"Rhubarb the Rabbit"

No matter the season, the ear tips of all snowshoe hares are black. Except for “Rhubarb the Rabbit”. His right ear tip is black, and his left is aways white. This is one of the many ways that Rhu is unique.
Hare young are born with fur, their eyes open and ready to eat. Not Rhu. He was a runt and the last of the doe’s first spring litter. Being premature his eyes remained eyes closed. He was small, weak and also had an albino left year. Compared to his litter mates, he was at a disadvantage.
He couldn’t get to his mother when it was time to nurse.
Leverets are young hares in their first year of life. Like most prey animals the great majority perish before the seeing a second spring. In fact, hares don’t take a name until their thirteenth month. Hares are born knowing this and accept their purpose in nature as a prey animals. Combine this with their will to live, leverets are axious, selfish and competative. Natures way of survial of the fittest pushes the weak aside.
On that first day the doe nursed the normal hares until they fell as sleep. All the while watching her youngest buck shivering alone at the edge of the nest, and seeming to accept his fate.
Surpisingly, the doe pulled away from the others to feed this tiny weak hare. She knew he was unique. Different rarely survives in nature – especially for prey animals. But something made her try.
As she approached they touched noses. A sign of appection for hares. She snuggle close and he began to nurse.
She sang him the songs of the elder hares. Giving him lessons of forest life and how to find peace as a prey animal. He absorbed it all, until he too drifted into a deep quiet sleep.
This mother’s act was a special love and it saved his life. After three days of this, his eyes opened to see the greatest love of his life, and then his siblings.
Rhu in water

Snowshoe babies hop soon after birth. They love eating spring greens; clover, alphafa, rhubarb and grass were the favorites. They grow fast and become independent in about a month. The time in the nest is for growing, competing and learning about hare life.

The doe would enourage their independence by leaving them to fend for themself. When she was away, the litter would gain courage and venture from the nest to forage. They experienced so much and became stronger during the next three weeks. They traveled further from the nest and, and learned about the forest, the resort and each other.

Rhu loved to run and dispite his size he was fast. He won all the races against the siblings, which they didn’t like. One morning they raced down a hiking trail and over the wood bridge by the slough. After winning Rhu came back on the bridge to greet his siblings. They rewarded his win by pushing him into the water. Rhu learned he didn’t enjoy water, but like all snowshoe hares, he was a great swimmer!

The young hare’s played hide and seek. They all could become invisible in the smallest thicket. Rhu was always found first until he learned to keep his left ear down and hidden. Then he could disappear too.

The siblings were all stronger and much better fighters. Their head start in life made all the difference. They all loved to forage and had favorite greens. Rhu loved clover the best then rhubarb. One problem though, eating clover made him fart.

Snowshoes are typically quiet. But they do talk. They use visual and vocal signals along with hind leg thumps to communicate. The litter spent all their time together, but they did not grow close. The four siblings let the weakest hare know he would never be one of them.

One late spring day they were exploring near the meadow and found patch of new spring greens. That made them all happy. They settled in to peacefully graze. But, the siblings decided it was another opportunity to dominatate the young buck.
“That ear of yours is ugly.”
“But you being weak is good.”
“Your farting makes you loud and stinky.”
“Plus your white ear makes you easy to find.”
“Yes, the fangs and feathers will always catch you first!”
“That lets us strong hares live to our naming day.”
Most of the time Rhu took the abuse in silence. Trying to find peace. Remembering his mother’s lessons.
Often he would snort and thump in agitation, but no more. Choosing to ignore the endless insults.
Sometimes he would return the unkindness. His belly full of clover, Rhu would spring into a perfect position in front of a siblings. Delivering a pungent fart cloud or two right into their face.
This morning there would be none of that. Today he rejected his prey instinct to run or hid or be clever. Instead a raw emotion won out and he gave into his impulse. He choose to fight them all.
It was a short fight. They ganged up and gave him a sound thrashing. Four sets of claws and teeth, scratches and bites hurt him bad.
The loss exhausted him and forced him to stay right where he lay. He needed to rest. With some regret he watched the siblings move peacefully into the meadow. He crawled to nearby thicket to keep an eye on them and lick his wounds. He was not at peace.
Nature can be cruel.
The siblings moved into a large patch of clover in the clearing. Rhu spoted something approaching. He spotted a coyote stalking the litter. The coyote looked hungry and it was obvious she had its own young to feed.
The largest buck saw her first. He tried to bolt but the coyote was too fast. She pounced, taking the hare instantly. The others froze in fear, accepting thier fate. The coyote was relentless. She found them all.
The meadow was silent, save for the sound of the coyote’s contented growls as her pups would eat well that day.
This was a tragedy, but also a reminder of nature’s way. The coyote was fulfilling her purpose as a predator, providing for her family. But for the snowshoes, their short time as prey in the forest had come to an quick end – except for Rhu.
The events of that day changed Rhu. He reasoned that the choice fight his sibling, instead of hiding or running, had saved him from the coyote. He found strength in that and vowed to reject the fate of a prey animal. For the rest of his time, he would act on his impulses to out-wit and out-live all the fangs and feathers in the 60 acre wood. That was to be his purpose.
Second, that was the day he met his first living Nisse. Eiketre the Skogsånd of Evergreen Bay Resort.
Eiketre pronounced “Ike a tree“, shortened to “Ike” by most who live in the forest. Born in Norway he immigrated to America in 1919 and lived at the resort since the late 1930’s. He is a legendary magical creature and over 150 years old. So famous that all the forest animals grew up singing the the Forest Spirit’s Song.
The legendary Nisse, a creature so small,
Rides the back of eagles, soaring above all.
Though just six inches tall, he’s strength he does boast,
A true friend to all animals, so they listen close.
With his shaggy red hat, Ike brings good luck, they say,
To those who befriend him, each and every day.
His smile warm and twinkling, a sparkle in his eye,
His heart full of kindness, that never does die.
He dances through the fields, and whispers to the trees,
Telling stories of adventure and wonder, if you please.
And though Ike is so brave, and full of courage and might,
His only weakness is that he can’t swim, no not quite.
Living for centuries, with a mischievious mind,
He will spend life helping and being so kind.
So if you’re ever in the forest, or resort so wide,
And you find Ike’ nisse house, don’t be shy, look inside.
Ask the nisse your question, tell him a joke, write him a poem,
If Ike can read it, he’ll respond with a thought, or story of home.
For Ike loves share, so you can know him,
But don’t ever ask him to go for a swim!
Ike came to the nest after learning about what happened at the meadow. He arrived to find the remaining leverate snuggling with the doe for the last time. He listen to them sing sad hare songs for the siblings, then thank the maker for the chance to see another sunrise. Ike felt blessed to share that moment.
The doe so loved little the buck. She noticed Ike watching them and was happy to see him. She needed to ask the nisse for a unique favor. The doe was two weeks from having her next litter. She needed to forage every waking hour – for them. She needed her young buck to be on his own – for them. She feared he wasn’t ready, so the mother hare asked the question.
“Please, warden of the wood, spirit of the resort and legendary nisse, be guardian and care for my young buck?”
The question set Ike back. It was unusal. Not of natures way. Wild creatures don’t want to be guarded! Wild animals take care of themselves.
So Ike wondered aloud, “You want me to care for him like a pet?”
The buck huffed and with a thump said under his breath, “Pet? I am not some ordinary hare to be kept. “
Ike replied “I didn’t mean to offend.” Then with hesitation, “The doe asked…I thought…she wants me to protect you and give you a home.”
Rhu left his mothers side and bravely approached the nisse. “I am a free spirit, wild and untamed. I will take care of myself.” Staring at the Nisse.
Then hit with inspiration and confidence he stated, “In fact, it’s you who needs me!”
Ike saw a clear glimmer of determination in the young bucks eyes. He appreciated his boldness. Ike recognized that this was a unique being. With gently mocking, he pushed back,
“I NEED you?”
“Yep. You might be strong, brave and magical…but I can swim!”
The nisse grinned, and appreciated the humor and truth coming from the buck .
“Hmm, I suppose your right. I’ll bet we can help each other.”
They both smiled and a friendship began.
“My name is Eiketre. What should I call you?”
“I haven’t thought about that.” Almost demanding he said, “You help me pick.”
“OK. Tell more about you. What do you like?” ask Ike.
“My mom, running fast, eating clover and rhubarb.” the hare listed.
“Speedy is not good. Nobody would under doe boy. How about Clover?”
Rhu appreciated the humor, and joined in.
“Better not go with clover. Eating it makes me fart. As much as your are going to need me, I am worried you yelling clover over and over will make me gassy.”
Another chuckle and then. “Rhubarb the Rabbit it is!” Ike joked right back. “Say goodnight Rhu, I need your help at my house.”
Rhu smiled too and enjoyed the kidding. Faking offence, he hissed, “Ok, little gnome, my name is Rhubarb. First thing I will teach you is how to tell the difference between a hare and a rabbit.”
Rhu turned from the nisse and hopped to his mom. They lovingly nuzzled their noses. In time they separated and the doe said, “Goodnight Rhubarb.”
The next day was the beginning of many adventures for Rhu and the Nisse at Evergreen Bay Resort.

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