Hazel wakes to the perfume of strange flowers. He feeds in the field and is upset to find his hind leg is troubling him—he has been putting a great strain on it. He hopes it is not too much further to the river. He asks Pipkin where Kehaar has gone, and Pipkin replies that Kehaar has gone out on a scouting mission to check for Wide Patrols. Hazel is tense and nervous as he waits for Kehaar to return—he cannot see and guard against everything, but the threats against their group are increasing by the hour.
Hazel knows that the threats to his group will only get more intense as they move forward, and he wishes he could protect his beloved band of rabbits from anything that might come their way—he knows, though, that he is powerless in the face of certain kinds of violence.
Kehaar returns and reports that there are no wide patrols across the train tracks, and that the river is not far off. Relieved, Hazel leads the group out once more. They approach the river in no time at all—it is wide and swift, and the rabbits feel uneasy as they gaze upon it. They explore the banks together, though, and soon discern that there is no danger to the place—no elil are present and though it’s a strange environment indeed, “not all strange things are bad.” Hazel privately confides in Fiver that he worries he is asking too much of the group—his plan has within it many risks. Fiver assures him that the group is loyal, capable, and prepared for anything.
Though the rabbits are used to seeing everything new and different as a threat, in this passage, they come to an important turning point in their journey. They realize that just because something is strange, it is not necessarily evil—this will make their journey, and ultimately their return to Watership Down, even richer and more freeing in the long run.
Kehaar comes over and points out a bridge where the group can cross the river. Though the rabbits don’t know what a “bridge” is, they tentatively approach it and begin to move across it—Fiver, surprisingly, is the first to bound across calmly and excitedly. On the far side of the river, the rabbits find a good deal of cover though the ground is marshy. Fiver and Pipkin start digging out some scrapes.
The discovery of the bridge—a foreign object to the rabbits whose use is not immediately apparent—foreshadows the discovery of another pivotal object which will aid them in their quest.
The next morning, Hazel and the group begin exploring their surroundings more carefully. The area is damp, verdant, and full of great cover. As the day goes by, Kehaar asks what the group is waiting for, and why they have not put their plan to infiltrate Efrafa in motion. Hazel admits that though he can see how the plan will start, he is unsure of how it’ll finish. He worries that after escaping Efrafa with the does, their group will be unable to outrun the Wide Patrol. Blackberry suggests swimming the river, but Hazel says it’s too dangerous. Blackberry instead says perhaps they could wander upriver and search for a great, clever hiding place—together he, Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver, and Bluebell set off.
Hazel, as a leader, is able to admit when he is lost and needs help. He does not pretend he knows more than his fellow rabbits or seek to control them by claiming to have absolute knowledge and power. He actively wants their help, and knows he is stronger because of all of them.
The group comes upon a strange object which they at first believe to be a fallen tree trunk. As they get closer, though, they see that it is “some man thing”—it is lying on top of the water and has within it the scent of flayrah. When the rabbits ask Kehaar what it could be, they tell him it is a “poat”—he has seen many of them at the Big Water. The rabbits explore the boat and find that it is tied up to a post on the riverbank. Hazel, seeing no value in the object, says they should head back, and Bluebell laments that he’ll never get the chance to be a “water rabbit.” Blackberry, struck by an idea, says they should use the boat to escape the Efrafan wide patrol after the breakout by gnawing at the rope and setting it free.
Though the rabbits don’t really understand what the boat is, it jogs their memory of the board Fiver and Pipkin used to get across the small brook so many days ago. Hazel’s plan is impacted by his environment, and by what he and his friends discover together. In this way, every aspect of their homemaking, planning, and decision-making is purely democratic.
Realizing a man could come back for the boat at any moment, Hazel says there’s no time to waste. He tells Bigwig to head for Efrafa and reminds him to send word by Kehaar of what he needs them to do—they will be ready to back him up at a moment’s notice. Bigwig is surprised by how sudden his departure will be but admits that he has hated waiting around for things to get started. He bids everyone goodbye, nuzzling Hazel briefly, and then follows Kehaar across the pasture north of the river towards Efrafa.
Though Bigwig’s journey gets off to a more sudden start than he’d envisioned, and he does not have the chance to say a proper goodbye to all, he springs into action at a moment’s notice, ready to put his life on the line for the good of Watership Down and the world he and his friends are creating there.