I guess I must be what they call batshit crazy, because when I saw bat shit on the bricks outside my door, I let out a whoop. The portico bat is back! I got a flashlight and pointed it up into the crack between the roof structure and the side of the house, and sure enough, there he was, blinking down at me from behind a mud dauber’s nest.
Bats are long-lived creatures — in stark contrast to most mammals their size — so in one sense it’s not surprising that this little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) has been coming back to roost every spring for at least the past six years, which is as long as I’ve been keeping track. But with the epidemic known as white-nose syndrome now beginning to decimate populations of bats in nearby hibernacula, I didn’t expect to see this guy again. I decided to annoy him for a couple more minutes, just long enough to snap his picture for posterity.
No white nose yet — though last summer, he was briefly white from head to toe. The house was getting a long-overdue paint job, and it was seriously disturbing his sleep. When I scraped under the portico roof, I was careful not to get too close, but when I started blasting the adjacent wall with the pressure-washer, he came sailing out like a bat out of hell — a really, really wet hell.
So when it came time to paint, I guess the smell got to him and he decided to flee again, only this time, for some reason, he dove straight into the bucket of paint. Our caretaker Paula was the painter, and she let out a yell that brought me running. Good thing she’s not as slow-witted as I am, though. She grabbed him before he could fly away or start grooming himself, carried him into my laundry room, and very gently washed the paint from his fur and parchment-thin wings in a trickle of tap water while her husband Troy and I watched and offered advice.
You have never seen a more ugly and pitiable creature than that soaking wet bat. Fortunately, it was a warm day. I scrounged up a cardboard box to put him in until the paint dried in a couple of hours — we were afraid he’d try to crawl back into his crack and get wet paint on himself again. Toward evening when we finally released him, though, he flew off into the woods, and he didn’t return for several days. But return he did, and there wasn’t a trace of paint on him. He’s a survivor.
I wonder if he ever misses the teeming maternal colony of his first summer. Perhaps, like humans, bats don’t remember their infancy. Some might say they don’t remember much at all, lacking (as far as we know) a symbolic language, but he certainly remembers his spot behind the portico each year. And bats and humans might be expected to have a little bit in common, since we’re both long-lived social animals — except when we’re not, and go off and live as a recluse for a while. Even though I rarely see him, I enjoy knowing he’s there, ten feet from where I write. If he doesn’t return next spring, it’ll be just a little bit lonelier around here.