Our first night on Beautiful Campus Where Friendly Green Conference Was Held, my roommates and I went out to find a grocery store. As we walked down the road, I spotted a couple of rabbits on the embankment, eating grass in the afternoon light.
“Oh, aren’t they cute?”
“Shh … don’t scare them.”
We stopped, charmed by the chance encounter with some urban wildlife.
“Aw, look, there’s a baby one.”
“They don’t even seem afraid.”
On our walk back, we noticed more rabbits as we came onto campus. Black rabbits, this time. And then some white ones. Unlike wild rabbits who dart away at any movement, these rabbits paid no attention to us. It was dusk when we reached the lawn nearest our dorm suite, grass that was cropped suspiciously short. Dark shapes, perhaps thirty or forty of them, came crawling across the open space.
Three rabbits eating grass in the sun is cute. Forty rabbits approaching in the dusk is creepy.
For the next seven days, between plenaries and concurrent sessions and meals in the dining hall, we talked about the rabbits. They were everywhere. Hundreds of rabbits, someone said. No, thousands, said someone else. They’d begun as pet rabbits dumped onto the campus, an environment with so few predators that they had bred like … well, like rabbits.
One colleague said he was tempted to jettison his paper and instead do an ecocritical analysis of Night of the Lepus, the 1972 horror film in which people are terrorized by mutant rabbits.
“Can you imagine what this place must look like at Easter time?” asked another colleague. “Eggs everywhere!”
Jokes turned to serious discussion: it was pretty easy to see that the rabbits who conveniently kept the lawns cut short were also destroying any native vegetation. They are as much a nuisance as a source of entertainment.
Many of us had been talking about Alisa Smith and J.B.Mackinnon’s book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating which chronicles a couple’s attempt to eat only foods that came from within a hundred miles of where they live. “Eat local” has become the new mantra amongst food activists. So the solution to the rabbit problem on campus seemed obvious to us: scoop those tame rabbits up and feed them to the students.
We never did get to propose our idea to anyone who might enact it, but the jokes and conversations about the rabbits continued. When I walked through the campus late at night, the flocks of rabbits, usually sitting motionless and staring at me, gave me chills. Many of my colleagues, on the other hand, found them cute. Between sessions, I’d see colleagues crouched on the ground, photographing the bunnies.
“Where’s the next conference?” asked Curly Hair. “I’m hoping for alligators or maybe bears.”
“How come you never mentioned the rabbits?” I asked Charming Canadian Host. I may have sounded a bit accusing, but after all, he spent a whole weekend with the leadership team when we were planning the conference and he never mentioned rabbits. Not even once.
He shrugged. “If your campus was infested with rats, would you tell everyone?”