Conejo Chronicles by Sheli Ellsworth

Conejo Chronicles


Sheli Ellsworth

Conejo is the Spanish word for rabbit. But when I relocated to the Conejo Valley I wasn’t worried.  After all, what’s in a name? Los Angeles is not over run with angels. When I realized that a dozen rabbits lived on my street, I begin to get a clue, and finally, when my backyard began looking like a rabbit refugee camp, I understood how aptly named the area is. But I didn’t mind. I liked bunnies.

In college, I collected bunny-themed children’s books with the excuse they were for future offspring. Not long after that, the occasional stuffed rabbit would wander into my dorm room and take up residence. I claimed homesickness and a love of anything small and furry. I also used this rationalization as a young professional when I built a hutch to house a real rabbit that lived on my patio. Meanwhile the stuffed rabbits had multiplied faster than real ones.  When I married, my husband agreed to have children in a desperate hope of relocating the 105 stuffed animals out of our bedroom.

So, when my T.O. neighbors pointed out that my dirt lawn was due to the bunny breakfast menu I served round the clock—grass over-easy, I felt betrayed by my furry friends.

In my first attempt to wean the rabbits off my grass, I planted Serbian bellflower in the beds for the bunnies’ dining pleasure. From the parsley family, bellflower grows in bunches and blooms a purple flower. The bunnies loved it.

Feeling inspired by my eco-friendly solution, I read Watership Down. For two weeks, I was complacent in the knowledge that the main rabbit characters:  Hazel, Silver and Fiver were smart and savvy enough survive their forced relocation and given a rabbit’s inclination to procreate, that they and their offspring would live happily ever after.

Then one day I was entering the garden center at Home Depot when a young Lapin cut me off racing for the vegetable plant six-packs on the floor. He threw me a knowing glance, tilted his long ears and with a nod of his head indicated he was allowing me to pass. I was still naively contented to think that I lived someplace where bunnies were welcome, even in Home Depot, and we could exist in harmony with the environment.

I would garden and the rabbits, unafraid, would still visit. I would weed and plant, they would nibble and chew. It was a perfect relationship—until I tried to replant my grass.

There must be something irresistible about young innocent grasslings. No amount of Serbian bellflower was more tempting than the fresh seedlings trying to follow the straight and narrow path to becoming blades of fescue. The bunnies swooped in and chewed them off faster than a teenager can text. They must have sent out a food critic who reported to the consumption committee who informed the general who commanded the sergeants to rally all the troops to the mess hall. If it hadn’t been for the need to sell my house, I would have lived happily ever after without turf. But home buyers like grass. They like to move in without worrying about things like dead lawns, leaky toilets and pink flamingos, so I set out to dissuade my long-eared guests from the bunny brunches and the rabbit repast.

My best friend said to grate Irish Spring soap and sprinkle it around my yard. I’d always thought the Irish Spring commercial hunk looked a little effeminate. After I had shredded several bars on my cheese grater, I was certain the bunnies would leave because the smell was overwhelming and I had a newfound respect for the Irish Spring guy.  Unfortunately, the bunnies were unfazed and the neighbors were asking me what looked liked bright green worms on my lawn.

My garden center guru said that rabbits don’t like pepper. That sounded easy enough.  I headed to the store to supersize my pepper supply. Two pounds of coarse black pepper and 32 sneezes later, I was still entertaining the rabbits with my gardening skills. I returned to the nursery where I was told to try cayenne pepper instead. I dutifully bought and sprinkled enough red pepper to spark a rebellion in parts of Central America.  Then I topped it off with packets of crushed red pepper from pizzas past. Again, I was visited by a band of bunnies dedicated to the destruction of my fescue.  I suspected their Mexican ancestors had made them genetically impervious to the pepper treatment.

I decided to change gurus. I went to the hardware store to seek out Mr. McGregor. I finally found a Mr. McGregor look-alike in the garden department who advised using a liquid spray product; guaranteed to keep out deer, rabbits and coyotes. I was immediately suspicious, because if I had a coyote in my backyard the rabbits would not be a problem. I purchased it anyway. As I sprayed the area,  I heard small noises in the bushes that sounded like tittering. My suspicions were confirmed soon after when I noticed the scout rabbit giving the all-clear sign to the others.

Now, I was hotter than the red pepper sprouts in my backyard.  This called for drastic action. I went on the internet and immediately found a guaranteed, 100% organic solution—pellets.  For only $19.95 plus shipping and handling, I would be bunny free in six-weeks. Not a pellet gun, but garlic pellets. I waited, anticipating the Fed-Ex delivery that would put me one-step closer to a sure sale in a bad economy. When the big day finally arrived, I tore open the box and read the directions like a lottery winner with a mega-million ticket. It was straightforward, and I was excited about the upcoming victory. I went right to work, scattering bunny repellent all over the yard.

I woke up early the next morning and peered out the window.  The little four-footed terrorists were hopping around and munching down like bulimic teens at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. But I was prepared for this. The directions encouraged re-treating the area at two-week intervals. Slow and steady wins the race, so I continued my tortoise-like pursuit.  But after eight weeks the bunnies were still as regular as fiber commercials. Perhaps these rodents were Sicilian or Italian because the garlic only seemed to be drawing more of them.  I thought I heard one of them refer to the lead rabbit as “The Don”. I returned to the garden center, where the guru said my only choice was to install a small animal fence.

“No hole can be larger than an inch and a quarter,” I told my husband, who complained that we already had a very nice fence. I even consulted my computer repairman, who handles all of my big problems. He recommended artificial turf.

Finally, we went to shop for rabbit proof fencing. The fence guy heard our story and also recommended artificial turf. We, however, were undaunted—chicken wire would save us. We even bought more grass seed. That afternoon we drafted our children into our chain-gang fencing crew. We taught them the ins and outs of zip-tie construction and secured the cheap wire fencing material to the expensive wrought iron. Then we waited.  I saw The Don scouting the fence line. He made several passes back and forth and finally left.  Excited, I sowed the new grass seed in one session. This was going to happen, I could feel it.  

The next morning I woke up to Hazel & Co. again. Upset, I walked the fence line while my nose ran from the smell of garlic and I sneezed from whiffs of pepper. Exasperated, I found a fresh hole dug underneath the new fencing.

“Rocks,” my husband said. “We need a layer of stones, so if they dig the stones will block their tunnel.” Off to the hardware store again.

We quietly discussed the barricade potential of various landscaping stones. I voted for the shorter paver-like ones. If a bunny burrowed under those, the stones would likely to fall down and block the tunnel. My husband, appalled at the cost, voted that we drive to the desert and collect our own rocks. “Who would pay a dollar a rock to keep bunnies out?”  he said.

The garden salesman came by, smiled and recommended artificial turf after hearing our story. We looked at each other, thanked him and began loading the stones into our cart. But the next time I saw the artificial turf commercial, I wrote down the phone number–just in case.

Go to Dear Miss Betty-advice for those who need to be slapped for your recommended daily allowance of laughter.