Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bats - Part One of Two - I Like Bats

Hello Friends:

Yes, that is a bat. If you never thought bats could be cute, like me, then here is the irrefutable evidence. This is a baby bat sucking on a binky. You can even adopt this bat, along with others, being cared for at the Bat World Sanctuary.

I’m of two very disparate minds about bats. On one hand, I enjoy and honor the natural world, and bats are a part of it. They’ve as much right to be here as anybody. On the other hand, well, bats are … scary. I mean, they aren’t really scary, just flying mammals, but because of my OCD situation, I have this idea that all bats have diseases. In my mind I know it’s not true, but my heart is convinced that ‘all bats have rabies’. So I thought I’d tell two stories about bats, one where I talk about how I see them as good, and the other about how I see them as, ah, not so good. It’s a great example of holding two concepts in the head at once that are equally true (to me) and also completely in conflict. This is what the psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. Us depressed or anxiety disordered folks have conflicting ideas in our heads all the time and it often makes us confused and frustrated, and usually we can’t quite put our finger on why.

So this post is about the good feelings I get when I think about bats. And I really do feel good about them. There are some small reasons, like I have a side to my personality that’s a goth, and loves darkness, vampires, and Halloween. To that part of me bats are totally excellent. And I’m a scientist so I’m well aware of how bats are a key part of their ecosystems. I also do not like insects as a general rule, and bats eat them. Then back to the idea that they are a part of the world, and belong here. And besides, would you look at that picture? It's cute! A cute bat! Ah, my illusions are shattered. Again.

But really, I mostly feel good about bats because they connect to a person. When I was in my last year of undergrad studies, I made friends with another student in one of my classes named Randy. We were both interested in astronomy, and intended to pursue it as a career. In fact, two years later, I found myself in the same graduate program as he. His favorite hobby was caving, and towards the end of my graduate work he, along with another caver, announced an amazing find - a cave they’d explored 14 years before and had kept mum about in order to preserve it from vandalism. If you are not familiar with Kartchner Caverns, then check out the State Parks of Arizona. It is truly a gorgeous cave, and the state is going to unprecedented extremes to keep the cave as pristine as possible.

Randy talked about how excited he was when he and his friend found the cave and began exploring. They had suspected there might be a big cave there, but were not ready for what they found. He talked, very happy and animated, about how they found bat droppings all over, and could even smell the bats. I found this nauseating, but Randy thought it was fantastic. Apparently cavers love to find bats because they signal a cave large enough for a bat colony.

Unfortunately, Randy Tufts isn’t with us any more to enjoy the full fruits of his labor. By the time he announced the find in 1999, he was already ill. In 2000 he had a bone marrow transplant for his myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, the same illness Carl Sagan suffered), but BMT’s are not the straightforward cure often portrayed in the movies, and he died in 2002. I have a close relative with a related disorder called myeloproliferative disease (MPD), and so Randy’s passing was a double whammy. Besides the fact that honestly, there wasn’t a nicer person. I know everybody says that when someone’s passed away, but I mean it. He was nice to everybody and made everyone feel like a friend.

So when I visit Kartchner Caverns, enjoy the cave, and listen to the rangers talk excitedly about the bats, I think of Randy. I also think that if the end product of my life is something as fantastic as bringing this amazing cave and it's inhabitants to the world to share, I'd be very pleased with my life. Very pleased. I hope he is - at the very least he's made one person (me) think deeply about their fears (bats) and reconsider the reasons for it. I'm still afraid of bats, but I know the fear is not based in fact; check out the Bat World site for more info.

Next post - I'll describe a rather close encounter I had with a bat, and why in spite of how damn cute this bat is, I'm still scared.

Your Hostess With Neuroses


The Tenacious Writer said...

That pic is both cute and freaky. I experience cognitive dissonance when I look at it. :-)

Your post is a lovely and moving testament to your friend Randy. I felt his loss as I was reading.

I wonder what a bat smells like.

The Blue Morpho said...

I can't decide if it looks more like a fox or a horse. Or just a horse head stuck on a bat body. Very weird. And then he's got a pacifier. Truth wins over fiction once again.

Yes, Randy's death is everybody's loss. He also did some fine research on Jupiter's moon Europa; and was one of the people concerned about how we can try to limit any spread of Earth organisms to other planets, just in case there is something there they could displace or harm.

I never want to find out what a bat smells like. Apparently there is one variety that smells like stale corn chips. Ugh.

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