Friday, September 7, 2012

Confronting your inner bat

An interlude, between chapters of the novel. This post is real life.

The problem was, I couldn’t go to my computer and Google “how to get bat out of house” before I had got the bat out of the house. Much as I disliked seeing the bat swoop around my low-ceilinged living room, I also feared losing sight of it; what if I looked away and then couldn’t find it again?

Once I had got the bat out of the house, in the way of today’s world, that’s what I did: run upstairs to my office and get onto Google. I found three sites that said more or less the same thing, and I learned that I had done some things right, and some things wrong.

What I did right:

—Prop the door open wide. Like the website, I thought the bat would fly toward fresh air, at my open front door. My bat was having none of it, content to swoop around the toasty house.

—Turn on the porch light. I did this instinctively, but there was a reason: insects will be attracted to the light and the bat will fly outdoors to get something to eat. Hah! Said my bat. I have had plenty to eat. I am going to rest here, on this painting, or on this woodwork, and grin at this terrified woman with my little white teeth gleaming in my black body.

That ends what I did right. What I did wrong:

Golden-crowned fruit bat, Wikipedia
—Stay calm. I was so. Not. Calm.

On a cool night early in July my only reassurance was that I was wearing a hoodie, and could pull up the hood. My sister-in-law Liz says that a bat getting into your hair is a ridiculous old wives’ tale, but you try coexisting with a bat, even for minutes, and see if you don’t worry about its little feet scratching your scalp.

Which brings me to another point. It was 10 p.m. when the bat first swooped past me, saying, in its silent bat way, I am not a bird, and I was tired after a deadline day for The Columbia Paper followed by the Germantown Town Board meeting. And all I could think was, I cannot go to bed until I get this bat out of the house. The reasoning here is that rabies is always fatal. Always. Fatal.

While you are staying calm, remember another point from the websites: if you wake up with a bat in your bedroom, 1) catch the bat (see below) and 2) both of you go to the hospital. Bat teeth are tiny; you may have been bitten while you slept, and not felt it. And rabies is always fatal.

—Confine pets. The goal here is to prevent pets from being bitten by a rabid bat, even if their rabies shots are up to date. I should have shoved Lulu, my dog, out the back door into the fenced yard, but again, I was so afraid of losing sight of the bat that I put Lulu’s leash on her (the front door being open onto the busy Hudson street) and dragged her around with me, which is sort of a metaphor for our lives together anyway.

So now you have the picture: my bespectacled face peering from my tightly tied fuchsia hoodie, dragging a confused dog around as I tried to persuade, then trap, a swooping black bat.

Back to the list: wear rubber gloves.

Being not calm, it never occurred to me to wear gloves, which seems like an obviously sensible idea, preventing bat bites, rabies, etc.

One website suggests gathering up the bat in a small towel and letting it go again outside. I believe it is illegal to kill bats in New York State and I had no intention of killing the creature in any case, but even now, the thought of its throbbing against a towel makes me queasy. Instead, I tried the large-paper-bag trick. I had once caught an indoor snake in such a bag; I would trap the bat.

It wasn’t easy. I got him once, as he hung from a favorite oil painting, of his and mine, but even his flapping against the bag increased my terror and he got out. So I tried again and this time gently but firmly folded the top of the bag. Then I ran to the front door, remembering to turn off the porch light and close the door behind me before releasing the bat off the porch.

He didn’t get back in. Neither did any of his cronies. For a few days I eyed the woodwork suspiciously and bravely checked behind doors, but I’ve sort of let up on that. Ken Leggett, the Livingston-based contractor, says I probably have bats in my belfry, er, attic, but that the drop-down ceiling entry is snug, so they’ll get into the house through the doors, front and back.

My next-door neighbor says he worries about bats every summer. I hadn’t given bats a single thought in the seven summers I’ve been here, until now, when I think about them every night. I used to water the porch plants with impunity by porch light. I loved going out back with Lulu on her Last Out and admiring the starry night. I activated the motion-sensor light by the back door whenever I needed it.

I still go out with Lulu, but I turn off the kitchen lights and rush us through the door, which of course would not keep a bat from whisking in. Otherwise, chores that don’t get done during the day wait till daylight.

My sister the park ranger dismisses these fears, saying bats want to keep away from humans. She also dissess the commercial websites I found, recommending instead Bat Conservation International, Inc. (, the site park professionals use. BCI tells you how to remove a bat, starting with stay calm.

Of the sites I retroactively consulted, I think is the most helpful. The most calm.  

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