Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize…that’s what you get in Cracker Jacks! Did the memory kick into gear and hit replay in the frontal lobe of your brain as you read the first sentence. Memories and Cracker Jacks….two of life’s great pleasures!
Do you remember opening the small box and reaching in for a big handful to pop into your mouth? For every ten to fifteen pieces of coated popcorn you got one peanut. And the prize! Oh, yes…
The prize was always at the bottom of the box. You had to make your way through the popcorn and peanuts to get to that exciting prize! Funny, I don’t remember a single thing that I got as a prize, I just remember getting one.
The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve is like that box of Cracker Jacks in a lot of ways. The preserve is relatively small considering all that goes on out there. Only about eight acres, it houses (or boxes) off a real treat. To get to the prize, or the bat emergence, a person has to walk about 1500 feet from the parking area. Along the way one can enjoy the candy coated popcorn plants and rocks that cover the preserve.
The yummy peanuts that always seem to be too few per experience, are the predator sightings. Snakes of all kinds, hawks, owls, raccoons, ring tailed cats, a bobcat, a fox, roadrunners, and oddly enough, even red ants.
How delightful and exhilarating it is when one of these (or several as in the case of the ants) choose to make an appearance at the preserve. One guest in particular, four year old Keller Schmidt, visited last week and I received an email from his mommy requesting some photos of the snakes. In her email she used the word excited and awesome. When I let them know that our sweet natured, black Coach whip snake did not have a name, he was more than helpful to don him “James” after his favorite train in “Thomas the Train”.
I don’t know that I have ever read or seen “Thomas the Train” or more importantly “James”, but the word favorite was in there and for a four year old to choose his “favorite” name for Mr. Coach whip, says volumes! Mom emailed back and said that after Keller thought about it awhile, he was rather glad that he named our black reptile, James, since he of course lived near the James River. Pretty clever, young man!
See, it isn’t always just about bats! We have more than our share of sweet treats for you and your family. I haven’t bought Cracker Jacks in a long time, but my grandson informed me that they now can be purchased in a family-sized container. I don’t know, there is something so wonderful about knowing that you had your own little box…but so did everyone else. Not everyone ate their box in the same way. Some wanted the prize first. Some just wanted the peanuts or the coated popcorn first. The funny thing is though, I never ran across anyone who didn’t want the whole thing! The point to ponder here is this: The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve is everyone’s own personal treat. Every memory made is individual and is lasting. We never want the experience to outgrow the tiny spaces inside the brain that trigger smiles many, many years later in life.
I can think about Cracker Jacks now many years later and still smell the sweet smell from a deeply imbedded warm memory. It makes my mouth turn up and produces a smile that bounces across my face and down into my heart. Many years after visiting the bat cave some tell me in detail about the emergence, the predators, and the SMELL. But, whenever they talk about it, smiles form, eyes dance, and voices warm.
Load up the family on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening and stop at the store to grab some Cracker Jacks and head on out to the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve from 6-9 p.m. You may not remember years from now what you get as prizes in those boxes of Cracker Jacks, but you WILL remember the prize of seeing our bat lady friends make their nightly emergence into the skies over Mason County!
Don’t forget, the third Saturday of June, July, August, and September are EARLY MORNING BAT RETURN/VOLUNTEER DAYS at the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve. That is this Saturday morning (weather permitting) from 6:30 a.m. -noonish. All help is appreciated and you may even get a box of Cracker Jacks!