Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Lifetime of Memories

Father's Day always brings me around to think of my own father. I miss him a lot, he was a good man and we had a good relationship up to the very day he passed away. Mother's Day is always such a big deal and we hear about it for weeks in advance, but Father's Day is somewhat low-key and almost overlooked, almost like these men who worked so hard to provide us with everything we needed.

My dad was born on April 2nd, 1915, in the early days of World War I. He was born at home, not in a hospital, and lived in that same home until he enlisted in the Army and was sent to serve in Italy, where he was shot in the right thigh in combat with the Germans. He returned to live in that some house after the war and only moved out when he got married, and he and his brother Albert bought the duplex house right across the street. I've lived in probably seven different towns and cities in my life, but my father never left the street on which he was born.

He never talked much about his time in the Army fighting World War II, but one day he did open up to me and told me many stories about being in the Army and the camaraderie he had with his fellow soldiers. I was completely fascinated when I heard these stories because it caused me to look at my father in a totally different light, as an individual person with wants and needs and experiences outside of the context of our family. I always knew him as "Dad" but now I saw a whole different side of him, and it was amazing and enlightening.

My father married my mother in 1946, when he was 31 years old. My older brother was born three years later in 1949, and I came along two and a half years after that, in 1952. Dad was three months away from his 37th birthday when I was born. That was pretty late in life to have children, even by today's standards, and I can't help but wonder how drastically it changed his life. I wonder if he had any regrets about that. He never mentioned any, of course, but I can't help but think that he might have had a second thought or two. Especially when he found out that his two sons were going to be complete, polar opposites.

I will admit to being somewhat of a difficult child. People who know me usually end up gasping with apoplectic disbelief (although some of them say "gagging" is closer to the truth) when I say that, but I readily admit it. From the very start I had absolutely no interest in sports of any kind, and still don't to this day. I was a loner who preferred solitude, reading as many books as I could. My brother was a joiner who was never without a large entourage of friends, engaged in some sporting activity. I was a non-conformist, stubbornly independent, and I didn't care who didn't approve. My brother was a total conformist who found his greatest comfort in sharing a group identity. We were at each others' throats regularly, and the only interactions we had were meals shared around the dinner table; otherwise, we essentially lived in separate worlds and had nothing to do with each other.

It's not like my dad didn't try to get me interested in what were considered more "normal" childhood activities during the 50s and 60s. Every three months or so he would drag me outside and force me to play "catch" with him, tossing a baseball back and forth. I thought this was the most outrageous, ridiculous and painful torture imaginable and I dreaded it every time it came up. To me it was the dumbest and most pointless activity possible, and I always felt like I was being punished for something I couldn't remember doing. I made it clear I was not having the tiniest amount of fun and gradually he just gave up on the "catch" thing. He tried to interest me in golf and get my uncles to take me out fishing, but nothing worked. I would not have any sports in my life, at all, and still don't.

Very early on in life I came to realize that the vast majority of adults with whom I had to deal were complete idiots. This made me exhibit a rather obvious contempt and resistance to their attempts to control me and tell me what to do, and it led me to do a lot of mouthing off and talking back. I'm sure it caused my father no end of frustration and embarrassment when he heard that I talked back to a nun in Catholic school or told my aunt off in her job as clerk at the local drug store. But he also knew that that was just my nature, who I was, and rarely made me feel bad about being different.

I grew up in a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town. My hometown was a small place, around 2000 people, and you could not get lost there even if you wanted to. Everyone knew who you were and who your parents were. It was a pretty idyllic existence, and I have many, many fond memories of beautiful spring days bursting with flowers and gentle rain, endless, sun-drenched summer days, the majestic beauty of the fall foliage, and icy, snow-covered, crystalline winter days. We had most of what we needed, but few luxuries. My father's work at the steel mill was steady and provided for us. After twenty-five years at the mill my father was eligible for their extended vacation benefit, which gave him 13 consecutive weeks paid vacation every 5 years. Sometimes we would take a family vacation, which usually meant going to Conneaut Lake park in Ohio for a couple of days, or to Presque Isle on Lake Erie in the north. It wasn't a week at the beach or in Europe, but it was fun and memorable just the same.

Tragedy and misfortune did befall us, as it does all families. My older brother was killed in a car accident on the evening of my parents' twenty-first wedding anniversary. I don't remember a lot about it, as time fades memory and my own brain has blocked a lot of it out, but what I do remember was a nightmare of epic proportions. He had been diagnosed with leukemia some months before that, and it was a double blow to my parents. My mother never came to terms with losing her firstborn and it haunted her for the rest of her life. After his death she had what was called back then a "nervous breakdown" and spent time in a psychiatric hospital. They subjected her to ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), also called "shock treatments," in which her brain was subjected to blasts of electricity in hopes of "rebooting" it back to a normal state of being. She also took what she called "nerve pills," probably various anti-depressants, for decades afterward. My father had to deal with all this horrendous stuff as well as take care of me and the house and do his job, and I honestly don't know how he handled it all. He protected and shielded me from a lot of it, and had to cope with it alone. I realized this in time and still marvel at his strength through what surely had to be the darkest times of his life.

Dad and I locked horns often during the late 60s, as the cultural revolution swept the nation and I joined the hippie contingent in our town. I went to college and more disagreements and divisiveness followed. But I never lost my love and respect for him, and I'm sure he never stopped loving and caring for me, no matter what. As I went out in the world and they grew older, my father and I grew closer, realizing how much we had been through and how much we really had in common. He was plagued with a case of gout in his ankle, and I remember him hobbling around the house and I would tease him for having the "rich man's disease," as gout was called. I remember joining them on vacation in Las Vegas, which they thought was the most glamorous and exciting place on earth, and we had lots and lots of good time. While I never regarded my father as an equal, I began to think of him as somewhat of a peer and a very good friend, and it only served to enhance our relationship on deeper, unexpected levels. We would talk often on the phone, and I really miss not being able to call him up and chat with him.

My father died on January 1st, 2001, of congestive heart failure. It snowed in Pennsylvania the day of his funeral, but it wasn't a gray, dismal kind of snow. Innumerable huge white snowflakes drifted down from a bright sky, spinning and pirouetting as they fell. It was a unique and special day, a fitting farewell for a unique person. My dad has always been a rock, a compass in my life, and a beacon of love and understanding. He taught me, by example, of what it truly means to be a man. Just as I said goodbye to him on a bright, shining day, I look forward to seeing him again, on another bright, shining day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Patch of Violets - Part 1

This is an excerpt from my book in progress, "Songs of Abundance and Beauty: The Stories of Josiah."

You know when you first wake up in the morning and you just start to stir a little bit – your body is beginning to wake up, but your brain is still a little bit slow? I like to think of it as a foggy morning inside your head. You don’t know what’s going on around you but you’re so comfortable, all curled up snoozing, that you really don’t care.

“Hey Josiah!” The little voice came bouncing off the rough, wooden walls of the barn as the first morning light crept into the hay-filled corners and crevices. “Are you up yet?”

I slowly opened my eyes a little bit. I knew it was the voice of my little friend Zachary. Zack is a young bunny about half my age, who always was the first one up in the morning and ready to go out and play before anyone else.

“Zack,” I said, lifting up my ears. “You have to be quiet, you’re going to wake everyone else up!” He ran over to my sleeping area, a soft pile of hay underneath a wooden ledge that held some old flower pots made of reddish brown earth. “Everybody should be up!” he declared, with the little twist to his voice which made him always sound like he was asking a question. “It’s getting light outside, the sun is coming up! Come out and see.”

With a backwards-kick of his rear legs, Zack ran around in a small circle in front of my bed a couple of times to make sure I was getting up, and then bounced out the partially open door of the barn to the yard. I got up, did a big stretch punctuated with a big yawn at the end of it, and followed him outside.

Sure enough, the sun was just waking up, still covered with its blanket of clouds behind the big hills to the east. It was already painting the sky above it with highlights of red and orange, a touch of gold here and there. The very highest leaves of the big trees in the distance were also being touched with golden light. I so love to see the tree leaves in the morning light. I sat up on my back legs and sniffed the cool, fresh air. Then I turned all the way around and saw Grandfather Moon, a big round ball of pale yellow, floating low in the greenish-blue sky above the green, misty fields. He looked like a wise old rabbit to me, tired and heading for his burrow, ready to go to sleep.

“Good night, Grandfather Moon,” I said quietly, although I was sure he could hear me. “I will see you again soon.”

Meanwhile Zack was running and jumping and kicking up a little bit of dust. “Isn’t it a great morning, Josiah?” he said. He almost sounded like a little bird, he was so happy and delighted. Some of the other rabbits were beginning to wake up and amble around the yard, looking for their morning nibble.

“Come on, Josiah,” he called out. “Let’s race over to the far side of the yard before the others get there. I’ll bet there are some sweet, young leaves and new grass to eat!” He took off like a shot, scaring a couple of birds who were sitting in a nearby tree, and I took off too, following him in a zig-zag fashion.

Turns out, some other bunnies had gotten there before we did. There is a big area in the corner of the yard where we live that is full of plants and little shrubs, with big tree branches hanging overhead. Everybody loves to go there and look around for tasty things to munch on. It is a pretty safe area for us, with shelter and places to hide. If some of the bad flying things come around, the four-legged creatures who live on the other side of the fence start running around and making a huge racket, so we know we have to be very cautious and hide. Those big animals are very noisy and they all have really bad breath, but they can occasionally be useful.

But me, I like the area because I can look through the fence to what is outside. I have never been outside; it looks like a beautiful place but also a little dangerous. I hear weird noises coming from there every so often, along with some very interesting and exotic smells which I can’t identify. It’s a little bit frightening sometimes but I can’t help but be intrigued by it. I spend a lot of time thinking what it would be like to be out there, away from everyone and the food and the nice safe barn to sleep in. I think it would be a tough place to live, but still, I can’t help wanting to go out there and see. I know I shouldn’t think about it, and a lot of the old lady bunnies here scold me and tell me I would be crazy to do it, but I really want to see what is out there, so near yet so far away.

While Zack was busy stuffing his face with sweet grass, I was nibbling on some spearmint minding my own business when I noticed a group of bunnies nearby. One of them was a brown and white girl bunny I had seen a couple of times before. She was one of a litter of babies born right before the last lightdark, and they were growing up and leaving the care of their mother. There is something about her that I really like, and I don’t know what it is. I would never tell anyone how I feel because then you get teased to within an inch of your life and the bunny that you like thinks you are really pathetic, but I still feel there is something special about her. I love the way her mouth is shaped and she has the most beautiful dark eyes. I don’t see her smile much but when she does it’s like a light turns on. Her face is just perfect and I don’t know why. I have to be careful that no one sees me staring at her because that would end badly for both of us, but it’s hard not to.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t wander over to her to get a better look and see what she’s eating. So that’s what I do, I mosey on over in her direction and am a little surprised when I see that she’s not really eating anything, but staring at a little clump of dark blue wildflowers growing the grass. I get closer to her and try to think of something to say to her. I couldn’t think of anything clever so I just blurted something out.

“Are you going to eat those?” I asked, and right after I did I thought I was the biggest idiot in the world. I wouldn’t blame her if she gave me a loud thump and ran away.

She looked up at me and I noticed she had some really long, long eyelashes. They were gorgeous! Even if she told me to get lost, it was worth it to get this close.

She looked up and said, “Oh no, I’m not going to eat these. I just like to look at them, they are my favorites.”

I didn’t understand how you could look at a tasty plant and not eat it, but I had to be careful because I didn’t want her to think I was some kind of slob.

“Do you know what they are called?” I asked, trying to do anything to get her to talk to me. I was so excited!

“My mother told me they are called zinthann in bunny language, but I heard one of the humans call them ‘violets.” She put her head down and touched one of the flowers with her nose, and I thought I was going to pass out.

“My name is Josiah,” I said. I don’t know why I said that, because I couldn’t think of anything to say afterward. But before I could continue, she said, “I know who you are, I have seen you around the barn and the yard.”

That kind of took me aback a little, I had no idea that she had even noticed me. “I remember seeing you and your mother and your brothers and sisters in that place in the barn next to the big round thing.”

A very small look of sadness seemed to cross her face and I was very afraid that I had said something wrong.

“I remember being there,” she said quietly. “We always had a good time there and we were happy. Now Mama doesn’t have much to do with us anymore, and some of my brothers and sisters have already been taken away, so I try not to think about it too much.

I hadn’t realized that some of her brothers and sisters were gone. That’s what happens around here, you get used to seeing certain bunnies and then one day some humans come into the barn, grab a couple of them and then leave. You rarely if ever seen them again, and if you do see them again they are changed and very different from the way they used to be, and usually not in a good way.

I knew I had to think fast and change the subject to something a little more pleasant, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. I was desperate, and desperation makes you do stupid stuff.

“I saw Grandfather Moon this morning!” I said, and immediately regretted it.

Without even a pause, she said, “I saw him too. I love looking at him.” Somehow she made me feel at ease and not as much of a moron as I thought I was.

Relaxing a little bit and taking a breath, I said, “I just realized I don’t know your name.” She looked at me and gave me the tiniest little smile. “My name is Lila,” she said.

I felt like I had just been given a really wonderful gift. “It was nice talking to you, Lila. I hope we can talk again.”

“So do I, Josiah,” and at that point we both resumed what we were doing and gradually mingled in with the other bunnies.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Lila and even though our conversation was short, she really impressed me. She was just so sweet and self-aware and maybe a little bit sad, but I could not stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop thinking about what was outside on the other side of the fence, either. I thought about that day and night, and every time I went outside my eyes were drawn to the distant world out there. Something was calling me, telling me I had to leave and find out what it had in store for me.

Some days later I decided I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to find out more about the outside world. I had overheard some bunnies talking about an older male bunny whom they said actually got out and spent time in the outside world on his own, before the humans somehow found him and brought him back to where we live. His name is Hector, and he is a big, gruff, unpleasant guy who spends all his time by himself and doesn’t have much to say to anyone. The other bunnies say he’s not that old but he looks old. I see him every so often and like everyone else, I don’t have anything to do with him; but I figured out that if I was going to find out anything about the places beyond the fence, I would have to talk to him.

I had to be cagey about the whole thing and approach him cautiously. If I came on too strong he would just kick me and I wouldn’t want that at all. So one afternoon I saw him sitting outside, alone as usual, and carefully, slowly, walked up to him, my ears against my back, showing as much respect as possible. I decided to greet him in the traditional rabbit fashion.

“May wellness and joy be upon you, sir,” I said meekly. A lot of the younger bunnies think that addressing the adult bunnies in the old-fashioned way is pretty lame, but I know they appreciate it.

Hector just glared at me with his dull brown eyes. He said nothing but I thought I heard a little grunt. Taking heart in not getting beat up immediately, I proceeded cautiously.

“May I ask you a couple of questions, please, sir?” I said. I put my ears and head down. It was now completely up to him, he was in control of the situation.

He glared like he was really angry at me and I thought, I am a goner. It was so quiet I could hear the wind through the trees over the fence. After what seemed like forever, he said to me in a deep, gravelly voice, “Why are you bothering me?”

I stayed completely scrunched against the ground, as respectful as possible. “Well, sir, my name is Josiah and -“

“I know who you are!” he bellowed. “Do you think I’m some kind of idiot?”

Trying not to act completely terrified, I stammered out, “N-No, sir, I..."

“I’ve been here long enough that I know everybody,” he snapped. “At least you have enough sense not to hang out with that pack of hooligans that are always getting into trouble around here.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I really felt scared and confused, and I didn’t know what I could possibly say to make things better. So I said nothing.

After a short while (which seemed like forever) he finally said harshly, “What is it that you want to ask? Come on boy, spit it out. I don’t have all day to waste, waiting for you to think of something to say.”

I regarded this as a positive development. I figured that things could go south at any second so I better make my case and make it well.

“Sir,” I said, “I think a lot about what is out there, on the other side of the big fence. I don’t know what’s there but I feel I have to find out. I have heard that you have been there, on the outside, and I wonder if you could please tell me what you saw.”

Hector lifted his head a little bit, I think to make me feel even more inferior than I already did, and said nothing for a few seconds.

“So you want to know what is outside the fence?” he said, a little derisively. “You’re a nosy little thing, aren’t you?”

I couldn’t deny that, but I said nothing. I kept looking straight ahead at his front paws, all dirty and caked in mud, with cracked toenails.

“Are you thinking of taking a little excursion, young Josiah?” he asked bluntly. “Is that why you’re asking?”

“Well, yes, I mean, no, sir. I-I mean…” I was really getting rattled and I felt everything falling apart in front of me. “I don’t know exactly what I mean, sir.”

Still glaring at me with his dusty, cloudy eyes, he said, “If you’re smart, you’ll stop thinking about the outside and just be happy to stay where you are. The outside world is a mean, harsh place where you have to search very hard for your food and water, they aren’t just served up to you every day like here. It is cold and damp, and the ground is hard and rocky. You are very lucky if you can find a place to live that isn’t crawling with every sort of horrible creature that all want to have you for dinner, and I don’t mean as a guest.” He shifted his weight a little bit and I could tell he was starting to get agitated.

“When you’re outside, death can be waiting for you around every bush or tree,” he continued. “You never know when something is going to jump out at you or grab you from the sky, and break your back or tear out all your guts. That can happen in a second, before you even know it. As a matter of fact, it’s better if you don’t even know when it happens.”

I just crouched there and trembled in fear. “What did I get myself into?” I thought to myself. Hector continued in his deep, mean voice.

“You will watch other animals die all around you, and wonder if you’ll be next. You will see other rabbits, but they are born to live in the outside. They will shun you and attack you, and run you out of their territory because you have the mark of the humans on you. You will be very lonely and think you are the only rabbit in the world.” He stopped and gave me an icy cold look. “Is this the kind of world you want to go to?”

I didn’t know what to say to him. He stopped talking and took a slow breath.

“Listen carefully, and know this,” the grizzled rabbit said, fixing me with his piercing gaze. “If you want the have the world outside, you will have to give up something you have now. That’s how things work - everything is in balance. To get something you must give something up. Choose wisely, young Josiah, because what you get in return for giving up something you have may be, in the end, not what you really wanted at all.”

I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I could not move and was barely able to breathe. The old man turned to look over at the fence.

“I will tell you one more thing,” he said, a bit more calmly, "and then you will leave. If you go outside the fence, you will feel something, something that will change you and your life forever. It is something that will make you jump and run like crazy. It will make you dance for no reason, even if you’re feeling poorly, and make you want to put up with every horrible, terrible thing that will come your way. You will taste something that will transform your life and everything will be different afterward.”

I was scared and intrigued at the same time. Somehow I found my voice to ask him one last question.

“What is it that I will taste, that will change my life so much?” I asked very apprehensively.

Hector glared at me with cold, hard eyes that had seen far too many bad things. I had no idea what he was going to tell me, and I was very surprised when he said but a single word:


To be continued...

A Patch of Violets - Part 2

This is an excerpt from my book in progress, "Songs of Abundance and Beauty: The Stories of Josiah."

My talk with Hector really gave me a lot to ponder. I will admit that it scared me a little bit. Well, a whole lot, actually, and for a while I didn’t want to think of the outside world. I just went on with my normal life, and it was pretty good. I continued to see Lila just about every morning, and the time we spent in the grassy corner of the yard became “our time,” something we looked forward to each day. She usually seemed to get there before me, and I could always find her near a little patch of those bluish-purple flowers she loved so much, which she called ‘violets.’

Lila would talk to me about many things – her mother, how she missed her brothers and sisters who were taken away, and living in this place with so many other bunnies. I would talk about some of that stuff too, but more and more we began to discuss what was beyond the fence. We would sit next to each other and smell the tiny wisps of fragrance that came our way, carried by the wind from faraway places, and we would try to imagine what was causing those wonderfully exotic aromas.

It was on one of those mornings, after it had rained the night before and the sun was shining through dark banks of purple clouds, that she turned to me and said, “We have to get out of this place.” I turned and looked at her in surprise, because she had never said that to me so plainly and simply. But I could tell it was something she felt strongly about, and had spent a lot of time considering. I asked her if she was sure of what she was saying and she said yes, she was. Then I told her from everything I had heard, the outside world is a scary and unforgiving place, and there would be many things we would need to worry about that we don’t have to here. She said she understood things would be a lot tougher than they are now, and that we might not last long out there, but she said she had to try and she could not think of anyone whom she would rather be with than me. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, and also how frightened.

So, we went about trying to figure a way out. We thought of many things, but there were always barriers or obstacles we could not get around. One afternoon I was just sitting and minding my own business when the gate to our living area opened up and a couple of humans brought in a big cart kind of thing, loaded with food and hay. They did this every so often and no one paid much attention to it, since it has been going on as long as anyone can remember. There was always one human who guarded the gate and kept it closed, so no one could get out. They always pulled the cart back out once it was unloaded, so something went off in my head that this was a way out. I snuck around the other side of the cart where no one could see me and ran under it, between these two great big round things. I looked up and saw a small shelf kind of thing underneath, which looked like it might be big enough for two bunnies. If we could get underneath and jump up onto the shelf, it might be our way out of here. I dashed out from under the cart and the next morning Lila and I talked about what I saw. We decided we would try to escape the next time that cart came in.

We got our chance a couple of days later when the cart came back in. I ran over to her and got her as fast as I could.

“Follow me, Lila,” I said breathlessly. “This is our chance!”

She and I ran to one side of the barn and next to the cart, hidden from the view of the humans. I ran underneath and hopped up onto the shelf. Much to my horror, I found the shelf was a lot smaller than I thought, and there was barely enough room for me.

“Lila, try to jump up next to me. I don’t know if you can do it!”

She got under me and jumped up. She landed on top of me and we tried very hard to stay on the shelf, but once it started moving she lost her footing and slipped off, onto the ground. She looked up at me with fear in her eyes.

“Josiah, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go with you. There’s just not enough room for us both!”

“Lila, don’t give up!” I cried urgently. “We can do it, I know we can. Try to jump up again!”

The big round things started to turn and the cart lurched backwards, toward the gate. Lila started to follow but had to run back to the barn. What she said next made my heart break.

“Goodbye, Josiah,” she said. “Please take care of yourself and stay safe. I will never forget you.”

The cart started moving faster and I became very scared. I could not move as I felt myself being shaken and jostled about. I took one last look at her and felt like crying.

The cart continued moving and although I could see just a little bit of the ground under me, it started to change and look like nothing I had ever seen. Those big four-legged things sounded louder and closer than ever before. Then the cart started to shake violently up and down. I could no longer keep my balance and fell off the shelf to the ground. I looked around and could not recognize anything, I had no idea where I was. The only thing I saw was some tall grasses and plants that I had only seen on the other side of the fence. Something told me that is where I had to be, so I took off running for them as fast as I could. A couple of seconds after I did some of those four-legged things started to howl and make an awful noise, and one of the humans nearby started hollering and screaming, but I was not about to stop. I saw a couple of the four-legged things take off after me, but I really turned on the speed and took off into the low bushes, where tangled branches and sharp thorns kept the four-legged things from following me. I had escaped!

I ran and ran for a very long time. I ran until my lungs burned and my legs ached. It was almost like I couldn’t stop myself. Eventually I had to stop, because I came across this ribbon of running water, something I had never seen or imagined before. Good thing, too, because I was really thirsty. I went over and drank and drank. As I did I looked into the water and saw something amazing – clouds! There were clouds on the surface of the water. I had never seen that before and wondered, what kind of inside-out world had I landed in?

I lifted my head and looked about – around me everywhere was space! Open space, lots of space. No fences, no barn, no anything. Just trees and plants and hills and sky. The ground felt cool and damp, just like Hector had warned, but it didn’t feel awful. I was overwhelmed with new sights and sounds and strong smells I had never before experienced. I was more terrified than I had ever been but I was also excited and thrilled and happy, as never before. Is this what Hector meant by the taste of freedom?

It got dark really quickly in this new place, and it was the darkest dark I had ever seen. The sky was covered with clouds, which made it even worse. I found a place to hide under some thick bushes and I just sat there, not sleeping just listening to everything around me. There were a lot of scary sounds which I couldn’t identify. It made me wish for a second I was back in my regular sleeping place with the other bunnies in the barn.

The next morning finally came and I watched the sun rise up out of its cushion of clouds as I had always done, but this time it seemed different. I saw other animals stirring and moving about, so cautiously I came out from my hiding place and wandered around a bit, never getting too far from the place I felt was a little bit safe. Gradually I became slightly more comfortable in moving about but never really relaxed. I was still extremely vigilant and aware of everything around me, and this became the new normal for me. I found a number of things to eat, some familiar but most completely new to me and I wasn’t always sure I liked them. But often, I didn’t have much of a choice.

My days became basically a long period of hiding and staying out of sight, between periods of searching for food, when the sun came up and when it went down. A couple of evenings later I looked up into the sky and saw Grandfather Moon, the first time since I came to this new world. He had turned into Grandbaby Moon, a thin sliver low in the sky, and he was starting his life-cycle again. It was so great to see something familiar again, and it made me think of the place I left. I wondered if Lila was looking up right now, gazing at the same moon I was, and thinking about me. I suddenly realized how much I missed her and how I wished she was here with me.

I saw a lot of other animals I had never seen before and most were pretty scary-looking. A couple of them took off chasing me and it scared me nearly to death, but I was able to get away from them. One of them almost caught me, and for a second I thought I was done for. It was only because of my strong back legs and the fact that I can change direction in a fraction of a second did I get away. My heart felt like it was going to explode inside my chest and I realized that staying alive out here involved a great deal of skill and ability, but also a lot of luck.

My luck nearly ran out on me when I was looking for some water at night, when I heard something that sounded like very quiet hissing, coming up above and behind me. Instinctively I jumped aside and whirled around, and something big and dark charged out of the sky right at me. Again my instincts told me to run as fast as I could, and I did. I felt some sharp things dig into the skin on my back and I dropped down and flipped over as fast as I could, and whatever it was lost its grip on me. I was able to dart under some bushes and get shelter, but my back hurt terribly bad and I felt some warm liquid run down my side under my fur. My back hurt even worse the following morning and for days afterward, but I got used to it.

After a while it became hard to find anything good to eat so I had to travel a lot further than I ever had before. One day while searching for some food I suddenly felt like I was being watched. I looked up and a little way off from me was another rabbit, the first one I had seen in what felt like ages. I froze in my spot and our eyes just locked on each other. It was a brown and black rabbit with huge, huge ears. It looked right at me with enormous eyes, and I didn’t know what to say. We were both breathing very hard.

I thought I would try the regular greeting so I said, “May wellness and joy be upon you.” There was no answer, so I decided to try again, and repeated the greeting.

Before I had a chance to finish it, the other rabbit said very loudly, “WHO ARE YOU?” I was startled because it was a female’s voice, with a thick accent I could barely understand, although I found it really charming and attractive.

“My name is Josiah,” I said, “and I was looking for something to eat. I haven’t eaten in a long while and can’t seem to..."

“What are you doing here?” the other rabbit barked at me. She continued to look at me with great suspicion, and I knew she did not trust me one bit.

“I left the place where I had been living, to find out what there is to see,” I said, with a lot of hesitation, because I really didn’t know how to explain where I came from. “I was living in a big place with a lot of other rabbits and –“

“I know the place you came from,” she said sharply. “You have the smell of humans about you.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I tried to change the subject. “Where do you come from?” I asked. “Are there any other rabbits around like you? I haven’t seen another rabbit in a very long time and I am getting very lonely.”

Her eyes seemed to soften up just a tiny bit and she said, “I live in a warren with a lot of other rabbits. We have been watching you closely ever since you came into our range.”

My eyes opened wide and I got really excited. “There are other rabbits around?” I asked. “Can I meet them?”

“No, you can’t,” she snapped, with no emotion. “The others will attack you and chase you away. We don’t want anyone like you around. You have been touched by humans, and you can never live with us.”

Crestfallen, I looked down at the ground and felt sad. Is this how my life was going to be from now on? I looked up and asked, “Can you at least tell me where I can find something to eat?”

“Go across the field over there, to the left of that hill,” she said, motioning with her ears. “There you will find a good feeding area, with leaves and berries.” She continued looking at me with that same unwavering, suspicious gaze.

“Go there and do not ever come back here. If you do, the others will kill you.” With that, she turned around and disappeared instantly into the thickets. I just stood there, my jaw dropped open with shock, and I could not believe that even other rabbits wanted to kill me. What kind of horrible place is this, I thought. Even though I felt really bad at times, I also knew this was the place I needed to be. At least, I thought, for now.

The days went on, over and over like this, each day pretty much the same: wake up, forage for food, keep an eye out at all times for something that wanted to eat me, run like heck when chased, which was often, get so frightened you’d think you were dying, find a little bit of quiet time when you could relax. I watched Grandfather Moon as he grew fatter and eventually became a big round ball in the sky. I could feel that I was getting skinny, but I never felt tired. I got used to being on high alert all the time. A couple of times it rained really hard and I got soaking wet and very cold, but I got through it. I cut my feet on something several times and I started sporting a number of wounds and scabs. But still, every day was thrilling and harrowing and interesting, and I have to say I started to enjoy myself and my new life.

But one evening, I looked up into the sky at Grandfather Moon and he had once again turned into a skinny crescent in the sky. I looked down at the ground near my feet and I could not believe what I saw. There was a little patch of violets, just like the ones Lila loved so much. I looked at those violets and felt something change inside me. I looked at them and realized I missed Lila more than anything, and I needed to see her again. It was exciting and fascinating and terrifying out here, but I realize what I was really missing in my life, and that was seeing Lila. Is that what Hector was trying to tell me, what seems like a long, long time ago - that in order to live out here on my own, I had to give up Lila and spending time with her? Is that what I had to trade for something that he called “freedom?” If so, I began to understand I made the wrong choice. I realized that Lila meant more to me than anything I had experienced out here.

I made up my mind at that second, that I had to go back.

To be continued...

A Patch of Violets - Part 3

This is an excerpt from my book in progress, "Songs of Abundance and Beauty: The Stories of Josiah."

I realized I wanted to go back to where I used to live, but the problem was, how to get there? After all this time I had no idea where I was, how far and in what direction I had traveled. I had no idea how to get back to the place with all the rabbits, and had no choice but to wander around and hope to come across something familiar.

So I walked and walked for days, for what seemed like miles, all the while eating whatever I could find and trying hard to stay out of the way of anything that looked hungry. How long was I going to have to do this, I asked myself. It felt like I was trapped between two worlds; the one I had with Lila and the others, and this new one where it seemed everyone and everything hated me and was out to get me. I felt lost and very much alone.

The days went on and I began to give up hope. My feet really hurt and I found a place to lay down to rest. It wasn’t very comfortable with sharp rocks everywhere but it really didn’t matter, I had to rest. I just sat there, not thinking about something, when my ears went straight up in the air. I thought I heard a very quiet kind of purring noise, drifting in on the breeze, and I knew I recognized it. I held my breath and listened harder than I ever had before, with every bit of might I could find. Was I imagining it? Finally the wind shifted a bit and I heard it more clearly. It was the thing the humans rode around in. It was big and it made a lot of noise and smelled bad but I knew what it was.

I took off in the direction of the noise, running as fast as I could. The noise stopped after a short while, but I was not discouraged. I kept going in that direction because I knew it would lead me back home. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest when I stopped and sniffed the chilly air, and smelled the unmistakable aroma of rabbits and hay and yes, humans. I was on my way home.

A short time later I peered through the underbrush and got really excited. There it was! The place I had left behind. There was the fence, although it looked really different from this angle. I looked very hard and I thought I could see ears bobbing up and down behind the tall grasses! This really was my home, I had nearly made it.

Now I had to figure out a way to get back in. I had to stay out of the way of those big four-legged things because they would come after me and hurt me. So I sat for a very long time and watched them running back and forth in front of the gate, where I had to go. How could I get safely past them and back with the others?

It quickly got dark and I could not figure out a way to get back home. So I was stuck there for the night, so near yet so far. In the middle of the night I got brave and very carefully made my way to the side of the fence. I looked inside and saw the barn where the others were sleeping and the big yard where we all played. I could not see any other bunnies, but I knew they were there. I couldn’t call out to them, with the four-legged things being around, and I felt like I would never be able to get back in again.

Next morning I was back out in my hiding place in the bushes and saw a number of bunnies hopping around in the grassy areas in the corner of the yard. I was overjoyed to see some rabbits I thought I knew. Was that Zachary over there? I couldn’t be sure, and I couldn’t call out to him. Hard as I looked, I couldn't quite see the area where Lila and I would sit and talk, but that was okay for now.

A short time later the humans were stirring about and things started happening. They were talking to each other and moving things around. One of them went toward the rabbit yard carrying something, probably vegetables and things to eat. He stopped at the big gate and started fiddling with something, to make the gate open. I knew this was my one chance to get back in. I noticed the four-legged things roaming around the outside edges but I didn’t care, I had to take my chance. So I took off running directly toward the human and the gate. I couldn’t believe what I was doing! But after everything else I ran away from in the outside world, this seemed like the least of my worries.

I bolted as fast as I could but those four-legged things spotted me and started to raise a horrible ruckus, making terribly loud, scary noises. The human quickly turned around and saw me charging like a runaway train, right at him, the four-legged things not far behind. I felt like I was flying! The human dropped what he was carrying and yelled something very loudly. The four-legged things stopped dead in their tracks.

I slammed on the brakes as fast as I could and scrunched flat on the ground, ears flat on my back. I knew this was the moment of truth – either I was going to be saved or it would be the end of my life. I stopped a short distance away from the human and neither of us moved. Finally the human started talking very softly to me and started moving toward me. I felt a very strong instinct to turn around and run away – I could still easily do it, but something else told me to stay put. The human got closer to me, reached down and grabbed me behind my neck. It hurt when he grabbed me, but he held me close and I could tell there was something gentle about him. He made noises to some of the other humans and they came running. Everybody was looking at me with big, round eyes and stroking my fur. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew my big adventure was over. I was finally back home.


The dawn came quietly, on tiptoes, and bloomed bright, white and clear with only a few clouds standing sentry, waiting for the sun to appear. Fringes of white mist outlined some of the trees on the far hills while birds sang their wake-up songs. Zachary was sitting in a corner of the yard, watching the morning sun come up as he always did. A slightly smaller black rabbit came up next to him.

“Where were you yesterday, Zachary? We were looking for you to come and play!”

Turning to look at his companion, Zachary said quietly. “I know, Tulip, I was spending time with Josiah,” he said.

“I know!" she said, her ears perking up with excitement. "Wasn’t it amazing! He had been gone for so long, and all of a sudden he’s back with us. Everyone has been talking about it.”

“That’s true,” said Zachary. “No one can remember that ever happening.”

“Some of the older bunnies do,” Tulip said. “They said the same thing happened to that weird Hector bunny a long time ago. I don’t pay any attention to him because he’s a crabby old grouch.”

Tulip took a quick scan of the yard. “There’s Josiah!” she said. “Let’s go over and see if he wants to play tag.”

“We need to leave Josiah alone for a little while,” Zachary said with a bit of sadness. “I had to tell him about his friend Lila being taken away a while ago. Humans came in and grabbed her and her sisters. She kicked and fought and screamed, and she begged and pleaded with us to help her, but we could not. They took her away and we have not seen her since.”

“Why should he care about that? It happened when he was gone,” Tulip said. “I know he had a real awesome time out there!”

“All I know,” said Zachary, “is that there is a darkness that surrounds him, and he needs to be by himself for right now.”

The two rabbits sat and looked at Josiah for a while and then moved off. Josiah sat with his back to the rabbits, not moving and looking down. He felt the cool morning air and saw the leaves of the distant trees moving and swaying as if to show off their shiny golden light, but it did not make him happy as it used to.

Instead, he looked down at his feet, at a small clump of bluish-purple flowers - flowers that were the favorite of someone very close to his heart.

He looked at the flowers, and he thought of his Lila.