Thursday, 2 August 2012

Top Speed in the Pitch Black

Tim Flach bat
Night was soul-stirring beauty, heavy mist tumbling down silver from the high meadow and still as the grave. The oxeyes looked like melting snow under a solid cover of cloud, illuminated by the moon above it like a movie screen.

Bats darted into the barn, slalomed through the roof trusses, and out the other end. Soft little silent beings, spinning past the timbers without a qualm. Little browns; country bats. At the stable door they whispered past my ear, so close I could feel their slipstream. One wheeled hard at eye-level and flailed briefly, astonished to see me there without, as he thought, a light. (The red beam of my torch being all but invisible to animals.)

Even dense jungle was as open sky to them. One July midnight, as I sat beneath the Tyvek, a shadow hurtled past my cheek, several times in rapid succession, like a leaf in a whirlwind. It was a bat, winding around and around my rushlight, mopping up every flying thing. Barely a foot from my nose at near orbit, she vanished like a soap bubble when she realised what I was. I hoped she would return another night, but she never did.

I had a close relationship with bats. When I was a boy, I used to lie in my boat on summer nights and watch them shoot through the constellations. I liked everything about them. They were defiantly mammal. They ate mosquitos. They outflew every other airframe in nature, in pitch black, at top speed, intercepting the tiniest prey by sound alone. And people hated them.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and Tim Flach.)
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