In a light and cold mist, we went out looking for bobcat signs on the wild ridges above Muir Beach, and found traces of brush rabbit and the magic-bare tunnels of winter instead. I'd been day-dreaming often of rabbits and hares. I'd recently written a character, The Fool, into a tale; he had seven dancing jackrabbits at his side, fierce and wise and playful creatures whose tails glowed like tallowlight in the underworld. Sometimes the dream and the world meet, on soft furred feet.
There is nothing quite like crouching and wriggling through the damp coastal scrub, how it smells of spice and dirt and grass and moss, the sharp sweetness of coyote brush. Following deer hoof-prints in the wet grass toward openings just big enough for a human to stand in, we found soap-root that had been nibbled by both rabbits and deer. A wintry treat. Above are the bite-marks on the soap-root from brush rabbits, who love this thick scrub-land. Rabbits make clean bite-marks; deer gum and tear at leaves, because they don't have upper incisors.
I got quite excited at the sight of this tunnel, down a hill and through the brush. It look enchanted, a passageway. I began to clamber through, with much crackling and hat-snagging and general clumsiness, until I realized, clumsy human that I am, that I was making quite a racket and also a bit of a mess, probably irritating or terrifying all nearby animals, who were only trying to go about their daily business. I desisted, and clambered back out. I was quite humbled at my own ineptitude in the depths of the wild scrub thickets, the safe-havens and arteries.
I did manage to stumble upon this handsome dusky-footed woodrat lodge...
... and a good number of these perfect mushrooms.
Back in the relative ease of tree branches, the lichens and mosses rippled and clung to bark, like otherworld landscapes in every shade of green. What dyes and medicines and poultices they might make, I do not know, but I have been wondering. And what slow, gentle growth they know, solemn through the passage of time, rejoicing quietly at each rain.
I tried to imagine the life of a brush rabbit, hopping and darting through this wonder of thicket, of poison oak and coyote brush, hemlock, bramble, willow. It is a rich place, full of unknowns and strange rustlings and the heartbeats of wild things.
Another group of trackers, down a nearby ridge, found these bones by a big outcrop of stone. A buck, bones resting, eaten clean. Perhaps killed by a mountain lion, then fed on by every imaginable being-- coyote, bobcat, vulture, worm, fly, sunshine.
After all the rabbit signs and tunnels and thickets, we found this, inside the scat of a lucky bobcat— the upper jaw of a brush rabbit, with two rows of incisors (a sure sign!). A little nub of bone, the story of a life and a meal and the cycle of things.
From the bare bones and branches of the start of true winter, the new green and fur and blood of life is stirring, deep in the heart of the thicket, as magic and as mundane as every bounding brush rabbit.
For more of the magic and myth of rabbits, read this essay by Terri Windling. It is splendid. Here's a small excerpt:
"In Teutonic myth, the earth and sky goddess Holda, leader of the Wild Hunt, was followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. Although she descended into a witch–like figure and boogeyman of children’s tales, she was once revered as a beautiful, powerful goddess in charge of weather phenomena. Freyja, the headstrong Norse goddess of love, sensuality, and women’s mysteries, was also served by hare attendants. She traveled with a sacred hare and boar in a chariot drawn by cats. Kaltes, the shape–shifting moon goddess of western Siberia, liked to roam the hills in the form of a hare, and was sometimes pictured in human shape wearing a headdress with hare’s ears. Ostara, the goddess of the moon, fertility, and spring in Anglo–Saxon myth, was often depicted with a hare’s head or ears, and with a white hare standing in attendance. [...] Eostre, the Celtic version of Ostara, was a goddess also associated with the moon, and with mythic stories of death, redemption, and resurrection during the turning of winter to spring. Eostre, too, was a shape–shifter, taking the shape of a hare at each full moon; all hares were sacred to her, and acted as her messengers. Cesaer recorded that rabbits and hares were taboo foods to the Celtic tribes. In Ireland, it was said that eating a hare was like eating one’s own grandmother — perhaps due to the sacred connection between hares and various goddesses, warrior queens, and female faeries, or else due to the belief that old "wise women" could shape–shift into hares by moonlight."