Hanging around with a bat

Yesterday I read a story about a real “bat out of hell”. The creature terrorized Patti Digh for three days before she could get it out of her house. She kept having to dive under an ironing board when it swooped down on her.

Her story got me to thinking about bats and how we talked about them when I was growing up in Idaho. We believed they would grab our hair in the dark, sink fangs into our necks, suck our blood, and infect us with rabies.

We had sayings that betrayed our sentiments toward them: “Driving like a bat out of hell.” “She has bats in her belfry.” “He’s slightly batty.” “She’s blind as a bat.”

This photo of a brown bat was taken by Marc Carlson on July 20, 2009 in Kendall-whittier, Tulsa, OK, US, using a Sony DSLR-A350.

Then one day I saw an astonishing display at the Smithsonian. It made me re-think bats. I was between university years, living with a friend in Washington, D.C., doing office work for the U.S. Treasury. One Saturday I wandered through the halls of the Natural History Museum and stood dumbstruck before dozens of bat skulls, each different from its neighbor.

The accompanying text taught me what I had missed learning: how much we owe these little flying creatures. I don’t remember what was written there, but according to Pest Control Canada’s Web site, the common brown bats “eat up to half their weight every night in moths, mosquitoes, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and flies. A single little brown bat may catch up to 600 insects an hour.” That day I stopped fearing and began admiring bats.

Years after the light-bulb moment in the Smithsonian, a circuitous life path plopped me down on a small farm in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. My office was in an upstairs bedroom that looked out over the fields, to the distinctive shape of Mount Tzouhalem. An old double-hung window could be pushed down from the top, bringing cool air into the room without chilling my typing fingers.

Early mornings were my most productive time, before feeding livestock, weeding the garden, or watering the pigs. One morning a bat flew in through the open window. He navigated over the desk, around the book shelves, and into the closet where I stored office supplies.

There he stayed. Curious about what he was doing in the closet, I tiptoed over to the door. The bat hung quietly, wings tightly folded, in the darkest corner.

After breakfast, I did my round of chores, then returned to the computer. Before settling in, I checked the closet. The bat was still hanging there.

In the evening, as the sun was setting, the bat emerged from his closet cave and flew out the window. I checked the closet—no bat droppings.

Next morning the bat returned again. This time he flew directly over my head and right into the closet.

I was surprised by the solitary nature of this little visitor. Maybe he didn’t get along with his bat brothers. Whatever the case, I found odd comfort in his daily return, especially since he never defecated in my closet. I’ve been told that’s not possible, that bats always pile up the guano wherever they roost. This one didn’t, or he’d have quickly made himself Myotis non grata.

A month passed before my husband discovered my little companion. I can’t remember now if I finally confessed I had a visitor or if he discovered my friend while looking for office supplies. I do remember that warnings of fleas, rabies, and soiled supplies ensued. So did a closed window.

I’d known all along this little guy’s sojourn in my closet couldn’t last, but I suffered guilt pangs until he stopped trying to claw his way into the window. I’d been enjoying the little creature’s quiet presence in my life.

Remembering the bat visitor now, I wonder how many of our fears are like this small winged insect eater. Our imaginations turn them into frightening, blood-sucking monsters. We miss out on a lot of opportunities and adventures rather than examine the fears closely enough to see if they might be small bats offering us something beneficial.

Maybe we just need to be curious enough to let them fly around us and settle into our lives. Surely some of them are bringing us gifts, and I don’t mean guano.

Patti Digh’s bat story can be found in her delicious new book, Creative Is a Verb: If You’re Alive, You’re Creative

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4 comments for “Hanging around with a bat

  1. sharon
    November 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Cathryn:
    As a bat-bite survivor, I read with great interest the merits of bats and your special relationship with the brown little fellow. It gave me a different perspective on what bats are all about and perhaps even diminished my fear of them. Thanks for the insight.

  2. November 24, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    If I’d been bitten instead of visited, I might feel differently. 😉

  3. November 26, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Some movie directors understand that it is often better to let the viewer imagine the horror scene. Often the fear factor surpasses anything that could be depicted on screen.

    We’ve been gifted with a wonderful imagination that can keep us grounded or allow us to soar. It’s important to learn that in keeping out the bad stuff, we inadvertently lock out the good.

    Your bat story is a perfect analogy for this. Thanks for sharing, Cathryn.

    This story is also a beautiful lesson in trust and what happens when a creature feels safe in the presence of another.

  4. December 8, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I just re-read your extraordinary observations. I’m grateful for your insight and clarity.

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