Notes from the underground

With a name like “Warren,” gentle reader will guess that I have an affinity to rabbit holes. I like to go down them, especially when pursued by notorious coney-catchers; I applaud the safety of a domestic cavern. I had a friend named Burrows (alas dead, from drowning) who shared my joy in excavation, and the ability not only of the family Leporidae, but of moles, gophers, groundhogs, meercats, certain pelagic seabirds, countless beetles, ants, clams, crustaceans, worms, and small dinosaurs, to disappear in one place and then, quite possibly, pop up in another. Meanwhile the pursuer may stick his proboscis down, to learn whether the creature can defend himself.

“You can run, but you cannot hide,” according to a common taunt (see here), but ho, what if you can dig, and be swallowed by the earth. There are limits to everything on this planet, however, and not even cautious trench warfare is safe for all participants.

The equivalent in politics is not necessarily a lethal sport, but at some point one must stick one’s head out of the trench, and then the meejah are on you. Best to remain invisible to them.

By exposure to the (illustrated) “Pookie” books at a very early age, I became aware of the elaborate, furnished chambers of a rabbit family, entangled in the roots of a mighty oak. This is where they entertained their fairy guests. I have not the book before me just now, but may assure gentle reader that it was an architectural wonder. (A remarkable rabbit, Pookie grew wings — tiny flimsy fly-like wings, but angelically curved and pointed — which proved useful to escape an oppressive lettuce farmer.)

If I recall correctly, Pookie was a rabbit who:

— made himself unpopular by being a little different from other rabbits and got teased for the wings;

— went on journeys with a sack of his belongings on a stick over his shoulder;

— refused to take anything on faith such as Santa Claus, believing only in the fairies with whom he played;

— demonstrated imperfect ideas about capitalism for instance despairing because the little shop he opened in the woodland had too many customers;

— indulged in fanciful schemes for putting the world right such as banishing winter.

Who, moreover, had a delightful little camp follower named Belinda.

Nature, “the environment,” with many a niche, is well-disposed to the disappearing animals, and among the themes of my favourite biology teacher, whenas I was a lad in school, was the high population of concealed beings, just where you think there are none — under the sands of water-polished beach or wind-polished desert, but too, everywhere else. Walk in the stillness of the woods: a hundred creatures are watching you, but not even one of them can you see.

The bowerbird, for instance. Let us suppose ourselves hunting for one (in New Guinea, or Australia). We find an abandoned bower, soon enough, but if the bird thinks we might mean him ill, and that he has been glimpsed, we will subsequently only hear him. And it will be a trick. Most bowerbirds are good mimics of other bird calls, and better yet, they are ventriloquists — leading you where you don’t want to go. And this after having visited your home, to obtain such sparkling items as tinfoil, rings, jewels, car keys, with which to impress his lady.

Most birds do not warren in the ground, however, but make their own burrows in the eaves, leaves and branches, in the tall grass, or as the woodpeckers in the hollows of the trees. In every case, an architectural wonder, were we but small enough to see inside.

Lent is in a sense a time for hiding, or may I say warrening, from the wickedness and snares without and within, from all the wicked spirits that prowl about the world. We seek a place of prayer where the Devil cannot get us.