a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Tochtli. Taavu. Sewa Taavu. Flower Rabbit. Tochtli en la Luna. Tochtli en los brazos de Ixchel. Tochtli seated with Ixchel, in equal relation, her partner in life.
I had such a partner, my Tochtli, my muse, my little shadow, my love. She was a black little rabbit, part champagne (her belly was silver-colored). We lived together for seven years and then she left me (rabbits have a life span of seven to ten years). She was my Maestra, my shamana, one of the wonders of my life. She reminded me of my own wildness, my own need to speak in other-than-human languages, my own desire to be in touch intimately with the heart of the earth, with other sentient beings, to find peace with them, to provide peace and love for them. They have a most precious ch’ulel, as the Tsotstil and Tzeltal Mayans would say. The ch’ulel is the life essence that is in all of us, in all beings, human and non-human. They say that when you are a child you begin developing your ch’ulel and if you are fortunate, and care for your ch’ulel, you will be able to communicate with all the non-human beings who already know their own ch’ulel. Tochtli was my Maestra in these matters.
We had a love relationship. At first I thought she was a “he”, because she was so celosa whenever my husband got close to me. Then we took her to the vet for a check-up and discovered that she was a “she.” I realized she was a two-spirit, and we were passionately in love with each other.
She would nest for me on my side of the bed
Showing me when I returned from a trip of two or more days what she had done for me
Jumping on the bed
Eagerly waiting for me to see how she had arranged the sheets
How she had carefully gathered them to create a special spot for me to rest
How she had added her tufts of hair to ensure the softness
She would look intently at me to see my response to her show of cariño
I would rush over to her, gather her in my arms, turn her over in the bed, and hold her to me, whispering sweet messages to her, calling her “My Tochtli, my Tohsh, my little one.”
In bed, she would come between me and my husband
Grumping at him (rabbits don’t make too many sounds, one of them is a scolding kind of grunt)
Warning him to not get so close to me
To leave room for her to be in my embrace
When she wasn’t in bed with me, she would lie next to the bed, on my side, to guard me. I learned to sleep with a night light
To see her in the dark.
She would be stretched out with her patitas fully extended in back and in front.
Rabbits do sleep, sometimes they completely knock out on their sides, sleeping so deeply that I have many times walked over very softly and gingerly to them to see if they are still breathing. Usually, when I get close enough, they raise their heads with a startled look as if to say, “Do you mind? I was resting!”
When Tochtli guarded me during the night, though, I would get up sometimes to go to the bathroom and she would be fully awake, keeping vigil.
In the morning she would jump in bed to wake me, sometimes jumping on my chest to groom my face with her little tongue. She was persistent. There was no way I could oversleep once she decided that I needed to get up. When she was a youngster, she learned to jump into bed to paw at me for attention. In my sleep, I would stroke her a little, and then I would push her off, but she was a boomerang. We would do this several times, with me telling her, “No, Tochtli, please, I have to sleep!” My husband would finally tell me, “Inés, please!” We laugh about it now, but it could be hard on my human partner at night.
We had a cat, a gray tabby, for sixteen years, so I used to tell friends at first that we were a threesome. Our cat’s name was Weetas, and she took to Tochtli. They became friends and would hang out together in our bed. They had an understanding. Weetas claimed my husband as hers. I know she loved me, too, but she would stretch out on my husband’s chest when he was lying down reading on the sofa, and then she would give me a look, as if saying, “Do you see that he’s mine?” Her eyes would close ever so provocatively. I would tell my husband we were even. He had Weetas and I had Tochtli.
Sometimes I would be standing in the hall downstairs and I would see her suddenly rushing up the stairs looking for me with urgency. She would then rush downstairs and discover me waiting for her. I would walk into my study, and the ritual would begin.
Tochtli would pull at the strings of my tennis shoes, demanding that I take them off.
This was the signal that she wanted a body rub with my bare feet. Once she had enjoyed her massage, she would start grooming my feet, cleaning my toes with her little tongue.
She would push her head under my foot
for me to begin again with her body rub.
We could go on infinitely with this ceremony
All the while I might be reading or working on my computer.
Tochtli was mine and I was hers, completely. We had other rabbits in our home at the time, and we loved them all, but she and I bonded—this is what the vet told us. We were the two hearts become one, and she is one of the joys of my life. I have a tiny white box with some of her fur. I’ve told my husband that when I cross over into the spirit world, I want this little box with Tochtli’s fur to go with me.
She had a sister, Taavu, who developed a tumor that was incurable. We also had a rabbit we inherited from my son’s neighbor, Snowball—we changed his name to Husali, “Little White One” in the Yoeme or Yaqui language. Husali, or Husai, was Tochtli’s, too. One of the most profound moments for me was seeing Tochtli and Husali embracing Taavu with their bodies, one of them on each side of her, very, very closely and gently touching her body with theirs to comfort her. As it would happen, Tochtli left before Taavu. One day she was in the living room under the sofa. My husband started to vacuum (he didn’t know that Tochtli was near him). When he went to lift the sofa to vacuum underneath, he found that Tochtli had expired. Rabbits die of fright, in an instant they can be gone, they simply check out of their bodies. We couldn’t believe it. I think the entire neighborhood heard my grief, my sobs, my desolation.
We laid her to rest on our kitchen table on a towel. I “dressed” her body with herbs from our garden, lavender, rosemary, white sage, flowers. We wrapped her in the towel let her lay in state for the rest of the day and all night. We smudged her and lit candles around her. We prayed for her, thanked her, and told her how much we loved her. The next day we buried her in our yard, next to our cherry tree.
Here is the special light of this story. Taavu understood that Tochtli was gone. She was suffering herself. She was the one with the tumor in her belly. We had taken her to an alternative veterinarian who had given her an herbal remedy, a healing mix of medicines that helped the tumor to grow smaller, which improved her quality of life. “Comfort care” it is called when humans are suffering in this way. Taavu started visiting my study, even though she was weak. She would come to my study door and wait for me to see her. I would always welcome her and encourage her to come in. Then she would come over to lie down next to me. I started putting a little bowl of food and water in the room for her, so she would know that she could eat and drink there. She accompanied me with such sweetness in her last days, and when I knew she was getting ready to leave, I wrapped her in a soft worn towel and held her closely, rocking her gently and praying for her to have safe travels. We turned out all the lights, and lit our smudge. We put on soft, calming music and waited until she was ready. She suddenly heaved a huge sigh and was gone. We carried out the same ritual for her as we had done for her sister. I came to understand what she had done for me. She made sure that I was able to do for her what I would have loved to do for her sister. She knew that when I held her, I was also holding Tochtli. They were sisters. They knew each other and they knew me. I am so grateful for their love.
I live with totochtin. My home is a home for rabbits who come to me and my husband
They find us as they wander casually around our yard, in the back and in the front. We find them in our garden, munching plants, eating food we have left for feral cats who join our family. The cats, for the most part, simply observe them with curiosity, most likely astonished at their bravado in the presence of clear predators. We think there must be a rabbit factory somewhere around where we live because the ones who have come are the kind that can become show rabbits. We have had a female lop ear come to us, an English Spot male, a female Rex (the Velveteen Rabbit breed), a blue Dutch. We think they escape the factory, they break free and look for sanctuary. The vet says they have bunny radar, they know where safe places are.
The most recent arrival (now she’s been with us for two years) left us droppings on our porch. Discreet calling cards to alert us of her presence.
One weekend, as we were unpacking the car from a short trip, this new one chose to show herself on the walk leading up to our steps. She just plopped herself down and watched. And waited.
We scooped her up and brought her in. We named her Tita. When we first got her, we had five other rabbits, so the bedroom in our home that is the bunny room was quite crowded. But as time passed, we lost two of our rabbits close together. They were best buds, we rescued them from the SPCA after the deaths of Tochtli and Taavu. They lived a good ten years. Then this past summer, three others died, also of old age, two passed on when they were about ten, but one of them, the blue Dutch we called Bucky, lasted thirteen and a half years. The vet said he was a miracle bunny. He had an incredible will to live. He wanted so hard to keep going, but his little body finally gave out on him.
So now we are down to two little ones, Tita, who is a chinchilla Dutch, and Gobi, another Dutch we got from a place called Second Chance Bunnies (a place that fosters rabbits and finds homes for them).
Each rabbit brings his or her own gift. Tita loves to be held like a baby. She literally takes naps in our arms. Gobi is getting used to us—as a foster bunny, he probably had to realize that we are his family now, we are not just keeping him for a brief while. He is learning that we all belong to each other.
A good friend, Victor Montejo, Maya Jakaltek scholar, novelist, and poet, reminded me that for the Maya, the rabbit is the muse to writers. He gave me a poster announcing a conference in Guatemala, and at the bottom of the poster there is the rabbit scribe, sitting and writing with a pen (it is an ancient image). I was elated to learn this. Another friend, who has gone on to the spirit world, a Huichol artist, told me the rabbit is the older brother to the deer. Given the prominence of the deer in the Huichol belief-system, this means that rabbit is deeply important as a teacher. My husband is Yoeme or Yaqui, and a Deer Singer, so this link between the deer and the rabbit is important to him as well. In several Native American religious traditions, Rabbit is known as a trickster, like Coyote. I am Nimipu (Nez Perce) and in our belief-system, Coyote created us. I was created by a Trickster! So I relate completely to Rabbit.
I want to end with affirming the sensuality of rabbits, I see how they lie down when they are happy, how they stretch out and curve their bodies, and give out a “come-hither” look, how they close their eyes when they are being caressed, how they love to snuggle. I think of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm’s essay “Red Hot to the Touch: WRi(gh)ting Indigenous Erotica” and how she (and of course, Audre Lorde) remind us that the erotic is a life-force, a healing power, an immense energy that, when expressed, allows us to live fully, to feel joy in every fiber of our beings, to be free in our creativity, to envision. I think of my relationship with my little animals—we have a German shepherd, no cats at the present, and we have our rabbits who all gift us with their healing powers every day. This is my connection to re-wilding, to re-enchantment.
Ines Hernandez-Avila is Professor of Native American Studies at UC Davis, a scholar, poet, and visual artist. She is Nimipu (Nez Perce), enrolled on the Colville Reservation in Washington, and Tejana. She is one of founders of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). She was a Co-Director of the UCD (Mellon funded) Social Justice Initiative (2013-2016). She regularly teaches Summer Abroad in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, with a focus on the Zapatistas and on contemporary Mayan writers and visual artists. Her most recent publication is Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art (University of Texas Press, February 2016), co-edited with Norma E. Cantú. Her research and teaching focus on contemporary indigenous literature, ancient Nahuatl and other indigenous philosophical traditions, and contemporary indigenous expressions of personal and collective autonomy and creativity in the service of social justice. In April 2017, she received the Frank Bonilla Public Intellectual Award from the Latino Studies section of the Latin American Studies Association. She has achieved the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Academic Senate.