Friday, August 4, 2017

Sketches from Salt Lake: Ode of joy to rabbits

In Bloomington, Illinois

By Geoffrey Dean

We’re back in Salt Lake City following three weeks in Bloomington, Illinois, for the 15th edition of the Illinois Chamber Music Festival at Illinois Wesleyan University. Coaching young chamber groups and performing some of the iconic works from the chamber music literature with fellow faculty members make this a meaningful experience each summer that I’m always happy to come back to. The highlight of this year’s faculty performances, according to an audience member who’s been coming to the concerts for over a decade, was our rendition of the Dvorak String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97. The lesser-known “cousin” of Dvorak’s popular “American” quartet, the quintet was also written during the summer of 1893, when the composer was staying not too far from Bloomington, in Spillville, Iowa. How “American” is the American quintet? The theme of the variations movement sounds a lot like “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
    I also come back to Bloomington for the bunnies. Staying just a few blocks away from the IWU School of Music means I can incorporate generous morning and evening walks into my daily schedule, and the chances of spotting one or more rabbits, grazing singling or having a “convention,” as ICMF Artistic Director Nina Gordan calls the gatherings of multiple rabbits, are very good on most days. This year, when I sadly noted one day at lunch that I was having a “zero bunny” day, another faculty member asked why I wanted to see a rabbit. “Because it brings me joy!” was my immediate response, and I stand by it.

Taking my 9-month old daughter, Vera, on some of these walks added a new dimension to them this year. Normally a rabbit will look up from its grazing activities and freeze until you pass, as if hoping that you won’t notice it at all, but I wanted to be sure that Vera became aware of them. So on walks with her, such as our “five bunny” early morning walk through the Franklin Park area and IWU campus on July 26th, we would watch each bunny from a distance, then slowly approach it until the bunny “hightailed” it, darting off into nearby shrubs or across a lawn or alley. From her stroller Vera silently watched these bursts of activity, but I was too busy wheeling her toward the bunny to document these moments of retreat. Of course these were also moments of added stress and disruption for the rabbits, for which I must shoulder the burden of moral responsibility. Otherwise we were “wery wery quiet,” to quote Elmer Fudd, who would have been cuter if he wasn’t also shouldering a rifle.
    On the July 26th walk, Vera and I saw our first single rabbit on the big lawn next to where we were staying. This had been the site of an altercation involving multiple rabbits and crows earlier in the month.

    Then we saw another rabbit right next to the walkway in front of the Ames Library, on a spot of grass near a shrub, so its retreat was brief.

    The next one was at the side of the driveway to a big Victorian on the corner of Empire and Prairie streets.

    Turning down Walnut toward Franklin Park, we didn’t see any for a while and had to be satisfied with the occasional scampering squirrel instead. From the middle of the park I thought I spotted a distant rabbit under a big sycamore tree in the side yard of another 19th century Victorian house, but it turned out to be a smaller overturned flower pot among several other, larger overturned flower pots. A hideout for Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s world?
    Crossing McLean street, we noticed a rabbit on the side lawn of the Fifer house, built in 1896 by a former Illinois governor. Like most of the others, this rabbit looked at us in profile, sitting upright, with one eye in full view, but did not move until I pushed the stroller onto the grass about 15 feet away from it. It was rare for a rabbit to allow us to get closer than about 20 feet before bolting. This time we didn’t see where it went, and it might have been the same rabbit that we saw soon after near a tree-stump flower bed on the far side of the alley behind the house. Upon approach, that rabbit ran across the alley and behind a detached garage.
    We sighted the last rabbit of our walk near the house that former Vice President (under Grover Cleveland) Adlai Stevenson [I] lived in. This house, like the Fifer house, faces Franklin Park from McLean street. It must have been a different walk when we saw a rabbit in the yard of the ornate Victorian at the corner of McLean and Walnut, across from the Fifer house. This Victorian always puzzled me because it looks like the bottom story is in brick, while the upper stories are in wood, so finally this year I walked up to the house and gave the side façade a good knock to confirm my suspicion that the bottom story is also wood, but the planks are notched to look like an overlapping brick pattern.

When we got back to SLC, my wife pulled out some larger outfits that Vera hadn’t yet worn. This was one of them:

Copyright © 2017 by Geoffrey Dean


  1. i enjoy bunnies too. There is a large greensward at my alma mater, Pitzer, that occasionally is venue for a gathering of bunnies. The daughter is pretty cute too. Mazel Tov!

  2. Loved the post Geoff ! And yes rabbits bring joy to me as well. As do other animals and birds. And another, seeing pictures and videos of adorable little cousin Vera !