Thursday, March 10, 2011

The bat caves

On the forested and sparsely inhabited backside of the island are two caves a local led me to many years ago. As far as I know, the only people who have since visited are people I have brought there, including, at one time or the other, all of my grandchildren. Was there last week with Kate and Charlotte, and their dad who took the pics.

The caves are something right out of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn: tiny entrances you must crawl through that open out into spacious caverns. And bats! Large colonies of bats hanging from the ceilings. When we enter with our lights they flit and swarm.

Bats (so the story goes) get tangled in your hair. Bats carry rabies. Bats are flying rats. Bats suck your blood.

Nobody likes a bat, and that's that.

Alas, the good name of bats is besmirched by superstition. Our antipathy toward these furry flying mammals has little foundation in scientific fact and hastens their demise. The needless destruction of roost sites, pesticides, and a declining food supply (mostly insects) are important factors in the plight of bats. But the biggest obstacle facing bat conservationists is bad press. Whales, bluebirds, and baby seals are loved by one and all, but nobody likes a bat.

Why not? The poet Ruth Pitter picked up a tiny bat dragged in by the cat and found it "warm as milk, clean as a flower, smooth as silk." I once held an orphaned bat in my hand: an adorable furry mouse with wings. And to one and all who dislike bats I recommend the poet Randall Jarrell's delightful children's book The Bat-Poet. Who can read lines like the following and still find nothing to like about bats:
A bat is born
Naked and blind and pale,
His mother makes a pocket of her tail
And catches him. He clings to her long fur
By his thumbs and toes and teeth.
And the mother dances through the night
Doubling and looping, soaring, somersaulting --
Her baby hangs on underneath.