Thursday, October 22, 2009

Batty night thoughts


I saw a bat last night against the dying of the light--a black dart, a zig, a zag, a fluttery flash. Not the owl's deadly glide or a hawk's pinpoint dive, a bat is quick and gone. I felt my breath catch and release, and thought: I saw a bat in the dying of the light.
I walk, most often alone, up a small mountain in my town. Perhaps I should be afraid of some things, but it won't be of bats. Why do bats have such fearsome reputations anyway? Is it our fear of darkness, of things we can't see in the full light of day? They fly at night and often live in caves. Eerie, enough. But does that make them Dracula?
I remember, as a child, being at a neighborhood gathering. It was held in some farm's outbuilding, not used much, I'm guessing. Suddenly, a bat was shooting from corner-to-corner like a pinball in an arcade game. The men dashed after it. The boys hollered. The girls and women covered their heads. Someone told me to do the same or it would get tangled in my hair. Why in the world would it want to do that?
I imagine that a goth girl might adore, not abhor, a bat hat--a swath of black net with a wing spread across her brow. These are the silly-crazy things I think at 2 a.m. when sleep won't bed with me, when the Sandman stands me up.
Poor misunderstood bats. We say people have gone batty or have bats in the belfry to mean they're nuts. Or we chide someone for being blind as a bat when, in fact, bats can see. They have eyes, noses, hands and feet. They also have echolocation, which is using sound waves and resulting echoes to find stuff--from them we learned to use sonar. Bats aren't flying mice like some people describe them. They are closely related to us, these tiny mammals.
Makes me itch all over to consider what would happen to us without them. About 70% of them eat insects, and the brown bat can consume 1,200 night-flying bugs, including mosquitoes, in one hour. At the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, you can watch 400,000 free-tail bats emerge at dusk like an endless black cloud, breaking apart and flapping away. It's not a sight you forget. Before they return at dawn, they will have snapped up tons of bugs. Tons, literally.
Other bats eat fruit and lap flower nectar. Some catch frogs and fish. And there really are vampire bats that suck blood from birds and beasts. Once again, I say, they are not so different from us. Perhaps that's what Dracula is really about.
Do you have a batty story, a tale of bat delight or dread?

26 comments:

beth said...

I don't really have a bat story--except for that time I hit one with my car, and it looked JUST LIKE the bat mobile logo on my crappy Kia--but I just wanted to pipe up and say that was beautifully written!

Solvang Sherrie said...

We have an outdoor theater here in Solvang and whenever we go to plays we see the bats swooping around the stage lights for their evening meal. I think they're such cool animals.

Suzanne Collins must like them too. She gave them a great role in the Gregor the Overlander books.

Rick Daley said...

No batty stories, but from the first line I had Rodney Dangerfield running through my head shouting Dylan Thomas...Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

ElanaJ said...

I did a cool thing with bats on my blog a few weeks ago. My husband's bat summary was hilarious, and somehow got turned into a "but" summary. LOL!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Beth: Thanks! *blush* Oh, yikes and eeew on dead bat hood ornaments.

Sherrie: Haven't been to Solvang in ages. Now I must come to this outdoor theater. Sounds great.

Rick: Ha! Haven't seen Dangerfield do Thomas' poem but I can sure picture it.

Elana: I remember that post. It was hilarious, or should I say your husband's handling of his typo and classroom was. For anyone who missed Elana's blog, go rectify.

Davin Malasarn said...

This was beautiful! I don't have much experience with bats, but I always feel very special when I catch sight of one. The first time I was close to a bat was in Thailand, when I looked out my hotel window and saw two of them hanging upside down on the ledge. :)

Lisa Schroeder said...

Our zoo has a bat exhibit. They are so fascinating to watch. I love watching them fly at night when we're camping. As long as they don't fly toooo low. :)

Tabitha Bird said...

I love bats. we live close to the coast of Australia and right on the flight path of feeding fruit bats. Most evenings a swarm will fly over head as they go out to feed for the night. I love it :)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I might be a bit twisted, but I think bats are cute. There is a bat exhibit in Animal Kingdom at Disney and I love watching them. Cute little furry buggers--literally. What's not to love?

Winter Hansen said...

Pippistrelle, fliedermaus, chauve-souris--I love bats! Thanks for the great tribute. Whenever I've come across them in my travels (or backyard) I feel like they are a lucky presence. I'll never forget seeing the cloud of bats at Carlsbad Caverns, or the single very squeaky and hard-working pippistrelle outside my hotel window on the island of Salina. They are amazing and misunderstood. National geographic has some great stuff on them: http://bit.ly/20ww4z

Suzyhayze said...

I love bats! A grotto in Jamaica... blue waters, impossible blue, and the ceiling of the cave covered in layers of bats.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Davin: I think that's magic to see them hanging upside from your hotel room window. Just banish all thoughts of Hitchcock.

Lisa: Sounds like you have communed at a reasonable distance, not a bad idea.

Tabitha: I can picture that perfectly.

Karen: They are cute. And, really, they can do what we wish--fly.

Winter: My goodness but you know your bats! I'm impressed.

Suzanne: Now there's a trip I'd love.

PJ Hoover said...

No batty story! But I did try to pick up a worm today and I just have a really hard time with it! It's the squirming...

MG Higgins said...

No up-close-and-personal bat stories. But the people who owned our house before us cleaned out the attic, which had a number of bats living in it. They installed a bat house on a tall pole in the backyard so the bats would have a new place to live, but apparently it takes a long time for bats to get used enough to a new home to call it their own. The bat house was empty and black and kind of creepy so we took it down.

(My word verification is scalped. Ouch.)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PJ: Worms are definitely a bit creepy and slimy, but don't bats eat worms?

Melissa: Wow. That's quite a story. A guess you can't coax a bat to a house. Please don't lose any hair over this ;)

storyqueen said...

I was in Austin one summer and saw what seemed like a million bats (actually, I think it WAS a million bats) taking off at sunset. For fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with bats as far as the eye could see.

Truly amazing.

Shelley

Bish Denham said...

I have a batty story! We once actually had a pet bat! A baby was found and given to my mother. We fed him milk through and eye-dropper. As he got older we fed him dead flies and tiny bits of hamburger. He got quite tame. On time my sister took him to school, he hung all day upside down on a chain hanging around her neck. He caused quite a stir.

Yvonne said...

When I was ten, my grandmother had a bat in her house. It was snuggled inside the lining of her drape and I remember her calm response upon making the discovery. While I was cringing in the far corner, horrified, she took the drape down and carefully folded it over and carried it outside, gave it a healthy shake and smiled at me. "See, Yvonne, that's all you have to do. They won't hurt you and they would rather be outside."

Linda Kage said...

You haven't been watching Batman lately, have you? Kidding.

But you pointed out some wonderful points and actually made them sound very beautiful. Poetic. "I saw a bat in the dying of the light."

If they really eat that many insects in an hour, they can come visit my house ANYTIME.

Thanks for your blog.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelley: Too cool. And you're right, it could have been a million. It's astounding how many live out of sight. When you are in the right place, right time, they seem endless.

Bish: That's an OMG-story!!! First, to feed and to tend to such a tiny, exotic pet, but then for your sister to wear it to school!!! Thanks for that one.

Yvonne: Wow. Your grandmother was in tune with nature, for sure. I love that she showed you how to be, too.

Linda: Ha! Put out the welcome sign--or one of those bat houses. Maybe you'll have guests.

Donna said...

Your beautiful post brought to mind two children's books from the 1990s that I love (and you may remember): the picture book STELLALUNA (Janell Cannon) about the lost baby fruit bat adopted by birds and THE BAT POET (Randall Jarrell, illus. Maurice Sendak) about a sensitive bat poet who stays awake to write about the day. (I think it's a cross-over, since it's about writing.)

In checking the authors, I found a handy web site for choosing books for kids on my Christmas list: www.goodreads.com

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: I never read The Bat Poet. I shall seek it out. Thanks!

Laura Canon said...

This post made me remember the first time I saw a bat. I was walking to kindergarten and it was on the ground near the school in the daytime, obviously sick or in trouble. I remember its mouth opening and closing. It was such an odd thing to see at that age and yet I don't remember being scared, perhaps because my big sister explained what it was.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laura: Interesting how you remember the detail of its mouth opening and closing. It made an impression that stuck with you.

Dave said...

At the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, you can watch 400,000 free-tail bats emerge at dusk like an endless black cloud ...

Tricia, thanks for that info. I have a scene in my fantasy novel that would be well informed by seeing what you have described happens in Carlsbad. I've been thinking of signing off my blog for good. Perhaps I will post on that decision. Somehow, running across unexpected connections like that makes me reconsider. At any rate, I will tuck Carlsbad away in my memory of places to see.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ack! Dave, don't leave the blogosphere! Maybe give yourself a break, if you must, but don't leave forever! Some people unplug one week a month.

You will love Carlsbad Caverns--although there are other caverns where multitudes of bats live, too. But these caverns are so big and just touring to see the giant stalactites and stalagmites is awesome.