Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rex Stout's Archie Good
win calls it a ``gazookis'' when
a miscreant imposes an
unsolvable problem (seem
ingly?) upon Nero Wolfe.
That's what I faced, a
gazookis, when peering
across a sea of big sagebrush,
camera in hand, and presum
ing to photograph a black-
tailed jack rabbit.
Jack rabbits aren't rabbits,
by the way. They're hares.
That's because they're born
furry and with their eyes
open. Just so we know.
Anyway, this gazookis de
veloped when the 10th (or
29th?) person in about a
month confessed to never
having seen a Lepus
And moost of them had
spent years, some even dec
ades, right here in the shrub-
steppe of Eastern Washing
ton, a well-known (although
dwindling) black-tailed jack
rabbit habitat.
I, of course, have seen
dozens, many about 30 min
utes from my front door, at
Wallula Junction.
So, I went to the Wallula
Management Habitat Unit to
document the presence of
black-tailed jack rabbits with
my trusty Nikon camera.
When I parked along the
wash-boarded North Shore
Road and opened the tailgate
for Sadie the Dalmatian, I
looked across the landscape
thick with sage.
``Oooops,'' I said to Sadie.
``What we have here is a
I realized, you see, that rab
bits don't pose in profile for a
photo beneath a sage bush.
They burst into zig-zagging
blurs among, around and
through the bushes.
Only once, according to my
99.9-percent total recall, had a
black-tailed jack rabbit jogged
in view long enough for me to
snap a photo. For about 10
seconds. Maybe five. And I
carried no camera, of course.
It sat on a dirt road when
Sadie saw it. She charged and
the rabbit bounded along in
clear view for about 40 yards,
or about 11 leaps (in each its
front feet hit the ground three
times before coiled-spring
back legs bolted it forward).
Sadie, then in her prime,
gained on the rabbit until,
with a move reminiscent of
Gayle Sayers on a muddy
gridiron, it cut on a dime, shot
to the left and disappeared
into the sage.
Sadie, her vision blinded by
the chase, dashed 10-yards
past the cutoff, slid to a stop
and, blushing, sniffed the
ground to suggest the rabbit
had disappeared into thin air.
Well, gazookis or not, I fig
ured to give it some shots.
I pulled on rain pants and
jacket (for brushing though
the wet sage) and looped the
Nikon with a 70-300 zoom
lens around my neck.
I wound the strap in my
hands, pulled it tight against
my nape to create tension and
steady the camera (like a
rifleman wraps a sling around
his arm).
I practiced zeroing in on
cans, bottles and bones as I
walked along.
And I kept my eyes peeled
and planted silent footsteps
on the sandy terrain.
A leashed Sadie could have
sniffed out a rabbit, but she
stayed glued to my right heel.
Dogs may be unleashed on
the unit area when in the
lawful pursuit of game.
Would she worry about get
ting lost? Humm.
In the nearly four hours
that we tramped around the
area, Sadie left my heel twice.
Once, near Millet Pond (a
wetlands rehabilitation area)
at the refuge edge, we found a
fallen ``shotguns only'' sign.
Sadie stood over it _ reading
it twice? _ with a pained
look, as if I had tricked her.
A second time I stepped on
a sharp-edged, inch-wide and
rusted hoop, possibly from an
old nail keg, and it flapped up
to bark my shin. It's the same
principal as stepping on a
``@#$%&!'' I growled.
Sadie, familiar with my
one-footed dance, wagged her
tail and moved away until I
finished. When I wiped away
the tears, we continued look
ing for a rabbit.
By then the morning drizzle
had abated, but fog clung to
ridges south of the river.
Brief flashes of sunlight il
luminated fog banks that
swirled around the giant wind
turbines high on the ridges.
And occasional sun beams
glistened on ice-clogged and
fog bound Sanctuary Pond.
A multitude of tracks in the
sand revealed the presence of
deer, porcupines (skunks?),
pheasants and coyotes. And I
scrutinized the havens be
neath sagebrush for a horned
toad (short-horned lizard), a
porcupine or a rabbit.
We walked two-plus miles
to the white cliffs and back.
We saw one pheasant, two
piles of coyote scat, and tons
of deer and rabbit droppings.
Yes, I took pictures. Scat
photos don't black-tailed jack
rabbits in full gallop.
But they prove there are
more ways than one solve a