It is a truth universally suspected that a family in possession of a wildlife painting must be in need of some wildlife.
Years ago, my husband’s family had a farm and he and I became custodians of it. The farm was on a hilltop so we cleverly named it Hill Top.
Husband, children and I summered and weekend-ed there. I loved that farm and wanted a name sign for our front gate. So my husband commissioned a local artist to make one for my birthday. Author-illustrator Beatrix Potter – she of Peter Rabbit fame and a farmhouse named Hill Top — came to mind.
The moment that sign went up, Peter Rabbit, his parents and all their friends took up residence in our gardens.
They ate us out of home and land. As soon as we planted vegetables, herbs and flowers, they ate them. There was soya and wheat growing in the fields. But why travel so far, when there’s good stuff nearby?
My husband couldn’t bring himself to hurt them — not with that sign out front. So there we were, hoist on our own petard.
When our family moved to another home, there were no rabbits — we thought.
And then two auspicious things happened:
We visited the old farmhouse. Our daughter noticed that the new owners had removed the Hill Top sign and begged them to give it back. They graciously agreed.
Soon after, our resident red fox – a predator of rabbits — upped and died. It might have been the sight of the sign that did it. But there was his carcass, lying across our stream.
It took gallons of expensive fox urine to protect our gardens that year. (If you want to learn more about that inauspicious episode, you’ll have to read my next book.)
Years after moving to our current farmhouse, we’re besieged by wild rabbits — again. Squirrels too, but they don’t eat shrubs, herbs, flowers and vegetables.
Last winter, the rabbits were so starved for food that they ate all my clematis vines, plus the barks of several tender young trees and shrubs.
My husband did a very manly thing: he shouted at them. The rabbits ran — and immediately returned.
We decided to sympathize. Wild rabbits, too, have to eat.
But soon it was spring — time to plant vegetables.
Husband decided the rabbits should be moved to a nearby nature park. He set a humane trap filled with things that Beatrix Potter said wild rabbits love: carrots and lettuce and cabbages. But we might as well have posted a sign saying: “This is a rabbit trap.”
Truth is, these particular rabbits mostly eat grass and clover so far this spring.
Truth is, our daughter has named them Fred and Penelope. (At least, she thinks there are only two. But where there are two, there are — or soon will be — a dozen.)
And truth is, my husband has put the sign up again.
Methinks it’s a sign of surrender.
Photos by Hamlin Grange.