My own watershed moment of consciousness and enlightenment came in the form of what I used to think was a winged, night dwelling terror—a little brown bat.
As a young boy, growing up in an old nineteenth century era Victorian
house, a block from the belfry of an even older abandoned church, I knew
the expression “bats in the belfry” was more than just a cliché. They’d
frequently sneak into our rather porous house during the summer,
occasionally dive bombing my siblings and I in their quest for human
blood (or so we thought).
My father, ever the gentle soul, never killed them. Once the little bat settled down, he’d take a towel and capture it with his hands, wrapping the bat in the towel. I remember their alarmed chirping as he’d carry it out back, where he’d place it gently on the ground. We’d watch from a distance as the bat unraveled itself and then flew away into the trees.
My young manhood was questioned when I was around 12 because of a bat. My older brother was off to college, Pops was on a business trip, and wouldn’t you know it a bat got in the house.
My mom and sister looked to the man of the house, but there was no way I was going to deal with it. My mom ended up calling my Uncle Dick, who was not quite as gentle as Pops. He beat it to death with a broom, and gave me a look like “why couldn’t you have done that” as he left.
What does being humiliated and emasculated as a teen have to do with my watershed moment? Quite a bit, actually.
As an adult, I was forced to come to grips with bats once again during the renovation of our 1915 era barn. Apparently they’d been calling the crevasses of that 100 year old redwood their home for decades.
Some of the Mexican free tails, along with several other more domestic species, never leave, and every autumn they’re joined by literally hundreds, some years many, many more, of their migrating compadres as they make their way east and south.
Not wanting to move, I starting doing some serious research.
I discovered their advanced echo-location capabilities, far beyond any man-made machine, their 6,000 mile migratory route, and their very social nature. These weren’t monsters. They are a shining testament to the miracle of life.
I read about the city of Austin, the Congress Street bridge, and the Texas USA city’s own watershed moment. Tens of thousands of Mexican free tails took up roost in the crevices designed into the bottom of their new bridge. City officials at first thought of extermination, but they eventually embraced them, and the bats have since become a big attraction.
My wife Katherine and I made a pilgrimage to Austin to witness it first hand, and it really was quite amazing. Standing under the bridge at dusk, we heard their familiar chirping, rising in volume minute by minute as their excitement builds. First a few, followed by hundreds and then thousands, they take off en mass, dipping down to skim the Colorado River for a drink, then disappearing into the night.
Like the city of Austin, my own family, including scaredy-cat Dad, decided to embrace them. We did evict them from the eves, but gently, prodding them to move a few feet over to our homemade bat boxes, made of the same 100 year old redwood that apparently the bats love as much as I do.
Now, when I collect their guano for our garden in the containers I’ve placed below their new homes, I thank them for my watershed moment and the wisdom they’ve bestowed upon me, as well as their nitrogen-rich compost. It may be my imagination, but I think they embrace me too, gently chirping their gratitude at our new-found relationship.
Apparently, our farm is a beacon for bats, having the right combination of habitat, water, and bugs. They keep finding new ways to sneak into this eave or that, and I can’t really blame them. They’re quite ingenious, really, always finding novel ways of penetrating my defenses.
I’ll leave them be, but if they’re somewhere I don’t want them, I gently evict them by stapling plastic mesh, like you use for screen doors, over their entrance, leaving it open at the bottom. This way they can get out but they can’t get back in. Don’t use metal mesh, as this can harm their tiny little bat parts.
Since that watershed moment, I’m rarely bored. The miracle of life—incredible in its diversity and wonder—is all around us here on our farm, on planet earth, and throughout the Universe. All you have to do is start to take notice.
Wherever you are, look for your own inspiration. Start to be more observant of what’s around you, be aware, and live in the moment. Maybe you’ll have your own watershed moment?