For want of anything better to post, I've decided to put my children's book here for those of you who have never read it. It's all about the magnificent one, Rollie Rabbit and his buddies. Hope you like it, one chapter at a time. The pencil drawings are by daughter Jeri Lynne.
The view from above, let’s say from the side window of a commercial jet flying at 35,000 feet, would show a tiny walled enclosure. A nearly circular enclosed city sitting more or less by itself, although surrounded by increasingly spreading areas of new housing developments and commercial enterprises. It is the West Valley, west of Phoenix, Arizona, and the city holds about 30,000 inhabitants. Human inhabitants, that is. Senior inhabitants, that is. If one counted all the other folks living within its walls, the number would increase to nearly a million. And who is to say which of the inhabitants is more important?
A closer view, let’s say from one of the F-16 jets flying out of the nearby Luke Air Force Base, would show a city with charmingly confusing configurations—circular roads, S-shaped roads, U-shaped roads, cul de sacs—modest condominiums, moderate single dwellings, spacious homes, a dozen or so churches, nine green oases holding nine golf courses for the city’s retired inhabitants, a commercial area in the middle of the circle, and five openings in the wall for entrance and exit from within its boundaries. This story is about the other group of creatures living in the city. And a diverse group it is. Narrowing it even further, this story is about a small family of creatures living in the back of one of the homes, a home with a towering privacy hedge of arborvitae on the rear of the property. The Arbor, as they think of it, is their home. And the hero of this story is a young rabbit named Rollie. Rollie is unusually smart, unusually curious, and unusually dissatisfied with his life in the Arbor.
Chapter 1 – Rollie’s Project
“Rollie! What on earth are you up to now?”
Sara Rabbit sat in the shadows of the Arbor, watching her son as he continued to dig in the soft soil. First the front legs, then the back, dirt and stones flying back and to both sides in gray/brown plumes.
“I’m dig--” puff puff “digging a ditch,” he answered, pausing in his efforts for a moment. “Whew! I didn’t think this would be such hard work.” He sat down in the soft dirt and pulled one of his ears down and used it to wipe his brow.
“Yes, I see it’s a ditch, but what I really want to know is why? You’re always up to something crazy, but this takes the carrot cake.” His mother shook her head back and forth, wondering again where this strange son of hers came from. Was he a reward from the Great One or was he a punishment? Or was he sometimes one and sometimes the other?
Rollie Rabbit was indeed a strange son. He was only a teener and yet he was smarter than any of the other rabbits in the Arbor. For the past several seasons he had demonstrated his intelligence in many unusual ways. At least unusual for Arbor rabbits. During the previous winter he had shown his mother and father and the other families in the Arbor how to find quail feathers in the Arbor and out in the Gravel Yard. Find them and then gather them in the burrows, to use them to line the walls. The fine breast feathers were best. He showed them how to pack the tiny feathers against the walls and the floor and to use a little rabbit spit to glue them all in place. And the burrow, as a result, became warm and snug and soft and comfortable. They found out that even in the hot season, the feathers kept the terrible heat out, or at least some of it. Then Rollie made a feather door for the burrow entrance, weaving the longer dove and grackle feathers together like a fan. Like a circle fan with a springy little hole in the middle so the family could come and go through the hole and the feathers would part to let them through and then spring back into place.
Several days later, Rollie found an empty orange skin under one of the trees in the Gravel Yard. An orange had fallen from the bounty tree nearest to the Rollie’s home in the Arbor. Then he and his friends had eaten the sweet orange meat from inside and the grackles had finished the job until all that was left was a dried out orange skin, really half an orange skin, shaped like a round bowl. Rollie dragged it to the base of the bounty tree and placed it beside one of the magical fountains. At regular intervals, the fountain would send forth blessed water from a small black tube. Rollie couldn’t understand why the water appeared when it did, but he knew the schedule exactly. When the orange bowl filled about halfway, Rollie dragged it to the Arbor and in among the branches near the door of his burrow. Then he took water in his hands and sprinkled it on the feather door. The burrow right away became cooler and his mother and father and his sister Polly would spend most of the hot days inside while Rollie went on his curious ways, returning regularly to sprinkle water on the feather door.
Sara Rabbit again asked her strange son, “But why are you digging a ditch, Rollie? And where does it go and where will it end?”
“It will go to the closest bounty tree and it will end near the edge of our burrow door,” Rollie answered, smiling a small secret smile. “And whenever the magical fountain pours forth, the water will run down the trench and into a bowl I’m going to prepare. Then we won’t have to go so far for water to cool our door or for drinking. Isn’t that a good idea, Mother?”
His mother laughed in resignation. “Yes, Rollie,” she said with a sigh, “that’s a very good idea. But it wasn’t all that hard to fill the orange bowl or to hop to the tree for a drink. You’re always looking for ways to do things easier, faster, more fun, aren’t you? You truly are a strange and curious child, Rollie. But you’re my very own strange child, so I guess you’ll just have to keep doing the strange things you do.”
“Thank you, Mother. But now I must get back to my digging. The magical fountain is scheduled for tomorrow morning and I have the ditch to finish and the preparation of the bowl. So I must dig.”
His mother hopped back among the branches and into the burrow. Rollie got to his feet. He hated talking that way to his mother, that odd formal language she insisted he use. He might have said to her, “I gotta dig, Mom, I gotta dig,” but she would never have allowed that kind of talk. “I gotta do this, Mom, I gotta do that. I dunno why. It’s just what I gotta do.”
Just then he noticed his friend Fred Lizard bobbing and weaving from shadow to shadow along the Arbor, coming his way.
“Ooo, ow, hot hot hot!” Fred grumbled as he scooted along, bouncing from hot stone to hot stone in the Gravel Yard. Fred would stop every fifteen feet or so and do a little series of pushups, puffing and puffing with the exertion, then continue. It wasn’t exercise for Fred, because Fred didn’t believe in exercise. Fred didn’t believe in work of any kind. His pushups expanded his lungs and chest and made him look larger than he was. The idea was to frighten potential enemies into thinking he was dangerous. Fred liked to think of himself as a dragon. All he lacked was flaming breath. And size, of course. He always hoped his diet of fire ants would give him that ability, but so far it wasn’t working.
“Hello, Fred!” Rollie shouted. “You’re looking particularly large and menacing today. What’s going on?”
“I could ask you the same, Rollie,” Fred growled. “What’re you doing? You look like a funny bunny ditch-digger. What’s that all about?” Fred had a gravel voice that sounded a little like a pit bull with a cold and a little like a bullfrog croaking his love from a lily pad. Fred lived under the last tree in the Arbor on the south side of the Gravel Yard. Rollie’s burrow was in among the roots of the fourth tree in the Arbor, just off the middle of the Gravel Yard.
“It’s my latest project,” he told Fred as Fred plumped himself down in the shade near where Rollie was digging. “I want to get water to my parents’ home. You know, for cooling and drinking. But I can’t talk to you right now. I gotta get this done by tomorrow morning.”
“You just never know when to say when, do ya, kid?” Fred heaved a gravelly sigh and regarded his young friend Rollie. “I’ve lived in the Arbor for some time now and you’re the first rabbit, the first anybody, who ever had so many little projects going. Don’t you want to just live here like everybody else lives here? Just eat a few squares a day, take a nap or two, then sleep through the night and do the same thing the next day? What’s not good enough about that? You just don’t know when to say when.”
Rollie looked at Fred and shook his head. “Well, Fred, if I thought that’s all there is to life, I guess I wouldn’t even care if I got up every morning. I just know there’s a better life for us here, and maybe even a better place for us somewhere else. And someday I’m going to go looking for it.” He pulled down his other ear and wiped his brow again. “Now, I gotta get back to work. You can either sit there and watch me or you can help me with the digging.”
“No, no,” Fred protested with arms up in surrender, “you go right ahead and I’ll watch. Maybe I’ll learn something.” He did another series of pushups, then, “Or maybe not.”
Rollie went back to his digging, scooping dirt first with his arms, then shoving it behind him with his legs, working his way from the bounty tree toward the shade of the Arbor and the depths of shade where his burrow was located. Fred watched in amazement at his young friend’s efforts.
When Dan and Dora Dove settled to earth under the bounty tree, Rollie paused in his digging to catch his breath. Dan and Dora were his friends and spent much of their day cooing and gurgling in the Gravel Yard, at night using his bounty tree as their roost. Rollie tended to think this one tree was his special tree. The dove couple would make brief trips away from the Gravel Yard for meals and visiting dove relatives in the nearby yards. But when the gray of early evening came, and the air was filled with dove cu-koooos, they would flutter one after the other into the welcoming branches of the bounty tree to bill and coo to one another until sleep came upon them.
“I see you there working your little bunny butt off, Rollie, and there’s Fred doing nothing, as usual, resting his long lizard fanny like he always does.” This from Dan Dove, not exactly a fan of Fred’s. Fred just ignored them, especially Dan, for he was no Dan fan either. He could take Dora or leave her alone. They were just too lovey-dovey for his tastes, always fluttering around on the ground, doing their little dove dance. Enough to make a grown lizard want to spit up.
“I’m digging a ditch to run water to the Arbor. I want to make life for my mom and dad better. They don’t seem to think it’s necessary, but I do. And I have to get busy before the magical fountain turns on in the morning.”
“Well, you just go on about your business. Dora and I have some serious matters to attend to. Just ignore us and go on with what you were doing.” Dan and Dora then fluttered close and touched bills and cooed to each other in quiet little voices.
Fred spit a stream of lizard juice to the side. “Oh, yuck, isn’t that enough to make you want to retch, Rollie? I mean, get a room already.”
“You shouldn’t mind them, Fred. That’s what doves are all about—love. And it might be a better world if we were all more like that.” He stood on his hind legs and examined his work so far. “I don’t have far to go to get to our burrow and then I have to dig a deep hole for holding the water.
“Yeah,” Fred said, looking doubtful about Rollie’s plan. “And how’re you gonna keep the water in the hole? Won’t it just seep into the ground?”
“That’s my secret,” Rollie said with a proud little grin. “I found something this morning that should be just right for the job.”
Early in the morning, when he first began digging, he discovered a shiny black substance buried under the rocks and sand. It was something thin and soft and rubbery, and it seemed to be right under the soil, like a skin to protect the earth from outside intrusion. He cleared a large amount of the black material and then used his teeth to cut out a circular patch. It seemed to be just right to fit into his waterworks plan, just the right stuff for lining the bottom of his hole so the water wouldn’t all leak out.
Fred grew bored with the digging and said, “Rollie, just watching you gets me all tuckered out—I’m always Tuckered out whenever I mean Tucker Rabbit—and I think I’ll go home and take a nap before my dinner of nummy fire ants and sautéed arborvitae berries. You just keep on with your work and tomorrow I’ll see how it turns out.” With that he dashed away, little lizard legs flying, three series of pushups and puffing before he made it to his home in the last tree.
Rollie knew what the bounty trees were. He didn’t know how he knew. He just knew. There were four trees in the Gravel Yard spaced at regular intervals across the line of the eight huge arborvitae trees that were the home for his family and him as well as for the many other furred and feathered and leathery inhabitants. Arborvitae, Tree of Life, and it certainly was, providing shade and protection and even nourishing berries. The trees were like quail mothers, who would spread their wings on the ground and cover their broods of tiny babies during the heat of day and chill of night. Similarly, the arborvitae spread their wings of protection for those who lived among them.
The bounty tree to the south was a grapefruit tree about twenty feet high and filled during the season with large sweet grapefruit. The next tree was an orange tree nearly the same height as the grapefruit tree. His tree, the one nearest to his burrow, was another orange tree, this one barely six feet high. And the one to the north was another tall grapefruit tree. The inhabitants of the Arbor thought of them as bounty trees because of the nearly yearlong bounty of windfall fruit and succulent leaves that rained down around the trees.
To the east was the house. This house had a screened-in patio attached all along the rear. Rollie thought of the screening as some sort of invisible wall, and he occasionally noticed the humans when they would sit out in this room, silently watching him and the other Arbor inhabitants. Rollie came to realize these humans meant no harm to any of them, were merely observing. Sometimes one or the other would come into the yard and sprinkle dry slices of bread for the Arbor folks. And sometimes one would break off branches from the grapefruit and orange trees and scatter them on the ground. They knew how much the rabbits loved the leaves. Most of the time when the humans sat in the back room, two cats accompanied them. He learned their names one day when he was brave enough to approach them. Not really brave since he knew they couldn’t get through the barrier. The large tan cat was Dusty and his little companion was Squeakie. Both were lying on a cat perch near the invisible wall, right at the same height as the wall, and both watched Rollie move toward them intently, both tails lashing nervously back and forth.
“Hello,” Rollie began. “I’ve seen you two out here many times but never thought to ask your names. My name is Rollie Rabbit, and what are yours?”
The tan cat looked a bit confused, taken aback that this creature would have the nerve to confront him. He was, after all, the king of beasts. At least he thought of himself that way. “Uh, uh, harumph, my name is Dusty,” he finally said.
“And I’m called Squeakie,” his small friend squeaked, her tail now going back and forth in a blur. She licked her lips and stared even harder at Rollie.
Rollie noticed and said, “I know, I know, we can be friends only with the barrier between us. I’m sure you two would love to come out and take a taste of this rabbit. But that won’t happen and I think we can be friends as long as we have this invisible barrier between us.”
Dusty hastened to correct him. “We may enjoy your company but we don’t need you for a meal. We eat very well in our house. And we’ve learned that we’ll never be allowed outside. Too many dangers out there, our pets assure us. We think of the humans as our pets because they do nearly anything we want. Except for allowing us to go outside the house.” From that day on, Rollie and his two cat friends would greet each other whenever they were out on the patio.
Rollie knew many things about his home and the world around him but he didn’t know why he knew such things. He just assumed the Great One had blessed him with this mysterious knowledge. Or cursed him. He wasn’t sure which it was, a blessing or a curse.
Rollie finished his ditch and spent two more hours digging the hole, then dragged the black material into the hole and tapped it into place by doing a little rabbit dance, kicking to the right, kicking to the left, doing a little two-step in the bottom. And then it was done. His mother called him to come in to dinner just as the light was failing in the west and night was about to fall. He would have to wait for morning to see how his experiment would work out, when the water poured forth right on its regular schedule.
After his dinner of grapefruit leaves and sliced prickly pear, Rollie said good night to his parents and curled up in his sleeping hollow.
Night had now fallen and the moon wasn’t yet up, and he could hear the quiet murmurs of quail couples roosting in the arborvitae above him, the occasional coo of dove couples in the bounty trees. Was he ready for tomorrow? Yes, he was always ready for his tomorrows.