I am annoyed by Old Wives’ Tales. I don’t know who these ubiquitous wisewomen are, but their take on life has given lots of animals quite a bad rap. For the better part of my life, I thought these myths were aggravating because of their persistence in the modern world. After all, we should know better than to think black cats are minions of evil, that a snake got us kicked out of Eden, and bats like to fly into our hair, but I stand before you humbled and remiss. Recent experience has taught me there is one thing more annoying than the tales themselves:The undeniable fact that sometimes the old broads got it right.
A few years ago, a Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) decided to make his home in the rafters of our twenty-six-foot-tall Great Room. He was quite small, barely visible on the oak beams unless he moved, and because I didn’t know when he arrived, I worried he would starve without the nightly buffet of mosquitoes, midges, and gnats. I called the Department of Conservation to see if there was a recommended way to snare or lure a bat outside, or maybe even a “Bat Rescue Team” who would come retrieve him, but the woman with whom I spoke offered only one bit of advice: “Open a door and hope he flies out.” Wow. Thanks.
After three days and many attempts to usher our guest outdoors, it was obvious that The Bat was determined to stay. I hated the idea of helplessly witnessing his slow demise, so, thinking it was time to try something utterly ridiculous, I gave him a little speech.
“Look man,” I said, “you can’t survive in here. There is no bat-food and there are no bat-mates and I’m your only hope for escape. I’ll help you, but you have to show me how.”
I went away depressed, knowing there was nothing left to do but wait and see. The night following my little lecture, I dreamt there was a giant moth in my room, his wing beats audible as he flew around my head. I tried to fend him off with such energy that I sat up just as something collided with the side of head, tangling in my hair. Then, in the fog of partial consciousness I reached up and grabbed the creature and threw it to the floor. In the two nanoseconds between dream and waking, my brain kicked in and I thought, “Holy moley! Its The Bat!”
As luck would have it, my midnight intruder was as stunned as I was by the goings-on, and I had time to grab a t-shirt off the end of the bed and toss it over him. I tiptoed to my dresser, got out a pair of winter gloves, and gently, oh so gently, picked the little guy up, shirt and all. I took him out to the deck (making absolutely certain I closed the door behind me), set him on the railing, and took away the shirt. I stepped back and waited while he got his bearings, then did a silent cheer as he took flight, off into the midnight-world where he belonged.
Back in my room, I tried to internalize what had happened. The bat had flown from the Great Room, into the upstairs library, down the hall past the guest room and my office, into my bedroom and smacked me in the head. “Strange” didn’t begin to cover it. Why, after nearly a week, did the bat decide to leave his roost and travel about? Why did he fly toward the well-lit environment of the library and my office, then into my room? And, most importantly, why did it happen less than twelve hours after I offered my help?
Those are questions to which I have no answers, but I wonder if there is a grain of truth in these Old Wives’ Tales, a message we will only understand if we can uncover the whole story. Maybe cats do carry secrets from the spirit world, but spirits that work for the powers of good; maybe that snake was just clever enough to talk (Genesis doesn’t say it was Satan) and just wanted to tell Eve about the tasty apples, and maybe bats only fly into a human’s hair when they are trying to communicate. Life in The Wild is so much more complex than we realize. There are so many more levels of existence to explore. If we assume we (humans) are superior to all other species, we deny ourselves the opportunity to see what The Wild has to teach us.
Albert Einstein put it well when he wrote:” People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live…We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” So let us be like children, rapt in awe of the beauty of The Wild and let us sit at the feet of the Old Wives until we hear the story from beginning to end. Then, if we learn our lessons and remember them well, one day we will become the Old Wives and share new tales with the children of the world to come.