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Lessons in Living, From Bunnytown USA

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
          I'm hoping that if I stand very still in this South Broadway backyard and watch carefully and listen with my all my heart, maybe I can understand what the next 12 months hold in store.
        Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, an event that I would normally skip over without much thought. But a month into the non-Chinese New Year, a month that has been dominated by bad mojo, I am pitching around, looking for a reason to be optimistic.
        In the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Rabbit, so on a chilly afternoon here we are, meditating on the friendly chaos that is Bunnytown USA.
        Where to begin?
        How about with the bunnies?
        Jeff Hartzer — teacher, poet — and his wife, Debra Landau — dancer, acrobat — have a colony of 15 rabbits here. They come in many sizes and several shades of gray. Beautiful all.
        As I watch, they are going to town on pieces of cabbage and flour tortillas baked to a lapideous state. That is overshadowed, to state the obvious, by the decor of Bunnytown, which includes a 1950s jungle gym of many colors, a dozen or so doors of varying ages and styles, a spinning tray covered with faded toys, a slide, the door of a Greyhound bus, a ladder or two, an ancient wheelchair, innumerable sports trophies and twisty Gumbys and a 1957 Zenith television set. At night, it sparkles with hundreds of lights.
        Hartzer has labored over this 300 square feet behind his house since 1995 when a big rabbit named Wolfgang was adopted into the Hartzer-Landau family and the couple began to build him a home.
        Hartzer calls the time, effort and materials he has poured into Bunnytown his personal 1 percent for the arts. I call it sheer magic.
        Since Hartzer and Landau live here in Bunnytown, where every year is the year of the rabbit, I was hoping they could be our guides as we hop through the next months.
        What do we need to know about rabbits?
        Rabbits are flexible, easily adapting their lives to their surroundings. (Good.)
        Rabbits are hierarchical, with a pecking order that keeps certain rabbits up and certain rabbits down. (Maybe not so good for some of us.)
        Rabbits are coprophagous, meaning they eat their own poop. (Probably irrelevant.)
        Chinese astrologers cite the rabbit as one of the luckier signs of the Chinese zodiac. They also look to the rabbit's even keel and predict a year less eventful than the Year of the Tiger that we just survived. For those of us who are emerging from the Year of the Tiger with claw marks on our behinds, this is welcome news.
        Like me, Hartzer seemed wearied by the Year of the Tiger and ready for even a hare of change.
        "I think it's a year to take a big breath," he said.
        Rabbits, he told me, come out of their burrows every morning and sit in the sun to warm up. This seems to me like a very doable plan.
        "Rabbits are just survivors. That's all they're about," Hartzer told me as we sat in a warm little room — the "Rabbit Hole" — with a window that opens out on the goings-on in Bunnytown. "They eat, they have sex and they know how to take care of themselves." Check, check and check.
        But they also look out for the group. When they sense trouble, rabbits stomp their feet to warn the rest of the colony.
        "Each one of them is out to survive as long as they possibly can. Somehow, they really take care of themselves individually, yet they're still part of the group. They collaborate."
        What can we learn from that?
        "To be flexible," Hartzer says. "If you're hungry, you go get food. If you're cold, get into your burrow. If there's a cat, stomp your feet and help everybody out and then get the hell out of there."
        Rabbits like to find a safe place, which may be the greatest lesson from Bunnytown.
        "While I do not think we need to hide in a cave this year," Hartzer posits, "it may be more OK in 2011 to 'burrow,' go inside, take quiet time, be alone (oh, my God), especially when the shadows of birds of prey and the smell of feral cats are experienced.
        "I think," the mayor of Bunnytown USA says, "it's a time to adapt."
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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