Monday, 18 April 2011

The Goodbye Hedgehog.

When I came to England in January, I had many obsessions (Doctor Who, Harry Potter, a growing obsession with tea and custard... need I name more?)

But perhaps the biggest obsession of mine was to see a hedgehog before I left the country. As an animal lover, I've always wanted to see those adorable little sea urchins with legs. Unfortunately for me, they don't live in the States. Also unfortunately, it got to be April and I still hadn't seen any hedgehogs despite the plethora of hedges in the area.

So with the clock counting down to the end of the semester and a rising sense of panic about leaving, I dug in my heels. I was NOT leaving England without seeing a hedgehog. Luckily with the warm weather and a woods right behind the manor, this wasn't an impossible goal.

I was lucky enough to have a few friends crazy enough to sit with me in the woods before dusk to start what I like to call "the Great Hedgehog Hunt." We sat for about an hour being bitten by various insects in the growing darkness.  I felt like we were on a David Attenborough nature program: "And here we see the branches that the wild hedgehog could hide in. Its brown colour makes for excellent camouflage among the leaves and in the darkness." But sadly, no hedgehogs were seen.

But our perseverance hadn't been for nothing! On our way back to the Carriage House, completely by chance, there it was, just sitting there! The hedgehog I'd been waiting my whole life to see!

The fat little guy was just chilling outside the Sports Hall. I like to think it was waiting for someone to invite it in to watch basketball. Who knows? Unfortunately we startled it, but I laughed when I saw it run off! Its little legs moved so fast but it seemed to be going nowhere by comparison!
One was not enough, though! In the next few days, I saw even more. They are not hard to find once you know what to look for, and they are actually quite loud, rustling in the leaves and undergrowth. I've seen five in just three days of casual walking about! They are such funny little creatures. Just the way they move, like a cross between a beetle and a guinea pig, makes me laugh. And they have such cute faces! (which a camera flash does not do justice to!)

On a sadder note though, I guess I can leave the country now that I've seen the elusive hedgehog.

I've tried not to be sad in the last few weeks. After all, I've had the opportunity to travel all over the UK and to France. I can say I've lived in a fancy manor house (which believe me, impresses the heck out of everyone back home!) and I have lived and learned an awful, awful lot this semester. If that isn't something to celebrate, what is?

But now that I'm packed, I can't help but look out over the Lincolnshire fields and feel a sense of loss for a place that's become my home.

Maybe the hedgehogs were waiting for the week before I left to come out and say goodbye. Kind of a nice "Farewell, you're leaving, so we'll make you smile a bit even though it hurts to leave a place you love."

At least, I like to think so. The Goodbye Hedgehog is a mysterious and elusive subspecies, but a comforting one. And just like every single one of the experiences I've had here, the sight of the hedgehog is something I'm very grateful for. And although I know I'll miss hedgehogs, the manor, new friends, my Meet-A-Family, proper tea, custard, Cadbury's, and a multitude of other things after I go home on Wednesday, it's only because I'm  happy to have had all these experiences.

Goodbye, hedgehog. Goodbye, Harlaxton Manor. I'll miss you. But how could I stay away forever from a place as wonderful as this? In the words of Arnold Scharzenegger, "I'LL BE BACK." Someday. And the hedgehogs just better come out to welcome me home.

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