Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Warning: Reading this blog may be hazardous to your health. (Be afraid, be very afraid.)

A couple of months ago, it was the bad peanuts. A couple of days ago, it was the tainted pistachios. In the last year or so, I've read about boa constrictors on the loose in Florida, and herds of feral pigs making their way north. The Taliban is threatening to blow up Washington, DC. Now that slip-on-the-ice season has ended, Lyme Disease season is upon us. And we've learned from Natasha Richardson's recent death that you're not even safe standing stock still on the bunny slope.

Whether it's things we might want to eat, places we might want to visit, or things we might want to do: it sure is one, crazy, scary world out there!

And now, to add to our misery, those of us who live in the east are being asked to stop spelunking. Bats, it seems, are dying from something called white-nose syndrome. And while the disease doesn't seem to be a threat to people, all I can say is, at least not yet it isn't.


As someone who logged a lot o' time in corporate America I was, of course, fully familiar with brown nose syndrome, but white nose syndrome was a new one on me.

According to the Associated Press article I saw in The NY Times,

White-nose syndrome is named for the sugary smudges of fungus on the noses and wings of hibernating bats. White-nose bats appear to run through their stores of winter fat before spring.

While I wouldn't have minded running through my stores of winter fat before spring, if you're a hibernating bat, this is pretty dire. So far, a half a million bats, from New England on down to West Virginia, have died from the disease.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service wants us to stay out of caves because we might unknowingly carry the fungus from one cave to the next.

I'm not a big cave explorer, so this really doesn't apply to me directly. But I have been in caves, most notably in the Howe Caverns in upstate New York, where - if I'm not "misremembering" - we descended on an elevator, climbed into a flat-bottom boat, and cruised around singing "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." At one point, they turned the lights out, and we were told that we were experiencing complete, pitch blackness. I'm pretty sure they also told us about the bat population of the caverns: it was in the "lots" magnitude. And a few of those bats may have flapped around our heads while we were in the dark.

That was my first time in a cave. Somewhere along the line, I played tourist in another cave, but I'm blanking out on where or when. (South Dakota? 1972?)

Other than that, I've been to Purgatory Chasm, outside of Worcester, a couple of times. It's not exactly a cave, but it's somewhat cavish, in that there are rocks, and it's on the dark side.

As I said, I'm not a cave-ite by any means, but if you are a cave frequenter, the advisory to stay out of caves is BIG:

Peter Youngbaer, white-nose syndrome liaison for the National Speleological Society, said the advisory covers tens of thousands of caves and would affect a large array of activities including organized caving events and equipment sales.

Actually, the advisory is more than just BIG. According to Mr. Younbaer, "the ramifications are mind-boggling."

I will take his word for it.

Although I'm not a cave dweller, I am neither a cave avoider, despiser, or dreader. Given that I like enclosed spaces, I find them rather appealing.

If it weren't for the bats....

While I do not wish white-nose syndrome death on bats, or any other creatures, I'm not a big bat fan.

Yes, they make a valuable contribution to the environment, playing a key role in the ecological supply chain and eating whatever and whoever it is that they eat.  As an outcome of who and what they eat, they are also producers of bat guano, which is quite a useful component of fertilizer. Further, bats provide an excellent theme for Halloween decorations and candy, not to mention an inspiration for things like Dracula and Batman.

Still, I have always found bats rather disturbing, and am always a bit creeped out when, out in the wilds after dark, someone announces that a flock of bats is flapping by. Or I come across a dead or dying baby bat hanging somewhere it shouldn't be. Or someone tells me about having to go after a bat with a tennis racket  the day before I arrived.

The very existence of bats makes me happy that I'm a city girl. Yes, I do know that there are city bats. It's just that the chances of having bat infestation are somewhat remote if you live downtown. And we have streetlights, so, out and about after dark, I don't see a lot of them swooping around. (I wish I could say the same about rats.)

Many years ago, when I had a summer job in the office of the HH Brown Shoe Factory in Worcester, we did have a bat incident one afternoon. (How many years ago, you might ask? Well, long enough in the past that shoes - in this case, combat boots and work shoes - were actually made in Massachusetts. That's how long.) In any case, I was in the main, open office area with the other "office girls", when a bat flew in. (Air conditioning at the office, as in the factory proper, consisted of opening the window.)

We all shrieked "Eek", covered our hair with our hands - you know all the stories about bats getting tangled up in long hair - and barricaded ourselves in the office of one of the men (all of who had enclosed offices).  One of the younger men - our hero - went after the invader with a broom, and we were all saved. Sigh!

It never occurred to any of us girls to do the deed ourselves, although we were all wearing weapons: the spike heels that you wore to work in those days.

The attack of the bat was one of the more exciting moments of the summer, although for sheer hilarity, I'd have to give an edge to the day someone decided to open the old safe....

There was a massive, jet black with gold trim, safe in the office - walk-in sized. It had long gone unused, and one day, one of the sales guys (who else?) decided to pry it open to see what was inside. Well, there wasn't much inside, but it was armed with tear gas. There wasn't much tear gas, perhaps it had neutralized since the safe had been loaded, but there was enough to get us to all head for the windows. Ah, the good old days....

But my brilliant career at HH Brown is, of course, neither here nor there.

What is here and there is the warning about going into caves.

We're also getting warned about the April Fool's Internet virus, how drinking hot tea is bad for you, and - of course - the potential end of the American Dream.

Be careful out there. Even blog reading may be hazardous to your health.


John said...

It's funny - I have one friend who's ever had a bat in his house. In Brighton. And a friend used to live on the Fenway, and you could watch all the bats fluttering up from the Fens at dusk (and past his windows). Which makes Boston seem like Bat Central to me!

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