It was dark and lumpy and crumpled looking. At first, I thought it was a faded dry Camellia blossom that my cat, Tuppence, had brought inside. (This is a typical gift from her.) But just before I reached down to scoop it up off the bedroom floor, I hesitated for a closer look. And then I saw its little head and body – wings pulled in protectively to its sides. A bat. Small, probably young, deep brown, velvety-furred. (Also, I suspect, a gift from Tuppence.)
Sensing my nearness, the little bat suddenly broke his silence and began asking for help. He clicked. Over and over again, in this fascinating fashion, he desperately tried to communicate with me. Clicking, clicking, clicking, he let me know he was frightened and confused, lost and exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to be returned to the outdoors. Even Tuppence, who was watching and listening with great interest, didn’t try to harm him or even upset him any more than he already was.
Using a garden glove and an empty glass, I carried him out into the night, and nestled him down on a thick bed of ivy – not far from where a bat house is nailed to a gnarly old magnolia tree. I trusted his calls would bring others of his kind to his assistance. Bats do that. Watch out for each other. Help the injured and ill among them. Protect their babies and orphans and elderly. And by morning he was, indeed, nowhere to be seen.
I think I was particularly intrigued by this creature’s instinctive method of communication due in no small part to a ritual I had recently observed taking place between my dog, Indy, and a neighborhood dog down the street.
As Indy’s diabetes, blindness, and declining energy have begun to overtake him, I walk him almost exclusively now on leash and within the immediate area. These walks typically take us past the house where the other dog lives. The other dog is an Australian Shepherd (one of my favorite breeds). A breed, however, that inherently needs a job. Preferably involving sheep. A breed that will appoint itself a job if there are no sheep available. This dog has appointed himself the fence police for his rather large corner yard.
When he sees someone approaching on foot, the Aussie hides in a clump of bushes, waits until the passerby comes into range, then rushes the fence barking with his loudest voice and skidding along on his feet to stir up as much dust and attitude as possible. He used to startle me greatly, even when I could see him coming. But Indy, completely sightless, remained nonplused. He simply ignored the confrontation the first few times. Then, he decided to do something about it. (I just held up my end of the leash and kept quiet.)
Indy began “talking” in a puppy-like voice to the Aussie, to establish a non-threatening presence. Then he spoke to the Aussie’s other senses. He stood quietly close to the fence, allowing the neighbor dog to look at and sniff him from head to tail. He gave him a leisurely, unedited version of his story – his health, his age, his gender, his personality, his history. Throughout the process, Indy notably kept his own face turned away from the other dog. Finally, Indy politely left his signature, and walked to the other side of the street.
Indy repeated his story to the other dog two days in a row. And the Aussie hasn’t barked at us since. Now, he comes to the fence whenever we pass by, watches and listens intently, but never aggressively. And Indy continues to speak to him wisely and simply with an open heart and peaceful energy.
Tolstoy believed that: “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Perhaps this observation applies to our lives as well as our fiction. Perhaps we are all strangers – and all on a journey. Like a bat who inexplicably finds himself inside a house, or a dog who blindly trespasses onto a strange lawn. And we tell our stories in the best way we can. And we trust there is someone who wants to listen.