It was a casual mention from the guy at my local pet store. It must have initiated from my buying something rabbit related. As I recall it was talked about in the hushed tones of an old legend. At the check out counter I became enthralled by his tale. In North Portland, a place existed where people dropped off unwanted rabbits to fend for themselves. He gave me directions that involved taking a left at a street mural. I scrawled it down on a paper bag filled with potato sprouts to be planted later. This place I made plans to visit, in search of an oasis for misfit lapins, was known as Rabbit Hill.
As a rabbit owner, it’s hard to imagine the desperate straits of pet owners who discard animals to fend for themselves. I want to believe that bunnies can get past their cute, docile image and a life of relative comfort to forage for their own food and find shelter when they’ve never had to do this. Newly released rabbits could band together as bunny survivalists or a Lord of the Flies style gang and live free in nature. I believed the guy at the pet store. He was knowledgeable about everything else including growing potatoes but there was only one way to determine if Rabbit Hill was more than a legend; I had to visit and sort this out.
When I arrived at Rabbit Hill I discovered a place of mystery. Sure it described itself through signage as a place of garden art. There were raised beds so other types of gardening were possible but it felt like a place that was neglected. The dragon/tire art project had seen better days. A headless dragon is not a fierce dragon and there’s no place for the fire to escape. Rabbit Hill is an L shaped strip of land that borders a chain length fence. There were winding paths and a kiosk/bulletin board splashed with an anarchy symbol down the hill. The information posted offered an explanation of the need for community space:
Our neighborhood is a traffic “island’ surrounded by high traffic volume and high speed streets: MLK, Lombard, Vancouver, and the train tracks – making it very difficult for the children and elderly to traverse our neighborhood safely.
So tucked away in the Piedmont neighborhood was this patch of greenery along with the remains of some garden art made spooky by long afternoon shadows. The sign continued with a message about enjoying the park and being respectful. It included a reference to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” that I didn’t get right away.
Right away I noticed the lack of any presense of rabbits. Not being a rabbit expert, I’m not sure what that means. I wouldn’t have been able to smell them or hear them as they’re a quiet animal. I definitely didn’t see any scattering away as I walked up.
I’d been planning to get out to Rabbit Hill all summer and I knew the right time to visit would have been dusk. As I got more and more embroiled in moving this fall I found myself having to get to Rabbit Hill at anytime I possibly could. This ended up being late one fall afternoon in October. Not a great time, mind you, but better than no time at all. This wasn’t ideal rabbit viewing time. I could hear Pittsburgh Orbit publisher, Will Simmons, who’s a some time art director consultant for this blog, screaming all the way from the east coast,“GET A FLASH! DO THESE RABBITS RIGHT.” In my defense things got too hectic and I was making one last-ditch effort to possibly document a bunny phenomenon before moving from the North Portland area.
While I like the title Social Critic, that’s not really my aim in creating this blog, so I don’t want to be too vocal in what felt like a bit of disappointment in seeing Rabbit Hill compared to what it was intended to be. Many a project begins with the best of intentions and those relying on volunteer help can run out of momentum. The Facebook page seem to mirror this by being woefully out of date. It sure seemed like it had been a long time between pancake fundraisers. That’s not to say the place was decrepit. It wasn’t overgrown or overrun by graffiti. The elephant looking sculpture was elegant. It felt like a great place for local neighbors to walk dog or hang out to create and maintain art installations. It had the feel of a much-needed bit of space between all the industrial, road and train activity. My hope is that the area residents can get back to what they started.
From what I read in a kid’s book, rabbits make burrows and hide underground. They’re crepuscular so they’re active at twilight. Wikipedia would argue that they’re more on the nocturnal side of things. I saw no evidence of rabbits nor did I see any abundant plant life that might sustain a colony. Then again, I wasn’t there as the light was fading out nor was I armed with a spot light that may have helped me catch a fleeting glimpse of rabbit activity. While reflecting so much on Rabbit Hill, I found out there’s a children’s book of the same name that was written in 1944. It’s hard to say if this inspired the park’s name but I’d like to hope the area is full of creatures that resemble the book’s high jumping, evil-looking cover star. I want to believe that rabbits flourish at Rabbit Hill. If they are forced to relocate against their will I want them to find success and stay alive. I’d like to see them make a life for themselves tucked away on a slope of nature and garden art remains.