|a quick rendering of last night's adventure [dramatisation]|
Returning home after dark last evening, I was proceeding unhurriedly along a narrow farm lane when, in the far-reaching glow of my light beam, I noticed a gray furry thing emerge from behind the row of hedges at the left and make its way toward the field on the right. A split second later, I saw the unmistakable striped, elongated profile. It was none other than a badger!
Being a fairly optimistic person, I was hopeful of an ideal outcome to the situation: that by the time I reached the critter, it would have already completed its journey. But having sensed my approach the poor fellow froze smack in the center of the lane and just stood there, crouching low to the ground, its short paws and hefty torso vibrating with tense indecision.
I slowed down dramatically and hovered a short distance away, trying to swiftly decide on a course of action. While I am no connoisseur of country life, I know enough to know that badgers can, in some cases, attack humans and do serious damage with their ultra sharp teeth and claws. Luckily, my ensemble that evening included knee-high wellies. I could attempt to quickly pass the badger, and if it went for my ankle the boots would protect me while I flung it off. The only question was... were badgers able to jump? Surely not, as their paws are so pathetically tiny. But what if I were mistaken, and the thing were to leap for my throat?.. I gulped uncomfortably at the possibility of such a scenario.
Just then, the creature - which until now had stood with its backside toward me - turned its head so as to gaze at me over its shoulder. Its expression was surprisingly lacking in hostility and could almost be described as coy. As in "I won't if you won't, eh?" In any case, in that moment when we met each other's gaze it was as if an unspoken understanding was reached. Time unfroze and the badger proceeded across the lane, disappearing once again into the hedges to conduct important business in the field on the righthand side. And I, in turn, proceeded onward toward my house some quarter of a mile away. We parted like ships in the night.
Having reviewed the incident some time later - in the safety of my home and with a drink in hand - I concluded that I felt pretty good about how the face-to-face with the badger went down. Truth told, I had even begun to miss its cute little face and regret we couldn't have become friends. However, when I shared the story with a couple of locals, I was given to understand that I was lucky to have escaped with my life. The words "vicious," "relentless" and "torn limbs" were bandied about, followed by stern advice to never walk or cycle after dark in parts where badgers are known to reside (which would be everywhere around here, pretty much).
Considering that people here have a talent for winding one up ("out of badness") while appearing utterly sincere, I will take these ominous warnings with a grain of salt. But it did get me thinking: What protective measures can a cyclist take against nocturnal critters? Not just badgers, but bats, foxes, and whatever else lurks in your neck of the woods? As much I love Wellington boots, they would not be my choice on a long distance overnight ride or a brevet. If you've ever had a nocturnal critter encounter, do share your story!