Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Pre-Halloween Visitor Comes A-Calling

Our downstairs neighbor asked for our help yesterday. A bat was clinging to the inside of her back screen door and hissed at her whenever she tried to open it.

Sounded like a rescue mission to me; my neighbor obviously saw it as pest eradication.

When I was a kid, bats came to our yard like clockwork every evening. We had a swimming pool and lots of trees, which meant we attracted a lot of mosquitoes and other great flying appetizers that bats crave. As the bats' choreographed hunt unfolded in the air, a keen eye could observe the iridescent threads of color in their wings. My favorite moment with the bats of my childhood was when one swooped toward me, hit my hand, and swooped away. It was the closest I'd gotten to a bat until about 13 years ago.

At the time, we had three cats. The eldest had been known to catch bats as gifts for my husband-to-be, but those years of agility were long past her. Any hunting prowess was left to the younger cats, whose idea of hunting went something like this:
1) Notice a scary thing (bug, mouse, bird, bat).
2) Run to a person and get their attention (mew, cry, paw at them, herd them).
3) Lead them to the scary thing (this may take a lot of running back and forth between the person and the scary thing to get the point across).
4) Laud it over the scary thing that it's about to become history.

One night, the younger cats initiated the hunting routine. Turns out a tiny baby bat was clinging to our decorative fireplace. So we sequestered the felines in a bedroom and my husband-to-be rigged a blanket tunnel and lighting system from the front of our apartment out to the open back door. The baby flew away, the cats checked to make sure it was "history," and our little world shifted back into place.

Yesterday's operation promised to be simpler. The bat was already outside. We just needed to encourage it to rest elsewhere.

Of course, I've met with enough of life's challenges to know that nothing is ever simple. At least, I SHOULD have known.

I tried to get the bat to hop onto my broom. (I know: Halloween symbolism everywhere.) Nothing doing. Then I tapped the screen with the broom, hoping to rouse him (or her—I've no idea). I did, but not to budge; only to hiss.

Then my husband joined me. He handled the broom duties while I held the door open. After much nudging and coaxing on our part, and hissing, chattering, buzzing, and clucking on the bat's part, it fell to the ground—on its back. Every time my husband righted it, it did a backward somersault and flopped onto its back, wings spread wide, and its tiny mouth opening and closing like a baby bird waiting for chow. I wanted to cry.

I went back into our apartment to find a box. My husband slid the bat inside and then we disagreed about where to put it.

Our neighbor asked, "You're going to put it in the Dumpster, aren't you?"

"No," I cried. "I'm not sure where we'll put him, but it most assuredly won't be in the trash."

I wanted to take the bat to the park, but my husband worried that the bat could meet some unknown trauma there. So the box was placed in our gangway, with an opening for the bat to escape once it recovered.

And it did. Happy ending.

Our neighbor is moving out of the building after living here for some 20 years. She bought a house because "living here isn't the same now that Mr. Sandin is gone."

She's right. Our previous landlord lived in the building, too, and made it clear that we were like family to him. A bad heart took him early from the Earth and our sense of community has never recovered.

But it occurred to me this morning that as Mr. Sandin's birthday approaches (Halloween), and as my neighbor prepares to move, perhaps our little winged visitor was Mr. Sandin incarnate—reminding us to keep his memory alive wherever life leads us from here.

It's the story I'm sticking with. But don't worry, Mr. Sandin. As much as I enjoyed yesterday's bat escapade, I don't need a reminder to think about you. You're always in my heart.

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