Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet

A rabbit has dug a nest in the middle of our not very big backyard.  The death watch has now begun.

Yes, as far as natural history is concerned, Eastern cottontail rabbits do not dig graves.  Especially their own.  They do, however, create nests for their bunnies (separate from the warrens they live in).  In our yard, this is the same thing.

This is the fourth time in the seven years we have lived in our current house that a rabbit nest has been established in our yard.  I don’t think I knew what I was looking at the first time.  At least, I didn’t until the day I was working from home and let our two dogs out (Annie, the lab mix, and Cody, the corgi).  I came up from the basement while they were out and saw a rabbit still in the yard.

I wondered: what makes a rabbit sit still in a yard occupied by dogs?

I was drawn outside to investigate after hearing some weird screaming noise.  I was worried that it was one of the dogs, somehow having injured themselves.  But no, they were fine.  Couldn’t say the same thing for three bunnies in the nest who were busy playing the role of chew toys for Annie.  By the time everything settled down, you wouldn’t have thought the bunnies actually had any injuries: I think they might have just died of shock.

Six months later, here we go again.  Annie got to this batch earlier: they didn’t even have fur.  They also couldn’t really make noise, so while the dog was curious about the smell, she wasn’t getting enough reaction to really spur her predatory instincts.  Unfortunately, if I didn’t do anything, she was going to dig up the entire yard to get to the damned critters.  I waved her off and went to work scooping bunnies out of their nest with a hockey stick.  It’s a perfect tool for the job, I might add, but I still felt pretty awful doing it.  Nevertheless, the rabbits were dead in a Schrodinger’s cat sense at this point anyway: mother rabbits leave their babies in their nest after they’re born, just visiting them until the bunnies are ready to move around more independently.  There was no way these bunnies were going to survive their exposed position, and that was even presuming the mother would come back for them.

So scratch another litter of baby rabbits.

I think there’s a special place in Hell for people who have scooped baby rabbits out of a nest with a hockey stick.

Cody the corgi passed away before the next nest appeared.  He had never been worth much as far as rabbits went.  He was far more concerned about keeping everyone from doing anything dangerous or letting us know that our daughter needed attention.  One time Annie flushed the rabbit out of the bushes in one corner of the yard, driving it beautifully towards the front gate where Cody was standing guard.  The rabbit ran right past Cody, within a foot of him, and he never moved a hair.  Or a hare.

Annie stepped up patrols when the next nest appeared in our yard.  I can’t be sure, but I think she scared the mother rabbit on the very day the next litter was due and the mother chose another location to have her babies.

Anyway, that’s all proof that rabbits are not the smartest of creatures on God’ green earth: our yard might be an inviting sanctuary, perfectly sculpted for the purposes of a rabbit.  Right up until the point where you add in the 70-pound dog with a taste for varmint.

About a week ago, a new nest appeared.  It’s a nice little hole, unless you’re the owner of the yard, in which case it is a gaping chasm.  Dead grass and leaves have already been stuffed into it to keep the bunnies warm.  As yet, however, no bunnies.

My daughter is hoping we can find some way to save the bunnies, but the only solution is to turn our yard into a rabbit nature preserve, which I am just not willing to do.  Maybe the mother rabbit will come to her senses before it’s too late.  It’s happened before.

This morning I was out with Annie and I said, “Where are the baby rabbits?”  She instantly went into alert mode, ready to go all Watership Down on a bunch of cottontail bunnies.  I forgot that I shouldn’t use the “R” word, since she knows what that word means.  Did I say she was a lab mix?  Yes, and she’s probably also part border collie.  She’s got a 10th grade vocabulary.

We have way too many rabbits.  Evanston was the epicenter of a West Nile Virus outbreak a few years, and it wiped out our crows.  Crows, it turns out, are major consumers of baby rabbits, and with them out of the picture, our rabbit population has exploded.  So I’m not feeling bad about winnowing the bunny demographic.  I think the poster child for Conservation Status “Least Concern” is the Eastern cottontail rabbit.  I’d just rather not be the person at the other end of the hockey stick.

So we wait.  We watch and we wait.

They’re coming.  Then they’re going to die.


I Do Not Think This Word Means What You Think It Means

If you work in business, you’re generally around people with college educations all day.  It’s a mistake, however, to assume that they’re all literate.

From my experience, I think of people who are speaking from the “MBA phrasebook” – basically, clichéd expressions that people use to sound forceful, knowledgeable, and hip.  You can particularly tell when someone’s using the phrasebook when they don’t use words correctly: they’ve heard the terms, but really don’t know what they mean.

One of my peeves is “walk the talk”, but it’s not the worst of the lot.  It started with expressions like “you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk”.  In some case, it was “can you walk the talk”, meaning to follow through on your claims.  At this point, though, it’s almost always used badly and obscures meaning instead of providing it.

Another favorite is “home in on”, or as it’s often said, “hone in on”.  Again, if you don’t know what you’re saying, don’t say it!  The original expression is “home in on”, in the sense of a getting close to a target or destination.  “Hone” is just wrong.

Then there’s “coming down the pike”, often said as “coming down the pipe”.  A lot of people change “pike” to “pipe” because they have no idea what a pike is.  Ding!  MBA phrasebook in action!  The correct expression is “coming down the pike”, as in “coming down the road” (e.g., turnpike).

Besides confused expressions, some words are used to sound authoritative, but the speaker really isn’t thinking about what they’re saying.  “Fulsome” is a standard example, as its general meaning is offensive or insincere, but it sounds like it ought to mean complete.

Another MBA phrasebook mess-up is “contingent” and “contingency”.  The problem here is that the two words have collectively three meanings that are really useful in business, but people can’t get straight which form of the word they want.  Quick primer: “contingent” as a noun means a group, “contingent” as an adjective means dependent on something uncertain or unknown; and “contingency” is something which might happen.

I’ve just given up on the word “decimate”.  Consider that one surrendered to the phrasebook.

Not necessarily mis-used, but a pet peeve of mine anyway, is the word “acceptable”, as in “this is unacceptable!”  It’s usually applied in cases where unfortunate or undesired events have taken place and are now in the past: there’s really nothing to be done about them but pick up the pieces and make a new plan.  So, frankly, the event is necessarily acceptable.  The time to use it would have been earlier, when warning an unfortunate underling or hireling about career consequences:

Example: “This contingency is completely unacceptable!”

One of my favorite moments in business came when I was with a colleague doing a presentation, and he liked to use the expression “bottom line” all the time.  He intended to stress that what he was talking about was what was really important.  Then, after using this about six times, he got to a point where he was referring to a cost figure that was – you guessed it – the very bottom line of the page!  He paused, recognizing (I like to think) of how absurd this was, and then went ahead and said it anyway.

Of course, while a lot of clichés and words can be identified in their mis-use, sometimes the speaker is ahead of you.  I was working with a certain international express delivery company whose headquarters were generally in the southern part of the United States, and in one meaning, a local gentleman pointed out, “The dog’s got to eat the dog food!”  The rest of us sort of stared at him, unsure of what it was he meant.  Later experience suggested that, far from being the meaningless cornpone wisdom I assumed it was, it was actually a cliché fresh enough to warrant a certain amount of use.  Working for a major software company located roughly in the Seattle metropolitan area, I found it common for people to speak of “dogfooding”.  This was the idea that a company that made software should be confident enough in it to use it themselves, so most projects had a “dogfood” phase.  The explanation I got was that if you’re running a factory making dog food, and dogs won’t eat it, it’s not really dog food; hence, “the dog’s got to eat the dog food”.