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How the Birds helped the Hedgehog


The Creator was busy making animals out of clay, shaping them perfectly, one by one, and then breathing life into them so that they could run, swim or fly away.

When it came to Hedgehog’s turn, he was getting impatient and started wiggling around in God’s hands before he was quite ready. Like a forbearing mother, God sighed at the little creature’s impatience. But that was enough to give life to him and Hedgehog scuttled away without any outer covering except for his bare skin. Apart from looking very odd alongside all the feathered and furred companions of the woods, Hedgehog felt most uncomfortable. Bitten by mosquitoes, pricked by brambles and stung by nettles, he got sunburned on hot days and shivered in every breeze. This put him in a permanent bad temper and he grunted and groaned all day long, complaining to any animal he came across.

Next time the Creator visited this part of the world, it was to be met by a disgruntled reception committee. Somewhat startled not to receive the usual gratitude and praise, God instead had to listen to all their grievances about having Hedgehog as their neighbour. A remedy was needed, and the Creator generously decreed that Hedgehog could choose any covering from any of the animals in the forest, and it would be granted him. All were happy with this arrangement.

Hedgehog trotted off to view the options and make his decision. It was surprisingly difficult given the variety, and given how hard he was to please. There was something wrong with all the fur he saw: too heavy; too light; too warm; too sparse; too dull; too dark; too smooth; too rough and so it went on. As he scuttled alongside a stream, he thought for a moment of asking for fish scales as they gleamed so enticingly. However, he soon changed his mind when he remembered coming across a dead fish out of water and what it smelled like. Then Jay swooped across his path and Hedgehog stopped. Feathers – of course! Warm in winter, cool in summer, never too heavy, could be worn sleek or fluffy.

‘The perfect choice, Hedgehog, though I say it Myself,’ he could almost hear the Creator whispering.

Was it a prayer, was it a wish? He was just about to voice his decision when he paused. Colourful though Jay was, there were other birds who were more so. How to choose, whom to choose? But did he have to? ‘Any covering from any of the animals …’ was what had been said. Maybe he could get away with requesting the most colourful feathers from all of the most colourful birds. It was worth a try. He clasped his little scrabbling paws together (that was the praying bit), screwed his little piggy eyes tight shut (that was the wishing bit) and squeaked what he wanted.

There was a whirring and a rustling and when he opened his eyes he was surrounded by the brightest of the birds, each with colourful feathers in their beaks. Blue Tit stabbed him with blue and yellow feathers, Woodpecker with green and red, Woodpigeon with iridescent mauve, Kingfisher with turquoise and orange, and so it went on. Yes, it pierced and pricked, like being stuck in a bramble patch, but it was worth it. When all their offerings had been made, Hedgehog was the most glorious fluffy ball of brilliant colours. All breathed a sigh of relief.

But not for long. Hedgehog’s behaviour did not improve and he was even harder to live with than before. Now that he was the most beautiful animal in the forest, he expected special treatment, even demanding that others fetch and carry for him. All the birds who had given him feathers were furious. The Creator could hear the next reception committee long before he could see it, loud as it was with its cacophony of indignant squaws and screeches. Promising to do something soon, Divine Power hastened the approach of autumn.

Like many in the forest, Hedgehog made ready for his hibernation. This time, however, he evicted an entire family of rabbits from their burrow and bullied another family of squirrels into filling it with the softest and driest of fallen leaves. As he slept that long winter sleep, he had a most uncomfortable dream in which he was being turned inside out. It was the kind of unpleasant dream from which one tries to awaken oneself, but as hibernation lasts for months, he was unable to.

At last spring came and Hedgehog scuttled off to find his first breakfast of the year. He spied a curious animal in a puddle that lay across his path.

‘If I looked as strange as you, I would stay at home until dark. And exactly how long are you going to keep me standing here before you move out of my way?’

But the creature didn’t move out of the way because it was his own reflection. It was like a bad dream come true. It was a bad dream come true. Hedgehog had been turned inside out and the glorious coloured feathers were now on the inside with their quills on the outside. That is why when we see Hedgehog today we see him covered in spikes, and with those feathers on the inside, tickling him wherever he goes, he scuttles around even faster than before.

Extracted from Animal Folk Tales by Sharon Jacksties

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