It’s one of those mornings that is best suited for tea and a book in bed. It’s the first day of spring, but after a week of unseasonable warmth and sunshine it feels like a return to winter. It’s one month since my uncle’s funeral, and two since he died. I have to get up and go to work.
I force myself out for a run. My uncle loved mornings, and at his funeral we sang Morning Has Broken. This is indeed a broken morning, with the sleepiness of a busy working week behind and a busy social weekend ahead of me. To breathe the joy of a new day and I literally have to force myself out.
I make it to the small neighbourhood park that I sometimes do four laps around for a twenty minute jog. Maybe I’ll only do three today. I sigh as I heave open the gates, and shift into a something like a run.
At the first corner of the rectangular park, I see a ball of, what? Fluff? Fur? Leaves? Already keen for a slowdown I stop to inspect, and discover a rolled-up hedgehog. I’m both delighted and terrified, for these creature are now highly unusual in Britain. In my eleven and a half years years here, this is only the third, maybe fourth, time I see a hedgehog, whereas every grass-cutting job my dad gave me in our garden in Sweden came with the reward of pennies and the warning to be careful with the hedgehogs.
My delight is therefore not only at seeing a cute wild animal, but also at seeing a rare wild animal. The terror is because I wonder why I’ve found it right here, so close to the path, lying perfectly still with what looks like a dent or hole in it. I bend down closer, breathing deeply and quietly to not disturb the creature or the moment. And I notice that what I thought was an injury is actually its face. The hedgehog is lying curled up on its side, not dissimilar to how I sleep, rather than rolled up with its head and face to the ground as I’d first assumed. And when I peer as closely as I dare into its face, I notice the gentle enlarging movement that indicates inhalation. It’s breathing; it’s sleeping. The hedgehog is suddenly the most precious creature in the world to me. It’s little hands are tucked around it’s little face as it breathes sleepily through its snout. The morning is now mended, strengthened and so am I. The sky is grey but my heart is full of colour for the vulnerable being. I want to pick it up and put it in the safer shrubs, but I don’t disturb it and instead break into a run.
The lap around the park is short, so barely five minutes later I’m coming back to the hedgehog. A dog-walking lady is approaching it before me, and I watch her and the dog to see whether they notice it. They do. The lady stops and puts her hand on her chest. She looks around for someone to share the moment with, just as I catch up.
It’s a hedgehog!
I know, I passed it earlier.
It looks alright; not the biggest but a decent size.
Yes I thought it might be wounded first but it was only its face when it was on its side.
Our chatting or maybe the dog’s smelling has woken the creature up. It stretches, and slowly moves its short, prehistoric legs through the grass towards the bushes. I walk with the lady and we talk about nature, the birds and the air and how much it can do for your soul.
I work for one of the colleges, she tells me, and a few years ago we had a brilliant Filipino student who was due to sit his final exam. But on the day of the exam we couldn’t find him, we called and went to his rooms and found it had all been cleared out. It turned out his mother had gotten cancer and he’d just packed everything up and left before he could take the exam. And I felt awful that no one had known and helped him sooner, and that he’d lost his degree because of it. That evening I took the dog for a walk around Coldham’s Common, and just in the back towards the brook is, I saw a kingfisher! Just a flash of electric blue, so quickly I barely saw it, just knew I’d seen it. And I felt like everything was going to be alright.
What happened with the student?
Well, I never saw him again, and I don’t know what happened to his mother. But he must have managed to raise the funds to come back and do the resit, because I much later saw in the records that he passed his degree with a First.
I smile to the lady and wish her a good day. She smiles and we both know that it already is. I speed up into a jog again for a final lap, and when I pass the place where the hedgehog was, he’s gone. But I carry him with me in my smile all day.