Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Of Nighttime Spectacles and Superheroes

e were disappointed to miss the Perseids meteor shower the other night—too much moon and ambient light. But we were treated to a wondrous show of flight much closer to Earth.

Bats. As we stepped outside to see a visiting neighbor home, dozens of what looked to be Little Brown Bats streamed above us—across our lawn toward the thick of trees up the street. We followed the oncoming stream to see where they were coming from.

We easily discovered their roost, which I’d prefer to keep mum about. I’ve already told you what folks do to plants around here. Who knows what they’d do to bats.

Bats are my superheroes in my personal war against biting bugs (Little Brown Bats can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour), plus they’re serious pollinators of flowers. I don’t know much about the flying mammals, but I have fond memories of a few.

When I was a youngster, the very words poison ivy would pock my flesh. One summer I suffered a particularly severe bout of the stuff, my fingers so blistered they wouldn’t close. My mother kept vigilant over my attempts to ameliorate my condition and hardly let me travel beyond her eagle glare.

However, in a rare lapse of her monitoring, I slipped outside one evening. As I stood near our pool, watching reflections in the ripples of water I’d not been permitted to enjoy all summer, something darted through the air. Then another something, and another after that. Then one flew so close I could see ribbons of color swirling through the membrane of its wings.

My father explained that these were bats, visiting us for a sip from the pool and dining on the insects that gathered near it. I was fascinated and held out my hand to … what? I don’t remember. Maybe I was hoping a bat would perch on my arm like a canary. Instead, a bat flew directly at my hand, slicing through one of the enormous poison ivy blisters. Ah, what relief! I could finally close two of my fingers. I watched the bat as s/he continued snacking on bugs and thanked him/her for the special favor s/he’d granted me.

When I returned to the house, my mother scolded me for breaking the blister. I told her I didn’t do it—the bat did. At first she didn’t believe me. Then, on the outside chance I was telling the truth, she lectured me about palling around with dirty, dangerous animals. But she couldn’t break the spell the bat had cast over me. The bond was set.

Last night my husband and I discussed our evening plans. We could drive across town to hear a free bluegrass concert. Or we could stay home, our carbon footprint uncompromised, and watch the bats begin their nightly patrol.

We chose the latter, naturally, and enjoyed every minute of the winged performance.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

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