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After Work: Close Encounters Of The Winged Kind

…Late one spring evening, while I was reading away in my dormitory room, I was startled by unearthly shrieks of terror. I though maybe a panty raid was on. Or, rather I hoped.

Instead of an invasion of frat boys whooping for undies, it was Bertha, the big momma of all us girls. A bat was flying from one end of the hall to the next…

The indomitable Dona Gibbs tells of encounters with Dracula look-alikes.

To read more of Dona’s spirited columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

An autumn storm is moving through. The wind is screeching around the corners of the apartment building where I sit, cupping my hand around a mug of strong coffee, preparing to write.

There’s something about the howl of the wind and the gloom of the day that triggers a little shiver of dread.

And so my thoughts turn to bats.

That’s right. Bats. They’re mysterious creatures of the night. They conjure up dark thoughts of the supernatural.

Turns out, bats don’t deserve the bad rap that folklore has hung on them. They’re beneficial, eating insects, pollinating and dispersing seed. There are about 4,000 species of mammals. Of these one-quarter are bats. The scientists that study them call them the “keystone” species. In a recent New York Academy of Scientists podcast, Paul Kiem warned ominously, “If we lose the bats, we lose the earth.”

I try my darnedest to remember that whenever I encounter one of these fascinating mammals.

As a child growing up in the rural Piedmont area of North Carolina, bats swooped and darted while we sprawled in lawn chairs, enjoying an after dinner iced tea. They seemed to dive perilously close to my head. I shrieked and ducked.

“Oh hush, you’re scaring the poor things half to death,” my mother, who with the exception of most of humankind, loved all nature’s creatures, great and small.

And for the hundredth time, she explained that bats had very sophisticated built-in navigation systems. There was no way they were going to get tangled in my hair, as so many “ignorant people thought’’.

Thus, armed with that and other mother-imparted knowledge about the natural world, I went away to college.

Late one spring evening, while I was reading away in my dormitory room, I was startled by unearthly shrieks of terror. I though maybe a panty raid was on. Or, rather I hoped.

Instead of an invasion of frat boys whooping for undies, it was Bertha, the big momma of all us girls. A bat was flying from one end of the hall to the next.

“Oh Lordy, here he comes again,” she yelled at each pass. All two hundred-fifty pounds of her managed to squat and then spring back to standing with an agility that would have served the UNC Tar Heel football team well.

She flung her broom uselessly to one side.

“It’s just a bat,” I yelped.

Her eyes were wide. To her, there was no such thing as “just a bat.”

I, being my mother’s daughter, ran and opened the windows at either end of the hall.

And my mother’s daughter yelled at Bertha, “Oh hush, you’re scaring the poor thing half to death.” Now that was scary.

The bat found the open window and flew off to safety. He/she probably needed a couple of extra rations of insects that night. They consume a thousand insects an hour, scientists say.

Years passed, and no bat encounters. Then we moved to the suburbs where both humans and bats find the conditions perfect for raising families,

Early evening I walked through the living room, tidying up before Ever-Enthusiastic Husband made his way back from a day of lawyering. There in the middle of the oriental carpet was a small black sock. With a four-year-old son I expected to find all kind of things -- puzzle pieces, blocks, a tiny police car -- but finding a sock? It just wasn’t like him.

I reached down to scoop it up and it hopped. So did I - but much, much higher.

It was a bat. I got a scrub bucket and put it upside down over the bat. I thought it would be amusing for Ever-Enthusiastic Husband. Plus he could help send the bat on its way to the comfort of the outdoors.

“What’s that?” he said, booming in the door.

“A bat,” I answered smugly.

“Well, get it out of here,” he clumped up the stairs.

So I did. With a piece of cardboard slid under the bucket and bat, and a fire shovel, just in case.

Decades past. We came back from a summer weekend.

“Dona,” Ever-Enthusiastic Husband yelled, not too enthusiastically. “There’s a huge moth flying around the bedroom.”

“That’s not a moth,” I said appraising the situation. “That’s a bat.”

He rummaged around a closet and came up swinging a tennis racket. The focused look of a hunter gleamed in his eyes. The bat dove and swooped, acting, well, batty. And so did Ever-Enthusiastic Husband.

And once again my mother’s voice spewed forth, “Oh you’ll scare the poor thing half to death.”

Huffing and puffing, Ever-Enthusiastic Husband stopped and glared at me. “Well, what are you going to do?’’ he grumped.

I laid out my plan. We’d open the windows, turn off the lights and hope the bat would find its way outside.

A few minutes later, I went to check. I carefully tiptoed around the room, smiling to myself. Ah, no bat.

I gently lifted back the curtains and there it was, hung upside down. It was panting in exhaustion. Its little demonic face looked at me in horror, as if to say, “Oh no, here we go again.’’

We slept in a guest room that night. The bat got the master suite.

In the morning it was gone. I couldn’t suppress the thought of Dracula, fleeing the morning light.

I read that in the UK it’s against the law for a non-professional to catch a bat. For good reason. There’s a possibility of snaring a rabies-infected one.

And, come to think of it, it’s good for the bat. Better than an amateur “scaring the poor thing half to death.”


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