This Side Up

The bat came back


I didn’t need to open my eyes. I knew from the fluttering it was a bat.

Bats don’t swoosh, nor do they glide silently. And while fluttering conjures an image of butterflies, it fits their erratic flight. Better still, fluttering describes the noise of their wings, a beating of the air.

I knew it immediately, and I knew I would have to do something about it, but did it have to be now?

The red glow of the clock read 2:17. Against the gray wall and the lighter still night sky beyond the open windows, a black form wheeled and bobbed, the fluttering ebbing and flowing as it swooped closer to the bed and then soared to the ceiling.

Every summer, it seems, we get one or two bat visits. Our last must have been about a year ago. The fluttering that time didn’t awaken me. It was Binky who alerted us. For a big and fearless dog – his encounters with skunks and a porcupine attest to this – he was a wimp when it came to bats. It was a hot night, thick and sticky. We were asleep on top of the sheets when Binky climbed up and nuzzled himself between us.

Carol and I were annoyed, especially by the added heat of his body. I pushed at him, expecting he would slide off the bed and we could go back to sleep. He dug in his nails. He wasn’t going to retreat. Then I felt his quivering, heard his frantic panting. Something was wrong.

I didn’t have to wait long. The bat joined us. Binky buried his nose into my side in his effort to escape. There was no going back to sleep then. I would give a lot to have our timid bat sentinel still with us, but that sentinel lives only in memory. I would not have an ally this time, albeit a helpless one. And this time, Carol was in Dallas for a conference. Perhaps, I thought, if I just waited, the bat would find whatever tiny crevasse it used to enter and then leave. Then I could go back to sleep.

The fluttering subsided and then ceased. The bat had flown into the hall. I strained to hear the beating wings. The night was calm, with no sound except the lap of waves against the seawall. It was 2:40. Maybe sleep would come. It didn’t. I kept waiting for the bat to return. At 3:17, I heard the familiar sound; only it was distant. Could it be a bat outside? No such luck.

The bat was back. I knew what I had to do. My fishing net was just inside the closet, where I had left it after my last bat adventure. I went stalking. The bat was circling the TV room. I joined it, turned on the light and closed the door. For an instant I thought I got lucky. Amazingly, in a split second, it stopped flying and somehow was stuck to the wall. This would be easy. Slap the net against the wall and I would have him. It was small and looked vulnerable. I had it, but I didn’t.

As quickly as it had landed, it was airborne. Suddenly, it was more formidable. I pressed my back against the door, hoping it would land again. But no, the bat circled the room clockwise, dipping and swooping only inches off the floor then up to the ceiling. I imagined the “ping” of its sonar bouncing off furniture, bouncing off me, and marveled. I held the net at the level I thought he would make his next turn and swung – a miss. The bat picked up speed.

I was concerned. I wanted to be certain not to strike the bat with the frame of the net. That could kill or cripple it. Maybe if I could reach the window and open the top frame it would fly out. It was a tactic tried many years ago that succeeded in having a second bat fly in. Leaving the window open and closing the door was another option.

I tried a second, then third swing with the net, then waited. As if wound on a spring, the bat circled and circled. I raised the net and swung. It was a perfect catch.

I brought the net to the floor. The bat squeaked in protest. I slipped a piece of cardboard under the bat and the net and placed it on the porch roof, just outside the window. Then I turned the net over, offering the creature its freedom. Impossible. The wings were snagged in the net. Claws on the wings acted like barbs on a hook.

The bat wasn’t happy. Its white teeth were bared, gnawing at the net. I understand why such a small animal is fearsome. They don’t give up. But I couldn’t just leave it. I had to help. Using a butter knife gave me some distance but also allowed me to open the net’s webbing and gently push the wings free without cutting them. The bat kept biting and then somehow understood I was trying to help. Gripping the asphalt roof shingles, it pulled itself free and instantly disappeared into the night air.

It was gone as quickly as it had come. It was 3:40.

I went back to bed. The house was still, not a sound; no fluttering, but sleep still eluded me while, somewhere out there, a bat was hunting insects. It was free and I was happy, provided it stayed that way.


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