Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story is about the time when I caught a bat in the rural wilderness that was a suspected carrier of rabies.
Seven thirty AM on a Sunday morning STORYSOLD: Pest Control received the following phone message from a familiar vacation rental manager. One of the properties, which we’d produced rodent, carpenter ant, and bat services for in the past, was under attack.
VACATION MANAGEMENT: We have guests staying at the house [in Brightwood] and there is a bat in the house and they are all freaked out. They really want someone with your expertise to come get it. Also, it sounds like we probably need to set up the same thing that you did last year at that property. Hoping you can give me a call back because the guests are frantic. [Break] I don’t even know if it’s possible for you to capture this thing and hold onto it for a couple hours until I speak with my office. This lady keeps going on about wanting to have it tested for rabies and how the country does testing etc. I don’t want you to have to deal w that part of course–but if my company decides to appease this lady once I can get in touch with them in a few hours…if the bat is still in the box or something. So dumb…but just let me know if “capture” and hold is possible.
STORYSOLD: Let’s start with finding out if I can catch it.
I used to feel like a super hero when I got calls like this. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while I’ve learned that most “pest emergencies” are mostly fear management/mental health emergencies in disguise. Luckily, our human Jake hosted a mental health character (a case manager) in Enterprise, a small town in eastern Oregon, in one of his many former employments. Small economic depressed towns being what they are, our human’s role wasn’t strictly case management. He was also an out patient med aid, urine sample administrator for a substance abuse counselor (the whizinator), group therapy leader, work crew (vocational rehab) coordinator, social/educational activities director, crisis transporter, and a part of the county’s three person mental health crisis team. So, in other words, I grabbed a box and a thick pair of gloves and put my mental health pants on.
Thirty five minutes later, I was knocking on the door of the cute vacation cabin in the woods.
The SUV in the driveway had California plates, which is meaningless information for most, but I’m from Oregon. I have learned to fear Californians for many reasons. High on that list is, Californians tend to host a character that both loves and fears nature. It’s a wilderness version of the classic “Not in my backyard!” character most of us know well.
For the record, I’m aware of my irrational bias. I receive regular treatments from friends and family (and especially my partner Farmer Emily) to help me deal with my irrational fear Californians.
The husband greeted me at the door. The wife, newborn baby in arm, hung back within earshot of the conversation with the other children. He was pleasant and receptive to my initial prompting.
STORYSOLD: Is the bat still trapped in bedroom?
HUSBAND: Yes we closed the door and put a towel below the door.
STORYSOLD: Perfect. Let’s see if I can catch it without turning this into some kind of dramatic Tom and Jerry scene.
He seemed to appreciate my light tone and attempt at humor. A moment later I marched in with my gloves fitted tight like a good soldier–ladder and box in hand–prepared to face the creature. A minute later I returned with a bat in a box.
STORYSOLD: He’s so cute! I found him roosting calmly on the wall.
HUSBAND: Oh great! Thank you so much!
Now that I had the bat safely secured, I decided it was a good time to try my luck with a Coming To Jesus Moment. Still smiling, still speaking in calm/high frequency tones, I provided the parents with some backstory to help them understand their wilder encounter.
STORYSOLD: I get a few calls like this every bat season. What usually happens is, a bat flies in an open window (I mean, it’s summer and it’s hot and people tend to leave them open) and then it gets trapped. This cabin has vaulted ceilings and lots of placing to roost, so it might have been trapped inside for a while before it flew into the bedroom. That would explain why our guy didn’t attack me when I grabbed him. I simply brushed him into the box. I know lethargy is one of the possible symptoms of rabies, but it’s just as possible that it’s starving to death. [Long pause] I remember last summer I was doing an epic bat eviction and exclusion in Boring and the homeowner called me in a panic, not from his home, but from his friend’s home. A bat had flown in and he wanted to know what to do. I coached him through it, and a half hour later he sent me this awesome photo of him smiling with his captured bat in a storage bin…
The husband didn’t respond to my attempt at conversation. Instead he delivered his preloaded lines expressing a desire for the same outcome they wanted before I said word one.
HUSBAND: The bat was in the room with our baby for two hours alone…And one of our children has scratches on his nose…
STORYSOLD: The bat attacked your child?
He paused, knowing well his wife (baby in arm) was watching and listening in.
HUSBAND: Oh you know kids. They could have got the scratches anywhere…and we didn’t see the bat attack them…but our baby was alone with the bat…and we’d like to have it tested for rabies.
I greatly appreciated the effort he was making not to lie. It immediately brought some calm to my irrational fear of Californians.
STORYSOLD: Huh. So you didn’t see the bat attack your children?
Long pause. I decided not to ask any more pointed questions. Instead I attempted, once again, to guide them through their engagement with the wilderness. I took Husband outside and showed him the bat box I’d hung last season, sharing the service story about the time I found bats roosting in an open entry hole (created by a fire at some point) around the chimney. I explained how I’d evicted them from that void and blocked off the hole with metal flashing, then put a bat box there in an attempt to give the bats a better shelter knowing well they would likely return the next season and find somewhere else to roost. The idea being it was better to try and control their population in a wilderness area where bats were always found instead of neglecting their needs. And sure enough, there were signs that the bats had been using the box. I also explained that it wasn’t easy to persuade any wilder earth creature to do what we humans want them to do, explaining that bat boxes needed to be put in active areas for at least a season or two before they were moved further away.
SIDE NOTE: If you reread the opening lines from the vacation rental manager you’ll note that she believed that box was designed to capture and or kill bats. Last year I wrote a detailed action plan for them, but it’s a big company with many contact people. I don’t blame her for not understanding that. One of my lifelong mantras has been, “If someone doesn’t understand what I say, it’s usually not their fault. Failure to understand is, in most case, is the product of bad writing/communication.”
I hate when humans monologue (especially teachers, employers, and self-proclaimed experts), so I kept my period of instruction short. After I showed them the box, we gathered on the front porch where I did my best to listen to them.
MOTHER: Oregon Health Authority has a number you can call for rabies testing. If you don’t want to do the testing, you can give the bat to us.
STORYSOLD: I don’t feel comfortable giving you the bat.
MOTHER: If you don’t test the bat, we will all have to be tested for rabies.
STORYSOLD: I know that would be expensive.
MOTHER: I have the number you can call for the testing if you want it.
I tried to hint that maybe the bat didn’t have to die. But the frightened parents continued to hit the reset button back to the beginning of the only service storyline they were interested in: TEST FOR RABIES….TEST FOR RABIES…TEST FOR RABIES.
STORYSOLD: In all the years I’ve had a wildlife operators license, I’ve never had to test a bat for rabies. Mainly because I’ve never encountered a bat that attacked humans.
As I shared my stories and listened to the parent’s reset variations of TEST THE BAT NOW, I was also processing my fears. I knew, from experience, that one of the many symptoms shown by a human, or animal, whose been infested with fear is what I call, The Clinging. Or the clinging to old familiar and or easy to digest new ideas. Maybe I was the one experiencing irrational fear, not them? Maybe I was wrong about the Californian character and other colonizing characters like them? Maybe Californians weren’t a plague of invasive pests feeding off Oregon’s indigenous homefronts by turning them into Airbnbs and high price rental investments? Maybe that was simply situation normal in a state where territorial homefronts were weakened by decades of poverty.
After a few moments of processing my fear, I was calm enough to do dust off the part of my brain that runs The Numbers: a) it was normal for all parents (human and animal alike) to feel a heightened sense of fear/need to protection for the well-being of their offspring; b) I had no doubt the parents would test themselves if I didn’t test the bat (and that would be expensive for the vacation managers/owners if they asked them to pay for it); c) I was a wildlife operator, not a vector control expert (clearly); d) I had no way of knowing if the scratches on the older child’s nose were inflicted by the bat and I wasn’t going to play doctor; e) I had no way of knowing if the baby had been attacked and bitten or scratched and I wasn’t going to play doctor; f) these Californians were staying calm and rational and willing to work with me in spite of my attempts to save the bat’s life; g) the incubation period for rabies is 3-5 weeks, but there has been case as long as seven years (that’s a long time to read The Action and wait to know if your baby is safe); h) sometimes John Wayne is right: the bad guys have to die in the end to save the day.
When I was done crunching The Numbers, the math read: A + B + C + D + E + F + G + H = the bat had to be euthanized, have its brain cut open in a lab, and tested scientifically to make certain we weren’t misreading The Action.
STORYSOLD: I understand. I’ve never had a bat tested, but I will figure it out even if the management company decides not to pay for it. My guess is that they will. That seems like the best course of action to me.
Then we exchanged information and I drove off with the bat. After I stopped at Safeway to buy a few donuts and bananas for breakfast, I asked the oracle of the internet to guide my next step. It had a lot of information for me to process:
One of the more interesting things I learned was, Oregon’s Health Authority only tested bats that had been exposed to bat saliva, or possibly exposed to bat saliva.
My next step was to call the rental manager, who’d been waiting patiently for word. After I shared the story with her, the first thing she said was, “She [the Mother] didn’t say anything about the bat attacking and scratching her child.” I bypassed that part of the conversation. Instead I pitched her The Numbers marked in bullet points A through H. She seemed relieved to have a plan, and agreed that we should had the bat tested for rabies, but she’d have to get back to me about payment.
It was Sunday, and the Oregon Health Authority wasn’t open for its usual business of authorizing our collective health. At that point, I was still in denial. I was horrified by the idea of having to kill my new bat friend. He or she was very cute. The earth creature didn’t infested me with fear. Instead its presence triggered my many wilder encounters with bats. I remembered our honeymoon when we sat on a rock along the Green River in Utah and watched a cloud of thousands of bats feeing on bugs in the twilight. Long before The Fourth Wall stole the bat’s character and made it an agent of fear in nonsensical fictions like Batman, the super real bats of The Earth Show were heroes–especially for me. As a lifelong backpacker, I hate mosquitoes more than any earth creature. And as the wise old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
That’s why I did my best to make my new friend comfortable.
I had a ten hour “emergency” crawlspace clean out and exclusion on Monday, but I managed to call the authorities before the Californians texted me wondering worriedly if I had indeed followed through with what I’d said I would do. I expected to navigate a mountain of bureaucracy, but that didn’t happen. Instead I was met by a wonderful human on the other end of my phone. Her name is Renee and she was the nurse in charge of dealing with Oregon’s health emergencies.
She was great. I don’t know what else to say. She called the Californians, got their information, and made arrangements with a private vet in Oregon City to receive the bat. She didn’t expect me to deliver it, but was appreciative when I volunteered to make the trip first thing in the morning.
The private vet under contract in Oregon City was another story. They took one look at me and my bat and promptly charged me a bunch of money.
As I stood on the customer side of the service counter I, being who I am, promptly engaged the nicer customer service specialist in a debate about the benefits of bird feeders. As we chatted amiably, I overheard the less nice specialist complaining, “Another one compliments of that contract…”
I paid the humans at the center for domestication (aka vet) and said goodbye to my bat friend. Later that day, Renee checked it to thank me for my help. I was feeling the loss of the bat. I almost cried it was so nice. And it burned me to think that the vet might be double dipping on their contract. I knew from years working in the government, a private company under contract gets paid by the contract. They bill the government at the end of the month. They don’t bill twice for the same service. So I sent Renee a copy of the bill and asked her if that was normal.
She immediately called me, assuring me that my money would be refunded. In retrospect, I realized that I might have done something to harm our economy. You know, like pirating movies. I could have easily passed that $235 bill onto the vacation management company. The economy could have been $470 dollars more confident with two businesses cashing in on one government contract. I almost felt wrong for that one. Harming the economy isn’t a victimless crime!
I know what happened next. The double-dipping private vet (center for domestication) euthanized my bat friend, boxed them up, mailed them to OSU’s lab, and the scientists there sliced the bat’s brain open and performed their rabies test.
I know what happened next, but I’ve decided not to publish that part of this story. Mainly, because I want you, dear reader, to feel the fear a little. One of the hallmarks of dealing with wilder earth creatures who live in The Action outside of our civilization is dealing with the many unknowns they present us. We built The Fourth Wall–the many screens, books, theaters, podiums, game boards, ritual sports fields, and customer service counters of civilization–to protect us with a veil of concrete black-and-white fictions that makes us feel more at home in our homes.
Bats don’t have that luxury. They’re out there living hard in the super real of The Earth Show. That’s their super power. They are who they are in spite of the fictions we project onto them with our fear infested stories.
I feel good about my role this earth show. I don’t hate all Californians (most days) and I don’t love all bats. I believe it was necessary to kill and test the bat, so the Californians don’t have to live in fear of a very real disease. What I hate (all the time, every day) are infestations, especially those that are breed by the old familiar post industrial Descartes mind/body split (and or concrete classic religious good/evil division) dualism that preys on human fears.
Five days later, on the hottest day of the hot days in August 2023 (105!), I received another call from a worried homeowner in Gresham. She reported that a bat had taken roost beside their AC vent above the bar in a room with a vaulted ceiling where they often left the door open. There was no mention of rabies. Only the super real realization (knowledge) that their neighbors had recently relocated some bats. An hour later, ladder and box and gloves in hand, I was in The Action attempting to capture another bat. This guy was a lot more wily. I stood beside the bar, in the middle of the room, watching our bat friend fly circles around me for a few minutes while I unsuccessfully tried to catch him. All the while I was thinking, “Damn this guy is smart. I wish I was belly up to the bar, drink in hand, with air conditioning blasting in my direction.” And yes, that’s what I was thinking about when I was watching the bat fly circle around me. “Damn my Adventure in Sobriety!”
A few short minutes later, I’d captured the bat. And it was pissed! It screeched at me when I stuffed it in the box (using thick leather gloves) and it continued to fly and screech at me all the way home.
It was not a cute lethargic bat. It was a very angry wilder bat.
Nevertheless I was determined to make friends. As soon as I got home, I put it in the same cage I’d fashioned for the other bat. Then, when the earth cooled and the sun was sinking, I volunteered Farmer Emily for what became Full Cellar Farm’s first ever attempt at hosting bats.
He was still in there when we went to sleep that night. And that made me feel good.
Every once in a while I win one…