A friend just emailed me about finding a bat in her house, which set me off on a discourse about my bat-in-the-house experiences, so I figured I would write it out here. I have lived in about two dozen places so far in my life, and some of the dwellings have had bats. The most prolific bat dwelling was a place I rented with my then husband – let’s call him “Howie” for the sake of this story – when our first child was small. It was a turn of the century carriage house on a defunct mink farm. The building was made up of one large wooden room with a massive stone fireplace. The one bedroom, small bath, galley kitchen and rickety porch off this main area were apparently added on later. The door to the bedroom and bathroom were wainscot planks with latch hardware that left large spaces above them when closed.
Every spring the bats would arrive en masse (presumably from Georgia – for some reason I always thought they migrated from Georgia up to the northeast, although I am not sure if that is necessarily correct). Their arrival was heralded by the big fuss and racket they would make while they shuffled for position behind the shutters, where they would then clump tightly together like grapes. At times you could hear them shifting around having little crowding disputes and chirping at each other, but for the most part they were pretty low-key. At sundown they would shoot out from the shutters one at a time and dart around the yard like night swallows before taking off for an evening of hunting in a graceful ballet that could be quite lovely. They were Little Brown Bats – I think we must have had over a hundred of them. Watching from the window, my pre-schooler and I once watched over thirty bats shoot out from behind one shutter as we yelled out the number of each one, doing our version of “The Count”……(ONE bat, TWO bats)….
Before we had installed the woodstove into the fireplace, an occasional unfortunate would slip down the chimney and come through the space where the damper did not shut all the way. This would usually occur dead in the middle of the night, that vulnerable time where reason and clarity are blurred. An almost sinister, whispering “flup flup flup flup” fluttering would invade your dreams and you would awake to find something frantically bouncing off the walls, where it would ultimately get tangled up in a window shade. No matter how much I have experienced this and how rational I can be about nature and country living, there is just something about a waking up to a bat in the house that I have never gotten used to.
Unfortunately, scooting a bat out of that house was not an easy feat. Opening all doors and windows actually afforded the masses entry back inside (along with every kind of weird night insect possible) and was not an option. Howie had a procedure for dealing with the bats though, and he would pursue this in great earnest while I cringed under the covers. He would put on his “bat- patrol” gear, which essentially consisted of a pith helmet and a tennis racquet; the helmet presumably to protect his head from being dive-bombed and the racquet to dispatch the bats. After he would incapacitate the massive, scary, offending vampire of our imagination, we would inspect it, only to find it was a tiny, harmless looking mouse-ette, leathery wings now folded by its side. Then we would feel badly. Even knowing that, it did not make the next bat visit any less traumatic.
One sweltering summer my sister arrived for a visit from California and was sleeping on the couch in the main room. At about 2:30 am, Howie and I were awakened by the tell-tale wing whisper and crash of yet another frantic intruder. Howie donned the pith helmet and racquet – and essentially nothing else, as it was humid and hot and he had been sleeping butt-naked. I cannot impress upon you how ridiculously funny this looked, especially at an hour where everything felt sort of surreal.
Howie is probably one of the fairest skinned people I have ever known, almost translucent in his whiteness. He kind of resembled a glowing white grub in a pith helmet, if you can picture it. Despite the bat drama about to unfold, I actually had to pause and laugh at this spectacle. He followed the sound of the bat-thrashing out into the big front room and found the Little Brown Bat had alighted atop the back of the couch and was crawling along the upholstery, very close to where my sister was sound asleep. As he raised up the tennis racquet to deliver his bat-elimination-serve, my sister, alerted somehow by her inner radar much like a fly feels the oncoming swat, suddenly awoke and opened her eyes.
She did not find the image of a giant white, naked man-grub in a pith helmet with a raised racquet above her head as amusing.
I don’t remember if she screamed at that point, but she bolted off the couch and into the bedroom to be with me, where we shut the door and both cowered beneath the blanket with my daughter and the dog. We could hear the bat thup-thupping around the living room while Howie hunted for it. And then, suddenly, we saw a little winged arm reaching into the open space above the old, crooked door as it attempted to get into the bedroom. It probably thought it had found a space to hide in. The poor thing was most likely more terrified than we were. But as I explained above, when there is a bat in the house, all common sense evaporates.
At that point we both screamed.
He did eventually get the thing, and predictably, it was tiny and harmless once it wasn’t flying around anymore. Unfortunately, they rarely survived the tennis racquet, no matter how gently he attempted to scoop them up and out.
That is about my most vivid bat story. It occurred many years ago. I know that there has been a drastic decimation in the current brown bat population over the past few years, which does not bode well for our environment. I wonder if they still return to that house.
I also have some mouse stories..…maybe to share another time.