Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hibernaculum

I am waiting for the bat.

In July, when we moved in, he was here.

He roosted in a corner of our screened attic window, wadded tightly, a velvet sock rolled into the lower right corner.  Sometimes he hung upside down, a hooded bulb.

Smaller than the paper lanterns hanging above him, the two empty wasp-nests.

Heavier than the dried leaves clinging in the spiderwebs.

Little brown bat.

I ran to the computer, looked him up.  Little brown bat.  That was, in fact, his name.  Myotis lucifugus.  American little brown bat.  Male because solitary.  Sleepy because summer.  Works for four hours a day.  Flies and darts and catches.  But that's hard work, so he must rest much of the time.  I understand this.  I am a writer.
 
I fell in love.

Although I knew I shouldn't, I visited him daily. I have never lived with a bat, and I couldn't help myself.  I opened the door, ducked under the beam, crept toward the eave to stare.  Often I couldn't see his face.  It was hidden like a pea in a mattress.  When I could see it, it was small and strange and sharp, like something I should be comfortable with, but wasn't.

Little brown bat.

You are not allowed to kill the little brown bat.  He is protected.  When the exterminator came to the house, I made sure he knew.  There are some things, of course, you are allowed to do--like turn on the light three times a day to look at him--but you probably shouldn't.  Eventually I got a hold of myself, cut back like a smoker.  I came late at night, to see that he was gone, off hunting and catching.  I came in the morning, too, to see that he was back.  Every time, this terrible dread that he wouldn't be.

One may fret over a bat in the same way one frets over a lover or an idea.

"The little brown bat can be distinguished from the Indiana bat by the absence of a keel on the caclar and the presence of hairs on the hind feet that extend past the toes"--but I have no idea what this means, and I never got close enough, and I am vaguely resentful.  There are some things about a bat that should remain a mystery.

One day, late in fall, he didn't come home.  I scurried to my computer (I wasn't at my computer because there is always something you can do that is easier than writing, and looking at a little brown bat is one of those things).  A little brown bat must hibernate; he will fly south to find a mate, procreate, and seek a hibernaculum.  The beauty of that word made up, a little, for the loss.

The little brown bat is now, I assume, in a cave or an abandoned mine.  I too am drawn to caves and abandoned mines, and often go and live in them myself.  Sometimes, it's important to not even try to do anything.

Now I am waiting for the bat.

The computer says he might not be back until May.  It says nothing about whether the little brown bat likes to come back to the same roost, each year, it says nothing about ambition or variety.  The little corner where he slept is an empty yoke.  I don't go and look every day.  The last time, I mistook a fresh leaf for his body.

The wingspan of the little brown bat is eight to eleven inches.  Its membrane is dark brown.

What is the definition of little?


--MD

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