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Nature Walk

August 22, 2013

Last night I attended an evening nature walk that was put on by the local fish & wildlife service.  A small crowd gathered in the woods around a group of experts.  The topic of the presentation was bats.  Tiny delicate creatures who sort of look like mice with wings & giant ears.  I learned that the bat population on the east coast has taken a huge hit in recent years due to a fungus from Europe.  Its called white nose syndrome and it makes the bats itch.  Now if they have to wake up too much from hibernation in the winter to scratch, they lose too much body fat and can die.  But just as recently as a few months ago, scientists have noted signs of regrowth in the east coast bats.  This is important news for bat enthusiasts who just like bats.  Its also important for cavers as some of the restrictions on caving might be lifted.  Its also important for anyone who… well.. eats because more bats mean less pesticides in our food.

I also learned that a bat’s natural predator is the house cat.  Since cats hunt for sport rather than need, they have all night to watch and wait for the perfect moment to strike.

After the talks, we hiked out to the caves.  The last of the evening sunset was fading into the night sky.  I have seen this sight many times but it still seems magical to me.  A few bats flying out of the entrance of a dark cave, ready to start their night-time hunting revelries.  I could hear delight in children’s voices, “Look Mom!  There’s a bat.” and more subdued, “Ahhhs” from the adults.
Then we all crawled through the gate.  There were slats wide enough for the bats to fly through but the humans could only get through because the gate had been opened for the night.  Lifting one leg up high and bending to fit through the opening, I was reminded of yoga.  As we hiked, the speaker explained how the cave was formed.  We live near a volcano and anytime it erupts, it leaves behind lava tubes such as these.  The smooth passage we walked on was formed from water flow later.  Tiny air pockets in the stones around us provided insulation, meaning the cave is kept cool even on hot summer nights such as the one we were in.
Later on there is  high shelf above us made of stone opening out into what looks like multiple passages above us.

“Can we get to that shelf?” asked one of the kids.

“Sure we can,” says the speaker, “But we won’t be attempting it tonight.”  I feel oddly privileged at that moment.  My childhood was full of trips in which just that sort of climb was not only attempted but encouraged.  Rock-climbing terrifies me but it makes me stronger to try it (more about this later).

The soft, smooth walkway we’ve been on ends.  Ahead of us is a tiny passage way of rocks leading up.  We break into single file and each climb through the small, steep passage.  I find myself using several yoga moves as I make the crawl up higher into the cave.  We all make our own way through jagged shelves and piles of rocks as we reach the end of our tour.  The passage way shifts sometimes high enough to walk through, sometimes more of a crawl or crouch zone.  I identify different yoga poses “Mountain, warrior 1, Downward Dog, etc.” as I go.

The tour guide instructs us all to turn off our flash lights.  Its pitch black in the cave.  Now we are all told to touch our noses.  I reach up, touch my forehead, giggle and then touch my nose.  We wave our hands in front of our faces.  We see nothing, I hear nothing but breathing and slight rustles of my fellow humans around me.  The cool stones of the cave are at my back as I lean against a wall.  Its oddly relaxing after the long scramble through the cave.

I try to keep my anxieties at bay the best I can partly by constantly challenging myself.  If I keep myself always just outside of my comfort zone, I feel like I’m keeping ahead of the fears that would restrict me.  Everyone has their own battles to fight and this is mine.  I feel a kinship with the bats just now.  The white nose syndrome had looked like it would defeat them and I was afraid that we wouldn’t have bats in north america anymore.  On so many levels that would be a tragedy.  But in just the last few months, here they are showing a a small regrowth in their population.   Its not for sure yet that their populations will bounce back but there is hope.  That something so delicate as a bat can show resiliency to such adversity, should give us all hope.  Hope that there can be healing not only for the bats as they face white nose bat syndrome, but hope for each of us with our own personal struggles as well.   I believe that even in the most impossible of circumstances that healing & growth can happen.

From → Hiking

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