosa). It’s one thing to to have her here with me today. It’s another to try to travel cross-country with two dogs, a cat and an elderly rabbit.

I’ve decided not to worry until it’s actually time to make a decision. But it’s still always on my mind.

Today I finished clearing off a huge work table in my studio, where I pile up the fabrics I’m working with. When I cleared out the space UNDER the table, I found Bunster’s last stash of….

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

Well, I don’t know what to call them. Except she does a beautiful job of chewing ordinary fabric into teensy-tiny frayed fragments.

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

In fact, the first time she found a fabric stash, I freaked out. Until I realized she’d shredded a piece of fiber (a kilim rug scrap) into tiny beautifully-frayed “dots”, something I couldn’t do myself. Her teeth give the perfect aged time-worn look to new and vintage fabrics. Early on, I realized they were the perfect size for little pops of color in my smaller fiber pieces.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

She taught me that what’s in her nature–chew!–could be seen as a destructive force or a constructive process. Or better yet, a transformative process. She turns something ordinary into something else. Something with the look of antiquity.

Okay, just so we don't go too far with the woo-woo....She's also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

Okay, just so we don’t go too far with the woo-woo….She’s also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

My husband found me on the floor, picking up these last tiny Bunster-chewed scraps. He asked what I was doing, and laughed when I told him. Then he stopped. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’re really saving those little pieces?” Yes, I told him. I knew exactly which fabrics they were from, how little I had left of those special colors and textures, and they were the perfect size.

Yep, that's a Bunster-chewed scrap!

Yep, that’s a Bunster-chewed scrap!

And as I gathered them up, I realized this might be one of Bunster’s last gifts to me. I’ve learned so much from this fearful yet fierce, frail yet resiliant little creature.

Yes, I’ve given her a home, love, warmth, wonderful food. She’s given me so much more. Tiny scraps of color for my artwork. Lessons on letting go. Stories that help me find the blessing in even the smallest of life’s set-backs. The sure knowledge that there is a place for me in the world.

Beautiful stories are everywhere around us. If only we take the time, and open our hearts, to see them.

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Filed under art, Lessons from the move, life with rabbits

STORMY WEATHER, SUMMER VERSION: Lessons From a Bunny

Reflections from Stormy Weather, a story I wrote 8 years ago, and still can’t read without crying.

I work well under pressure…even if I have to create it myself (damn it!)

I’ve had all these visions in my head for a wonderful new body of work for months. And now that I’m on fire with making them visible in the world, I’m running out of time.

To be fair, the delay wasn’t all my fault. I really was stuck. Couldn’t move forward. Too many technical obstacles.

Simply put, I want to create displays–permanent display cases–showcasing my artifacts and animals, including jewelry. I imagine them sitting on table tops or wall hung, each one a shrine. Collectors can use them as I make them. Or they can add their own favorite objets de mémoire et le désir, as many customers have done. (You send pictures, people! I LOVE that.)

Soon I was overwhelmed with questions:
Where do I get the boxes? Okay, make that affordable boxes?
What kind of boxes will work? How do I refinish or restore them to keep/create that old, worn well-used look?
What about the mounts? Despite taking a terrific online mount-making class, I still can’t solder brass. What about using the steel stands I already have? Wait–I need more! But they’re getting to expensive to have custom-made!!

Here comes my friend and mentor, Gary Spykman, to the rescue! (Gary’s new venture is here.)

I’ve been a guest in his workshop the last four months, and he’s helped me find the answers to all these questions. I’ve learned to size up a good box candidate, determine what it needs to get the right “look”, where to find the necessary products and tools, how to order the parts for steel stands and hammer them together myself. I’ve learned a lot, and look forward to…well, soldering brass pretty soon.

I never thought the damn polymer would stymie me.

I tried to put together a magnificent new animal sculpture. I had a vision, and I knew all the techniques. Surely that would be the “easy” part, right?

Nah.

It all came apart late last night. (Literally and figuratively.)

Yes, the pic is fuzzy.  I don't want you to see how badly broken the antlers are.

Yes, the pic is fuzzy. I don’t want you to see how badly broken the antlers are.

And again, to be fair, I’m working outside my comfort zone, trying new sculpture techniques, experimenting. Always scary territory for an artist, and one that probably shouldn’t be undertaken two weeks before the damn thing is due at the exhibit.

This morning I took as long as I could to check my email and surf my tribal forms (e.g., the forum at BeadCollector.net and Facebook.) But finally, I had to admit it was time to start over with new antlers. (Oops!)

As I mixed up more clay, I saw a funny scrap of raw clay on my worktable.

It looked like….a rabbit.

Tell me I'm not crazy--do you see the bunny??

Tell me I’m not crazy–do you see the bunny??

So I made a rabbit bead.

My first bunny bead, ready to "fire".

My first bunny bead, ready to “fire”.

Rabbits and I go way back. I’ve written many times about the life lessons my beloved Bunster has taught me.

And I’ve noticed that, in the world, so many, many times, the things people write about/rant about/resent/judge are the very things they carry so painfully in their own hearts. Myself included. This astonishing article about Debbie Miller and her advice about taking creative risks and daring to be our true selves–which she never took herself until recently–resonated with me today. Beautiful,powerful words–if only we could really hear them!!!

It’s like writing about these things helps US be brave. And hopefully, helps readers, too.

And maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe we can’t hear these words until the ground is ready to receive them.

So what am I writing about today?

I’m writing about not being afraid.

But I’m actually writing about being very very afraid.

Afraid my work will be judged (again!) by unhappy, vindicative people.
Afraid my work is just a bad, sad echo of people who are much further on the cutting edge of polymer than I will ever be.
Afraid I am not worthy of making the stuff I make.

And yet I have to make it.

And so the rabbit.

Lee’s words come back to me like a prayer:

“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

I have a place in this world….

My art, my writing, my buzzing brain, my restless dreams, my searching, searching, searching for what I bring to this world…and what will be forgotten as soon as I’m gone, my best intentions and my worst fears, my generous and gracious soul and all my many, many, many shortcomings…

All have a place in this world.

Sometimes it’s okay to be ordinary….

If it gets you to an extraordinary place in your heart, eventually.

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Filed under art, fear of failing, life with rabbits

LATEST ARTICLE AT THE CRAFTS REPORT

Well, actually there’s my regular column, Craft Matters: How to Build a Craftsperson

and the shout-out from my friend Nancy LaFevre for Bunster in her article The Joys of Having Your Pet at Work”.

Yes, that’s BUNSTER in the picture!

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Filed under art, craft, humor, life with pets, life with rabbits

MORE BUNNY LESSONS

My rabbit Bunster (she looks a lot like this rabbit) pretty much has the run of my studio. Sometimes this is not fun. She chews a lot, for one thing. If I don’t pay enough attention to her, she will even chew my pant leg. All my pant legs have rough spots where she’s nibbled the edges.

But she amuses me with her little bunny romps in the early mornings and evenings, when rabbits are most active, and I love the fact that she always hangs out near me when I’m working or writing.

And the lessons she teaches me are useful, too. I’ve written about some of these lessons before here and here.

Last night she taught me another lesson.

I often run back and forth between the main house and my studio. She hangs out happily in the mudroom in between sometimes. But every time I open my studio door, she runs over as if she wants to come inside.

If I opened the door to let her in, she stops and just sits there.

This always infuriates me. “Come in or go out!” I exclaim. “Make up your mind! It’s cold out here! I can’t leave the door open all day!”

She always ignores me, of course. I think she’s teasing me. Or trying to figure out where I’m eventually going to land, so she can hang out there, too.

Last night, she paused in front of the door, refusing to come in. But when I started to close the door, she reached and and grab the edge with her teeth and start to gnaw. I would open the door. She stopped. I go to shut the door again. She grabs the door again.

This went on and on.

Finally, I scolded, “Come in or stay out–but quit eating the damn door!!”

And then I started laughing.

I’ve been caught in the same dilemmas all season. Rest and recuperate? Get back to work? Start production? Clean the studio? Explore new ideas? Get caught up on the old ones? Chuck it all and move to Hawaii??? I just can’t decide what I should do, what I want to do, what my next step is. Someone tell me what to do!! All I want to do right now is hole up in a warm corner and knit.

As my rabbit twitched her nose at me, I realized it doesn’t matter which way I decide to go. In, out, in. If it’s not right, I can always jump back.

But there’s absolutely no point in sitting in the doorway and chewing the door.

Time to simply DO.

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Filed under action steps, art, business, choices, life, life with pets, life with rabbits, taking chances