Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Owed to Winged Rodents (September 14th, 2007)

In the Southern part of Texas we have a real ugly and invasive menace called the Asian Tiger Mosquito (imagine those plastic vampire fangs popular around Halloween time, painted black with white stripes, and equipped with wings ... you'll get the picture pretty easily).

They're real small but when they bite ... they're real BIG.

Austin has some means of defense against the little bast ... ahem ... buggers, chemical assault being the most common, but there's a far safer & effective 'method', too:

The Mexican free-tailed bat.

These excellent little winged-rodents 'congregate' under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Downtown Austin. Hundreds of people line the bridge every warm summer evening around dusk to see these critters explode into a spectacular flight en-masse as they go out defending the front lines against the Asian Tiger scourge.

Many of you may be squeamish about furry-fliers and slithery-slitherers. I, for one, am a big fan, having nothing but gratitude and admiration for them, and not just for their natural bug-eliminating service to the 'civilized' world either.

If there ever was a rodent one could effortlessly 'anthropomorphise' (nee 'Disney'...) it just might be the bat.

Let me explain.

My wife's family has a cabin on a small island up in the deep woods of Forest City, Maine. Every summer we go up there to 'suffer' the indignity of a cell-phone free environment, marshes-gone-wild with blueberry bushes, gentle wafts of pungent forest pine, the absolute brutal aural punishment by hordes of melodious morning song birds, oh, I could go on and on about the horrors we brave but I digress... (I won't even get into all the crazy loons up there!).

Two summers ago our good friends, Beth and Glenn, came up for a visit to stay for a few days and enjoy the Manly Island retreat (aka - 'Camp Snow'). One chilly morning, while waiting for coffee to brew and eggs to fry, we settled in by the fireplace (its hearth constructed from hand-crafted, kiln-fired bricks collected from a crumbling wood-pulping mill in the region long ago by Heather's great grand father).

High above in the lodge's rafters, we noticed a small *family* (note this 'foreshadow-y' word) of bats that had made its roost in a slender soffit-like area between the upper chimney and the roof. You could hear them all squeaking their jovial little chirps right before they were about to settle in, or when they were nearing their nightly rounds of 'skeeter' eating. Occasionally, you would even get 'punk'd' by one of their guano-gifts if you were within striking distance... one of the minor drawbacks, I suppose.

On this particular morning, while absorbing the fire's warmth and listening to our stomachs rumble, we were startled by a small 'thud' on the cement floor near the fireplace.

'Oh, look!' exclaimed Beth, 'It's a baby bat!'

Indeed it was. Tumbled from the community heights above. Pink. Fur-less. Floppy-winged, clumsy and blind. Very blind. As in 'no truly developed eyes yet'. It was so small, so helpless. Completely at the world's mercy. And, you know how that can go... And with all that lump-in-the-throat-inducing peeping sound it was making we just had to do something.

'Don't touch it, don't touch it.' I kept saying while grabbing some found piece of flat, wooden slat to gently scoop it up with, 'We'll put it up on the mantle away from the fire.' ... all the while thinking to myself 'but it will probably die.'

Oh, ye of little Faith.

We sat there watching the peeper's progress for a spell making sure it didn't fall back onto the hard floor when suddenly we heard several desperate sounding chirps from above us. Lo and behold not before long a small, brown mother bat was cautiously making her way down the chimney facade right towards her kin. The meticulous paw-by-paw pivoting motion that propelled her along made the leathery little creature look like a wind-up mechanical toy.

Every so often she'd stop momentarily on a seeming whim one suspect eye raised towards us. Move forward again. Stop. One quick-eyed glance up once more. Go. Stop. Sniff the air... go, and onward she went in this manner.

There was a constant chittering going on between the two during the descent, as well, punctuated by our own huddled crew's hushed imaginative commentary on how their back-and-forth bat banter might translate:

'Stellaaaa-Luuunaaa ... where are you!? Are you okay?'

'Yeah, over here.'

'What-in-the-belfry happened??'

'Uh, I fell...bat-go-boom.'

'Stay right there! Mummy's on her way! You sure you're all right now?!'

'Yeah, Ma, sheesh, I'm okay already! (And it was a helluva fall) Just come get me, though, huh? And, hurry before these dopey lookin' hairless bears eat me...'

The entire episode took about fifteen minutes to play itself out but in that space of time the mother bat made her way to the 'newbie', took it in her mouth by the scruff and hoisted, huffed and 'hurrumphed' her little package all the way back up the 2 story high chimney face and into the safety of the group's nest again.


We humans all sat there in a silent sort of awe and disbelief at what we just took in. But, really now, such a display of grace from one of the wee-smaller arena's of the animal kingdom? Nobility, sense of family, courage, love(?) whatever 'values' words you may want (or not) to apply to this little creature in its rescuing of her lost young.

Regardless, we were pretty stunned and, honestly, had been instilled with a new profound sense of respect for the common 'little brown bat'.

So, thanks, you 'winged-rodents' - and, to the rest of you in your various shapes and sizes - for the lesson in the great lengths you'll go for each other (be good by doing good, right?).

Now, about those Tiger Mosquitoes ... FLICK! ... Much better.

Happy New Year,


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