Bats in the Roof of My Brain

The world is magic enough, without adding the supernatural, if only we’re observant enough to see the beauty, mystery, and meaning that we otherwise miss when we don’t look, which we rarely do, we’re so busy, so hurried and harried, so preoccupied. All the colors are contained by the world around us, all the patterns and shapes, and especially the stories. And ours aren’t the only stories, those of us humans. No, stories are unfolding all around us, with every bit as much drama, depth, and weight.

Bats, or maybe squirrels, or both, have taken over my roof. I hear them at night, coming and going, and particularly during the day, the late afternoon, when they become restless, prematurely hungry, or uncomfortable—crowded, perhaps. I’ve watched and listened closely enough that I know it was a flicker that helped the bats find their way into my roof. That one handsome fellow pecked at the joint where the fascia boards meet at the gable of the roof, till the joint grew into a hole.

Red-shafted Flicker, Master Penetrator

Red-shafted flicker, the master penetrator

Once a bat enters, the story begins. Once they make a roof a home, they return every year, meaning to enter that roof as they did the season before. One leads another into the dark insulated interior of the raftered roof till a family grows into a clan and a clan grows into a colony—and the colony becomes a cacophony by late afternoon as the young begin to get hungry and anxious to try their wings.

Little Brown Bats Owning a Rafter

Little brown bats, owning a rafter

Meanwhile, I sit at my usual spot at the end of the table nearest the kitchen, where I can keep an eye on the many other stories unfolding at the bird feeder beyond the window. The bats are getting restless, they’re scratching, creaking boards, skittering along between the insulation and rafters and sheet rock. I begin to wonder if they’re not bats but squirrels, the ones I see trying for hours to leap up, over, or down to the bird feeder housing, in order to eat freely of the abundant bird seed I so graciously provide for the small birds I love (I seem to pick and choose the creatures I’m willing to love) rather than scrounge about for a few microscopic crumbs of seeds fallen to the ground below. But how can bats make so much noise? How can they alter the shape of my house, which I assume they’re doing when they make whole rafters squeak and bang?

Bird Feeder in Housing

Bird feeder in housing

Last year I waited patiently till late October, till the time Orkin Pest Control told me I should wait, to haul the big ladder up out of the crawl space and lean it up here and there to fill the holes and crevices that might lead into the dark cozy depths of the roof—late October because, by that time, the bats will have made their great en masse journey back up into the mountain caves to hibernate for the winter. Any time before then and I might have sealed the young, the whole clan, up inside my roof so they’d die as in an Edgar Allen Poe story, after which I’d be plagued by guilt and ultimately reveal my crime, although I’d hate to admit that not only have bats been pissing and shitting up there over our heads but also dying and decomposing up there, I admit again, just above our heads. I don’t like the thought myself.

The Sneakiest of All Intruders: The Squirrel

The sneakiest of all intruders: the squirrel

Yet for all the careful work I did to the roof with the liquid spray foam I sprayed and the small boards I nailed, the bats have returned with a vengeance, and I wonder how they’ve gotten in. I can see that the one knot hole I filled with foam the swallows seem to have pecked open again, inviting the bats back in. And while my imagination may carry me away to think the squirrels have managed to take over the inner recesses of my roof, they may have at least reopened other crevices to the bats, knowing that the bats themselves will eventually open the way so the squirrels too can make themselves at home in my roof. There seems to be a plot, a conspiracy of bats, squirrels, swallows, and flickers, to blast open my roof for general occupancy, for indeed there’s plenty of room for all.

Barred Owl, Waiting for Her Chance

The barred owl, waiting for her chance

The fact is, I love all these beautiful creatures, but do they know my house from their house? To them my house is just a big tree or a slowly decomposing stump. Nothing on those roof tiles says Keep Out. There aren’t any No Trespassing signs—no booby traps, no iron walls, no guards with pikes standing by. My beloved creatures know nothing about property ownership or the money and work it takes to build a house and make repairs. Nor do they have any sense that their excretions are worthy of concern to us humans, not to mention the eerie noises they make like ghosts at night.

The Rabbit, More Interested in the Garden

The rabbit, more interested in the garden

Today, I caught myself tearing my hair out, as the ruckus up there got out of hand. I imagine young bats arguing with their parents about going out in the world, about trying their wings, about catching and eating mosquitoes firsthand, while their parents fight them back to their roosts. They scrapple and scratch, scuffle and bump and begin to distract me from my thoughts, from my precious writing time, and I imagine cutting a hole up there where I think they’re hiding and driving them out, patching the hole, then scrambling all over the roof, here in the month of July, and sealing it with concrete and the latest rocket-science epoxies. When I realize I’ve jumped to my feet, I have to talk myself out of lighting the house on fire and being done with the whole nerve-wracking mess.

The Coyote, Wanting Nothing to do with me

The coyote, wanting nothing to do with me

I remember a cartoon in which the main character is driven to blasting his house to pieces with a shotgun trying to shoot a fly that’s driving him nuts and distracting him from his favorite television show, until the house lies in ruins at his feet. Then I feel silly and console myself with the thought that late October’s only four months off and they’re only bats, after all, although I’m beginning to think they could be raccoons (or something bigger), and I sit down to write my evil thoughts and not-altogether-unjustified paranoias away. I begin to feel grateful for the story they provide me, a story that is inherently theirs as much as it is mine, and I start listening and hearing the plot line in the scratching. I decide I’d rather dwell in a work of realism than in a cartoon, so I simmer down and start talking to the kids upstairs and urge them to obey their parents. Freedom and full participation in the story is not long off.


9 thoughts on “Bats in the Roof of My Brain

  1. Love it, Rick! Perhaps consider getting a bat box, if you do indeed have bats. They are rather amazing at eating bugs and since we humans have decided that we must explore every cave in the world, we are spreading an awful fungus that is killing bats by the thousands. If all of these bats go away, then we’ll have a severe mosquito issue, not to mention other bugs. So, they need our help a little with summer vacation homes and such. I guess there is a little trick to it, meaning you need to know what type of bats you have and what type of enclosure they like, but you can build one rather cheaply, or purchase one. Lots of info on Google.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you have pest problems. It can try one’s patients beyond normal human sanity. I had a huge hornet hive develop between an apartment I was living in and my neighbor’s apartment in an air vent that separated our bedrooms. It was beyond the strangest noise I’ve ever heard and I complained to the landlord, but I lived in one of those huge complexes and they didn’t seem to care. It was near the end of my lease, so I just moved my bed into the living room until I moved. Then the landlord hears the noise when they are cleaning and they discovered a huge nest and called me to tell me I was right, there was something going on. Um, duh!

    Thank you for sharing your writing, Rick. It always positively influences me in some way or another. I’m very grateful for our friendship.

    Have a great 4th!

    Lots of love to you and Fran!!


    • Thanks so much, Heather. I’m getting out the bat house plans from my files even as we speak. There’s a big spruce nearby where I can mount it. So good to hear from you, as always. Best to the two of you for the 4th and always.


  2. Rick: When we lived in Portland I did a feature story on a state worker whose job it was to check bat caves for disease, specifically, rabies. He always wore waterproof gloves, a leak-proof jacket, button-up shirt collar and hard hat. All that gear was to prevent any skin contact with bat piss, from which one apparently can contract rabies. Son, be careful how you deal with the little varmints — who wants to die from bat piss?

    Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad. I have no intention of touching anything related to the bats without protection, although I regularly wash or wipe away those little mouse turds from the hot tub cover and the outdoor chairs. I’m going to build and install a bat house soon. And maybe keep the outdoor lights off when I’m not here, so there’re fewer bugs.

      See you soon,

  3. Definitely your best blog post yet! I am with Heather and will go so far as to suggest you start building a bat house of Hearst Castle proportions…or really what I want to say is that I think your priority tomorrow should be to build a welcoming bat house (don’t forget to put insulation in it!!) and place it way high in one of the trees near the moss mound. -Fran

    • Thanks, Frannie! Just by coincidence I spent a couple hours studying bat house plans and have moved that project up near the top of the list. Maybe the the kids will move over into the new digs immediately!


  4. I had the same problem but with yellow jackets. Sadly, the two raised their young and passed away holding hands side by side. Kids will kill you!

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