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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Last Bat Home

Air Date: Week of August 14, 2009

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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg watches the bats of dawn return to their roost and finds himself wanting to adjust to their schedule.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Bats often get a bad rap. But not from Verlyn Klinkenborg, who finds comfort in the flying creatures of the night.

KLINKENBORG: It's 6:00am, a dark gray morning in late summer, the dim light a reminder that it's two months on the downhill side of the season. Ethel the border terrier and I are behind the house, investigating a woodchuck's scent. There is a dark smudge in the mist above us, and then another.

The bats are returning to their bat house – a thin, slatted box high up under the eaves. Each bat comes in over the roof, makes a dive for the ground and then swoops upward toward the narrow entrance of the bat-house. Some slip inside on the first try, some fall back and try again. After a few minutes, the air is still, the last bat home. Ethel and I turn toward breakfast.

I have seen the bats come out at evening again and again. It is one of the joys of living here, watching them drop one by one into the night. But I've seen them coming home only a few times. The bats of evening are the last flutter in a world that’s growing still. The bats of morning have already been engulfed by birdsong, rooster-crow, the stirring of nearly every creature on this place. Their flight is less erratic just before roosting, no longer distracted by an insect in the air. It's as though each bat brings a scrap of night's darkness home with it, leaving the sky pale and brightening. It's as though night itself were being stored in the bat-house till dusk.

When the last bat had vanished, I felt almost absurdly alone, strangely vacant in that thin slice of morning. It reminded me of a feeling from a long time ago – that moment, after staying up all night, when you can feel the world gathering pace and energy just as you're beginning to fade, the city stirring, streets coming to life, a crescendo that grows and grows. You can almost pinpoint the moment when the city reaches full throttle. You glimpse, from outside, barely awake, what a powerful movement morning really is. There is no coaxing about it. It marches you right into the day, right through life.

Watching those dawn bats, I imagined them punching out of their night's work as they settled, and I felt as if I'd somehow clocked into their schedule. Really, the best use of a dark gray morning with mist in the air is to go back to bed, only a few feet – and a couple of walls – away from where the bats are sleeping.

[MUSIC: Tom Verlain “Mountain” from “Around” (Thrill 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes editorials for the New York Times and lives on a farm in New York State.

Coming up—things that go bump in the night. An owl and a biologist. A love story. It’s a hoot. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

 

 

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