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A Garden of Love

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I may have been a girl raised in the city, but my heart begs for the slow pace, fresh air, and vast land only the country can bring. I like to be able to see the stars at night and feel like you can literally call your neighbor up if you don’t have enough milk or sugar to finish a recipe. I like having some space too, because beyond popular belief, extroverts enjoy quiet time like the next.

So when my husband and I decided to move into our first home together, it was an easy decision to stop looking in the city, and venture out into the small towns peppered a tad farther south. We had found a house several months earlier online during our house hunting search, but could never find exactly where it was located. It was by mere luck that one day we stumbled upon it when we were doing a weekend afternoon drive around communities we’d love to live in.

The house looked perfect for us. The neighborhood, quiet. The floor plan, ideal. The yard, plenty big. After falling in love with every piece of the real estate, we found out that the house was no longer available. You tell yourself that it’s just a house; that there are plenty of others to choose from. But our hearts dropped, and we struggled at finding the energy to look at others. A few weeks passed, and we got a call from the realtor noting that the contract had fallen through; that the house – the one we loved – was ours if we wanted it.

I knew it was where we were meant to be the moment we looked at it. Perched on top of the simple ranch was a red bird, with its chest puffed out and its gaze our way. My grandma, who sends me red birds when and where I need them, had given her blessing as she knew that this place was where we would bring home our babies, laugh a ton, and grow a killer garden.

She was right on all accounts. All three babies came home to our humble abode, making it theirs the moment we brought them in. We laugh endlessly here and the open floor plan causes our laughs to echo to every nook in the house. And the yard, the one that I knew was big, has evolved to be the home of one massive and extremely plentiful garden!

While my grandparents had a garden at their weekend farm while I was growing up, I just reaped the benefits as I never put in the effort to cultivate it. So when I decided I wanted a garden, I had no idea where to start. My dad helped us with the knowledge he had, but I also took full advantage of our county’s services and attended a free class for beginner gardeners. I came home with a binder filled with pages that over the years would help me enjoy a plethora of produce.

From tomatoes and peppers to zucchini and squash, we started out with the veggies that we were promised would survive nearly everything. And once we got comfortable and confident with those, we added in some new varieties. Beans, kale, lettuce, cucumbers. And most recently, sweet potatoes. Our trick to success? Horse manure and newspaper. One to nourish the soil and one to tame the weeds. Those two pretty much do the trick. Well, those and the fence.

For every hundred things to love about living outside the city, there comes a few things that are not so pleasant. Bugs, rodents, critters. All of which give me the heebee jeebees. Carpenter bees swarm our deck annually, and I lost all of the my hostas to shrews, a member of the mole family. I’m sure city-dwellers experience these pests too, but there is something about the country and the abundance of “wildlife”.

Deer cross our streets, so you have to always be on the lookout. And each year, just as we are getting our spring garden perfected, we have to pay close attention for the rabbits. If we think the carpenter bees come in packs, then rabbits come in droves. It’s true, I’ve never experienced this quantity of bunnies before moving into this house. In the spring, you just have to walk outside, any time of the day but definitely in the early morning, and you can count more rabbits that you have fingers just my looking at your yard and your neighbors.

They are cute and typically harmless, but not very smart. They run in front of your car instead of away. And they build mounds in totally ridiculous places to deliver their babies. At least their cute, because literally they will build it in the middle of the yard and each time you cut the grass, you have to do the tap test, tapping around to make sure that you don’t push the mower over a baby nest.

We’ve got an amazing yard, not just for our enjoyment but for that of a rabbit family. Each year they hop out of the safe-haven they have made under our deck and decide to find the perfect spot typically in the middle of the yard to have deliver their litter. We’ve come to be pros at spotting them because this rabbit momma uses the same type of twigs and rabbit hard to cover them up post-delivery.

We keep watch so as to ensure the kids don’t accidentally fall into one of the burrows or mistakenly touch a baby. If so, the momma won’t come back typically and we can’t care for that little ball of sweetness like their mother can. But I watch. And when you are patient and attentive, you realize that much like us, they are creatures of routine. At the same time each morning the mother will find her babies, clean them and nurse. She covers them back up until the evening when she repeats the process. And as the babies get bigger, they take field trips outside of their home to learn about the grass that they will eat and how to watch for predators.

As sweet at these rabbits are, they are a welcomed addition to everywhere in my yard except one place. The garden. Eat as much grass as you want; live under the deck for as long as you desire. But please, please do not eat my garden. I’ve had that talk with them and for years, they’ve listened. But the year we extended the garden triple its original size, I think that temptation got the best of them. They couldn’t help it and before we knew it, a mound that we thought was that of a sweet potato plant was really a bunny nest nestled right in the heart of our beautiful garden.

I’m not sure how they got in because the fence we erected was pristine. Stakes, chicken wire and all was meant to keep in what was supposed to be there and out what wasn’t. Bunnies included. But all we had to see was the fur on a mound to know no good attempt would keep out our momma friend. It took me a while to figure out how she made it through. And only after I chased her out one morning I realized that girl can jump. And high! With enough speed and the fear of God, she leaped over the fence and found safety under the deck, leaving behind her nest for the time being. But later in the day, she would return, nurse her babies, and I’d scare her out again.

At first I was livid. We had not only tripled the garden size, but tripled the produce. I had plans for what was growing and those plans didn’t include rabbit food. I did research, figuring out how to relocate a rabbit nest, and after reading all resources decided to let down my guard and accept the fact that we were in a pickle, and I don’t mean one that I planned to make from my growing cucumbers. Patience, yet again, was something I had to work on because the only thing that would fix this situation was the babies growing and moving on.

We worked in the garden like our neighbors hadn’t made it their home and prayed that was the bunnies took field trips they would opt to eat the grass growing in through the fence instead of the luscious lettuce leaves. We checked the garden each day, and to our surprise, noticed no change. I kept track her their daily rituals, and when I started to notice rustling in the nest, I found a pair of the kid’s binoculars and staked out on the deck, watching closely.

A sweet little bunny appeared, investigating its habitat. And, after cautiously walking around close to its nest, it found some grass and nibbled. Each day, that’s what she did. And as she grew, so did our garden. Our lettuce reached crazy heights and the kale was out of control. Tomatoes, we had planted 9 or so plants yet 18 volunteer plants showed up randomly from the year prior. Our garden, abundant. Our baby, sweet, cute, and stuck.

Our fence had no gate. Like I said, it was meant to keep stuff in, not take stuff out. And while I had seen what a scared momma bunny could do, this little baby didn’t have the capacity to jump four feet plus to escape our garden cage. And if she did, there’s no way she would find her way back home. I started to get worried and after more research, realized we would have to help her. We, my husband and I, had to catch a wild bunny and set her free. Now that concept should be the basis of a reality TV show. It took me days to figure out a game plan, and one night, when the kids were tucked in bed, my husband and I ventured outside with a bucket and a pole, praying that this baby would realize we were there to help.

It was hilarious. No, not a reality TV show but a comedy would have suited us better. We chased this little critter that would fit in the palm of our hand back and forth in the garden until we had put in a good workout for the day. She defied my stereotypes because that sweet girl was smart. She knew where to hide where we couldn’t see her and had speed like I never expected. But somehow, someway, we cornered her and I swooped in with the bucket and she was caught. And stressed.

Quickly, and without touching her with anything but a massive glove, I relocated her to the deck and slowly encouraged her to scatter under it, where I had hoped she would find her mom, because moms are always supposed to make things right. I had watched her momma nurse her, clean her, and help her find food. She had defied all odds and found the safest place for her baby to grow, albeit in the middle of my garden, but that fence, that we built to keep bunnies out, actually kept her baby safe from other predators.

That night I prayed; yes, I prayed for a bunny. Because while I hate to admit it, I had become quite fond of our garden dweller. I worried, hoping that her relocation wouldn’t be hard for her momma to find so that she could continue to show her the ropes. And the next day, when the time came for me to typically pull out the binoculars and watch her moves from afar, I went out on the deck and peered around, hoping she would take another field trip from her new dwelling and eat the semi-lush grass that desperately needed to be cut.

I looked hard and nearly missed seeing her hiding in the yard. Her coat blended well and her instincts had set in. She knew what to do to not be seen. I watched her, though, and as she got comfortable with my presence she started to nibble and hop, making her way around the yard and back to the deck. I never saw her again after that day, but I knew that all would be well.

Even amidst a new member of our garden, the plants survived and so much so that I canned over 90 cans of sales, tomatoes, pasta sauce and pickles. More than our family would eat in a year before I could can again. We had sweet potatoes growing out of our ears and I ate on lettuce and kale salads until the nasty bugs took over. Our sunflowers grew tall and shaded some plants in the garden and I was able to reap enough beans to make a few batches of them for dinner.

The rabbits, those that we had worked so hard to keep out, came in. And when a feast was served on a proverbial silver platter before them, they never took more than they needed. They didn’t touch what those who had helped them live wanted to much to grow. They didn’t need much. A few blades of grass and maybe a radish leaf or two. They ate what was necessary and not a bit more.

I know they were just a family of rabbits and me a gardener, but when you get on your hands and knees to work the land, planting seeds and watching them grow, you become one with it and one with God. You come to respect the worms because they keep your soil loose and the bees because they help pollinate. You realize that we are all here together and each of us has a purpose.

That little bunny taught me the importance of giving a little. Well giving a lot. Giving all that we had worked so hard for to save the life of a little one. The research I did encouraged me to move the nest and in doing so put in danger the life of a baby bunny. God knows that the world has plenty of them, but I couldn’t pull myself to do it. Instead, I surrendered the fact that we may lose what we had worked hard for. But it was worth it if it meant this little gal would live.

In giving up completely, I reaped more than I sowed. I gained more than I planned. My produce bountiful, and the bunny, alive. You see, this garden we grew, yes it’s for our family, but I have realized it’s more than the produce I pick and the recipes I make. It’s a garden of love, where we take the kids to laugh together as we squish cherry tomatoes accidentally and they pick green ones when we aren’t looking. It’s a place where we grow and share, whether that’s with co-workers, family, friends, or the new bunny family that opted to move in.

It doesn’t matter because this little bunny taught me that no matter the situation, in giving more you are destined to receive more. Always.

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Stephanie Feger

Stephanie Feger

Throughout her life, she’s been in the business of empowering people. She’s empowered her teams to collective success. She’s empowered individuals, groups and organizations to embrace perspective as a tool for deeper satisfaction and personal and professional accomplishments. And she’s empowered authors, small business owners and entrepreneurs with communications and marketing strategies to help them reach their goals.

Stephanie Feger

Through her life, she’s been in the business of empopwering people. She’s empowered her teams to collective success. She’s empowered individuals, groups and organizations to embrace perspective as a tool for deeper satisfaction and personal and professional accomplishments. And she’s empowered authors, small business owners and entrepreneurs with communications and marketing strategies to help them reach their goals.

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