Wednesday, March 25, 2009
We have bats
"Are they playing basketball up there?" my wife asked as we both lay in the dark staring at the dim whiteness of the ceiling above.
"Could be hockey." I suggested as our eyes traced the pattering of what sounded like a small armored division of rodents.
"What was that?" she asked after a particularly active period.
"Mice." I said, trying to skillfully blend two parts outrage with a sufficient dollop of 'don't worry, Honey' nonchalance.
She would have none of it.
"Beavers!" she mocked, matching my previous tone exactly.
We bought the house eleven years ago. It was, and still is, charming. It looked like a house a child might draw: brick, two story, a little chimney with smoke whisping from some cozy fire within. It had been vacant for five years when we finally backed the U-Haul up to the front door and crammed the combined contents of our previous lives into the tiny house.
The battle with the mice was a long one and only now, more than a decade later, can I say that the humans have largely prevailed.
But that first night in the house gave us no hint of the guests the summer would bring.
That summer, we met the bats.
I am not kidding at all when I say that we probably had over a thousand of them living in hour house. IN our house.
They lived in the attic, of course, sliding between the roof slates to hang undisturbed through the heat of the day before heading out for a feast of fat, river valley bugs. They were undisturbed as long as nobody went up into the attic. When that happened, EVERYONE was disturbed. Like a Spielberg set, the entire attic ceiling would crawl with tiny bat bodies and leathery wings all scooching and skittering to find safety of a dark corner.
They lived in the walls, too, tussling and squabbling inches from your listening ear. Had I a shotgun, I am fairly sure I would have blasted at least one hole just trying to get at them.
It's not that I don't like bats. I really LIKE bats. I think they're cool but I didn't think their poop was all that cool. I didn't like the idea of it piling up inside my walls. And I was also convinced that a certain number were dying each year inside our walls and I didn't much like that, either. And, to make matters worse, bats would get lost in the catacombs of stud and lath and brick and emerge to flap around the house.
Ever wonder how to catch a bat?
It's really not that hard. Grab a towel and follow the bat closing doors behind you as you go. Once the bat is trapped in one room, it will begin to fly in regular circles about a foot or two from the ceiling. All you have to do is wait for the right moment to throw the towel in the air like a matador. The towel falls to the floor with the bat inside. Don't try to see if you caught it. Usually the squeaking chirps of the bat tell you where it is, anyway. Carefully, so as not to crush the bat or allow it to bite you, wrap up the whole bundle up and bring it outside for release.
No, it won't attack your hair.
Go ahead and take a look at the little guy if you want. They always look like miniature black dogs, to me.
Anway, we got rid of the bats, too.
We called Bat Man.
Really! He was in the phone book.
He came in a white pickup truck with pictures of bats all over the cap, talked a lot about everything BUT bats and left us with a bill for nine-hundred bucks.
"But the bats are back," I said the next spring after shooing another out of the house the night before during a dinner party.
"Are you sure?"
I did manage to contain my anger at this question but the rest of the summer was spent watching the bats, night after night, flying from every conceivable hole in the house and counting them.
Bat Man refused to come until the fall.
"They got families in there," he explained. "I'm not going to wall any bats in there. I'm not going to harm no bats."
The bats had won a reprieve on their eviction.
November came and there was no sign of the bats. Nor was there any sign of Bat Man. I called. My wife called. I called again and just when we considered our options concerning the nine-hundred dollars, Bat Man appeared as though nothing had happened.
He worked hard this time. The meager sun did little to warm the late fall air but he worked well into the afternoon plugging every crack I pointed out until finally he said, "You need a bat house!"
"They need a place to live," said Bat Man like a teenager explaining something totally beneath contempt to a nosy adult.
If you live in the Northeast, you probably have heard about the so-called "white-nose" syndrome afflicting little and big brown bats. It kills them. Some researchers are blaming spelunkers for bringing outside contaminants into the bats' winter residences, others are merely trowing up their hands and dutifully collecting bat tissue samples believing they will be extinct from North America within a decade. In New Hampshire, biologists were tearfully examining the frozen bodies of thousands of bats littering the snow around the mouth of their wintering cave. They could only guess as to why the bats had left the cave.
Perhaps they were starving?
Nobody knows, it seems.
So when I heard the bats, MY bats, chirping away in their little house on the side of mine, I gave a little cheer. One, because they are a sign of spring no less welcome than the peepers down in the marsh and, two, because I had worried about them. I had worried if MY bats were OK in whatever cave they go to for the winter.