On Friday, just after nine AM, my boss pointed out a bat to me. It had failed to get home before morning, and had gone to sleep clinging to the wall of the building. It was around nine feet up, so safe from most ground predators, and tucked close under a nine-inch overhang, so safe from most aerial predators as well. It was probably one of the best, safest spots for a bat to sleep out the day in downtown Bellingham.
“Must be scary to be stuck out without his buddies,” my boss said.
We figured that once night fell, he’d go on about his business. I kept an eye on him whenever I went outside, just to make sure that he was still there, and doing okay.
Seeing bats for me is a little magical. They’re nocturnal creatures, very quiet, and so you just don’t notice them often. I’ve seen them in flight at night, but only for a tiny moment as they dart by. It’s like a glimpse into this world that I’m just not a part of, getting to see a bat. That’s one of the reasons that having the sky full of them after nightfall at Cattail Cove was so incredible to me, soaking in that warm lake with bats flying all around.
He was still there when I went out for my afternoon break, but when I came back, he wasn’t on the wall anymore.
He was on the ground, smashed and ruined.
Now, look. I don’t know what happened. I know it happened within the span of about ten minutes. I know that the nine foot fall might have been enough to kill a little bat if he’d fallen in his torpor, but I know it wouldn’t have been enough to split his belly and spill his guts out on the pavement. And I know that a hawk, if it had even been able to reach the little guy, would just have taken him away.
Someone smashed this bat.
Now, I’m not a child. I know that death happens. I know it intimately. I’ve killed my food before. I watched both my parents die. Death happens, and it isn’t kind, and it isn’t fair.
I remember gutting the rooster, and having this incredibly clear understanding as I raked his insides with my hands, spilling his guts into the bucket, that this was a delicate clockwork that I was disrupting. An intensely complex system that once so idisordered, would never ever work again. I had experienced that sense of finality before, when we took my father off of life support, and again when we removed breathing support from my mother. I think it’s a feeling you can only have when you are in some way the author of that death. And the realization is one of gravity; if you’re going to end a life, or make a decision that ends a life, you had better have a good reason. You had better have thought about it.
This kind of thing really gets to me because whoever killed this bat never thought about it. They thought nothing of crushing a living thing to death. It wasn’t for food, it wasn’t for self-defense… you would have had to seek that bat out, on a largely unused walkway that leads to my building in order to come across it. Even if you had a passionate and irrational hatred of bats, it would’ve been easier to avoid it than to kill it.
I can understand killing for food; when you eat meat, you automatically take on the mantle of the killer, one way or another. I can understand killing in self-defense, although I would say most of our interactions with animals don’t fall into this category. I can even understand smashing bugs, although I try not to… it seems like a stupid reaction to a kind of lizard-brain fearfulness to me.
But I can’t understand this.
I try. And I just can’t. No part of it makes any sense to me.
So I went back to the office, and I sat down at my workstation, and I smelled that smell. It was the same smell in the room when my dad died, under the blood and the disinfectant. It was in the room with my recently deceased mother. And it was the smell that clung to me after slaughtering the rooster, long after the deed was done, and his feet had been delivered to their new owner and I had stripped off the gore covered sweatshirt. It was a smell that I’ve come to associate with death, and it’s not a smell that I’ve smelled anywhere where death wasn’t. It’s not the smell of a rotting carcass, nor the fecal smell of a body in its final throes. It’s a soft, strange smell that I have never associated with anything else.
I posted the above photos on Facebook, and predictably they stirred up a lot of feelings of anger, and threats of violence against the perpetrator. I don’t really think that anger in this case is productive; it doesn’t undo what has been done. It soothes nobody and changes nobody’s mind. It doesn’t prevent this from happening in the future. Honestly, when I found the bat on the ground, I didn’t feel angry. I just felt confused and disappointed. I think that piling anger on top of all of this just adds despair and numbness to a world already awash in these things. Numbness and despair are the things that make us hurt one another and ourselves, sitting and scratching our skin til it bleeds, like chimps in cages.
The best thing that I could come up with is to hunt down a few ways to help bats survive in our area, and direct people toward those.
And I know to most people this seems like such a small thing.
But it’s just so brutal. And I don’t understand it.
And I don’t think I ever will.