Today’s Country Diary in The Guardian is an outstanding one, and reminded me of the time over a quarter of a century ago when myself and Rita were walking along a woodland trail near Clun in the early evening. Suddenly we heard a ponderous crashing and out of the undergrowth plodded a badger; it crossed the path oblivious to us, the only time before or since that we have had the privilege of seeing one, let alone so close.
Our usual routine while watching this badger’s sett is to sit on the hillside opposite, about 30m from the action. However, we agreed, by various silent gestures, to attempt to get closer. A breeze was blowing straight across the sett and down the line of an adjacent wall. So, screened by this, we crept upwind and stopped eventually, incredulous that the badgers still couldn’t see us. In fact, one proceeded down the wall almost underneath us and so close that we could detect the red clay smudges in his white blaze and the sharp inward breath as he paused to snout and grub for worms. We waited as he walked away and knew at some point that the angle of the wind would bring a badger’s super-sense into play. Who knows what microscopic part of vaporised human fatty acid carried from us to him, but sure enough he came dashing back to the sett still oblivious of our exact location, but absolutely certain that he smelt the presence of danger.
We assumed this comic moment was all we’d see of them, but his partner had remained grooming at the sett. Her untroubled demeanour must have reassured him because, as we casually passed their location, we suddenly realised they were still there. Separated by just three metres of April gloom, we watched this badger pair enfolded as a warm, supple ball of pied stripes, he scratching and nibbling her flea-tormented pelt as passionately as she herself. She reclined, her stub tail standing proud like a shaving brush, while he nuzzled her sexual parts and all around her swollen teats.
So much intimacy at such close range brought its own peculiar kind of tension. It was a glorious privilege but mingled with an uneasy feeling of deception. Had they not finally sensed that their mutual affection was not as private as it ought to have been, I think we would probably have whispered across, species to species, to resume more normal relations.
The Guardian, Monday 20 April 2009