This being the Easter season, I will try my best to ignore the decimated holly bush in my backyard, the one I paid a lot of money for just last summer and that something little and furry has devoured, and speak as kindly as possible of the wonderful cottontail.
Our wise and often hungry forefathers in this state were not always so kind, I do feel compelled to point out, however. In 1932 alone, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates, hunters here "harvested" almost 2.5 million cottontails.
Charles A. Long, a professor from Stevens Point who wrote "The Wild Mammals of Wisconsin," doesn't doubt it. Back in the Depression, people didn't just hunt cottontails for sport.
"In Kansas," said Long, "people practically lived on cottontails."
I don't know about Kansas. But times have changed around here. During the 2011-2012 cottontail hunting season, the DNR estimates, hunters here took only 85,000 of them. Nowadays, it seems, Wisconsin is like cottontail nirvana.
Or cottontail Sybaris - those romantic getaways that take their own name, in turn, from the ancient Greek city known for "sensuous pleasure."
This is not quite the way James Buchholz puts it in his "Wild Wisconsin Notebook," but close. Buchholz first explains how the cottontail came to be associated with Easter. It seems that the Germanic people of northern Europe, long before they all decided to immigrate to New Holstein or New Berlin, used to worship a pagan goddess of spring called Eastre. Eastre's constant companion was a rabbit, which has always been the symbol of fertility - and for a good reason.
Cottontails, according to Buchholz, start breeding in February and keep at it right through summer. The female's gestation period is only four weeks, and "within an hour of giving birth, the female temporarily leaves her newborn to breed once again in preparation for the next batch of bunnies in four more weeks."
(As opposed to the female of the human species, which immediately after giving birth tells the male that she is done having sex forever, but that he should get a vasectomy anyway just because it sounds painful.)
Anyway, according to Buchholz, a cottontail can have up to six litters a year of up to seven bunnies each, and those little babies quickly grow and reproduce as well.
"If all her broods would survive and reproduce themselves, in only five years she would have a family of two and a half billion bunnies!" wrote Buchholz.
What's more, cottontails are said to be able to leap up to 5 feet in the air and run 20 mph. They are like Octomom on steroids. But hungrier. And without Foodstamps.
I confess I didn't exactly catch one red-handed eating my holly. But when I walked out to see if there was anything left of it, a cottontail hiding in a nearby evergreen took off running the same way a guilty robber runs away from the police. Worse yet, he's one of probably millions.
While unwilling to estimate their total numbers, the DNR's Brian Dhuey did make me feel better. He agreed with my observation that we are a lot nicer than we used to be, and not just around Easter.
"I guess from the rabbits' perspective we are nicer; many fewer are in the pots now than in the past," he noted. But not all species are as timid as we humans have become. Our exchange reminded him of something his son asked him a few years ago about why so many things - hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, people, house cats, bobcats, etc. - all eat rabbits.
Dhuey's response: "If God didn't want rabbits to be eaten by so many things he wouldn't have made them taste so good."
That is a very wise - and kind - way to put it.