Communing with the Bunnies
This is the first in a series of articles exploring the meaning and nature of Nature in all its manifestations.
I live high in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by Ponderosa pines with an east view over Boulder to the Colorado plains beyond. Each morning as dawn brightens, I exit the back door and call out, “Hello Bunnies!” My eyes slowly adjust until I pick out one or two (never more) small mountain cottontails nibbling their breakfast in our driveway. They sit relaxed on their haunches as I walk closer. About 10 feet away, I stand quietly and touch into their alert stillness.
This morning ritual is childlike and deeply nourishing. The bunnies are companions who help me connect with the natural world. Unconstrained by tortuous human concerns, they live at one with their rabbit-nature, expressing their likes and dislikes, joys and fear, playfulness and alarms.
The rabbit’s natural state is a kind of observant tranquility that can instantly transform into a startle or extravagant frolic. When they run, jump and twist in the air (called binkying), it’s as if their exuberance cannot be contained. I watched as one bunny chased another. The chased bunny crouched down low. Suddenly it leapt, twisting over the first bunny’s head, flopped down onto its belly and nonchalantly nibbled some weeds.
I’ve known my bunnies since they were a few weeks old. Attacking an overgrown patch of spring grass in my greenhouse, I uncovered a fur-lined nest of five huddled kits—adorable beyond description. They grew up and scattered, except for one who decided to hang around and mow the tops of my carrots. I apprehended the offender and transferred it to the dry drain hole where the colony (or fluffle) of rabbits lives. They hop out of this circular hole as day breaks.
One morning, I noticed a gray shadow under the wheelbarrow. A small speckled bobcat stood absolutely motionless, intensely focused on a young rabbit quietly
grazing. The predator slunk away as I went over to check on the clueless cottontail. Rounding a corner, I came face to face with the bobcat stalking its prey from the opposite direction. We looked each other in the eye and she grudgingly left.
Should I have allowed nature to take its course and let the bobcat eat a breakfast bunny? Was it un-natural to intervene? Nature is not kind or considerate; it expresses a distinctive and impartial set of values: diversity, extravagance and the constant interactions and flow of life. It has no place for sentimentality.
My feelings and one-sided relationship with the bunny prompted me to interfere in a normal organic process. It felt natural for me to protect my bunny, but was that action against Nature?
That leads to important questions: What is Nature? Are we part of the natural world or something set apart?
One definition of nature and natural are all those things humans have not altered or meddled with. Being in nature entails escaping urban bustle—cars and concrete—for a slice of landscape less disturbed by human exploitation: a walk in the wood, a hike in the mountains, a visit to a National Park. We consider nature as undeveloped, untamed and wild. In contrast, a humanly constructed world is pacified and domesticated—and oftentimes violated and disfigured.
Does that mean that all human endeavors are unnatural? How can that be? Somehow our understanding of nature must be incomplete or misguided.
I look out my window and there is nature, but it is not any one thing—not a tree, a mountain, the dirt, grass or the bunnies. It is not even a collection of things: a forest of trees, a mountain range or a fluffle of bunnies. Yet I know nature exists; it isn’t an idea I’ve dreamed up because we all experience it so vividly. Nature is not an object, a thing, a notion or an illusion. So what is it?
We cannot point to nature because it exists in between. It is an immeasurable network of relationships connecting every living and non-living being, an unbounded pattern of interdependence that has evolved from the beginning of time. Try to imagine the complexity of natural relationships: the miles of fungal mycorrhizae connecting a particular tree root to all the roots around, the trillions of microbes in the soil, air and in our bodies, the myriads of symbiotic relationships between plants, animals, insects and humans, not to mention the sun, wind and atmosphere. The connections in nature are infinite, beyond comprehension, like the stars in the universe.
Because nature is no thing, it cannot be seen with the eye nor completely captured by the intellect; no part can be truly understood in isolation from the whole. Nature is what Gregory Bateson, the brilliant 20th century polymath calls the, pattern which connects–a unifying link between mind and nature.
When any part of that unified pattern is disrupted—prune a tree, dig a garden, run a faucet, mow a lawn, kill a rabbit—each part works in concert with others to heal and reconnect; that is the nature of nature. When the damage and disconnection is too extreme—a mega-city, a concrete highway, clear cut forests, plastic in the ocean, CO2 in the atmosphere—the relational pattern is disrupted and deformed. Natural connection is fragile and complex; human disconnection is quick and easy.
That brings us back to communing with the bunnies. When I stop and let go of my sense of separateness, I become immersed in, and part of something more expansive than my bounded individuality. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I am one piece in a greater inter-connected whole.
To commune is to connect deeply, to become conjoined at a psychic and spiritual level. Communing is a sacred activity (as in the Christian sacrament of Communion): we let go of personal desires and striving to experience a numinous presence. As John Moriarty, the Irish mystical ecologist tells us, “God doesn’t need to come down upon a mountain, for the mountain itself is the revelation.”
So yes, it was natural for me to save the bunny from the bobcat. To care is to connect—and caring for one small aspect of nature is the way to dissolve separateness. The bunnies show me how to be a part of nature. At one with who-they-are and where-they-are, integral to the ecological whole, bunnies demonstrate how to be.
Only as I let go of the divisive ego—my need to control, judge and be special—can I understand nature from the inside. The bunnies invite me to surrender my self and enter a different mode of being, one that is vibrant with life yet unexpectedly still. Who are your bunnies?
 Bateson, Gregory (1988). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Bantam
 Moriarty, John (1999). Dreamtime. Lilliput Press