Earlier this month at the wildlife sanctuary that I call my house, I caught a bat under a plastic Tupperware layer cake cover. The bat was flapping around the kitchen. The day before that, my wife found a nest with six squeaking baby mice in the closet in our den. And, best of all, we have baby barn swallows about to fly from a nest on a beam in our barn – right above where, before their parents built the best, I parked my car.
Meanwhile, because this summer has been hot and wet, the bugs seem bigger and hungrier than ever. I’ve seen mosquitoes that would have been happy to cage-fight the bat in my kitchen.
Just for the record, the bat did not have a white nose, a sign of white-nose syndrome disease: the illness that has decimated the bat population in the Northeast. It did not seem to be rabid either, but if it was, my family and my cats and I dodged a bullet. It was weeks ago now when – while humming “Born Free” – my wife and I brought the bat to a different part of the barn from where the swallows were nesting, pulled off the cake cover, and watched him disappear. (Just in case, I did report the bat to the Vermont Rabies Hotline. They were not alarmed.)
Our 19-year-old daughter happened to phone from Manhattan while I was trying to lasso the bat. I was wearing long, thick fireplace gloves and a ski mask. I looked like a madman. Her response when I said we had a bat in the kitchen and I’d have to call her back? “Well, that’s a real Vermont problem.”
It’s worth nothing that my wife and I are the morons who years ago caught a raccoon that was stumbling around the Lincoln River Road one afternoon in January and brought it to the veterinarian. As a matter of fact, we chased it into the snowy brush by the New Haven River. It had been hit by a car. It lived. But, kids, don’t try this one at home. Don’t try this one anywhere. When a raccoon looks drunk, it might be rabid. Call the Vermont Rabies Hotline.
Incidentally, our bat was no Stellaluna, the adorable bat from Janell Cannon’s classic children’s book that is raised by a family of birds. Our bat was a mouse with wings. I have no idea what it was doing in our kitchen, but it sure wasn’t interested in checking out the cereals in the pantry or grabbing a beer from the fridge. It wanted out. I was happy to oblige.
Now, my wife and I hoped that the bat and the mice would live – we didn’t, for instance, feed them to our six cats – but we really weren’t interested in hanging around with them or watching them grow. On the other hand, we did all that we could to shepherd the baby birds into the sky. We postponed the scheduled installation of the solar panels on our barn roof, which, you can imagine, forever endeared us to the solar panel company. (Actually, I want to give that company a big shout-out. Thank you, Sun Common, for accepting the fact that my wife and I are lunatics and agreeing to install our panels in August instead of July.) And we stopped parking our cars in the barn, so our cats would not be able to use the roofs as launch pads to grab either the parental swallows or the junior birdmen and women as they learned to fly.
In hindsight, we had little to worry about from the cats. It’s an indication of how successful they are as hunters that we have bats and mice in our house in the first place.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that our home has its share of wildlife. Now that our daughter is grown, we need all the chaos we can get.
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Here are two phone numbers it’s worth placing beneath a magnet on your refrigerator if you live in Vermont (if not, your own state is likely to have equivalent departments and hotlines):
The Vermont Rabies Hotline: 1 (800) 472-2437
The Department of Fish and Wildlife: 1 (802) 241-3700
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on July 28, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published earlier this month.)