The First Visit

It’s different once you’re used to them, once your eyes learn to pick them out of the darkness, but when you’re stepping into the dimly lit enclosure for the first time, you hear them before you can see them.  The beating of dozens of wings and the air all astir around you.  Chirps and chatters and squeaks, and you can easily imagine that they are discussing you, the interloper.  Their smell permeates the space, dog-like yet sweet, and it marks the area as Not Yours, but belonging to creatures that few humans ever get so close to.  As you stand there, eyes adjusting to the low light, they very gradually narrow their loops, testing the waters.  They are sizing you up.

The Bat World flight enclosure. A Jamaican fruit bat is carrying a slice of mango as it flies.

Then, as if someone flipped a switch, there they are, flocks of little black phantoms flying in circles and long figure eights around you.  Maybe you’ve read about them before and know how shy they are, but now, in their element, they’re almost brazen, swooping surprisingly close, and now that you can see where they are, you notice how strong their wings are; even the little Jamaicans move a proportionately huge amount of air with their wings’ every beat and it takes your breath away along with it.  They make it look effortless.

All you can do is just stand there for a moment and experience it, knowing this is one of those moments you’ll carry with clarity to your deathbed.  You’ve seen picture after adorable picture of Peekaboo and various other bats that just make you want to hug them, and then just like that those same huggable bats are suddenly surprisingly intelligent, ethereal, powerful.

In just a few moments you come to understand how such a pervasive mythology has built up around them, however unfairly.  Something about their presence is transcendent. Despite their pivotal part in nature, they seem supernatural.

Those are about the strongest words I can summon up, and it doesn’t even touch upon what it was really like to set foot into the flight cage for the first time.  I’d have to ask Amanda to be sure, but my jaw must have been hanging open.

Then, of course, comes Peekaboo.  She circles as well, but with more purpose and far closer, closing in until her wings wisp past your shoulders and her belly bumps the top of your head.  It’s clearly one riot of a game to her, and I can only imagine the object is to confuse the oafish giants who’ve become lost in her dominion.

Then, though…then, as I’d hoped for days before my actual visit, as I’d read about so many times, she landed on my head.  It was glorious.  It was the one thing I’d really, really hoped would happen and it did happen.

Peekaboo, with a firm grip on Mitch, her new human stilt

The first thing that struck me was how light she was, and that took a second because she touched down so lightly that I didn’t know she’d landed.  She even had a claw hooked good and firm into my earlobe, and I only noticed that later in the pictures Amanda took.  None of her phantasmal grace was lost in the landing.  I could feel her heart thrumming rapidly like a little motor, humming as much as it was beating.  Then, of course, she dug her snout into my hair and commenced snuffling my scalp, and suddenly she was adorable again.

And I did get to see my Ichabod, as it turned out.  His poor wing was still a bit unfolded; with therapy, it could eventually close, but it would be painful, wouldn’t restore his ability to fly and it doesn’t seem to bother him, as otherwise he’s very healthy and happy.  For anyone who’s ever seen a life they’ve rescued go on to thrive, I don’t have to tell you what this meant to me.  That’s good, because I don’t think I could.

These days I get to see him a few times a week now.  He is never found without a few friends in his pouch, and for all my wishing that he could fly again, he’s not concerned about it in the slightest.  I won’t have the pleasure of hand-feeding him once I’m trained to do that, as my boy Ichabod needs no coddling, but that just makes me all the more proud of him.  Even with a bum wing, he still holds his own.

There’s so much more to tell; the massive tub of seventy-six diced bananas, fourteen diced apples, half a honeydew melon (diced), fruit cocktail purged of that syrupy stuff and an assortment of berries that is prepared daily is in itself a sight to behold. There’s an entire regimen just to sort out the best mealworms for Ichabod and his crew.  But at its heart Bat World is all about the bats, so the bats are where I’ll leave it for now.

Next up:  the story of four juvenile bats caught in a problematic downtown building, which also happens to be the story of my first rescue call.  I’ll also describe my first visit to the wild sanctuary. Basically, it’s like how I described the flight cage above, but multiplied a hundred thousand million.  There are no way my words can possibly do it justice, but I’m going to try anyway.