...An hour ago...
I slide out of the back door and ease my way along the garden path and halt. It's dusk, and the light is fading rapidly. I know what I'm hoping for, I've seen it three days ago. I'm desperate to know if it's still there. So I stand, and I wait. It feels eerie, standing there in the dark, listening to every dark rustle - every flutter of a moth. And I wait. An occasional almost-sound - but it could be a mouse. Or a nighttime insect batting against the leaves. I stay, waiting. Hoping.
As my eyes begin to struggle, my hearing becomes sharper. I hear every flutter, every swish, every breath. Charlie in his hutch behind me - the only noise I can actually identify. Then - a shake. I mean, an actual shake. Like an animal when it shakes. And I could swear, it's up behind the pond, the place which holds the most interest for me. But was I imagining the direction? Were my senses off, and it was the rabbit behind me? Charlie can shake. But...that is the opposite direction.
I wait. And there, by the steps, emerging from behind the pond grasses, comes the hedgehog. I am clenched with delight. The first sighting, which I intended to write here and still haven't managed it - is thoroughly confirmed. Three days ago I was peeling potatoes and glanced out the window and - I'm going mad, is that a hedgehog? At 3.30pm?! Later I go and look at the hedgehog house, worrying it may not be in a fit state to receive guests, so I open the lid slightly. And close it, quietly and hurriedly, on glimpsing a little ball of spines.
This evening I was feeling a little glum and thinking I may not see it again, or that I'd disturbed it - and then worrying it had been ill since I saw it during the day. But then...at 9pm...I went outside. And I waited. The beautiful little creature found its way to the food I'd been laying out (and has been disappearing, I might add, every night) and proceeded to spend at least 20 minutes munching happily. I just stand there and watch, the joy of the moment keeping me on my feet - I stood in a way that was the least tiring and before I realised it, I'd been standing there for 50 minutes.
Intriguingly, as I watched, squinting in the darkness, another odd sound was emanating from the bed beside the path. It was a scraping, crunching sort of sound. Definitely not a moth. I never saw this second creature, but it seemed evident that there was one, down in the dark. (Last week I was pondering that the garden was a little overgrown lately - now I'm thrilled with the fact.) There was even a third noise, from another part of the garden, which intrigued me. There were noises around the pond, and one of the grasses suddenly jerked. One day I will sit out in a deck chair and listen.
The hedgehog finished up (must put out larger helping!) and moved into the flower bed - but before it did, it wandered a little in my direction and then - shook itself vigorously. It was the very same sound, and I couldn't help grinning the third time I heard it, from under the bushes.
As darkness was setting in good and proper, I bid a retreat when I saw the hedgehog go back towards the hedgehog house behind the pond area (so overgrown itself that it would be difficult for anything to drown in it, thank goodness). I heard more rustling and wondered if it was trotting down the pebbly bit to have a drink - quite possibly. Too dark for any photography, but nothing could beat the real thing, anyway.
When I first saw the hedgehog (assuming it is the same one), I had been feeling stressed and just back from the doctor. Was praying for help but seemed to get no clarification, so went to sort potatoes. And looked out of the window. And I could hardly believe my eyes. Our garden is fenced in, and has lots of drops and steps. I'd always thought a hedgehog would never get in. There was a moment of indecision about even using the hedgehog house in this garden when my brother and sister-in-law gave it to us a couple of years ago. I am so glad we did.
You know what the cure for stressed out fed-up-ness is? A moment of pure delight. A tiny part of me - which made the rest of me blush - thought: I was miserable, so God sent a hedgehog. Which will sound very silly, but there are stranger things that happen in this world.
Whenever and however this hedgehog encounter started, I am very grateful for it, and long may we have our hedgehog friend!