Bat Attack

I know, we are supposed to treasure our fellow creatures on this steadily shrinking planet. But there are limits. My limits start with bats. Pipistrelle from French or Italian; ours are probably myotis. From our first year in this tall old house, we have had bats in the attic. The heavily taped tiny attic door at the top of the third-floor stairs attests to my first attempts to keep them between the walls. Yesterday once again I failed.

You’d think with three cats, our problem would be solved. Not so. At the first swoosh, they’re under a bed. It was early, probably 8 a.m. Husband and I groggily drinking morning coffee when lo and behold, across the living room fluttered a winged thing. “It’s a bat,” croaked the husband. We were slow at that hour–putting hand to broom took a minute or two. (I’m good at fetching, worthless at capturing.) By then, the creature had retreated, probably up the stairs, back toward home.

I don’t want to hate them and in the abstract I realize they belong just as much as I do. They were, after all, here between the attic walls before we arrived. Lately, I’m also disturbed by the die-off of bat colonies in the eastern U.S. from a fungus called “white nose disease.” A million or so bats gone, with some subspecies threatened with extinction. Recently a newspaper article mentioned the genome of the causative fungus had been deciphered, leading to hope for an cure. Evidently European bats can harbor the fungus without dying. No doubt they brought it to our shores–flew the Atlantic? Sped over in a cargo of Turkish coffee? Spanish dates? Italian olive oil?

Over the quarter century we’ve lived in this Saint Paul house, we’ve probably maimed, murdered, or simply helped escape at last a dozen bats. A few got thrown outside in winter. One was eased into a trash can in February. The next day, husband released the lid for another load of garbage. Lo and behold out flew a winged thing. OMG!

Last year we put up a bat house. I seriously doubt it has been given the once-over. The critters like our “between the walls” abode. I can hear them scratching and sometimes even peeping when I’m writing away on the third floor. Usually I just sigh and carry on, hoping no wing or snout will show itself emerging from a hole as thin as a dime.

My fear has abated from its original absolute terror–screaming, running from the room with head covered, hiding in closets until the “bat trapper” had done his job. Lately I watch to make sure I’m not in its line of flight, then hope the trapper can capture it within minutes, rather than the hours it took yesterday. Bat first sighted at 8 a.m., captured and released into the cold around 10 p.m. I haven’t been outside to see what creeps. Mostly I d0n’t want to know, yet am drawn in terrible fascination. I hope it died of exposure.

The cause of this fear inevitably comes back to me. Years ago, soon after arriving in Minneapolis and buying the likewise tall house of my first marriage, I awoke in early morning dark to a scratching and clawing at the headboard. Then in total consternation I realized the thing was inside my pillowcase. Leaping out of bed, I screamed for help. Husband jumped up, whacked the pillow and its case many times against the floor. Finally he dumped the contents in the toilet. The pillow slumped to one side. When we looked into the bowl, there floated the bloody little body of the family hamster.

It was flushed in a flash, but I was reduced to a voiceless crouch for many minutes. When I could finally stand, we looked at each other. No way could we admit to this rodent-a-cide. That afternoon when the kid was in nursery school, I visited the pet store and bought another hamster. Placed in its cage, it was supposed to start speeding around its wheel. Nothing doing. As I watched, I realized that the poor thing had a stump for one of its back legs.

As I write this, I’m beginning to breathe shallowly. It took the kid months to realize that “Freundlich” was wounded. We blamed it on the wheel. I have never quite recovered.

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