Tuesday, April 8, 2014

controlling the comings and goings

Jonathan and I have each been compiling lists of things to be addressed during our upcoming home renovations and last night we were sitting at the computer trying to merge them into a vaguely comprehensible email to our contractor.  For example:

When do you think you will be starting?  We want to make sure we have a key ready so you can get in.

The most recent entry on my list had been Cat Safety Plan.  Our two rescue cats have not forgotten that they were once girls of the streets.  And with the Spring weather, open windows, and more frequent human and canine traffic in and out of the house, they have seemed to me to be a bit interested in making an escape. So we asked:

How do we make sure that the cats don't try to make a break for it while the workers are here?  

As we sat composing at the computer, I heard some quiet rustling beside me.  And decided that a cat was in the closet where we keep the wood and fire-starting materials.

We returned to our carefully crafted email.

Since we would like to retain some of the heat we produce, has the Hysterical...I mean Historical Society approved the new storm windows?

Then I heard the rustling again and actually turned toward the sound this time.  The closet was closed tightly.  There was no way a cat could be in there.  I considered whether there might be a mouse in the ash bucket next to the woodstove.  See, living in a 250 year old house, one apparently becomes rather blasé about rodents in buckets.  So I returned to my work.

But when I heard the sound a third time, I turned my head toward the woodstove.  Just in time to see black flapping wings out of the corner of my eye.

It took a moment to fully register what it was.

A bat.

Now, you may wonder how I decided so quickly that this was a bat and not, for example, a bird. First, there were logical reasons.  It was nighttime and bats are active at night.  Then there were reasons based on past experience.  And others based on past trauma.  I have a rather traumatic memory of my mother chasing a bat around with a broom, trying to gently encourage it outside once it became trapped in my grandmother's house.  In my memory, this bat may have become trapped in her hair, or in my more fantastical memories, my own hair.  My mother says it was much less dramatic than this.

More recently, I gathered evidence that a bat's gaining entry to our house was indeed possible.  Just last summer, we returned home after a few days away at the lake.  Nicholas makes the same comment each time we return home, that whenever we go away and then come back, the house stops smelling like us and starts to smell more like the people who lived here before us.  Now I wonder if perhaps it is the smell of bats.

Upon our return from the lake, mixed in with the small furry finger puppets on the floor of the playroom just outside the children's bedrooms, we encountered a rather confuzzling sight.  Until you got close enough.  I didn't know we had a bat finger puppet.  Ah, man!  Battie, ironically the name of our cat, sat nearby looking guilty.  This very real bat was very dead.  But really rather cute.  I felt a little bad for it and thought about its final moments trapped in the house possibly with a kitty swatting it down.  Perhaps that's how it ended.  But it is also possible that it flew itself into a wall, like a bird to a window.

You know the old saying?  You can ignore one bat in your house.  But never two?

No?  Never heard it?  Oh.

I would like to be able to tell you that last night, upon realizing that this bat was decidedly alive, I kept my cool.  That I handled it with the same grace and calm that I have handled other animal issues here.  Like the time I casually said OK and walked to the shed to get a shovel when Nicholas informed me that there was a deceased 30 pound wild turkey behind the Subaru that was going to need immediate attention if we were going to be able to make it to school that morning without running over it.  And the time I went to save the chickens when the Big Bad Wolf came to visit.  Or the time I gently removed my hand from the chicken scratch bucket after a mouse skittled over it when I reached in without looking, and then took the bucket outside and gently tipped it so the mouse could scamper out.   And let's not forget the time I landed on a snake while getting stung by a bee and then forced a smile, telling the horrified watching children that, of course, I was okay.

I am good in emergencies.  Or at least that's how I remember my behavior in these moments.

In a past life, back when I taught an Introductory Psychology lab, I learned to stay calm and be reassuring -- despite my silent internal screams -- when the white lab rats I cared for wrapped their tails in a spiral around my arm for security.  And encouraged my students to hold them across their arms like babies while we set up our experiments.  I also became famous, well, famous in the completely nerdy world of this experimental psychology lab, for being able to catch the white lab pigeons out of the air, mid-flight, with my bare hands.  This was a useful skill since the repetitive and inevitable release of the birds occurred more frequently than the learned behaviors we were trying to demonstrate.  Each time the pigeons flapped in the face of one of my students, they would scream and then release their pigeon-in-training into the large open lab room.  In my current life, this skill still comes in quite handy in the chicken coop.

But apparently?  I am not good in bat-based emergencies.  I screamed Bat! and  I was out of the room before I had pronounced the t.  I was swiping at my hair, imagining the feeling of a curious combination of flesh and fuzz and bones against my scalp while wings fluffed my hair about.  And before I knew it I was standing at the back door, hand on the knob, preparing to leave the house.  It seems I subscribe strongly to the idea that one should put their own oxygen mask on before they attend to those around them.  I was just making sure there was no bat in my own hair before I made sure that the other four humans in the house didn't have bats in their hair.

I considered grabbing the keys and waiting this one out in the car.  But then, I did remember my children.  And decided that tomorrow's newspaper article about animal control finding the mother of three children locked in her Subaru during a rabid bat attack was not going to reflect well upon me.

I had lost Jonathan somewhere between the back door and the family room, but I decided that what I needed to do next was close all the doors upstairs so the children did not wake to a bat flying about their room.  Because I value my sleep.  For that night and for the next several years.

I shouted to Jonathan, received no response and ran upstairs taking two at a time.  For a moment, I wondered if in fact we had a vampire bat and that Jonathan was now lost to me.  Or whether I might have trampled him when I ran out of the room.

I ran about upstairs, closed all the doors, scanned for flapping black wings, saw none and ran back downstairs.  And began slamming doors to the room in which the terrifying black thing was last seen.

Hey, Jonathan said, as I closed him in there with the beast.  I hooked the latches, just in case the bat had opposable thumbs or Jonathan was feeling wimpy.

Open the door to the porch, and swish it out.  I was being very helpful.

What about the cats? his now muffled voice asked me.

Right. Cat safety plan.  I ran back upstairs swiftly visiting all the favorite cat hideouts and miraculously found both of them.  They meowed at me and hissed at each other (they are not exactly friends) as I carried one in each hand and plopped them both onto the bathroom floor slamming the door shut behind me.  Rory's paw swiped at me under the door and I think I heard Battie hiss again.

And I ran back downstairs.

I found more doors to slam, which made me feel better, and then leaned against the one between me and the bat.  And also, between me and Jonathan.

Okay, I said, open the porch door.  There was no answer, but I did hear his footsteps walk toward the porch and then heard it open.

Silence.  He was not being very talkative.

Bat got your tongue?

Then I was hit with a brain child.  Bats are nocturnal.  I learned this from my children.  Animals are nocturnal, diurnal, or -- my personal favorite -- crepuscular.  I started turning lights on where I was and turning them off where Jonathan was.  I am a giver.  Because I wanted that bat to stay on the other side of the door. I was willing to sacrifice Jonathan.  But let's be rational here; I was pretty sure that there are no vampire bats in Maine, so the likelihood of his death by blood loss was very small.

Um.  Hello?  Could you please leave the lights on?

I sighed exasperatedly and flipped them back on.

Jonathan was still alive in there, I could hear him moving around and opening doors and sliding things, for a good long time.  And he wasn't feeling very chatty.

They have to land upside down, right?  he finally asked.

Where did you learn that? I asked.

Stellaluna.  All our education, and we rely on children's books in emergency situations?

Yeesh.

More silence and scraping noises.  Then finally: I can't find it.

Now let it be said that during my psychology training years ago, Jonathan was often my practice guinea pig.  He has been subjected to every manner of cognitive, attention, emotional and behavioral assessment that my graduate school's testing closet could hold.  I know the inner workings of his mind a little too well.  And I know, from an afternoon spent administering a test of his visual perception abilities, particularly his visual discernment skills, that it was not the wisest choice to have him be the one doing the looking for a small, likely motionless, dark colored creature with a propensity to hide in the shadows.

There was only so much I could take.  After some deep breaths, I entered the room. I started looking on the back sides of furniture.  And that's when I saw it, right there, in the middle of the room on the rug.  Out in plain sight.  An admittedly small fuzzy thing, with wings, it's flapping quieted.  It did look a bit cute.

However, realizing it could come alive again at any moment in the form of a zombie bat and take to flapping in my hair, I volunteered to run for a bowl.  And an old unused cookie sheet.

There is a reason that men were told to run for clean sheets and to boil water during childbirth in ancient times.  One needs an outwardly altruistic excuse to run from the room during moments of imminent disaster.

I passed the equipment off to Jonathan and gestured toward the bat.  He gave me that look. Jonathan, not the bat.  The same look that I am pretty sure had been accompanying the silence I had been receiving from the other side of the kitchen door.

He slowly approached the prostrate creature, plopped the bowl over the bat, and then slid the cookie sheet under it,  And then carried his bowl and cookie sheet structure like a proud chef with a dome covered plate to the back door.

Okay, Brave Girl.  Please come open the door for me.

I did.  And I even turned on the outdoor lights.

He placed the bowl/sheet/bat contraption on the patio table right under the light post, gingerly tipping the bowl off the pan.  Although the bowl rolled off and onto the ground, he just hightailed it back to the house.

I was waiting for him at the door.  With a camera.  I opened the screen enough to pass the camera out to him.  Even in the dim light, I could see the look again.  I smiled winningly.


He snapped a few shots and then I helpfully told him, through the closed kitchen window, to stand on a chair over the bat so he could get a better angle.

Silence, the look, and then a few flashes.


And then he came back inside.

We stood and watched the creature out the window for a bit, did some dishes, laundry, made lunches.  We saw the bat slowly come back to life.  And fly away.

Lest Jonathan think his work was done at that point, I had one more thing.  Add 'bat issue solution' to the list for the contractor.  It's that, or we move.

Jonathan dutifully added this to our list:

We have now had two bats in the house.  Could we take a look at the chimneys and dampers to see if that is how they are getting in?  Rebecca, particularly, would like to eliminate these visitors.

I laughed this morning when I read the contractor's response as to how to handle the bat issue.

So, Batgirl isn't actually all that interested in living in the Bat Cave?  

I think we may have chosen him for his sense of humor

He then went on to offer his thoughts as to how these terrifying little creatures are getting in, and what we can do to try to keep them where they belong.  Plus he threw in the phrase chimneys screw with their echolocation in his explanation, so I was rather impressed.

Nonetheless, I am not sure I am convinced that his plan is going to be adequate.  Until then, I will practice my mid-flight catching skills in the chicken coop, will always wear a hat, and will continue reading as many picture books as possible.


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