Snow clouds were gathering over the Brindabella Mountains, and when the westerly wind gusts blew across from them, we were pleased to be so rugged up. One child noted the force on her body when she commented ‘I’m trying to walk this way but the wind is pushing me back that way’. It was definitely not conducive weather for animals to be on the move – there were very few out and about. We didn’t even see any rabbits run out of the grass. We asked the children to think about where the animals go when it’s so cold.
They found the first possible answer to this question in the tussocky grasses – a round hollowed out form that they hadn’t noticed before. It was not quite a burrow – more of an above-ground hole. It looked like the kind of place where an animal might temporarily stop for shelter, rather than permanently live. We weren’t sure if the rabbits made the hollow shelter, or some other kind of animal. ‘Could be a rat?’ one the children suggested, but the rabbits had definitely used it.
We knew this as they’d left their tell-tale scratchings and droppings at the front door. Once the children’s eyes were attuned to the shape of this grass hollow shelter, they started to notice that there were quite a lot of them. ‘Here’s another’ someone would call out, inviting others to run over and inspect.
In stark contrast to the noticeable physical absence of rabbits in the grass, there was (as always) abundant evidence that rabbits still live here – in increasingly large numbers. Rabbit markings – scratchings, burrows, piles of poo – have become a ubiquitous feature of the landscape, seemingly reshaping it now on a daily basis. The children have become so accustomed to the signs of rabbits everywhere, that they’ve become quite blasé about them. For instance, they’ve taken to regularly chanting ‘Another rabbit toilet’ in ‘ho-hum’ tones, as they walk along.
They were not quite so blasé when they came across yet another dead rabbit, lying next to a burrow. These encounters with dead rabbits have become a regular occurrence, and we’re beginning to really wonder what’s going on. This time, the rabbit’s body had been partially eaten and was starting to decompose. ‘I can see the spine bones’ one child commented – perhaps also recalling the kangaroo spine bone fragments they often identify at the shrine.
The semi-enclosed pathways under the casurina trees beside the lakeshore are always a drawcard, but they exerted a specific kind of pull in this weather. The children quickly ran across the exposed open parklands to get there. Once ‘inside’, they came across a pair of wood ducks and a few purple swamp hens also sheltering in this relatively protected space.
They immediately stopped running, clustered together and started to creep along – trailing the shy swamp hens. ‘Shhh’, ‘shhh’, they kept reminding each other to stay quiet, knowing from past experience that the swamp hens are very easily startled and would fly away if someone made a loud noise.
A couple of children started gathering fallen casurina branches and throwing them into the lake. When queried, they explained that they were ‘making a warm blanket for the fish because they must be cold’.
On our way back to the centre, the children couldn’t resist stopping off at one last favourite spot. This time it was the covered thicket of garden bushes that drew them in. They’d inspected its dark understory many times before, for animal traces. Today it became the children’s own shelter – their ‘home-corner’ cubby.