Holy Group Grumble, Batman!

Turns out that bats speak to each other as individuals.

Every time we learn something new about the natural world, it makes me realize just how little we know. Given that fact, it’s awfully arrogant of us to act so superior and proprietary. How can we walk through this world with such confidence and act upon it with such haughty indifference when we don’t really have a clue as to what’s going on beyond our ken or how our actions impact said goings on?

Take, for example, this article in the Smithsonian, entitled “Researchers “Translate” Bat Talk. Turns Out, They Argue—A Lot

It seems that thanks to some voice recognition software, researchers have determined that bats not only speak to each other as individuals, using different tones of voice, but they also have matched up certain sounds to certain actions. Predictably, they argue about food and their positions within the sleeping cluster, and invasions of personal space. But they also discuss males that make unwanted mating advances. In other words, they’re not all that different from us.

Except they’re willing to poop in my attic. So there’s that.


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Lava River Cave

Nature. Awesome.

Once upon a time, I did my homework before taking a vacation. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering after the fact that there was something really awesome to see that was right near you and you missed it. (I’ve missed dinosaur tracks that way, to my everlasting regret.) Since there’s too much of the world for me to do “repeatsies”, I try to be thorough wherever I go.

I don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally found a partner who actually enjoys travel planning even more than I do, so for the first time in my life all the pressure has been lifted off my shoulders. What a luxury! How lucky my former boyfriends were, to be able to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s kind of irritating, in retrospect. (Note to self: try not to be that irritating on future trips.)

Suffice it to say that I was utterly unprepared for central Oregon. I was expecting to see Crater Lake, and that would have been plenty. I didn’t realize there were a wide variety of fascinating volcanic features in the area, as well as an awesome museum, and the charming city of Bend. I’ll be writing more about those in future posts.

But today I’m going to focus on my favorite volcanic experience to date: Lava River Cave.

About 80,000 years ago, there was a volcanic eruption in what is now Oregon that caused lava to flow down an open channel. Eventually, the surface of the lava cooled and hardened, and the central part flowed out, forming a gigantic tube. Now you can walk into that tube, for about a mile. It’s a fascinating experience.

If you go, you should be prepared. First of all, the tunnel is about 42 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so dress accordingly. I was glad to have my jacket and hat. Also, you can’t wear any clothing that you’ve worn into other caves that are inhabited by bats, because you could spread white-nose syndrome to the bat population that lives in the tube. (And no, we didn’t see any. There aren’t that many, and they’re shy and nocturnal.) We also made a point of taking a picture of what we were wearing that day, so as not to wear any of the same things in future caves. White-nose syndrome is insidious. The third thing to remember is to bring a high powered flashlight. If you forget, they’ll rent you one. Believe me, it’s needed, because the tube is black as pitch.

At the cave entrance, you go down a long flight of metal stairs that takes you into a large chamber. After that, you enter the tube, which is about 58 feet tall. Most of the walk is rather smooth, but you do have to go through a section that is most definitely not. In fact, I was amazed I didn’t break an ankle or fall flat on my face. Wheelchair accessibility is definitely out of the question.

If you make it past that section with your skeleton intact, it does smooth out. But for the claustrophobics who might be reading this, I have to say that the tube does get smaller and smaller and smaller. Knowing we’d have to retrace our steps, we didn’t get that far. We only went about halfway in. But it was fascinating, seeing the different layers in the rock formations, and shining our light on the sparkling ceiling.

Nature. Awesome. Check it out.

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Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona

Some of the most gorgeous cave formations on the planet.

No cameras. No cell phones. No food, no drink, no gum or tobacco products. No backpacks, no strollers, no walkers. Have you worn your shoes inside any other cave? If so, you can’t come in. You could introduce white-nose syndrome to our community of 1000 bats. And you can’t touch anything. Your body oils could stop the formations from growing. This is a living, growing cave.

Okay, now you pass through an air lock. This keeps the humidity within the cave at 99%, as opposed to the typical 0% of the Sonoran Desert above. Without this moisture, the cave stops growing. Sure, its formations generally only grow an inch every 750 years, but still, that’s progress.

Next, you pass through an air curtain that blows the lint off your clothing. Lint may not seem like much to you or me, but with all this tourism, it adds up. Then you pass through a hall of mist, to once again combat that lint.

It was all rather intimidating, but well worth the effort. Because after that, you’re treated to about an hour of some of the most gorgeous cave formations on the planet. Kartchner Caverns. Stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, draperies, spar crystals, flowstone, helictites, shields, and cave bacon galore. Golds. Reds. Browns. Whites. A feast for the eyes.

It was hard not to touch. It was hard not to jump over the railings to go exploring. It was hard to grasp the immensity of the formations. One of the columns is 58 feet tall. (At an inch every 750 years, that’s… a heck of a lot of years.)

What kept me respectful was the immense amount of effort it took for people to protect this cave. I strongly suspect such a monumental secret could never be kept in this day and age, but after Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen found this cave in 1974 on land belonging to the Kartchners, they all managed to keep it a secret for another 14 years. But they decided that the best way to protect the cave, oddly enough, would be to develop it. (Let’s face it: if there’s money involved, people take things seriously.) But it was beyond their means, so they approached the governor of the State of Arizona.

Another thing that wouldn’t happen today: the massive amount of behind the scenes political maneuvering it took to turn this place into a state park. Even the state legislature was kept in the dark until the final vote on the bill, because everyone knew that if the information went public, the next thing you knew, the cave would be covered in graffiti and beer cans. So the bill passed in 1988, and Arizona had its park.

And how lucky the public is that this treasure is being preserved so conscientiously. If you ever get a chance, visit these caverns. You’ll be so glad you did. And while there, rejoice in the fact that a vast majority of this cave has still never been touched by human feet, and hopefully never will be.

Since I couldn’t take pictures myself, here are some from the internet, plus one cool photo of a mural we saw in town.

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Avoiding Hell

Don’t get me wrong. I like bats. They’re great for the environment. I just don’t want to be roommates with them.

After several late night visits from bats inside my house, my house, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t live like that. Bats flying around my head at 3 a.m., landing on my pillow, barricading myself in my bedroom and being afraid to get up and go to the bathroom… It just got to be too much. I refuse to be a prisoner in my own home.

Don’t get me wrong. I like bats. They’re great for the environment. I just don’t want to be roommates with them. Especially if they’re not paying rent, and refuse to conform with my sleep cycle.

Despite the fortune I spent on contractors last year in an effort to solve this problem, these furry little rats with wings had taken up residence again, just as they probably have been doing for years on end. So it was time to serve them their eviction notice.

Thank goodness I’ve got someone who loves me enough to have my back, because I couldn’t have done this alone. We spent hours up on my roof, reinforcing the blockages I had imposed last year, and adding more. We put rigid walls of hardware cloth around all six of my mushroom cap vents.

I was hoping that hearing all that activity, and realizing that the sun was setting, the bats would take advantage of the thing we were saving for last: Their batty little front door, also known as the poorly done flashing around my chimney, and the badly constructed flue to my fireplace. (Two thumbs DOWN to Riasat Ali, also known as Al, of Arcon Chimney, for his shoddy workmanship and deceptive quote.)

But no. Instead of leaving the premises, they simply stayed in the attic and chittered and squeaked until we were finally forced to block them in, where they’d most likely starve and die. We couldn’t work in the pitch black on a pitched roof after they left. So block them in we did.

But it was killing me. Hearing them scream. Knowing they’d suffer. I couldn’t stand it.

So as we finished up, I closed my dog Quagmire into the back yard. Then I went into the house and turned off all the lights. I then left the front door wide open, and opened the inside access panel to the attic. Then I went outside and watched them fly out my front door, one by one.

It made me shudder, thinking of them streaming through my living room like that. But at least they’d live to eat mosquitoes another day. And I wouldn’t bear the guilt of having them suffer a slow and painful death. That’s got to count for something, right?

After leaving my house exposed to nature until 2 a.m., I reluctantly poked my head into the attic with a flashlight, and all was quiet. I heaved a sigh of relief. No hellfire for me. Not that night, anyway.

Later, I heard a bat hit my bedroom window. From the outside, for a change. The next day I told my boyfriend it was probably a bat protesting his eviction. He had a different theory. He thought it was a bat thanking me for saving its life.

Yeah. I can live with that spin.

http _pre13.deviantart.net_726a_th_pre_i_2013_328_5_d_another_bat_out_of_hell_by_allheartsgoboom-d6vgsip

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Ever-So-Slightly Askew

Thud. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…
That’s what I heard. On my bed.

Thud. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…

That’s what I heard. On my bed.

I figured it was just the dog, so I didn’t even open my eyes. I settled back in, wrapping my arms around said dog, who was on the opposite side of the bed from the sounds.

That sure made me open my eyes. But slowly. Because I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like what I saw. And I didn’t.

It was a little black bat, fluttering on the pillow next to mine. For a few seconds, I tried to convince myself that it was a really big moth. I could live with a moth. I could fall in love with a moth, given the alternatives. But no. It was a bat.

Everything happened really quickly after that. I jumped up, screaming. This freaked out the dog, who bolted from the room. (Some watchdog he turned out to be.) It also freaked out the bat, who proceeded to fly around my head. This, of course, made me run from the bedroom as well, slamming the door behind me.

Okay, good. The bat was trapped in the bedroom. I could take a moment to figure out what to do. First, close the hysterical dog in the bathroom, so I could prop open the front door. And then turn on every single light in the house.

Now it was time to turn around and release the bat. Except, I didn’t have to do that. Because the little b*****rd had squeezed himself under the crack of the door and was already flying into the living room to join me.

We had a moment, the bat and I. I was screeching and dancing in my jammies, he was doing an acrobatic pirouette, all around my head. (I bet it looked kind of artistic, from an emotional remove, with the mute button on.) Then he darted out the door, back into the night.

So, yeah, that happened. After I spent more than a grand last year getting the bats out of the attic and replacing all the insulation, then spending days blocking what I thought were their only entrances into my house.

They’re baaaaack!

I’m not having a good day. It’s bad enough when this country already feels askew because of the political shenanigans in the white house. Now I get to wonder if I’m going to have unexpected visitors in my home. Everything suddenly feels out of control. Forget parallel universes. Just stop tilting this one, please. I need my rest.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one sleeping in my car all summer.

Bat Boy

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Going Batty

So, it’s my second night in my new house. It’s 3a.m. I’m sound asleep. And then I hear this fluttering near my head. A moth? A really big moth? Then it zooms past my head 3 times and leaves the room. A bat.

A bat! Mommy! My lovable yet useless dog is cowering in the bed with me. I leap up and close the bedroom door. At least we’re safe. Sort of. But now the bat has the run of the rest of the house. Great. How did it get in? Better yet, how the hell do I get it out?

Times like these, I wish I had a man in my life. But then, I’ve yet to have a man in my life who was even willing to kill a spider for me, so there’s that. But moral support would be good. Someone to bear witness to the battle ahead, at the very least.

I boot up my computer. No one is awake on Facebook. I start Googling “bat in my house” and get all these horror stories about rabies. But cooler scientific heads will tell you that you have a much better chance of being struck by lightning than being bitten by a rabid bat.

I actually like bats. Ironically, just the day before I ordered a bat house for my back yard. Bats keep bugs under control, and are also pollinators. We need them. I just don’t want to have one as a roommate.

Nearly two hours have gone by. I finally see a friend get on line. He’s unwilling to hop on the next plane, but he talks me down from the ceiling. He gives me a pep talk. He makes me laugh. Now I’m ready to deal with the bat. That, and I really, really, really have to pee by this point.

I wrap myself in a blanket. I don’t know why. For comfort? And I grab a second blanket in hopes of catching the bat. I crack the door open and peek out. Nothing. I make a run for the bathroom. Sweet relief. Then I start looking around the rest of the house. But the sun is starting to rise, so the bat has probably gone God knows where.

And sure enough, it’s hiding. Lurking, like some evil Trumpian immigrant, not to be trusted. My house is still in chaos, full of moving boxes. Plenty of hidey holes. I’m hoping he left the way he came. (I suspect it was via the chimney.)

By now the sun is fully up, and my house feels like my own again. But I blocked off the chimney. Believe that. Now one more unpleasant task lies ahead. I peek in the attic.

Yup. Sure enough. There’s a colony in there. I can hear them chittering. (One wonders how the inspector missed that, but oh well.)

So I call a bat removal company. And they tell me that bats are protected, and this is their breeding season, so they can’t remove them until late August when the babies are big enough to fly. Oh great. The joys of home ownership.

So they’re up there, shitting in my attic, putting me at risk for histoplasmosis for the next two months. And I had work to do up there. I guess I have a valid excuse for procrastinating now.

I’m relieved to say that since that night I haven’t seen any more bats in the part of my house that I insist upon occupying. I watch them fly out of a crack in my chimney every evening at dusk. They’re beautiful to behold. I just wish they’d go somewhere else.

Oh, what a night. And did I mention that this was my one day to sleep in? Sigh.


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There Goes the Neighborhood

I’ve been house hunting, and I can tell, almost immediately, if I’d be a good fit for a neighborhood. If there are wide expanses of manicured lawns, I definitely will not fit in. And I would chafe under rules that dictated what color I paint my mailbox. I’m not a “keep up appearances” kind of person, if I can possibly avoid it. I prefer a yard that’s pretty much au naturel, and my tastes can be unorthodox.

I love dandelions, because the bees love them. I don’t know why people object to moss or dollar weed. I mean, it’s green and it’s flat, right? What’s the big deal? Lawns were a French affectation that unfortunately caught on, and have been a nightmare for the environment ever since. I will not, absolutely will NOT fertilize my lawn. That crap gets into the watershed, and it’s one of the reasons that the river in Jacksonville gets choked with green slime every summer.

I like to plant flowers that will attract butterflies and bees and hummingbirds. I love to grow heirloom tomatoes, although I’m not great at it. I dream of having a bat house in my back yard. I think squirrels have as much right to food as any other creature. Possums keep the tick population under control. And if I feel like paining my house hot pink, I’ll do so (although it’s unlikely).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to leave junk cars up on cinder blocks in the yard, or moldy couches that fill with mice and stink after a good rain. I’m not going to plant flowers in an abandoned toilet or cook meth (I hate to cook). But if you can’t handle a neighbor’s yard that suffers from benign neglect, or a neighbor who has an interesting concept of art, then we’re going to have issues.

Having said that, I am quiet, I don’t cause trouble, and the police have never been called to my door. I want to steal an idea from a friend and call my next home “Tranquility Base”. I’ll even hold onto your mail while you’re on vacation if you ask, call 911 if I see someone peeping in your windows, and help you look for your dog if he runs away. So I’d like to think I’m a good neighbor to have. I am house hunting in the Seattle area, so if you are looking to sell, please, please contact me first. More details here.

Urchfont Manor
Urchfont Manor. It’s safe to say I do not live here.

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What are We Missing?

One of the things I find most annoying about all the drama being generated by our Grand Poobah and his malignant administration is the fact that it has helped to take our attention away from other atrocities in the world.

Just the other day, I was wondering what had happened to the Kony 2012 Movement. I followed it very closely at the time. It was a world movement to get rid of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This nut job thinks that all his human rights violations are justified because, among other things, God wiped out most of humanity with Noah’s flood. He’s also responsible for abducting children to fight for him, mutilating and raping women, and displacing about 2 million people in Central Africa over the years.

After a lazy internet search, of news that is at least a year old, I’m reading that his army has shrunk to about 200 people, and he is apparently still alive. That’s about it. Something really should be done.

Another thing that’s going on while Trump is getting increasingly orange is the rapid decrease of the polar ice caps. Does anyone care anymore? I do.

And have we forgotten the Ukraine? Does Putin get to invade another country and nobody reacts? Well, yes. We’ve long since forgotten about China’s invasion of Tibet, haven’t we?

And has the clothing industry done a single thing to improve working conditions since the factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing a thousand people? Not so’s you’d notice. It was once estimated that we could do so, if only we were willing to pay 10 cents more per t-shirt. What’s the hold up?

And I can’t stop thinking about the fact that 70 percent of the chocolate we consume is probably the result of child slavery. And the bees are disappearing. And then there’s starfish wasting disease and white-nose syndrome. And lest we forget, the outrageous treatment of the Standing Rock Water Protectors needs to be stopped. No one has a right to endanger anyone’s water source. No one.

It’s all so stressful and overwhelming and important, but instead we have to focus on the machinations of mango-head, lest he thrust us headlong into a world war. It makes me tired. Maybe that’s why he’s the leader of this three ringed circus—so we won’t be able to focus and therefore affect change outside the tent.


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White-Nose Syndrome

We are currently experiencing the most dramatic decline of North American wildlife in over 100 years, and yet hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, since 2006, scientists estimate that 5.7 million bats  have died on this continent. That’s a crap load of bats, people.

Some species have been wiped out completely, and others are only 10 percent of their former population. Once a population has been decimated to that extent, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. Many bat species only produce one pup per female per year.

Why should we care? Well, for a start, bats in this country eat thousands of tons of insects every single night. Let that sink in for a minute. Without bats, the mosquito population would soar, and anyone who has contracted malaria, west nile, dengue fever, yellow fever or the zika virus can tell you that mosquitoes carry disease.

And many of the other bugs that bats eat, if left to their own devices, will destroy the crops that we depend upon to survive. Again, according to NWHC, losing our bats could result in billions of dollars in increased pesticide costs and agricultural damages each year. Bats also pollinate many plants, and are an important part of the food chain.

So, what’s causing this massive die off? A fungus with a creepy name: Pseudogymnoascus destructans. It’s causing a disease called white-nose syndrome in many hibernating bat species. Once this fungus is introduced to a cave, it rapidly spreads through the bat population, wiping it out. This disease seems to have originated in the northeastern US, but as the map below can attest, it is spreading ever outward.

What can you do to help? If you see bats exhibiting strange behavior, such as flying during the day, especially in extremely cold temperatures, report it to your state wildlife agency. Also report any dead bats that you encounter, but do not handle them. Stay out of caves and mines where bats are hibernating, as you can spread the fungus on your clothing and/or equipment. And most importantly, respect cave closures.

You may not like bats as much as I do. You may be thrilled to never encounter a bat again as long as you live. But you need bats. And now more than ever, bats need you. For more information, visit whitenosesyndrome.org.

[Image credit: whitenose syndrome.org]

Happy Earth Day!

It’s Earth Day, and that has me thinking about the intimate encounters I’ve had with nature in my lifetime.

  • I have swum with manatee, dolphins and stingrays.
  • I briefly dated a guy who could imitate a barn owl so accurately that every owl in the region would respond to his call. He also taught me how to walk through the woods at 2 am without a flashlight. (Lift your toes to avoid tripping, and hold a stick ahead of you to thwart spider webs, and you’ll be amazed how quickly your eyes adjust to the lack of light.)
  • Working graveyard shift for 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 2000 sunrises, enough to know each one is as unique as a snowflake.
  • Many times I have watched that moment when the moon expands and turns orange just before it sinks below the horizon.
  • I’ve hiked beyond the overlooks at Yellowstone Park, and was told by a ranger that less than 5 percent of the parks visitors bother to do so. I find this astounding, and a bit disheartening.
  • I’ve rescued wild birds with my bare hands.
  • I’ve pulled my car over to remove lizards from my windshield.
  • I have reclined in a mountain meadow and watched bats fly overhead.
  • I’ve ridden horses through national parks.
  • I’ve seen solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, shooting stars and comets.
  • I have snorkeled above a coral reef.
  • I have danced in the rain.

But perhaps most importantly I have looked skyward and thanked the universe for allowing me to live on this planet and feel the wind upon my face. I hope everyone will take a moment today and do the same.

earth day

Image credit: mauiearthday.org