Marylin Mansdorf was one of the rare Dr. Doolittles among us who could literally talk to the animals. Even as a young child, she had always felt more of a kinship to wild animals than to humans. I first read about Marylin in an article in my local paper explaining that wild cottontails had been coming to visit Marylin for seven years.
The first time I saw Marylin was at a local book fair where she sat behind a stack of her book, “Bunny’s Busy Day” with jaunty rabbit ears on her head. There was excitement in her eyes as she explained that all the photos in her book were “real,” not photoshopped. And she had the negatives to prove it.
After that, my communication with Marylin was by phone. She was worried because she was running out of money and feared the day when she could no longer provide the “safe house” where the bunnies came to play. The first bunny who stopped by her garden on June 27, 2004, struck up a happy relationship with Marylin and brought his other family members. As more and more wild bunnies stopped by to play, Marylin took hundreds of pictures and videos of their antics with children’s toys. Their visits brought Marylin and the bunnies mutual joy and happiness, especially when she could identify subsequent generations of the same families. Because more and more bunnies came to visit her, she knew that the bunnies not only communicated with her, but communicated with each other about her.
She planned to write a series of 10 books, illustrated with her own photos. She once brought some of her photos to a UC Fullerton professor, Dr. Allen Shoenherr, and he was highly impressed at what those photos showed of true interspecies communication between a human and wild cottontails. It was clear to him that the animals came to her with joy and playfulness. They were not trained, nor did they come to eat. A long article about her and the bunnies appeared in OC Register Science editor Pat Brennan’s column.
Marylin was not computer savvy, but she found some friendly people to put up a great website for her book at http://bunnybooksinc.com. They put together an appeal on Indiegogo to find contributors for what became Marylin’s mission as stated in her website — “The author’s dream is for her books to be used to help create a better world for all children. She hopes children around the world will have the chance to enjoy her books, interact with their parents and caregivers to create their own scenarios to match her unique photographs of the wild cottontails and help to nurture a kind, positive relationship with nature.” Some of her photos were accepted by National Geographic and remain online as interactive puzzles at ngm.nationalgeographic.com/myshot/gallery/345140#/gallery1191909.
I was touched by Marylin’s commitment to her mission, and awed by her connection to the wild cottontails. We agreed that far too few humans understood our intrinsic integration with nature and the wild. Sadly, I just learned that Marylin died in June of 2012. She worked tirelessly up until the end to reach more people with her mission.
I can easily imagine that Marylin continues in the folklore that those wild cottontails who knew her tell to one another about the kind Bunny Lady they miss visiting.
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