Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Flying Creatures

Last night moths poured through the windows of this house. There were so many I imagined they were coming in like water, as if the whole house had been plunged into a sea of moths, and there was nothing they could do but get sucked in. Then, while the lights were on, they flopped languidly around the rooms, making big shadows of themselves, maybe believing that is what they really were, big black slow-flying monsters.

I keep looking at flying things - wondering how it must feel to fly: the seagulls making the most of high winds to skim and swoop - oddly silent now they are a little way inland; then the fat grey wood pigeons for whom taking off seems to require so much effort; and then, just before night falls, the bats. Every night during the summer they come out and circuit our small garden and very often Hodmandod Senior and I go and sit outside just to watch them.

There is something sinister about bats. Their flight is too fast and seemingly chaotic, their voices are usually too high to be heard, though sometimes they are low enough to squeal uncomfortably in the ear. Then there is that odd way that they sleep, dangling upside down, their leathery wings around them so they look like twitching pupae. Apparently bats spend their lives upside down like this for two reasons: in order to be out of reach of predators and so they can avoid taking off like a wood pigeon. If a bat wishes to fly it simply drops downwards and then flaps away from there - it is easier and less energy consuming.

However, the most disturbing thing about a bat is its face: the oversized pointed ears, the small eyes like protruding like beads, and the mouth, especially the mouth - the way it is toothed and ever-open, but with something too determined about it to be ever thought of as a gape. A gape would describe the greedy desperation of a baby bird but this little winged mammal is undoubtedly a blood-sucker. Even though most of them seem to eat fruit at our local zoo, it is difficult not to believe that their preference would be a swift suck of the thick red stuff every time.

One more thing about bats I just discovered, is that they grip on so hard with their thumbs that they even remain hanging onto their perch even after death. Which reminds me of a particularly disturbing scene in AUSTERLITZ by Sebald which I have just finished reading...


Blogger Anne S said...

Hi Clare,

Personally I like bats, though when I was a child we were encouraged to fear them. We were told that they could get caught in your hair.

When I was at boarding school as a child, I remember that when bats inadvertently flew into a room, we children used to hide under tables while the nuns tried to drive them out with brooms, flailing around wildly, habits flying. Quite amusing to think of these days.

It was about 10 or 15 years ago that I finally got to see a bat close up. It was just a small one and it was hiding inside a meter box. It was love at first sight. I thought it was the most beautiful, ugly creature I had ever seen.

These days in Melbourne fruit bats are common visitors to back gardens, particularly in summer.

During winter, at twilight you can see huge flocks of them flying overhead, heading from the north west to the east. Fruit bats are large and you can hear their wing flaps and twittering quite clearly. They look fantastic en masse, giant bat shadows blotting out the sky.

Thu Jul 20, 06:48:00 am  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

I just love the descriptions of the moths and bats Clare! I could read your descriptions of animals and insects forever ... You make 'ugly' beautiful.
I esp like the description of the bat's mouth.

Thu Jul 20, 09:52:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne: Thank you - it's lovely to have a glimpse of the world downunder!

Yes I am quite fascinated by bats too, but I know some people are almost pathologically terrified of them.

The image of nuns flying after bats must have been quite weird, really - terrestial bats going after airborn ones.

I'd love to see a bat close up. The nearest I get is in the Twilight Zone at Chester zoo. This is a huge enclosure with the circadian cycle reversed. You can feel the bats fly past your face as they go and roost on the walls next to you. They are quite difficult to see though because it is quite dark.

I should love to see a flock of bats and I should love to see a flock of starlings taking off together and wheeling around. I saw some on TV - Bill Odie was overawed. I thought they looked like iron filings following a magnet.

Thank you CB. I have modified it a bit now, I'm afraid - can't resist tinkering.

Thu Jul 20, 02:53:00 pm  

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