There is wind in the trees; thick new leaves rustle in synchrony. A crow clucks and crackles, settling down for the night. Light dims, the air is fresh and damp. A young boy, feeling cold, jams himself into an inside-out knitted jumper and pulls on his bobble hat. He scuffs his feet before settling back down to wait on the earth bank. In the distance there is a swirl of bluebell, in the foreground, bare earth. For a long time, the arboreal symphony is all that is heard.
A robin hops into view, does a quick inspection, then flies away only to be replaced by a fierce little wren. The peace is broken by a torrent of tiny abuse, then the wren too, flies on. The scene is empty. And then, with no apparent movement, the badger is there. Her broad face remains motionless for endless seconds, stripes bright against the sett entrance. Then, absolutely silently and with perfect smoothness of movement, she withdraws from view. Minutes pass. The little boy shuffles and wonders if that’s it for the night. It isn’t. After a few minutes, the badger’s face rises, silently again, from the sett. This time, her head jerks up again and again, smelling the air. Gradually, she moves out of the sett, tentative, stopping to sniff, cautious. Then her stealth is exploded as two cubs barrel up out of the set, screeching to a halt next to her. In comparison they are small; fluffy cannon balls with pristine grey backs and perfectly striped faces.
Still alert, the adult badger looks round while being bombard by two cubs; she relents and plays a spot of rough-and-tumble with them before settling down to groom. The little ones begin to explore; they are so small that they disappear in the ransoms’ on the bank. The boy follows their progress by tracking the nodding procession of displaced flower heads. The young badgers appear momentarily in clear patches and it is hard to keep track; surely there are three little ones now. Another adult rises out of a sett in the background. She runs along the bank, disappearing down another sett entrance, and when the boy looks back, there are four little ones playing. Another appears, then the second adult comes back up. Fresh slate and dirty grey backs come together into a huge badger ball as more baby badgers appear. Cubs wind round the adults, tumbling and twisting; the sound of badger whickering drifts on the breeze. Then the ball detonates; cubs shoot off in all directions, some to tumble with each other, some to investigate alone – exuberance becomes industry.
The little boy yawns as he begins to hear the sound of raindrops tumbling through leaves; a fat wet drip lands on his cheek. He reaches his hand out to mine and we sleepily head for home through the smell of damp dust.