Rabbit Run

In western Palm Beach County, the sugar harvest also brings a bumper crop of bunnies

Four days later, the boys of Pahokee get another chance. On this sweltering Sunday morning, a tractor-drawn flame thrower rolls along the edge of a cane field set back about a mile from Highway 715. The torch blasts into the tangle of green, setting a smoldering fire that moves slowly across the cane stand. The thick smoke can be seen for miles. Within minutes, fragments of color and movement appear at the far end of the lane leading to the cane field. On bikes and on foot, about 12 boys race toward the black column. They zip past the charred field until directly behind the tractor, then dump their bikes and BB guns. Some grab heftier stalks for clubs; others find stones, then plunge into the wall of smoke. A few boys find the fumes overpowering and run back out.

As the muck rabbits dart, the boys swing cudgels, fling rocks, and hurl themselves to the ground in chaotic pursuit. It's serious work, with none of the triumphant laughter that will come when the job is over. Thomas Crawford, a 12-year-old who manages to tolerate the smoke, lands in a sprawl several times as his prey dodges. Finally, he plants his torso atop the bunny, grabs it, and gives it four or five punches to the head. To finish it off, Thomas fetches the BB gun and shoots it in the head. He bounds back into the fray. For the next 40 minutes, Thomas and his three hunting buddies run, crawl, and roll through the black, mucky soil, which clings to their clothes and limbs like grease. When it's over, the party strings its ten bunnies on a bike for display. Heading back into town, where they'll sell them for $1.50 apiece, they tell and retell exploits of the hunt and await the smoke plumes in the weeks to come.

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