The Bats are Back!

On Sunday last week, my eighty-three-year-old neighbor said, “If I was a bat, I’d be thinking about heading north about now.” We walked down to the icehouse, the roofless building with the mural on the back, where the bats reside most of the year. We were a day early. I could tell our little friends arrived Monday. Not because I went to see them that evening, but because there were no gnats falling onto my keyboard or crawling over my laptop screen.

As of today, it’s been a week since the T or C bat colony came home from their winter trip to Mexico, and I’ve watched them three times already. Their delicate wings are translucent as they flutter out in groups of ten or twenty, emerging into the evening sky from the blue sky of the mural, and then dispersing toward Turtleback Mountain and the Rio Grande. The joy that surges in me with each flight of bats is pure and wordless. Transcendent. My neighbor feels the same way. When bats take off, he sounds like a kid in his delight. On a windy night, he was disappointed to see only a few. Tonight, I was thrilled to witness flight after flight, a seeming infinity of bats.

An out-of-state tourist staying at the Riverbend RV park, right behind the mural, saw me standing and staring at the wall, and I explained I was watching bats. He stopped and watched briefly and said it was good the owner of the icehouse let them live there, but I don’t think he shared the mind-clearing flash of happiness these creatures give me. Nor can I explain it. Perhaps their silent sounds are penetrating my consciousness, sonar bouncing off my inner landscape and attuning me to the present moment in which they, my honored relations, always live.

Advertisements

Opening to the Season

One day it was summer and the next day it was autumn. A deep silence heralded the change. Then, with a sudden wind, the new season flew in, bringing a day of dramatic skies—sunny patches, blue-gray clouds shedding thin sheets of rain, white clouds towering in wild wind-sculpted shapes. The only creatures I met in the desert were quail. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees, and everything that lives in a warm burrow was in it. Even after the weather began moving, my mind remained affected by the strange silence that preceded it, fascinated by sounds and the space between them. The tapping of rain. Nothing. The brushing of wind against rocks and trees. Nothing. A quail peep. Nothing.

I went to City of Rocks state park a week or so ago when friends visited from Virginia, and it was perfectly silent unless we spoke or walked. No cars. No other people. Nothing.

It’s hard for the human mind to sustain total silence. Openness to the arrival of pure experience can be overwhelming. My head is more at home filled with the chatter of its own products, from the turning point in a plot to my daily plans. But without stillness, none of the activity works as well.

At home, the silence embraces me. After nearly six months of running the air conditioner, I’ve been able to turn it off. On an evening walk, my neighbor and I fell into silence as the bats emerged from their new home, swirling into the sunset sky from behind a broken blue wall with a mural on it. They’ll only be with us for another week or two, and then they’ll migrate to Mexico. We humans, our heads full of words and the sense of time, are aware that when the bats leave, another season has changed. Something has ended. And yet it hasn’t. In the perfect, circular nature of real time, the cycle is eternal.

*****

Read more of Amber Foxx’s essays on this blog and in the collection in Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.

 

Change

The bats have relocated. It’s an unwelcome change for their fans, but it was inevitable. They couldn’t stay in a man-made structure forever.

The old warehouse where they resided has been sold and cleaned out, and repairs are in progress. The building was crumbling, and the bats, delicate and magical as they are, made it stink. The man working on the place said the bats were welcome to back if they wanted to for now, but of course they don’t want to. He had the doors wide open and daylight was pouring in. The building is going to be converted into several apartments. As one of my neighbors said, even bats have the sense not to like developers.

Years ago, the bats lived in the Methodist church, also known as the pink church. Then, after a fly-out, the church had wire mesh installed over the vents so the bats couldn’t come back in. They moved to the warehouse. Now they’ve moved again. Bat lovers in the T or C hot springs historic district have been watching the sky at sunset. Our little relatives are still around, though in smaller numbers, and we don’t know where they live now. We’ve checked various possible new bat homes. The Baptist Church. No bats. The ice house, an empty building between Rio Bravo Fine Art and the community youth club. No bats. Though I miss the clouds of them in the evening sky, I hope for the bat colony’s sake that they have moved to a nice private cave on protected land where they can stay for generations.

Several evenings ago, I took a sunset walk, and a few bats hunted bugs over the streets. I counted seven bats fluttering over the river and the wetlands, but I couldn’t stand by the water and be immersed in them. And gnats are gathering on my ceiling again, though only by the dozens, not swarming the way they do when the bats are entirely out of town.

A speckled and striped gecko, no more than an inch long, with a rosy patch on its tiny head, was attempting to sneak into my apartment when I got home from running today. I was tempted to allow it to move in. It was cute and it would eat gnats. But I caught it, admired it, and carried it across the courtyard to a rocky area under a tree. Better for all of us, in the long run.

Launch

On June 1st 2017, I left my apartment in Virginia for the last time. With the help of an amazing friend, I had most of my belongings miraculously crammed into my very small car, and had already sold my furniture and excess books. I said my good byes and gave away my bed, my landlord inspected the place, and I hit the road. Bit by bit, plan by plan, I downsized to the minimum and retired early. I’d say more, but why? It was interesting to me, of course, but not because of any adventure or drama that would make a good story, but because it went so smoothly.

On June 1st 2018, I went for a walk to enjoy one of T or C’s amazing full-circle sunsets— pink clouds in the south and in the east, orange and purple mingling in the West—and to commune with the bats that emerge from an old warehouse in the middle of town, next door to the trailer I use as Mae’s house in my books. (I’ve not used the bats in my books yet, but Mae would like them.)

I watched the bats pour from a crack in the brick wall in a flow of perfectly sequenced flights, one bat right after another, and tried to imagine how they organized this exit. One squadron would take off, and then no one came out for a while, but after the pause there was a lot of squeaking high up in the old warehouse. Whenever the squeaking got loud and then stopped,  more bats came out. Sometimes a solo bat popped out of a small hole lower in the wall or shot out of a hole to the right of the main exit, while the main surge of fliers swept out from the big crack and headed for the river. Their orderly formations dispersed into every-which-way flutters, a few independent bats leaving the crowd altogether to stay and hunt bugs around the neighborhood.

One reason this multi-bat take-off is so amazing is they can’t run; they can only take off by dropping and launching like hang gliders. Imagine the launch sequence inside the old warehouse as one bat after another lets go of the ceiling and aims for the exit. Somehow, they organize it, and it works.

A year after my move, I have no regrets. It was the right decision, a successful launch. I can live happily as a writer and yoga teacher in a very small apartment in a wonderfully weird town. I’ve made new friends and no enemies (that I know of) and am still discovering the simple beauties of this place. I ran in the desert on June 1st 2018, aware that a year earlier I was in my car. On my way to the quail, the jackrabbits, the mule deer, and the checkered whiptails that made my run so beautiful. On my way home.

 

Gnats

They only want light. Or at least I think that’s what they want. They cling to the ceiling and then die, in such astounding numbers I’m amazed they keep coming and that the world isn’t running out of gnats. They started slipping in through the tiny gaps around the air conditioner every night when the weather got warm. I keep a mop out so I won’t be constantly stepping on their poor little corpses. In the place I used to rent, the converted pea-soup-green trailer that plays the role of Mae’s house in my books, I had a few well-placed house spiders who lived under the lamps and took care of this problem. But I have none here.

When the bats came back to their nearby caves in mid-April, the gnats vanished for a while. But when the high winds kick up, the bats stay low over the Rio Grande, their delicate bodies protected by the banks, and they don’t come into town. They don’t like wind any more than I do. So, on windy nights, the gnats once again hover around my ceiling light, walk across my computer screen, and then pepper my floor.

Sometimes I resent them, but they only want light.

My thoughts intrude like gnats sometimes, and I catch them being negative or critical, or just self-pressuring-busy with all the things I tell myself I ought to do. Behind all this seeking-something energy, there’s an impulse toward light. I mop up the gnats. Thoughts. Gnats. With gratitude for bats and spiders, and for the space between my thoughts.

Just go!

There’s a difference between the desire to do something and the inner voice that urges me to act. If you’ve had this experience, maybe you know what I mean. Today, I wanted to go to yoga in Albuquerque, really wanted to take that class, but I knew I was too tired and shouldn’t drive. That was a pro and con discussion within my rational mind. No mysterious inner voice telling me to do one thing or the other. I didn’t sleep well because I suspect I’ve been overtraining—yes, while in book prison, I was also reviewing a textbook on plyometric training and of course experimenting with the exercises on top of my usual running, yoga and strength training—so with those odd aches and poor sleep that said “overtraining, back off,” I had no intention of taking a walk tonight. I’d already done a gentle yoga practice, walked a few errands, been to the pool … but it was sunset and the bats would be out. I love the bats. They make me insanely happy for no reason, just pure blank bat-joy when they fly past me and around me. The urge was powerful, as if some other force was tying the laces of my walking shoes. Go, just go.

Bats danced erratically in and out of alleys and across the faded blue and orange of the evening sky. It was a little late to see them dipping along the Rio Grande, drinking from the river in flight, but they flittered in the wind above the water and I felt rewarded for my walk. Then a crest along the ridge of Turtleback Mountain, a few notches below the Turtle itself, began to glow from behind. The moon. The light brightened, and then a slice of the full moon appeared, so intense it looked bright green around the edge and orange in the middle where the buffalo is kicking. (Can you see this instead of a man-in-the moon face—a buffalo kicking the moon?) Alone in the park except for the bats and some jumping, plopping fish, I watched the turning of the earth and its night partner. Then a car pulled in. I didn’t move from the prime spot with the view until the moon was fully revealed. And the people in the car actually waited, as if they knew they would ruin a moment by driving up to the water’s edge. When the moon and I were done, I left the park and the car pulled up the river and people and dogs got out.

The timing was perfect. When the voice says go, just go.

 

Bat Medicine

640px-Free-tailed_bats

On a recent evening, I walked to the wetland at the edge of the Rio Grande for the bat-rise at sunset, the silent dance of dark forms against the golden sky, and remembered that I’d written about it a few years ago. I let the bats swoop around me and silence my mind into clarity for a while, and then came back and found that old post. The bats are still sacred and healing to me, so here it is again.

*****

I began re-reading Linda Hogan’s book of essays Dwellings and Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman at the same time. This pairing of readings couldn’t be more dissimilar in style, content and purpose. I finished the latter book quickly, but took my time with the first. It’s too beautiful to hurry through.

Poet and novelist Hogan, a member of the Chickasaw tribe, writes of the spirituality inherent in the natural world. Her insights into the relationships between living creatures and our own souls is anchored in places and in specific experiences—going to hot springs in a cave, or working at a bird sanctuary. She doesn’t write about animals or the earth in general, but this piece of earth, this particular sunflower, this colony of mud-building bees. When she cites other writers, often scientists, she finds passages so beautiful they flow into her own essays like the breath of the same breeze. Her topics range from wolves, to the Amazon rainforest, to the life cycle of water and rock, to the deeper meaning of ape language experiments, and more.

These essays wake the reader up to the aliveness of every moment, as the author hears the song of corn, or discovers the liquid, graceful, wing-wrapped mating of two bats she rescued from their fall back into hibernation in a sudden spring chill. “I put them in a warm corner outside, nestled safe in dry leaves and straw. I looked at them several times a day. Their fur, in the springtime, was misted with dewy rain. They mated for three days in the moldering leaves and fertile earth, moving together … then apart, like reflections on a mirror, a four-chambered black heart beating inside the closed tissue of wings.”

In addition to this subtle observation of their beauty, she sees the bats from a Native spiritual perspective. “The bat people are said to live in the first circle of holiness. Thus, they are intermediaries between our world and the next. Hearing the chants of all life around them, they are listeners who pass on the language and songs of many things to human beings who need wisdom, healing and guidance in our lives, we who forget where we stand in the world.”

This forgetting where we stand is Hogan’s theme. We need to heal ourselves back into what she refers to in her novel Power as “the real human beings”. If you love language, you will love this book, and you may come away from it loving every living creature, every crack in a rock, every sound when the wind blows, as if you had never seen and heard and known them before. I hope you will, like I did, love this book so much you want to read it again and again.

Harner’s book is almost the opposite of Hogan’s. An anthropologist turned shamanic trainer, he does his best to distill the essence of shamanism into a kind of how-to book for modern people. After an introductory chapter in which he tells of his studies with the Jivaro tribe, he intentionally presents shamanism divested of culture, land, language and tradition. Even the animals are not real creatures that walk the earth and breathe and live their lives, but animal spirits, guardians and guides for humans, and plants are also their spirit essence, for use in healing humans.

His citations are dense and thickly strewn, sometimes without any background on the culture or lives of people he is citing. That, however, is his point. This is shamanism as modern medicine, a world-wide range of healing traditions pared down to their “active ingredients.” Shamans from Australia to North America use quartz crystals, drums, rattles and dances. Shamans all over the world take journeys to find knowledge, and have power relationships with animal spirits. He turns these elements into a kind of recipe for being a shaman. Maybe it works for some people, but for me the best parts of this book are the direct quotations from real shamans such as the “sucking doctor” Essie Parrish, rather than the parts about modern Americans “dancing their animals.”

Compared to my experience of traditional ceremonies, or even to running outdoors, or dreaming, neo-shamanism feels incomplete, but then I wasn’t reading with the intention of putting it into practice. I had read the book before and gone to a workshop with Harner at an alternative therapies conference years ago, and already knew I wasn’t going to use this for spiritual guidance. It was research for a novel, Soul Loss, in which one character is a teacher of neo-shamanism—not based on Harner himself, only on the kind of practice that he teaches—and I needed to refresh my recollections.

I dreamed once that I turned into a bat. In this form I flew though the dome of an art gallery and then descended to the bottom floor as the blue outline of bat, a bat made of twilight sky. In Truth or Consequences, I like to walk down to the Rio Grande at that low blue time of evening in the summer and let the bats surround me at the edge of the little wetland where redwing blackbirds sing by day. While the bats dance for bugs, I can stand in the midst of them, and they swoop close without ever touching me, perfectly aware in their busy flight, flawless pilots of their world of sound. To me the animals themselves feel more sacred than a journey to find my “power animal.” This bat immersion is the bat medicine I need.