It’s an ill wind that blows no good . . . . On Saturday night, Alfred and I realized we’d rented out every single sleeping space at Rilindja AND at the house. In a possibly mis-placed fit of fellow-feeling, I’d even promised our tent to a lovely young man from Tirana, who’d been trying to make it to the mountains for 2 years and FINALLY arrived to “no room at the inn.” Alfred — in a familiar theme — was once again laid low with toothache, and a sighed to myself as I spread a bright blue tarp over the least-rocky patch of ground behind the hotel, under the distracting camoflague of the laundry line and behind a rickety bench-of-better-times. On top of the tarp went two foam matresses, and an odd assortment of blankets and pillows. I parked Alfred in the nest, noted his immediate descent into unconsciousness, and crawled in next to him.
Strangely, it was the starry-starriest night I’ve noticed in a long time. I can rarely find my glasses, so stars-gazing (and bird watching) are infrequent pleasures for me. But I remember thinking happily that I wouldn’t have seen THIS from the double room, as I lay there gazing up, and that while it might be a little sad to be sleeping in a lot of scrub next to the small pile of rubbish to be burnt with someone’s pant-legs hanging over my face and prey to this summer’s invasion of tiny stinging invisible bugs . . . . (okay okay – Valbona is always beautiful, and it wasn’t actually bad at all, but this is the way one thinks after realizing one hasn’t got a bed of one’s own!) . . . . at least I got to see the stars . . . . and then I fell asleep.
And THEN I woke up! It was 3 am, the stars were far away, and a sort of wuffling, snuffling, gently crackling noise was migrating past my head. From the depths of my sleep-soaked brain emerged the only sensible thought: “HEDGEHOGS!” I sat up, fished around for the flashlight, and operating sheerly on instict instantly trained the beam precisely on . . . . . BABY!
Those of you who visited last year will remember the two hedgehogs we raised, after their giddy young mother left them in our office. Fatty demanded to be let out last October, to find his own place to pass the winter, but young Baby, always the more social and physically timid of the two stuck to the office. Following helpful instructions from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, I built her an insulated hedgehog house which we installed on our front porch, and popped her (and her whole nest) inside to sleep out the winter. I spent the winter fretting — was it too hot, not warm enough? How can you tell the difference between a dead hedgehog and one that is merely sleeping, without waking it up – and thus probably killing it? In March, when there was still snow on the ground, Alfred came home one night to tell me “The Hedgehog is awake!” Five months later she had woken up, looking a little bemused but happy to see me (a happy hedgehog makes a sort of chuckling noise, if you didn’t know). After a little cuddle she waddled back to the house and crawled up the tube to get back inside, back to the business of sleeping. One week later, when I peered inside, she was gone.
When people here ask after the hedgehogs (which they do, they think it’s hilarious that we had them as pets), I tell them stoically that they’ve gone to find their “Vendin e vet” – their ‘place of their own.’ Still, of course, one worries.
At 3 o’clock in the morning I picked up Baby, noticed she’s mostly the same – still quite small, and now smells really really bad (she’s clearly been “annointing” which is something peculiar hedgehogs do, and which you can read more about on the BHPS website!). She went through the motions of curling into a half-hearted ball, did the obligatory hissing as I put her on my lap, and then chuckled too – she uncurled a little, sniffed my fingers and peered up at me. I thought about waking up Alfred – but a smelly little hedgehog is probably not what you want waved under your nose at 3 a.m. when you have the toothache. So instead I tickled her spines a bit, and then watched as she waddled away, returning to her hedgehog life in the wild wild realms of Rilindja’s back yard. Sigh.