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November 27, 2004




My rabbit is crepuscular. That's certainly not why I adopted Claudette, but I'll readily admit that the opportunity to drop "crepuscular" into everyday conversation has brought great and unanticipated pleasure. "Lagomorph" alone would have sufficed, but now I've won the lingual lottery. Say it. It tastes delicious dripping from your mouth. Crepuscular.

I suppose every new venture comes a-calling with a satchel full of jargon - some no doubt lovelier than others. I've no experience in the fields of coal mining, waste management or haberdashery, so I cannot with any certainty know whether the associated vocabulary shares an aesthetic with sympathy to the actions, but the words of rabbit stewardship slip through the air with all the silk and dash of Claudette speeding toward the sound of fresh hay rustling from bale to trough. Crepuscular. Lagomorph. Hotot. Dewclaw.

I'd claim crepuscularity as well, but that would imply some actual rhythm to my sleep schedule. The sad fact is that I am awake in the pre-dawn and twilight as I am also awake at the midday and witching as I am just perpetually awake. Sleep has never come easily for me save for when I've got under-cover companionship in the effort, and not even always then. Certainly there are remedies - teas and chants and Henry James novels*, but despite a lifetime of trying, I've yet to hit on a surefire curative, and I'm deeply disinclined to weather the tsunami of pharmaceuticals it requires to register any palpable effect in my circadian patterns. I try to stay still, and when it fails, I wander.

In the greener seasons, the path frequently leads to my mid-air Babylon - the intricate network of baskets and buckets and window box planters fixed on, above and around my fire escape and roof. Salsify, sorrel, okra, heirloom tomatoes, Bloody Butcher corn, purira peppers, six separate basils and dozens of other cultivars reap the benefits of my meticulous pruning, feeding, songs (that'll be our little secret), and watering, but in the crueler months, all I seek for them is stasis. They're not inclined to blossom, and I wouldn't think to demand it of them. All living beings need sleep.

Claudette is no exception. She spends the bulk of the day tucked in upon herself, a small and restive loaf - though you wouldn't necessarily know it to look at her. Most single rabbits share a clever trick - they sleep with their eyes open. Rabbits are universally a prey species, and attacks are much more likely if the animal in question is thought to be unguarded. Wide eyes lend the illusion of wariness. Paired or bonded rabbits can afford the luxury of closed lids, as they know they've got an ally should danger arise. Even when brought into domestic settings, and the greatest threat to their well-being is seemingly the roar of the vacuum cleaner or perhaps the thud of an accidentally dropped shoe, they retain the habits of the wild lagomorph to the point where self-protection defines the majority of their behavior.

Crepuscular creatures schedule the majority of their foraging and other extra-warren activities in the pre-dawn and twilight hours so as to escape the notice of their nocturnal and day-based foes. Thus, it stands to reason that during a recent rest-deprived wander a while before sunrise, I stumbled into the hallway, and Claudette came bounding to the edge of her pen - balanced on her hind legs with front paws on the bars in scant seconds. I stepped over the gate, stroked her up-stretched back, and checked the levels of her food bowl, hay trough and water dish to see if that was the source of her agitation. No - all acceptably full. Litter box was sanitary, and there was certainly no shortage of chewing material now that a grocery order and the new Brooklyn yellow pages had been delivered. I reached over to touch her again, and she skittered away.

The woman at the rescue center had taken pains to explain to me that cold rabbit shoulders were not to be taken personally, especially in Claudette's case. She was, they advised me, an emotionally damaged animal, and would not be an ideal companion for a person seeking validation from their pet. I assured them that my ego was solid enough to withstand the rebuffs of a troubled bunny (I've certainly dated worse), and so am not mortally or morally wounded when she flicks her feet and hops away.

But I was tired this time. Strangely enough, at 32, I'm actually able to weather stretches of sleeplessness with greater aplomb than I had a decade ago, but when the hours stretch to days - and strings of those at that - I start to fray around the edges. Somewhat shamed, I admitted to a small psychic pang from the rejection, and standing seemed far too taxing. Claudette's quarters annex a solid portion of hallway, and I sank face-down and stretched flat on the layers of ravaged cotton throw rugs that shield her paws from the cold shock of linoleum.

Several minutes (it seemed like minutes) of curious flurry raged around me - a fluff-cushioned thud against my sock, the light prick of claws surmounting the obstacle of my thigh, some fuss and tug at my pillow-mussed hair. Then suddenly - a brief and gentle warmth against my cheek. My vision must have blurred without my noticing, and I focused to Claudette's quiet and close assessment of my face. Apparently sensing no imminent threat from the disheveled beast on the adjacent rug, she retreated a few steps and nestled her small body to coziness.

When I eventually stirred, the midday November sun was winking through the kitchen window, and the rabbit in the corner had her eyes closed. Even half-conscious, I know a sign when I see one. I fell back to sleep.

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*Forgive me, but The Wings of the Dove was about 3x as long as it ought to have been.