Rabbit prints in the snow began early this morning, impressions leading the hunter through a harvest of hardwood. Over a period of twenty years, it developed into a hideaway of expanding trunks and clusters of spreading branches.
The prey rested, masking its breathing within sounds from a trickling stream. Rabbit’s breath steamed, nostrils quivered and a ‘jack hammering’ heart almost loud enough to be heard.
The man thought of his wife, and four children at home. They understood his need to get away on his own. He reflected on the death of his father several years before. And how painful it had been traveling from Nova Scotia to Toronto to attend the funeral. “A massive heart attack,” mom said over the phone.
Death is so final, he thought. And now he was pitting hunting skills against a worthwhile foe, a veteran jackrabbit. Within this majestic forest the man was an intruder.
The rabbit could stand the emotional strain no longer, and exploded from his shadowy space. The man waited this precise moment, a scene unfolding as if he had written the screenplay. During hunting trips with his father he learned about the exhilaration of success.
The animal’s dash for freedom would now test the accuracy of this hunter’s skills, fashioned from hours of practice. Firing regularly at tin cans and bottles took place, from youth to manhood.
A shudder of shock, old as painful memories, could soon thud into tender flesh. A second fierce intrusion would discover an entrance between valleys of bone within the jackrabbit’s frame. Hunter and hunted had finally met; one preparing to shoot, another accepting its fate.
The human’s heart pounded with excitement, success to be savored. Yet, at this precise moment his slender instrument of death was lowered. A grim smile crept slowly across the man’s face. Less than a hundred feet away the jackrabbit panted from exhaustion.
After many seasons of survival the animal was prepared to face his loss of future. When was the hunter going to fire his weapon of anger? How soon would blood gush from a fatal headshot? Rabbit was certain the pause was a temporary respite.
Victory shouts did not hasten from the man’s grizzled throat. With a lighter heart the man realized chasing wild creatures through the forest no longer was valid reason for his manhood.
Respect for this creature in the forest was enhanced. The man’s decision was really an acknowledgement of the animal’s love of life. And yes, father would understand. He lowered his rifle, bullet unspent, a smile expanding. “This one’s for you, dad,” he managed to say.
The rabbit was surprised to be alive, not twitching in a dance with dying.
"I really miss you, dad” escaped from the man’s chapped lips. It signaled the end of today’s hunt. Then he turned for home, cradling an empty rifle against his chest.
And rabbit was left to enjoy further days in the domain of his inheritance.
© Richard L. Provencher