Live things

by Jimmy Griffin

On our first night in England I saw a hedgehog, first time in my life maybe. Joyce had gone into the house and I decided to take just another little stroll around St. Bees. It had just gotten dark, it was raining lightly, I was on a narrow sidewalk with a wall running along it, and I saw this little thing moving, down at the base of the wall. A rat? was my first thought. No. Cute little thing. Had to be a hedgehog, though I’d only seen pictures — maybe Beatrix Potter’s. It seemed to know I was there, and to want to get away. But it didn’t make a dash, and it didn’t freeze, it walked along the wall until it found some gap and disappeared. Days later we saw a dead one, on the road, and then just the skin of one. Yesterday, once again, I saw a live one. It was on the path in front of me as we walked at the top of the world on the glorious Cleveland Way. When I got near, it went off the path into the heather, moving but not hiding. I stood still as Joyce approached behind me. I got her attention and said, “hedgehog”. The little thing froze, right after I spoke, and stayed long enough for Joyce to see it — and then dove under the heather.
On the fourth day of our walk, as we followed the path along Ennerdale Water, we saw a lot of little black creatures among the ferns. Slugs, we would call them at home, but these were thinner, more like snails without shells. Lots of them. We saw more in the days to come. Now we’re thinking they might me the same as the leeches that the old man talked about gathering, in Wordsworth’s poem.
From our room in Stonethwaite I looked out at the sheep pen and saw something on the top of the stone wall, strikingly black and white, at rest but stirring. A cat, I thought at first, but then it flew. Strikingly black and white, like no bird I knew. The landlady kept a parrot in the house — was this another exotic bird, living in the yard? At breakfast I found somebody to ask. She told me it was a magpie. “They’re not nice. They’ll peck a sheep’s eyes out.” The same lady told me that you hardly see swallows in England any more. Those little ones flying outside were house martens, which travel up from Africa. Ever since then I’ve seen lots of birds I thing must be house martens. I don’t know.
On our seventh day, as we came into Patterdale, I saw a dead animal by the side of the road. An Englishman was walking with me at the time. “That’s a shame,” he said. “You don’t see many of them.” “Badger?” I asked, and he confirmed it. I had been pretty sure, though that’s another one I’d only known from pictures. Just like Mr. Badger in The Wind in the Willows, only dead. As big as ten possums, I’d say.
There have been some beautiful birds, that we can’t name, some in the trees and hedges and some in the grass and heather. These past few days, walking across the moors, we’ve seen a lot of grouse and other larger ones, some on the path ahead of us, some starting up out of the heather as we walk by.
A couple deer, different from the ones back home. A snail with a real shell, also different from the ones at home. And almost always, sheep, goats or cows.


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