The day began in a whirl of confusion. I was up early, planning carefully for a swarm removal an hour from my house. I had all my goodies packed in two large baskets: sheets, tools, carry boxes, gloves, bee jacket, honey water and far more, because you just never know what you will find when you arrive. Unless, of course, you have a brainstorm at the last minute to ask the person to send you a photo of the swarm.
Which she did. And the swarm of honey bees turned out to be a hornet nest hanging beneath her mailbox. I made a quick note to myself to always ask, from now on, for a photo, if they can get one easily.
Well, suddenly, I had about four unexpected hours on my hands. What to do? It was going to be ninety degrees by that afternoon. I was wanting something cool for dinner. So, I grabbed my large pot and put up some water to boil pasta for macaroni salad. When I dumped the pasta into the boiling water, I turned on my stove hood fan.
And I heard a quiet little “clunk.” I thought, well, some leaves or debris must have filtered down the chimney and fell onto the plastic fan blade. The fan was running a little unevenly on it’s lowest speed, so I turned it up a notch, finished off the macaroni about eight minutes later, and turned off the hood fan.
I was walking out of the kitchen when the thought whispered to me, “Check the fan.” Mmmm, that’s right. Better check the fan. Carefully, I lowered the grease-trap screen covering the fan blade, and that is when I saw him. Oh, no, I thought. A baby bird! No…a baby mouse! No, oh no…a baby…bat! He was crouched on the very corner of the screen, chocolate brown and hairless, no larger than a dime and almost as thin.
My hands were shaking as I reached for him, for fear of hurting him any worse than I already had. Good grief, who would expect a bat? When I touched his tiny back, he wobbled around and grabbed hold of my little finger with feet that stuck like velcro. I held him in one hand and raced to grab my magnifying visor with the other. I had bought the thing years ago when I was working with hummingbirds and it is a godsend when you have anything tiny and squirming in your hands.
Up close, I was distraught to see that he was missing one of his little thumbs and that skin had been torn from his forearm. But there was no blood, so perhaps the skin had been very thin? What to do, what to do. I noticed I was hyperventilating. I remembered what I now tell myself in my meditations each morning: How is the energy moving right now? How is Skan’ flowing? I took a slow, gentle breath. And another one. Surely, the mother must be near. Most likely she was the “clunk” I heard when I started up the fan.
I went to my linen closet and pulled out a soft piece of fleece blanket, folding it into a small square, placed it and the tiny bat on the grease screen, and slipped the screen back into place. Then, I poured myself a glass of water, cut up an onion for the macaroni salad, washed my hands, and slowly lowered the edge of the grease screen again.
There on the bottom, laying chest down and still, rested the mother bat. I could see a tear in one wing—not a large one. She had not gone to the baby bat. He was wobbling and peeping a couple of inches away. I put the screen back, dashed out into my laundry room where I have a small plastic pet carrier. I grabbed a small tea-shirt from my drawer and draped it over one side of the carrier, so that it hung down to the bottom, and created a “hanging wall” for the bats. I put paper towels in the bottom, and eased mother and baby into the carrier box. I moved the baby bat over toward his mother with a chopstick. The last thing I needed was a nip from mom. As a rabies vector, bats are euthanized if they have bitten or scratched anyone.
Even after all these years, even though I know better, my tendency in such situations is to do too much, too fast. So as I felt myself become more desperate to DO SOMETHING, I made my self sit still and breathe. Then, with a calmer heart, I got on the phone.
Many phone calls later, I had enough information to get the bats and me through the night. I hurried off to the petshop to get mealworms and to the market to get Pedialyte if I needed some electrolytes for anyone.
After about a hour, the mother bat had still not reunited with her distressed youngster. So with great care, I reached in to the pet carrier with a small dishrag and reached for the mother bat. It was a tricky operation. You need to keep your fingers nimble enough to grasp the bat, but protected enough so that there is no chance for a bite. One cancels out the other, and frustration is the order of the day. Plus, that mamma bat was fast! Every time I thought I had her secure beneath the dishcloth, she scuttled on thumbs and feet off to the other side of the container. There she would sit, showing me her white teeth, and wiggling her long ears at me in disgust.
My well-intentioned plan was to get her in my hand, open up one arm to reveal her nipple, and stick the baby bat onto her with those velcro feet of his. I was certain of one thing, and that was that she would do a far, far better job of feeding him than I would. Sheesh, I could barely see his little mouth!
The bat rodeo continued until a certain moment when all the stars aligned in the heavens, and I caught her. Up close, she was lovely, if a tad bit greasy from the hood fan ride. Her fur was dense and luxurious, her eyes like the tiniest, shiniest of glass beads. Her mouth was impressive, too. Lots of short, sharp teeth that she kept showing off to me. With the side of the dishcloth, I turned her face away from me, and gently grabbed up her baby. As carefully as I could manage with clumsy hands, I stuck him against his mother’s side.
Instantly, he quit muttering and flipped himself upside down, his feet up by her shoulders, his face attached to her nipple. I let loose of her fragile arm and she folded it around him. I breathed a sigh of relief and covered them both, but left her head and that big mouth of hers unwrapped. Again with my free hand, I uncovered the small tub of mealworms, hooked one with a pair of long-handled tweezers, and aimed for that open, cranky mouth. The mealworm brushed against her lips and she lunged for it, probably thinking it was a piece of my finger. She seemed suddenly surprised at the crunch of the worm.
She paused for an instant, wiggled those leaf-like ears, and reached for the worm again. Working together in a small bit of blessed harmony, we got five worms into her, and a few nice drops of water. Then she licked her lips, and snuggled her head down into the rag.
I released her slowly onto the side of the tee-shirt. She looked my way suspiciously, then turned in a circle, upended herself, and hung down like a lovely dark teardrop from the cloth. Up by her shoulder, I could see the little one wiggle in her embrace until his small bald head—like a tender black pearl—appeared by her shoulder. She sniffed him, licked him, and then closed her eyes.
I placed thirty mealworms in a small ceramic dish, and put a shallow jar lid of water in the carrier. Then, I closed them up for the night and set them in my closet, closing the door to give them some privacy and some peaceful darkness. I checked on them with a flashlight later in the evening, and the mother bat was hunkered down in the mealworm dish, grabbing at the wiggling mass. Her baby rested head down and folded up like a tiny mummy on the tee-shirt. I had read that the mothers leave the babies in nursery colonies when they go out to forage, so I was not too worried about the little guy. He’d been fed, and the closet was very warm.
Luna and Little Dex: That’s what I named them. I settled into bed that night and read about bats and bat rehabilitation. I believed the bats were little brown bats, a very common species all over the United States. I checked on them twice more that night, and was happy to see the dish of mealworms licked clean and Little Dex curled in the arm of his mother, Luna. If they survived the night, which looked likely, I would need to find someone to take them on in the morning. From the reading I did online that night, it was clear to me I did not have the expertise to shepherd these tiny dark angels on their healing journey.
Next morning found the bat family doing well, so I got back on the phone and started making more calls. The Portland Audubon Society has a large rehabilitation center for birds and mammals and they had a bat specialist and a vet ready to take a look at Luna and Little Dex. Carter and I had a hurried breakfast and were on our way.
I handed the carrier over to the attendant at the Rehab Center, and took the number assigned to my two precious charges so that I could follow up on them. The vet told me she would examine them both soon, and that if Little Dex’s injuries precluded his release, they could consider keeping him as an educational animal. I believed that Luna was going to be just fine with her small wing tear, which could heal on its own or be sewed shut if it was too large.
That afternoon as I cleared my room of bat rescue gear, I thought about my remarkable encounter. I willed myself to remember always the feel of Little Dex on my hand. Never in your life will you have a tiny bat clinging to your finger, I told myself. Remember it. Remember how warm he was, and how slightly tacky his thin baby skin felt. Remember his bald head and big pointy ears, and how the baby skin around his tiny black eyes was crinkled up like an old man.
Sometime in the next week, I plan to open up the pipe to my stove fan to see if there is a nursing colony of bats hanging in there. I have not heard them, but it is very curious that Luna would have been alone in the chimney. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ll be using a table fan when I make pasta again.
And I want to give heartfelt thanks to whatever spirit told me to open up the grease screen—yet another reminder to listen to those small, quiet, voices that seem to come out of nowhere and everywhere, bringing miracles and guidance each step of the way.
UPDATE: Yesterday, the Audubon Society called and reported that Little Dex had passed away. His injuries were too great. However, Luna was treated and doing so well that an assistant from the Society came over yesterday and released her back into our yard. I feel very bittersweet today, sad that Little Dex did not make it, but grateful that he was with his mother, Luna, the whole time. I’m sure that was a great comfort to him. And I am happy for Luna, that her wild ride was not her last ride!