It may be due to
the very late spring that hundreds of snails were wandering in my garden. Even
now, after an unusual summer outburst of rain on the island, you can see them
swarming slowly in all directions. When you pick something up from a dark
corner in the garden, an entire family, trying to survive the dry spell, may be
glued to it.
In one way or
another the garden survived the plague and now it is time to enjoy the sight of
another animal that, in far smaller numbers than snails, roams around the
house: the hedgehog. These creatures are the opposite of a disaster for your
garden: they eat worms, spiders, sometimes snakes and snails; unfortunately,
only the small ones, not the big ones that I suspect can eat an entire rosebush
in one day.
Probably not many
people will associate Greece with hedgehogs. In Greek mythology its name barely
appears. Although Aristotle did remark that this animal mated standing up.
Pliny the Elder also unjustly noted a fact: hedgehogs were fruit thieves!
According to this Roman philosopher they climbed apple trees and vines, shook
the branches and then rolled with their spines in the fallen fruit in order to
transport the fruit on their back to their winter domiciles.
the reputation of the hedgehog was still not really good: they were suspected
of being milk and egg thieves: it was believed that they drank milk straight
from the udder of a cow and stole the eggs from the chickens. Even Shakespeare
never appreciated how clever and helpful hedgehogs could be: he thought that
these spiny creatures were messengers of bad news. Over the centuries in England
hedgehogs were seen as harmful animals and there was a period when there was a
bounty for each killed hedgehog.
But there were
also countries in ancient times that saw hedgehogs as useful. In ancient China,
hedgehogs were even sacred and in ancient Sumeria hedgehogs were a symbol of
the goddess Ishtar (who had the Greek name Astarte), in her guise of Mother
Earth (this goddess had many magic appearances). In Egypt hedgehogs were a
symbol of reincarnation, probably due to their winter hibernation.
The poor hedgehog
has to lug around some eight thousand spines; the clever Romans saw commercial
use in them and used them to teasel wool. They even used the skin to make
reputation of a hedgehog has been cleared: it is a helpmate in the garden and
you can even use him indoors to chase mice and cockroaches (that is, if you are
a sound sleeper, because hedgehogs in the garden constantly grub about in the
earth between swishing dead leaves but inside are also pretty rowdy).
These shambling hedgehogs
with their pointed snouts and little black eyes look so sweet and they have few
natural enemies: most animals have no idea how to tackle those eight thousand
spines. The biggest enemy of a hedgehog is a human being. Not that we know how
to crack their spiny shield, but our cars and reapers in the fields know how.
In earlier times hedgehogs were collected (and I am not referring here to the
hedgehog-witch-hunts in England), in order to cook them. The best known recipe
for hedgehog is to put it in a ball of clay, roast the ball slowly on hot coals
and when the ball is opened, the spines will remain stuck in the clay; the
result being a delicate and tasty piece of meat.
this part is not suited for sensitive animal lovers without a sense of humour!)
the United States, England and Australia animals that get killed on the road
may get eaten. There even are so-called Roadkill restaurants where you may be
served kangaroo, deer, possum, emu and all kinds of other wild animals. I guess
nobody would dare to open such a Roadkill restaurant on Lesvos. Then the menu
could be similar to this satirical menu of a virtual
Roadkill café that I found on the internet.
in a clay ball seems to involve a pretty long wait, so that is not convenient.
Neither could I find mention of Hedgehog spaghetti
carbonara. Although there were plenty of other dishes that
would be suitable for the menu of a Roadkill restaurant on Lesvos, that could
include tortoise, frog, snake, squirrel, fox, dog and cat, the animals that
commonly get killed here on the roads. Missing were locusts – but I guess they
are unlikely to be squished with a car – and smashed snails don't seem
appetising to me because their gunk will be full of tar.
field in front of my house was mowed and in the evening it was remarkably quiet
around the house: no grunting or rustling amongst the leaves on the ground. I
didn't go into the field to look for the humming hedgehog or the hedgehog with
the white belly. I could never eat a torn apart nor an entire hedgehog, for
that matter! I do hope that the hedgehogs simply got such a fright from the
roaring mowing machine that it will just take some days before they reappear
again and come to beg for the remains of the dinner for my spoiled cats.