The Owl’s Dinner

The baby hare was a brown powderpuff, completely round except for paws and twitchy little ears. The young rangers rescued it from a dog’s jaws, drooled upon and petrified. At that age, all they know how to do is freeze when danger swoops. It didn’t move when they set up home for it in the staff kitchen: a brown box with wadded newspaper, some wilted lettuce and, bizarrely, a dish of Brazil nuts. Next morning it was still there, and still motionless.

Tim disapproved of this pet-keeping trend. Last week there was the Squirrel Incident: an injured baby squirrel adopted by a camper had become so habituated to human handouts that it had twice hiked back several kilometers to the source of treats when the rangers had released it in the wild. So he brought the hunger-striking ball of fluff up to the woods outside the Pilot Cabin, where several families of snowshoe hares live, including a bigger leveret that has the same white spot on her forehead. A sister, maybe. She is a fearless one, climbing on the porch to sniff around for goodies on the picnic table, standing on her hind legs to nibble low pine branches just inches from humans.

The tiny leveret liked to be cradled firmly. It didn’t like to be released, though it was perfectly healthy. Instead, it hopped back to the porch and snuffled around Tim’s boots. It followed him inside, now firmly imprinted on this unharelike, unmotherly mother figure. He calmed it by cupping it in his hands. It drank a little milk, its round eyes bright, and then fell asleep.

It might have lived if it had stayed asleep that evening. But it woke up restive and wriggly, and finally he put it outside in the woods again. It was dark, and the hare looked very tiny in the trees. A vigilant owl was glad to find such a naïve and tender morsel, I’m sure, since it hasn’t been seen again. Or perhaps the newly-fledged, shrieking peregrines got some practice with an easy mark. All is fair in the woods, and nothing is wasted.

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