I picked this week's poem because I happened to catch a conversation on Charlie Rose the other night about the troubling and potential environmental crisis involving huge numbers of bats in Vermont and upstate New York (not far from me, actually) dying of something they are calling "white nose syndrome," because many of the dead bats they are finding have a white fungus on their noses. Scientists have yet to discover the cause. This could have a serious impact on the environment because bats do a great deal to control the insect population. This is nice for those of us who don't like mosquitoes and flies, but beyond that, it's important for farmers and crops.
Anyway, thinking of bats took me back to my time working in the mammalogy department of the American Museum of Natural History. Except that it didn't pay enough for me to live on, it was a pretty cool job. Working in the big musty rooms beyond the visiting areas felt special. The museum is in an exciting part of the city - near Central Park - and in those days I'd walk either all or half way from 18th and 1st where I lived to Central Park west. It was good for my health. My office in the museum... I was a mere secretary - with three bosses - but I had my own huge office which I shared with the dead bodies of hundred of bats and rats from Indonesia. Because I worked fast, was easily bored, and could do it, I ended up editing manuscripts and (this was so cool) numbering and cataloging specimens. This entailed writing 8 to 10 digit numbers onto bones, some of them extremely small. It was interesting in a strange way and quite a challenge at times to fit all those numbers onto those tiny little bones.
But back to bats. One of my three bosses was the the late Karl Koopman who was at the time the world's foremost expert on bats. He loved bats way more than people. If some poor soul called in asking for help because his/her house was infested with breeding bats, Koopman told them they should learn to live with it or move. He sang the generic names of bats to the tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan songs. He even looked kind of like a bat. I didn't really know him very well, but he did change my peceptions about bats and I wrote this poem for him.
ODE TO A BAT
dedicated to Karl Koopman
Little bats, Bella and Boris
Winging softly through the forest
On your wings of silent leather
Unadorned by fleece or feather
Doing no one any harm
Yet driven off from hearth and farm
You who have since ancient times
Been the butt of unkind rhymes
You, who unlike men and birds
Hark the sound of your own words
You are not that nasty creature
Oft portrayed in double feature
Drinking blood and spreading fear
No! Gently do you twitch your ear
And listening for an echoed sound
Eat bugs and fruits which do abound
Then flutter home to cave or tree
And hang there, resting quietly
We're sorry for the fear-filled lies
That haunt your passage through the skies
And maybe as men grow less foolish
Our stories will become less ghoulish
And furry bats hung upsidedown
Will not be scorned in every town
Nor virgins wear a cross at night
To save them from your dreadful bite
And man, with realistic eye
Will watch untrembling when you fly
Nor will he pause this time to curse,
But knowing nature is diverse
He'll smile to think in yesteryear
Men looked at gentle bats with fear
Or thought you worked for evil ends
You kindly bats who are our friends.
- Katherine E. Rabenau
As long as we are on a semi ecological theme - I wanted to post a reminder that on March 29th there's something going on called the "Earth Hour." The idea is for people all over the world to conserve one hour's worth of electricity by turning their lights off for an hour at 8:00 pm on the 29th. For more coherent information on the subject check out Earthhour.org.