A Rabbit's Story Of His Life Written By Himself
from Things To See In Springtime
Yes, the Rabbit wrote it himself and about himself in the oldest writing on earth, that is the tracks of his feet.
A WOODCRAFT TRAGEDY
As shown by the Tracks and Signs in the Snow
In February of 1885, one morning after a light snowfall, I went tramping through the woods north of Toronto, when I came on something that always makes me stop and look—the fresh tracks of an animal. This was the track of a Cottontail Rabbit and I followed its windings with thrills of interest. There it began under a little brush pile (a); the bed of brown leaves showing that he settled there, before the snow-fall began. Now here (b) he leaped out after the snow ceased, for the tracks are sharp, and sat looking around. See the two long marks of his hind feet and in front the two smaller prints of his front feet; behind is the mark made by his tail, showing that he was sitting on it.
Then he had taken alarm at something and dashed off at speed (c), for now his hind feet are tracking ahead of the front feet, as in most bounding forefoots, and the faster he goes, the farther ahead those hind feet get.
See now how he dodged about here and there, this way and that, among the trees, as though trying to escape some dreaded enemy (c, d, e, f).
But what enemy? There are no other tracks, and still the wild jumping went on.
I began to think that the Rabbit was crazy, flying from an imaginary foe; possibly that I was on the track of a March Hare. But at "g" I found on the trail for the first time a few drops of blood. That told me that the Rabbit was in real danger but gave no clue to its source.
At "h" I found more blood and at "j" I got a new thrill, for there, plain enough on each side of the Rabbit track, were finger-like marks, and the truth dawned on me that these were the prints of great wings. The Rabbit was fleeing from an eagle, a hawk, or an owl. Some twenty yards farther "k" I found in the snow the remains of the luckless Rabbit partly devoured. Then I knew that the eagle had not done it, for he would have taken the Rabbit's body away, not eaten him up there. So it must have been a hawk or an owl. I looked for something to tell me which, and I got it. Right by the Rabbit's remains was the large twin-toed track (l) that told me that an owl had been there, and that therefore he was the criminal. Had it been a hawk the mark would have been as shown in the left lower corner, three toes forward and one back, whereas the owl usually sets his foot with two toes forward and two backward, as in the sketch. This, then, I felt sure was the work of an owl. But which owl? There were two, maybe three kinds in that valley. I wished to know exactly and, looking for further evidence, I found on a sapling near by a big soft, downy, owlish feather (m) with three brown bars across it; which told me plainly that a Barred Owl or Hoot Owl had been there recently, and that he was almost certainly the killer of the Cottontail.
This may sound like a story of Sherlock Holmes among the animals—a flimsy tale of circumstantial evidence. But while I was making my notes, what should come flying through the woods but the Owl himself, back to make another meal, no doubt. He alighted on a branch just above my head, barely ten feet up, and there gave me the best of proof, next to eye witness of the deed, that all I had gathered from the tracks and signs in the snow was quite true.
I had no camera in those days, but had my sketch book, and as he sat, I made a drawing which hangs to-day among my pictures that are beyond price.
Here, then, is a chapter of wild life which no man saw, which man could not have seen, for the presence of a man would have
prevented it. And yet we know it was true, for it was written by the Rabbit himself.
If you have the seeing eye, you will be able to read many strange and thrilling happenings written for you thus in the snow, the mud, and even the sand and the dust.
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