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The Rabbit in the Moon

Jan 12, 2015

cat3“If you were to name the man in the moon,” I once asked my children, “what would you name him?”

“David,” answered my daughter, who was cultivating a white-hot obsession for the actor David Duchovny.

“Igor,” said her brother, who had recently discovered the joys of Stravinsky.

I shook my head. “My vote’s for Cheshire.”

“Cheshire?” the children echoed. “What kind of a name is Cheshire?”

“Perfect for a cat,” I replied.

My daughter rolled her eyes in that disaffected manner teenagers have perfected since the advent of James Dean, if not Cain and Abel. “You asked about the MOON, Mom, not a cat.”

“My point exactly,” I countered patiently. “LOOK at the moon. Really LOOK at it – when only the bottom part is lit. Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb?”

“Huh?” said my son.

I rooted through a kitchen drawer for a pen then drew a large circle on the back of an envelope topping a stack of bills. “See?” I explained, shading the lower rim of the moon darker. “What’s it look like?”

Two blank faces met mine. I drew a copy of the shaded area next to the circle then, pasting as wide a grin as I could manage on my face, pointed from the drawing to my lips and back again. “NOW what do you see?”

A sigh replaced my daughter’s eye roll. My mother is so pathetic. “A smiley face.”

“Exactly,” I said, ignoring the snarkiness. “And who liked to disappear and leave only his smile behind?”

Silence…

“The Joker?” my youngest hazarded.

 

“Please, would you tell me,” said Alice, “why your cat grins like that?”

“It’s a Cheshire cat,” said the Duchess, “And that’s why…”

“I didn’t know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn’t know that cats COULD grin.”

“They all can,” said the Duchess. “And most of ‘em do.”

“I don’t know of any that do,” Alice said very politely, feeling quite pleased to have got into a conversation.

“You don’t know much,” said the Duchess, “and that’s a fact.”

 

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Alice, my friend, I don’t know much either. Indeed, the older I get, the less really-wise I realize I am. I do, however, know this…I know that—like the artful, teasing, untamable thing he is—the giant Cheshire Cat in the sky was rubbing his paws in glee when the light from his smile led a student of the skies all the way from Australia to my back porch in Wisconsin.

Because what was this journeyer’s name? BIRD.

And what creature fascinates me more than any other? What creature fascinates me because it can fly? Because it can sing? Because, as Emily Dickinson wrote, it is “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul” and is called Hope?

So there I was, playing hostess for a week to a colleague of my husband named not Brad, not Brian, not Richard, not Benjamin, not Zachary, nor even Tom, Dick or Harry but BIRD. Bird!

Bird, however, was not your garden-variety planetary scientist sprouting a PhD, reams of published academic papers, and a research/faculty position in the space sciences division of a prestigious university. Bird was an amateur, an enthusiast who had set up his telescope in the wilds of Australia one fine night and wound up being the first human being in the world to witness an asteroid crash into a planet – in this case, Jupiter. To WITNESS it, mind you – not to discover it after the fact but to watch it live, AS IT HAPPENED.

 

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This, apparently, is a huge deal in the space-studies community.

And, now, at the invitation of my husband, Bird had flown halfway around the world to share what it had been like to watch the galactic smash happen. His audience would include real live, renowned Science Guys co-authoring a book with my husband – a boxed assortment of Valrhona-grade astrophysicists from the USA, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Spain, and India.

I, myself, had my first sighting of Bird about twelve hours after his arrival at Madison’s Dane County Airport. He was on our back deck, camera clicking like a paparazzo’s.

“They’re cute, aren’t they?” I said, after introducing myself.

“They’re amazing,” said Bird, camera still clicking.

I watched one of the squirrels he was photographing gnaw at a tree branch as another swept between slats of our neighbor’s fence.

“Destructive, though,” I remarked, recalling a friend who, after receiving an invoice for thousands of dollars of duct work, turned beet red and homicidal at so much as a glimpse of a bushy tail. “Germy, too, I hear. Rabies and stuff.”

A squirrel stopped mid-scurry to pose obligingly on the rim of the deck, little paws cupped, head cocked archly as his black eyes watched us. “Brilliant!” Bird breathed.

Curiouser and curiouser. “Do you study squirrels, Bird, the way you do planets?” I asked.

Bird shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. We don’t have squirrels in Australia.”

I stared at him. “Get real.”

A second shake of his head. “I’m telling you the truth. There’s not a one.”

 

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Not a one. I tried to imagine a world without squirrels. What it would be like to wake up to the sound of kangaroos scampering over the roof or to swerve on the road, praying-praying-praying that no car was in the other lane since I was deliberately not looking because a koala had chosen exactly that moment to cross the street.

A second squirrel darted out from the bushes. In an instant Bird’s camera was trained upon him.

“Funny…” I mused over a barrage of clicks. “I never realized squirrels had stripes before.”

The clickings stopped as Bird set the camera aside and peered hard at our visitor, who appeared totally unimpressed by us. “They don’t,” he told me. “At least I don’t think they do. I suspect this fellow’s a chipmunk. A few were out earlier. I heard this chirping in a tree, and at first I thought it was a bird.” The clickings resumed. “But it wasn’t.”

“Chipmunks sound like BIRDS?” I asked. I racked my brain to remember if I had actually ever even seen, much less heard, a chipmunk. All I could come up with were Chip and Dale.

Bird nodded, smiling. “I think technically it’s called a bark. But, honestly, if you don’t see them, you think you’re hearing birds.”

I watched him stalk the chipmunk to our neighbor’s porch, then drop to his knees for a close up.

 

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“Bird,” I mulled, but not aloud. “I am beginning to suspect that there is a point to your being here. And it’s got nothing to do with asteroids and meteors.”

Or maybe it did. Only one thing entranced Bird more than the chipmunks and squirrels scampering about our backyard – the ‘mini meteor showers’ of fireflies cascading in torrents from the sky as the stars rose and the moon smiled.

This was a passion I understood. There are few sights more astonishing, more like something out of the Brothers Grimm (or Lewis Carroll) than the wee bursts of light that prickled the Wisconsin summer darkness as they played peek-a-boo amongst the trees. Los Angeles – the city I call home – may have Hollywood, but its special effects only go so far.

“So, Australia is like LA? No fireflies?” I surmised.

“No fireflies,” Bird confirmed, camera clicking. He smiled, teeth glinting in the wake of a light from a passing boat then gestured upward. “The moon’s different, too, in Australia. Did you know that?”

“How?” I asked warily. I was still struggling to grasp the fact that water in Australian toilets flushed backwards.

“The moon’s upside down.” More glinting teeth.

“No effing way,” I breathed.

“We’re in different hemispheres. We’re Southern; you’re Northern.”

Promptly, like every science enthusiast I have ever known, Bird launched into an explanation. My brain, however, had already seized up from the toilet bowls. Like a construction worker staving off an onslaught of traffic so a loader could maneuver into place, I stepped into the flow of facts and held up my hands.

“No point in trying,” I laughed. “For me, it’s magic. Like the Man in the Moon.”

Bird smiled. “Ah, but we don’t see the Man in the Moon in Australia…”

“Oh, come on. Of course you see the Man in the Moon. The moon is the moon.”

“But, if you’ll recall, we see the moon upside down. We see a different picture. We see the Rabbit in the Moon.”

The Rabbit. My heart lurched.

“You’re teasing me,” I said slowly. “There’s no rabbit in the moon.”

“I can show you on the computer, if you like.”

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans, so I could clench and unclench them without Bird seeing, then shook my head. “No, that’s okay. I believe you.”

 

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On my walks in Wisconsin, I often glimpse rabbits – a critter largely absent from the streets of urban Pasadena. And, like Bird with the squirrels, I can’t snap enough photos. Late one afternoon, however – at that crack in time that mystics and photographers refer to as ‘the gloaming’ – one immense fellow stopped on his haunches, lifted a paw as if he were beckoning, and, I swear, winked at me.

On the spot I christened him Bud. Bud for the fact that we were instant buddies. Bud Bunny, my bud.

From then on, every rabbit I saw was Bud.

“They’re not the same rabbit, you know,” my husband gently pointed out at some point.

“He’s BUD,” I pronounced. “Bud is ETERNAL.”

I was joking, of course. Having fun. Even I knew that they were different rabbits. But the moon is roughly 4.4 billion years old, the experts tell us. And – man, cat, or Bud – it looks likely to be around for another 4-point-whatever billion, although I am obviously not the person to explain why.

BUD IS ETERNAL. How many times had I made that statement to my husband? To my children? To my friends? Yet, while my brain had refuted it and my throat giggled, my heart had known the truth…

Silliness had out-trumped science. As the Red Queen would say, why not believe six impossible things before breakfast?

Why not indeed? There are smiles in the sky, songs in the trees, and asteroids in the garden if only you are weird, wild, mad and wise enough to open your blinded eyes, to uncork your tightly sealed ears so that, at last, you are immersed in awe. So that, now, in this instant and forever after, you shimmer so brightly with droplets of joy that it is your face, too, that is reflected in the moon.

No, Alice, you don’t have to fall down a rabbit hole to find yourself in Wonderland. A new world has already found you.

It is just up to you. It is just up to you to discover it.

 

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Copyright © The Rabbit in the Moon (2014), Jenine Baines

Squirrel photo by Gerardo Noriega (Own work. Trabajo propio) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Chipmunk photo by Phil Armitage (http://www.philarmitage.net/glacier/glacier08.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rabbit photo by Masteruk (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Find more of Jenine’s poems, writings, and musings at MichaelWhoKnew.com.

 

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1 Response for “The Rabbit in the Moon”

  1. Really delightful piece, thank you.

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