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July 29, 2014 / annakpf11

Close Encounters of the Hedgehog Kind

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On a warm summer evening too delectable to go indoors, Isabelle and I retreat to the conservatory, where the twilit garden and the silver sky surround us. Isabelle is a neighbour from the village, and she is eight years old. We share the particular bond of being born on the same day—albeit a sobering 50 years apart. We settle back into pillows on the couch, and chat of this and that. Dusk eases into the corners of the room, softening the outlines of things we know.

An odd sound repeats in the garden. A persistent sort of snuffling noise.
“Do you hear that?” I whisper.
Isabelle nods. “Something is moving in that bush.”
We creep to the open door, crouch on the sill and peer into the herbaceous border directly in front of us. No hint of breeze, yet an unseen force is jostling the low shrubs. The rapid sniffing has grown louder.
“Let’s get a closer look,” Isabelle suggests, poised to step onto the grass.

“Wait.” I motion her to stay. “What if it’s something scary?” (Though what that could be I have no idea.)

Isabelle flashes a hopeful smile. “I think it might be a hedgehog.”

We keep watch from our post in the doorway. The loud breathing noises continue, rife with mysterious purpose. Leaves tremble and flowers sway as if an unseen snuffler were pacing back and forth. We decide it must be a hedgehog. Probably foraging for food, snails and grubs and such.

Minutes pass. The snorfling stops, but the bushes are rustling. By now it is nearing ten o’clock at night, in the month of July, at a latitude of 51.7 degrees north of the equator, thus not quite dark yet. Isabelle and I remain riveted to the doorstep, eyes straining in the dim light, waiting to see what happens next.

“Look! It is a hedgehog!” Isabelle points to a small, plump shape with a distinctive spike-tipped hairdo, scuttling along the edge of the lawn. The hedgehog zigzags around the birdbath, stops to snack on bread crumbs scattered for the birds, and eventually disappears into—where else?—the hedge.

Hedgehog

I am feeling fortunate indeed, to have made the acquaintance of this charming nocturnal guest, when Isabelle gasps and points again. “There’s another one!” A second mound of spikey fur waddles into view, pauses, and then trundles off in the opposite direction from its companion. Isabelle and I have been trying to keep quiet, but now we burst with excited whispers. Encountering two hedgehogs in one evening is quite unexpected, and feels almost magical.

Adding to the thrill, online research later reveals that we very likely witnessed a mating twosome. Usually solitary creatures, hedgehogs only pair up to procreate, and foreplay consists of—you guessed it—the male circling the female while making loud snuffling noises. And after the deed is done, they go their separate ways. Perhaps they are too prickly to cohabitate, but what a wonder they are.

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