Friday, June 27, 2008

Rabbits And Recession

My next-door neighbours asked me to look after their dog for a couple of days, so last night I took the mutt for a walk at twilight. She’s a malleable black Labrador that jumps back at a rustle in the leaves and runs from runty, yapping curs a quarter of her size. I admire her pacifist leanings in showing no desire to hassle the deer we saw, or the skulking fox in the undergrowth of the nearby wood.

Our route was illuminated by thousands of fireflies, those amazing insects that are wise enough to simply light up their back-ends when they want to have sex. Other than the odd passing car, a Dad and his two boys at the playground, and a handful of others out dog walking, it was already quiet by 9pm. Even in houses with lights on, you saw no signs of life besides the odd flickering TV screen. We could just as easily be living way out in the countryside.

The other conspicuous thing since I last walked around my local streets is the comparatively high number of empty houses, either available for rent or up for sale. Until a couple of years ago, they would have been sold or inhabited almost as soon as they were empty. Now, families are suddenly gone and you never get to hear their stories. Ask a neighbour and they’ll shrug. Does that house belong to the bank now? No one knows, or wants to say. In suburbia, even the recession is silent.

This morning, I took the hound out early, watching birds of all colours and sizes at their most active hour - blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, wrens, and three blackbirds having an argument. A woodpecker hammered away at a tree trunk, somewhere out of sight. There were also two rabbits on a front lawn, guarded but not alarmed at our approach. This year rabbits have been an increasingly common sight, and no more unusual than a grey squirrel. When I tell my daughters that dinner’s on the lawn, it just needs to be caught and cooked, they are no longer upset by my lame stab at black humour for the U-teens.

I’m not one for omens, but I recently read Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, about the recession in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, caused partly by drought, and partly by the environmental rape of the previous decades, when farmers rushed to rip up the grass lands of the High Plains and plant wheat. The only creature to thrive was the rabbit, and for thousands of poverty-beaten people its meat became one of the few sources of food, pickled for nourishment through the barren winters. Towns organised rabbit drives, where thousands of the creatures would be clubbed to death in a single afternoon, both to provide food and to control a pest that might eat any of the few crops that managed to grow.

The current economic woes haven’t yet reached the point where I’ll meet my neighbours out on the street wielding a baseball bat rather than a dog leash. At the same time, the financial news delivers little besides stagnation and slump. Walking tonight in the gloom, I may begin to imagine those empty houses filled with the wandering and the dispossessed, sleeping on bare floors and roasting culled rabbits on a rusty, flickering grill fuelled by firewood from nearby Rock Creek Park. Maybe they’ll be singing to pass the time. Finally breathing human life into suburbia.


EdTheRed said...

Time to move into the city, my man, and escape...
The Next Slum

No Good Boyo said...

"In suburbia, even the recession is silent" - that's a film strapline if I ever heard one.

Nicely observed post, Stay-At-Home, with a elegaic but disturbing tone. The rabbit as barometer of recession, like the owl of Afrasiab.

When I first moved to glorious Caversham, England, I used to walk through the country lanes on weekends and often passed an empty house with a garden overrun with rabbits. You could barely see the grass for cottontails and twitching noses. Now the house as been rebuilt and a lawn laid down. But in five years, who knows?

I've seen Night of the Lepus and I'm taking no chances. It's them or me.

nathan3e said...

I hate to be Mr. Negativo, but edthered called this one correctly. Find a suitable place in (or near) the city if possible as the tipping point in most suburbs tends to sneak up on people. I have worked in mortgage banking for 17 years so I am in a position to see things about 18 months before they happen. Having previously read The Next Slum essay ed references here I have to say I did not see anything to disagree with.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Nathan, it's a shame that no one else in mortgage banking knew what was happening 18 months in advance - they might have stemmed the sub-prime crisis. And I'm not planning to move now and miss out on the impromptu rabbit roasts.

And yes, boyo, the rabbits will become braver, and bigger, and soon no matter how many you shoot and stew, there will be hundreds more queuing to munch your dandelions...

nathan3e said...'s a shame that no one else in mortgage banking knew what was happening 18 months in advance...

Ian -

I am certainly not claiming special powers. I am on the quality control end rather than the taking/approving applications end. My paycheck is dependent on seeing things how they are rather than how I want them to be. Hopefully this makes sense. Regardless, Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide Financial was dumping stock while blithely declaring that everything was aces. I would say that virtually everyone in the business(especially the hedge fund fellows)could see this coming well in advance. They just thought there was more money to be made before Mr. Damocles arrived with his sword. Now I am treated to the sight of educated people claiming they are shocked (shocked!) that not verifying an applicant's income or assets was a bad idea.

Reed said...

Stay-at-home lives in what was once called a "street car suburb." These are the nice, tree lined inner suburbs, not the awful sprawling treeless, mall invested frontier suburbs.

Have you tried eating wild suburban rabbit? Rabbit, wild or otherwise, is not a common source of meat in the U.S. so I've never heard of anyone doing that. I can't imagine there'd be much meat on them.

Mrs Pouncer said...

I could never eat rabbit after the myxomatosis outbreak when I was a child, although my father, and my dear old grandfather, were both enthusiastic shots. Has it been stamped out? I doubt it. The Govt refused to act in the 50s and 60s for some reason, and there was a rumour that it had been spread deliberately. Celebrity chefs seem keen; each week we are persuaded to try "saddle of rabbit" by a Mockney in an apron, even though this is an invented cut.