Shortly after I was married, I finally got around to reading Watershed Down. My dad had always been a big fan of it, and I remember seeing an animated movie based on it when I was a kid. I distinctly remember how mean the bad guys were. I’m not sure why it took me so long to try it myself, but once I did I was hooked. Few novels held my attention from beginning to end, but this one not only held it but refused to let it go. I couldn’t wait to get back to it when I had to take a break.
You wouldn’t think a book about rabbits in Great Britain trying to establish a new warren would be so engrossing, but it is. Ten bucks set out from Sandleford Warren when Fiver, who is a seer, convinces them that something horrible is going to happen to their warren. The bucks, led by Fiver’s brother Hazel, endure many hardships, including “elil”, the rabbit word for animals who attack rabbits. They also encounter a warren that is really just a place for people to fatten up rabbits.
The buck survive to found a warren on Watership Down and turn their attention to getting does. This problem leads them to confront General Woundwort, the tyrannical chief rabbit of a warren run like a military dictatorship. This warren is overcrowded with does who are willing to leave, but the General, greedy for power, won’t let them.
Hazel, his second-in-command Bigwig, and the other bucks hatch a plot to help the does escape, which ultimately leads to General Woundwart launching an invasion of Watershed Down.
I chose this book for my month on writing about nature because Richard Adams so wonderfully combines the rabbits’ natural instincts with his world-building. Mr. Adams has invented a mythology, complete with well-known tales, and a language for his rabbits. He gives most of the rabbits distinct personalities. Hazel is the sure and steady leader. Fiver is the high-strung seer. Bigwig is bluff, big-hearted, and the best fighter. Blackberry is the smart one with the most ingenious ideas.
But he also has them act like rabbits. The bucks need does. The overcrowding in the General’s warren is so bad that pregnant does reabsorb their kits. Rabbits only swim if they must and dislike getting wet.
The bulk of the story takes place in May and June, and Mr. Adams’s descriptions of the countryside are so vivid, I can almost smell the dirt and budding plants. One way he does this is by being very specific in his descriptions.
“Only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak-tree roots.”
“A hundred yards away … ran the brook, no more then three feet wide, half choked with kingcups, watercress, and blue brookline.”
When Bigwig is sent to help the does escape from the General’s warren, a storm is brewing, making all the rabbits nervous. It breaks just as Bigwig and the does make a break for it.
What stories have you read that use nature in a way you love?