It’s Getting Crowded in the Great Outdoors

(Oh-Be-Joyful) The place is overrun. Just the other night while camping out under a newly installed municipal street light up the Slate River we watched in horror as thousands, well hundreds, of fruit bats circled our tent with lord knows what intent. They are nothing more than little rats with wings. I don’t care if they are blind and operate on radar. They don’t bathe regularly and can carry rabies (in their back pockets?)

Then it was the bears. Damn, the bats finally got tired of their mindless orbit and the fury beasts emerge. Damn, I strung all the Spam up in the tree like Mr. Ranger said to do, but bears can climb trees! I banked the fire and now they want marshmallows. Wow, that bruin just ripped the lid off my cooler! I hope he doesn’t come into the tent — that’s where I’ve hidden the rum.

I’ve been informed that the animals are most active at dawn and at dusk so I guess we should just sleep in the daytime and hike at night. Are  motorized flashlights legal in a pristine, wilderness area? I’ll have to consult my Nashville Forest brochure written by uniformed men over in Denver. They manage, then reclaim  the land, you know.

Hey, the reason we are out in the forest in the first place is to observe butterflies in their natural habitat but I think the bats and bears have scared them off. We wait all year for the weather to turn warm so we can drink a glass of wine and munch on some overpriced exotic cheese and we have to share our enlightened time warp with beasts? We are all part of the same being, the same ecosystem. Embracing the natural state of life is the ultimate design. Wait. There’s a butterfly now. Where’s my net?

Do people collect butterflies due to some sadistic flaw or because they can’t stand to see a being so very colorful cruising the skies at peace all day? They didn’t get a free lunch either since they spent a chunk of their short lives as caterpillars.What animal eats butterflies and how did they get tagged with such a dreadful label? They are not dairy food.  Their tiny cholesterol levels are barely detectable. Maybe they should switch to margarine.

At least they aren’t like bats. Despite the fact that bats eat millions of West Nile mosquitoes they still swoop. That’s it. That’s what gets under my skin. It’s the swooping.

In Mexico bats don’t tend to swoop as much as the drug lords. In Guatemala someone left the bats out all night and they were stolen. In the jungles of South America there are shady-looking vampire bats and all those barely pubescent soldiers standing around outside banks with machine guns. There’s no reason for concern. It’s bat control. That’s all.

If you have a problem with bats don’t call the American Embassy. They will just laugh at you.

If one comes in contact with a bat, waving at it does little good. They just wave back. Flies, oh thou little bat of snot, will go away for a while. Bats, on the other hand, seem to think that if you are so intent on driving them away there must be something you are attempting to protect, like mosquitoes, rum, more mosquitoes or some other treasure. They don’t know until they audit the situation. They are like the IRS with wings.

The best way to handle a bat is to grip the bat by the crotch with both hands, spread you feet, don’t crowd the plate and keep your eye on the ball. Take a few practice swings in the on-deck circle. At the last moment of contact squeeze and swing through the bat. Don’t throw the bat after contact or you will be disqualified before reaching first base .

I had a friend once who fashioned himself quite the mountain man. He tried this conventional roulette approach to handling a hungry black bear, grabbing low and squeezing. His and his vodka are buried in a shady plot under a flowing Russian olive tree.

Long before the native cape buffalo were run off by La Ninny winds, the butterfly and the bear were compatible. Most likely this mutual toleration resulted from the primary reality that neither had anything the other wanted or needed. Instinctually any bear will tell you that butterflies don’t generate honey. Likewise butterflies aren’t hot on eating parasites (even with béarnaise sauce) off their shaggy counterparts nor do they enjoy munching on a rotten cow that has been buried by a member of the Ursidae clan so as to create the ultimate gourmet treat. Both are generally omnivorous but, like the Epicureans of the Pacific Rim, will consume an assortment of canned meats. Bats hate Spam, often picking at it, then feeding it to the family dog or dumping it into a Boston fern when no one is looking.

If you encounter a bat in the wilds you probably won’t notice the intrusion since they are nocturnal, and difficult to see in the dark. Bears on the other hand are up all the time in summer due to their fascinating habit of sleeping all winter (See hibernation). In truth, bears can do without folks and usually retreat unless honey, carcasses, cubs, or harsh political differences are apparent.

Responding to a bear encounter is simple enough, unless it gets complicated. First of all, stay calm. This may be difficult considering the fact that a 300-pound prowler has just entered your domain. Make noise so that the bear knows you are around. Pretend you haven’t seen the beast and he/she may retreat. If you are wearing aftershave or perfume that smells like honey, dead cows or old politicians (see above), dispense with all logical thought and make a run for the truck. There is little truth to the rumor that bears eat Californians and Texans on sight. Statistics often lie.

Retiring to the tent in barbecue attire (clothes that smell like your dinner) will attract hungry bears who might think you are surf and turf. Just because bear claim to be vegetarians doesn’t mean they won’t bend the definition in the presence of a midnight snack.

There are no creditable records of a butterfly ever attacking a camper.

If you find yourself toe-to-toe with a bear back away slowly and avoid direct eye contact as the animal may perceive your stare as a threat. Give the animal an escape route, like the state of Montana. Don’t run. That bear may look chubby but he ran track in college. You can’t outrun a bear. Sudden movements (even those associated with the bowels) can provoke an attack. Speak softly. Reassure the bruin that no harm is meant. Most bears speak American. I suggest a Lake City Friends of the Bears bumper sticker which has worked for me in the back country.

Try not to show fear. That’s what it says here in the brochure. Fight back. If you are attacked hit the bear with a rock or a stick. Chainsaws are effective and so are child-proof cigarette lighters, Swiss Army knives, assault rifles and last night’s pot of beans. Most likely the bear will tire of the struggle and go back into the woods where he belongs. If not there’s a plot next to our brave mountain man friend. In these days of the political correct restrictions biting, kicking and grabbing the bear below the belt is considered dirty fighting by most upstanding animals of the forest.

If you are attacked by bats you are probably dreaming or drinking too much cheap gin. If you are attacked by a butterfly you could make it into the Guinness Book of World Records or at least on the after dinner circuit. The outdoors isn’t for everyone although this time of the year it sure seems like it.

– Melvin O’Toole


Filed Under: Fractured Opinion

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