I don't remember the first time I noticed him. Was it last year? The year before? It was one of those things where the first sighting was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing memorable. It was only after seeing him on multiple occasions that he became part of my conscious life. After a while, it progressed from merely noticing him to actively seeking him out.
It was probably around that time that I began calling him Waldo. Everyone needs a name, right? And Waldo seemed perfect. Not because he sported a red and white-striped shirt but because he seemed so elusive and it had become a game to try to find him. Each morning as I walked along the path with Jack on his way to school, I would fervently search for him. Mornings were so much better when I caught a glimpse of him, even at a distance.
He was in some ways much harder to find than his namesake. His camouflage was much better, as he wore the colors of the rocks and the grasses in which he sat. Most often it was his ears that gave him away. The noise of the nearby playground and of the children and parents walking along the path bordering his home caused him to sit still, but his long ears would peak up above the grass as he listened attentively, seeking out any signs of danger.
Did I mention that Waldo was a jack rabbit?
When my husband and I first moved here, there were jack rabbits everywhere. As the area became more developed, we unfortunately most often saw them in the roadway, victims of progress and speeding cars. But, there was Waldo, defying the odds, continuing to make his home in the narrow strip of land that had been left untouched, sandwiched in between the elementary school and a tract of houses.
Seeing him each morning as I walked peacefully hand-in-hand with my young son made me happy. I'm not sure I can explain why. I'm not even sure I entirely understand it. But every morning, I would eagerly search for him crouched low in the tall grass. Some days I would see him. Some days I would not. It was if he were my own special secret, waiting for just the right moment to reveal himself. Or, I thought, waiting for me to find him.
I never worried the days I didn't see him. I didn't need to see to believe. I trusted he was there, somewhere, just out of reach of my human eyes, watching me perhaps. I had begun to feel that I wasn't playing this game of hide-and-seek alone.
Then he was gone.
I didn't notice right away, of course. Often days would go by without a sighting. When the days stretched into weeks, however, I grew concerned. One day, as I drove down the road that cuts through the swath of natural space that was Waldo's home, I saw the remains of an animal near the center divide. I fought the urge to stop the car and get out to examine it more closely. I couldn't tell from my moving vehicle what kind of animal it was, but I prayed it wasn't a rabbit. That it wasn't Waldo.
Over the next few weeks, my search for him intensified. Still, there was no sign of Waldo. Desperately, I hoped that he was there, that it was my failing not his that kept him from view.
One morning, a few weeks ago, I walked Jack to school. Again, I searched for Waldo. Again, I didn't see him. With a heavy heart I acknowledged to myself that it was time to accept the truth. Waldo was gone.
I am, however, not very good at accepting truths. "Maybe" is my favorite word, and even as I reluctantly gave up hope and forced myself to believe that the expanse of grass now lay empty, that Waldo was indeed never to be seen again, somewhere deep inside there still bubbled one little insistent "maybe. . . ."
Many would believe that holding onto maybe in spite of such damning evidence is foolish. They may be right. They may think that mourning the loss of a jack rabbit is downright idiotic. They may be right again.
What "they" think doesn't really matter though, does it? Certainly, I was not worried about what "they" think when I got out of my car a couple of weeks ago and, as I waited for Jack to clamber out of the back seat, I glanced toward the open space. Old habits die hard. Naturally, I didn't expect to see anything.
Then a movement caught my eye.
I gasped as I spied not one but two jack rabbits bounding through the tall grasses that the winter rains had coaxed from the earth. Tears filled my eyes. Waldo was back!
I have only spotted him once since that day. But that's okay. I know he is there, somewhere, waiting for me to find him.