I rescued a baby bat today. Sometimes I wonder if my teenaged or 20-year-old self would recognize the woman I’ve become. I’m so different now in a good way. I have boundaries when it comes to other people, but a seemingly limitless spirituality, and unity with my body and the Earth in ways I didn’t know were possible. I kept myself so busy for so long and now I’m so happy with what I’ve discovered in the stillness. I sound like a hippie, but I don’t care.
I used to be scared of bats. When we’d swim in my parents pool in the summer, they would swoop down from the trees to quickly dip beneath the surface and fly away. I remember standing in the shallow end, talking to my cousin, lit by the glow of the pool light, and a bat splashed inches in front of me and I screamed. I remember seeing a bat climb up our neighbor’s house and I was scared of it’s human-like arms, reaching and pulling up the bricks.
Earlier this spring, I gasped and was startled when I saw a bat drop from my neighbors eaves and fly towards the forest. Then I continued watching in awe as others followed. I started sitting on the porch each night at dusk to watch them take the plunge, falling from the eaves, then righting themselves and flying towards the woods. I’d listen to their chattering as the sun started to set and wonder what they were communicating to each other before they took flight one by one into the night.
The bats left as spring turned to summer. The attics of our townhomes provided a warm, quiet refuge for winter hibernation, but now they must venture out into the woods for summer to feast upon the mosquitos, moths, and beetles that have also begun to take flight after the sun goes down each night. But, they left someone behind.
Now, when I see this tiny creature struggling in the dirt in my backyard, I am not afraid. I feel a motherly urge to take it in my hands, share my warmth, and comfort it. For ease, I’ll call it a he because I’m thinking of Batley, the bespectacled bat from Eureeka’s castle that I enjoyed as a child.
I started to overcome my fear of bats and feel a sense of connection with them after reading about white-nose syndrome, which is caused by a fungus that feeds on the skin of hibernating bats, in the Pulitzer prize winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. The fungus is thought to have originated with greater mouse-eared bats in Europe. They carry it, but aren’t affected by it. Humans brought the fungus to North America, where it has killed an estimated 6.7 million bats since 2006 (source: Pennsylvania Bat Rescue).
I learned that bats cluster in caves in the winter, where the fungus quickly and easily spreads from bat to bat, typically killing 70 – 90% of bats in colonies and sometimes eradicating the entire colony. Bats are social creatures. In the spring, those that survived the winter, then leave to visit other colonies and spread the virus to other bat colonies and species.
I thought about the similarities to humans. The need for companionship and safety these bats must feel within their colonies, coupled with the social aspect of migrating and meeting with new colonies in the spring, and how this fungus exploits that need with deadly results, leaving a few species near extinction.
In the book, Kolbert described traveling to the Aeolus Cave in Vermont to find bat carcasses littering the floor, with the tell-tale signs of white-nose syndrome. The next year, she returned with scientists and they found even more dead bats. The survivors amounted to only 10% of the colony’s former numbers. Now, the floor of the cave is thick with bat bones, as Kolbert also recounts in her 2010 New Yorker article, Batless.
Kolbert also highlights the impracticality of Darwin’s theory of evolution here. Darwin was working with distinct ecosystems, isolated environments, and natural barriers. This theory does not account for the invasiveness and globalization caused by humans.
Right now, I feel a stronger connection with this helpless, baby bat than I do with most of my fellow human beings. I am feeling alone and neglected when it comes to my own species. I feel a sense of kinship and affinity towards this tiny, helpless creature. Many will say he’s ugly, but I think his tiny ears are adorable. His wings are so delicate. HIs fingers and toes are so fragile and small as they grasp for stability.
Many would say this is survival of the fittest. His colony left him behind because he wasn’t strong enough to fly with them. But they didn’t account for all of the ways we can support him. Just like my own species often doesn’t account for the ways we need to support each other and that every life is sacred and valued.
Right now, my own species is being decimated, not by a fungus, but by a virus that, somewhat ironically, originated in bats. We’re not handling it well. Many people are being overwhelmingly inconsiderate and selfish in their day-to-day lives, refusing to take even the simplest precaution to ensure the safety of others by wearing a cloth mask over their mouths and noses. If only COVID caused visible symptoms like white-nose syndrome, then maybe we would do better at limiting exposure.
I have been in a forced self-isolation for nearly a year now. Last July, my symptoms of chronic illness progressed to the point where I became disabled, unable to work, and housebound. The stay at home measures were somewhat of a welcome respite for me. The rest of the world had to experience a bit of the isolation and seclusion I had been experiencing for months and I didn’t feel so alone. The accommodations that so many were unwilling or simply uninformed to make are now easily accessible as friends schedule zoom calls and rely on apps instead of in-person gatherings.
That kinship that comes with mutual suffering was quickly eradicated by what followed. Plenty of social media videos and photos showing people ignoring social distancing, refusing to wear masks, and prioritizing a broken economy over people’s lives. People are so hungry to return to their idea of fun, that they don’t care that I’m left behind and many will be left dead. Once again, I feel like I don’t matter.
Bats don’t know any better. Their survival instinct kicks in and tells them to stay in colonies. I just can’t fathom why our survival instincts aren’t kicking in. We can still be together, we don’t need to give up our colonies, IF we wear masks and practice social distancing. But because people are refusing to do those simple things in order to protect others, hundreds of thousands of people are dead and millions of people are sick. Tens of thousands of people will never recover after this virus and may be left permanently disabled, like me.
I am desperate to make people understand the long-term risks of this virus by showing them the devastating neuroimmune effects of ME/CFS that I am experiencing now. I want to encourage people to protect themselves and others, but they just won’t listen. My fellow humans don’t want my help. But this, hairless, toothless, screeching orphan does, and I will give it to him. I won’t leave him behind, like his colony did. Like my community is doing too.
I haven’t seen any larger bats for weeks, so I know his parents aren’t coming back to carry him to safety. This orphan has been fending for himself in my neighbor’s attic and finally decided to try to make it on his own. Somehow, he survived the fall. I can’t just leave him here.
I googled bat rescues and called a few numbers. The nearby animal rescue people do not handle bats, but I found the Second Chance Wildlife Center to take this little baby in and give him another chance at life. My husband and I put on gloves and carefully scooped him into a small cardboard box with holes for ventilation. He tried to crawl backwards to escape, but wasn’t able to move very easily. They told us to try giving him some “fatty cat food,” but he wanted nothing to do with it and inched his way backwards towards the edge of the box. I don’t think they realized how tiny he is when we first called. I wonder if he is a runt or if he was just born to late in the cycle.
With my illness, I am extremely limited in what I am able to do. I often can’t leave the house. I haven’t been able to drive my car for more than 20 or 30 minutes without my hands and arms being numb and tingling with neuropathy pain for months. But, I got in my car, with the baby in the backseat and drove nearly an hour to the rescue, with no ill effects except for a slight headache. I thought to myself, he may not make it until tomorrow, so I have to take him now. (My husband was tied up with zoom calls at work so I took this upon myself). Thankfully, I started wearing a neck brace yesterday and it seems to be extremely beneficial in stabilizing my neck during the car ride! I started feeling the neuropathy symptoms on the way home, but was pleasantly surprised by how I managed the long drive there and back. We’ll see if I face payback and PEM tomorrow.
As I drove, I worried that he still may not make it and could be dead on arrival. I heard him squeak a few times in succession a few times during the trip. Not the frantic, screeching, cries for help we heard in the backyard, but a few repetitive chirps, like he was telling me he was ok.
I got to the end of a residential street and the sign for the Wildlife Center appeared near a gravel path into the woods. It was beautiful, following the path cut through the woods that opened up to a large clearing with an old farm house and a few structures housing rescued animals. A young woman came out and grabbed the box, asked me questions, and told me to email them if I wanted to check up on his status. I certainly will!
I drove home with a soft smile on my face. I felt calm and peaceful and happy that I could use my time and energy to help another creature in need. I hope that my fellow humans will offer me the same when I inevitably will need their grace in the future.
I got home and thought about everything on my to-do list that I was supposed to accomplish today – the bloodwork I was supposed to fax to a new doctor, the appointment I was supposed to schedule for my next round of immunoglobulin infusions, the referral order from my doctor for the suspicious mole on my back that’s the least of my concerns right now. I said to my husband, ok now what do I do. He replied simply, “You have done enough today. You saved a baby bat. That’s enough.” I want to save the world, but that’s not my responsibility. Saving this baby bat is enough.