The Legacy of St. Claire – A Twelve-Part Retrospective
by Eddie Grayson, Zootopia Herald
The fair sun shines upon ye now,
A warmth that we shall n'er more know.
So rise now, rabbit, drive the plough,
We'll sleep among the rocks below.
- Excerpt from Nathan Furrier's poem, The Sorrow of St. Claire
In the three decades since it occurred, the collapse of the St. Claire mega-burrow has come to be recognized as one of the greatest tragedies in mammalian history. Although the statistics vary, depending on the source, it's estimated that as many as thirty-five thousand rabbits lost their lives in the disaster.
So, when my editor asked me to write a thirtieth-anniversary retrospective on St. Claire, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't immediately know what he was talking about. My meagre knowledge of St. Claire had been limited to high school textbooks, and to a recommended - but never watched - Nutflix documentary. Although I knew about the Tri-Burrow Counties in general terms and had heard it referred to as The Garden of Mammalia, I confess that I had never spared it much thought.
Like many mammals who grew up in Zootopia, I hadn't bothered to consider where the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store actually came from. Except to remember, perhaps, that they were grown by bunnies.
When asked about bunnies, there are two things that immediately occur to most mammals; they live underground, and they multiply. Some might even say the second is a consequence of the first. Rabbits are closely tied to their families. It's common for them to feel most secure when they, and those they care about, are safely nestled beneath the ground. So, it's natural to assume that when a rabbit burrow reaches its maximum capacity, those same rabbits would just dig out more space.
There was a time when that would have been accurate, but with the onset of the industrial age, rabbit agricultural operations expanded exponentially, and their population grew alongside it.
Rabbit families, once able to count the neighboring families on one paw, suddenly couldn't even scrape out a new room without breaking through into another family's burrow. In some cases, they tried digging upward without realizing that they were digging too close to the surface and starving the precious topsoil. In other cases, well-intentioned rabbits would dig deep and carve out a seemingly perfect space during the summer, only to have the autumn rain reveal that they'd burrowed beneath the water table. The result could range from damp passageways that brought on pneumonia, to sudden and unexpected flooding, to outright tunnel collapse. Too many rabbits – entire families, in some cases – were lost this way.
That was the crux of the problem; there just wasn't enough space for everyone. Although the farmers had plenty, Tri-Burrow law prohibited using any of the surrounding farmland for residential purposes. This meant that the families in town - mechanics, shop owners, distributors, agricultural suppliers and the thousands of other bunnies that kept the agricultural industry in motion – were too often left fighting for enough room.
The St. Claire mega-burrow was meant to be the solution. A collective effort by three architectural firms and over twenty construction contracting businesses, it was flaunted as a masterpiece of modern engineering; similar in many ways to a traditional burrow but constructed on a far grander scale. The foundations had been dug down to the bedrock, rather than just a few hundred feet, and at its widest point the burrow spanned over a mile.
Developed not only to serve as housing, but to function as a massive produce shipping hub, connecting tracks linked St. Claire to the main rail lines. The facilities there could accept, sort, and distribute Tri-Burrow produce to over a dozen cities; some as far away as the Pacific Frontier.
Possessing 200 individual levels, every imaginable amenity and boasting a maximum capacity of nearly fifty-thousand, it was designed to be an underground city. It was expected to be the blueprint for the burrow of the future, until flood waters from the nearby Willow Dam spillway overwhelmed the water-control systems in the early hours of November 23rd, 1988. As a result, the St. Claire mega-burrow suffered a critical failure in its primary foundations that in turn led to a chain reaction throughout the mega-burrow's support structure. At 8:03 am ZST, the structure buckled, and St. Claire went into a catastrophic collapse. It's estimated that approximately twenty-eight thousand rabbits lost their lives in the initial fall - some in tunnels so deep that there exists no hope of ever recovering the bodies – and another sixty-five hundred would be lost in the days that followed.
However, rather than simply re-tell the story of St. Claire, this retrospective will focus on the years that followed – the repercussions of the disaster, the social fallout, and the responses from the Tri-Burrow government – leading all the way up to the only event that deserves mention alongside St. Claire - the incident at Homestead, just two years ago.
As a part of my research, I travelled out to the Tri-Burrow Counties with the intention of speaking to some of the mammals personally involved in both events. I expected to find a few anecdotes that would place the events in a relatable light. What I found, however, was a series of captivating personal accounts that brought the emotion of both St. Claire and Homestead into sharp relief.
This is why rather than submitting an impersonal – albeit purely factual - article, I fought to convince my editor that we should instead publish some of the interviews I collected. If he'd allowed me the opportunity, I would have published every word from everyone I spoke to. Instead, I have focused on the accounts that I feel best represent the thousands of mammals impacted by these tragedies.
To that end, I can only hope that they have as meaningful an impact on you as they did on myself.
This is an AU piece that I've been tinkering with for a little while now, placed in an alternate timeline for our dynamic duo.
The geekier among us might recognize the oral-history format as being similar to the World War Z novel, while the geekiest among us may notice a pattern in future chapter titles.