Recently, as I was putting my kitchen back together after the renovation, I reinstated my adorable little pine cone hedgehog on the windowsill where he belongs.
Naturally, this got me reminiscing about my first hedgehog encounter. Back in the summer of 1983 I participated in an archaeological dig at Hen Domen, a Medieval motte and bailey in Wales. Here’s an aerial view of the site:
We camped in the bailey, the open area in front of the motte (the artificial hill upon which the tower originally stood), inside the surrounding ditch and rampart. I chose my first dig very well. The location was scenic, the weather perfect, and the people great company. There was just one problem — a beast haunted our campsite at night. After an evening out at the local pub, I recorded the following in my diary:
“No sooner had I wrapped myself up in my mummy bag for the night than I heard the usual — quite loud– rustling right outside the back of the tent. I had earlier come to the conclusion that whatever vile creature was intruding on our slumbers it was no mole, but something much larger. Visions of the rat sighted by the cooking hut filled my mind. Oh, horrors! Intrepidly, I grabbed my trusty flashlight and shined it with vigor out my tent’s window — and caught the creature right between the eyes with my revealing beam. It was (and is) a cute roly-poly hedgehog! I was surprised at its size but relieved at its identity, and it was certainly surprised to see me!”
Mystery solved. The snorting, snuffling, grunting beast was just a hedgehog!
People seem to have an odd relationship with hedgehogs. Some are sensible and reduce interactions to a minimum, trying not to run them over or destroy their nests. Others, finding them irresistibly adorable, want to keep them as pets despite the threat of contracting salmonella.
Still others see the little creatures as something diabolical, even attributing crop circles to “vast hordes of rotating hedgehogs.” No kidding, someone once wrote a letter — one hopes with tongue-in-cheek– to the London Financial Times offering that explanation. We have the cutting around here somewhere.
drawing by Kevin Cook
Back in the 13th century, St. Anthony of Padua likened hedgehogs to sinners:
Sinners are compared to hedgehogs. Note that the hedgehog is altogether full of prickles; and if any one tries to take it, it rolls itself up, and becomes as it were a ball in the hand of the holder. Its head and its mouth are set low down, and inside its mouth are five teeth. The hedgehog is the obstinate sinner, covered all over with the prickles of sins. If you endeavour to convince him of the sin he has committed, he immediately rolls himself up, and hides, by excusing, his fault. And thus it may be said that his head and mouth are set low down. By the head, we understand, the thoughts; by the mouth, the words. While the sinner excuses himself with respect to the sin he has done, what else is it than that he bows his mind and his words down to the ground? Whence also he is said to have five teeth in his mouth, which are the five kinds of excuses that are found in the mouth of the obstinate. For, when he is blamed, he excuses himself either by ignorance or chance, or the suggestion of the devil, or the frailty of his flesh, or the occasion given by his neighbour. (Neale translation)
Bit of a stretch, that. But we’ll give him points for being creative. In any case, I do not approve of keeping wild rodents as pets (call me old fashioned) and I loathe the modern tendency to treat animals as dolls or playthings. Don’t get me started on that topic. It’s always exciting to see a wild animal in the wild — so let’s keep them there.
Have a joyous weekend and do not interfere with the fauna in your area!