“One bit, two bits, three bits, a dollar….all for the Punchers stand up and hollear!” As a young girl I remember hearing these words yelled by multitudes while cheering on the mighty Mason football team. As a grown woman…alright, as an older granny, I still find this type of cheering at the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve each Thursday-Sunday evening from 6-9 P.M. Even though this cheering is silent, the intensity of the moment still screams out through the body language of those present.
When our 3.2 million bat friends exit the cave for the evening, many times they are greeted by the talons of the hawks, falcons, and owls; the claws of the bobcat, fox, raccoons, ring tail cat, skunk, opossum; the fangs of the rattlesnakes, coach whip snakes, white racer snakes, rat snakes; or the sharp beak of the roadrunners. That is BEFORE the bats can even leave the preserve!
As people watch the awe inspiring emergence of these grand creatures, and see the intense struggle for life amidst all of these foes, sides are quickly drawn and the shadows reveal a strength of power pressed upon these tiny beings from the audience. Like the above mentioned football team, these individual bats also work as a unit to preserve the colony as one.
As they fight against the wind, many are propelled to the ground. Here is where life starts getting tough. As their tiny bodies are tossed and thrown about, some of these are impaled on the spikes of various plants. Some are able to pry themselves loose, but others pull and tug to the grimacing faces of the crowd. Silent hearts race as they see these minute mammals in their violent struggle for life. When one finally pries herself free, gasps of elation, sighs of relief, and silent cheers erupt from the spectators!
Not only do the crowds sit in anguish at the persistence of these diminutive animals, but others are also viewing with keen interest. Miss Hiss, one of the resident white racers, has been watching with more than just a passing glance. She has been as still as stone while observing the emergence by the bats. As the wind gusts against the whirling vortex, she anticipates her next move. As bats are thrust down, she zeros in like that runner carrying the football in the last play of the evening. Headed for the goal at top speed, she encounters her prey with a viciousness that defies words. Before the stunned audience, she grabs and gobbles up what was a small bat heading out to dine on the pests of the night sky.
She is so energized by the sudden meal, that she quickly begins her silent observation for others of the same kind. She spies what she thinks will be her next victim when suddenly a creature lumbers over to the bush and picks off the flailing tidbit and pops it into his mouth. Glances overhead prove that Barney Raccoon and Miss Hiss are not the only ones scoping out the evening menu. Several Red Tail Hawks are looming right above the bat ribbon that heads into the prevailing wind.
These hawks try repeatedly to zoom into the ribbon that is leaving the cave. Try after try goes unrewarded, but on the wooden seats at the cave opening, faces light up after each failed attempt. With skill and persistence, one of the hawks reach out as she dives into the many bodies in the sky, and pulls back a talon full of flesh. Drawing her wriggling prey to her beak she consumes the helpless victim as she soars through the sky.
The hunt has caused the crowd to sit in stunned observance. Both bat and hawk are seen as equals in determination. No one cheers….no one moans…it is just the perfection of the moment. Who could boo such grit and absolute willpower to survive? It is as it is…no team completely defeated, no team totally the victor…..another night, another struggle for the goal by both teams.
Be there in the stands and experience what comes up into your heart….your mind…your very being—appreciation for the small and the great, the weak and the strong, the victor and the loser!