Spiky on the outside, soft in the middle, I identify rather a lot with hedgehogs. Night wandering snufflers, eaters of whatever turns up, there’s something cheerfully pragmatic about hedgehogs. In recent years they’ve also provided us with evidence about how quickly creatures can adapt. Once, they rolled into balls to deal with threats, and died to cars. Now, they run away. They shouldn’t have to, but human spaces aren’t much good for them.
In my teens I had a number of memorable hedgehog encounters. There was a hedgehog who lived under my grandmother’s shed. There was one evening when I was sat on her doorstep because I couldn’t sleep (I lived between her house and my mother’s not really belonging anywhere). The night was quiet, but there came a sound as though an army of a hundred tiny marching feet was coming down the road. I was a little scared, but I stayed put. And down the road came a massive hedgehog, spines skittering over the bumps in the tarmac to make the sound of many feet.
That encounter got me thinking about traditions of putting bread and milk out for faeries. This is also what one traditionally puts out for a hedgehog, although it’s not good for them and cat food is far better. But, feed the hedgehog, and there will be fewer pests in your vegetable plot, and you will be blessed with more food.
I’ve rescued many a hedgehog from roads and sides of roads. I find that putting coat sleeves over the hands makes it easier to lift them – they are really spiky. I’ll take the pain of that over leaving one in danger any time, though.
Other hedgehog stories – the one I sat with on a low wall for a while on my way home from the pub. The family of baby hedgehogs who cavorted on my lawn one late summer’s afternoon. The hedgehog on the sports field, looking up at the full moon. The two hedgehogs in the same place involved in what looked like a dance routine. They are always charming.
I’ve lived with them in my garden, I’ve chatted to them late at night. Hedgehogs don’t mind people that much – not if we’re on foot and at a reasonable distance. They like us even more when we make our gardens accessible, leaving hedgehog sized gaps under fences. They like us when we leave them safe places to sleep and don’t later turn those into bonfires. They like us when we put stones in our ponds so they don’t drown in them, and when we don’t poison life in our gardens. They are a blessing to have around.
If there’s a hedgehog in your life, it is a measure that you are doing things well.