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Ring of Fire

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire
The ring of fire

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a child
Oh, but the fire went wild

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire
The ring of fire

"Ring of Fire" by June Carter and Merle Kilgore
Recorded by Johnny Cash March 25, 1963--47 years ago almost to the day!

For the past few weeks I feel as if I've been neck deep in a big black cauldron, a slow woodfire getting hotter beneath me (I have a vivid and politically incorrect Looney Toons image in mind of the little grass-skirted cannibals with bones in their hair dancing around me). As you may know, I generally write my blog essays well ahead of actually posting them. It's mostly a temperamental thing, a perfectionist's way of making sure that what gets posted is close to what I really wanted to say. But I also post ahead because life is strange and it takes lots of twists and turns, and I don't want to write about an event before I know how it turns out.

Encyclia cordigera bloom spike, taken March 11, 2010. It's three times that long now.

I have a draft post waiting on an orchid that I started writing in January, when its bloom spike first appeared, and now the spike is over a foot long and the buds are still weeks from opening, and you just never know. Maybe all the buds will drop off tomorrow or I'll close the brittle spike in the Venetian blind, as I narrowly avoided doing this morning, and I won't have a story after all, or I'll spin it into an even better story about how you can hope and wait and care for something for a long time and be rewarded only with disappointment. That's writing. E.L. Doctorow said, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."


And that's life. Living is like driving at night in the fog.

Perfectionists don't like to admit they're not perfect. Leo perfectionists really hate admitting it. Worse than admitting it is plainly demonstrating it. I've done all that and more lately. I've had to surrender control and let my own ignorance wash over me like a big wave, and I've posted about every stage of that process here, for everyone to see. I got caught up with these little bats (yes, there are two now, and I haven't even gotten to THAT part of the story) and I fell in love and we all know that love is blind. Love is blind and dumb, excitable and heedless and love, in its giddy, wonderful way, can trample all over life.

In my own lame defense, bats are a special case. Bats are magic animals--smart, funny, weird and insanely lovable once you get over the eeps. It took me about four hours to get over my trepidation and walk right into the ring of fire. And I was there, cooking away, and I didn't even know it. And that's where the special case part kicks in, because bats, alone among any animal with which a Science Chimp could fall in love, can kill you without your knowing it.

Oh, I could probably love a copperhead or a lionfish, but I'd know how to keep it from killing me. You stay away from the fangs and the spines and you're good. But bats...bats. A bat can kill you without meaning to, because bats can have and transmit rabies without showing that they're ill. You stay away from the teeth and claws, OK, I've been successful at doing that, but can you stay away from the saliva when you've got a bat you're giving water to spluttering and cussing in your glove? Can you say for sure that a microdroplet hasn't landed on your lip or in your eye? Well, no, you can't. And can you say for sure that that bat isn't shedding rabies virus without cutting off its head? No, you can't. I didn't know that, and volumes of other things about bats and rabies, when I took them in. And now, thanks to the information provided by concerned readers and my own rooting around, I know more, enough to be deeply uncertain and troubled.

I know in my core that these bats are healthy. At least, they're healthy right now, and they've been healthy for the ten and six weeks, respectively, that I've kept them. They're gobbling down their food and preening and cuddling with each other. That's good, and every week that they're under observation helps. But we simply don't know enough about latent rabies in bats, about the incubation period of bat strain rabies in bats (which is highly variable, and can be weeks to months...or can it be years?), OR about just when and how they shed the virus, to say for certain, even though nobody in my house has been bitten or scratched, that we're safe.

All the studies about incubation period of rabies in bats has been on bats infected in a lab situation with the canine strain of rabies. And in those studies, the bats trace a typical mammalian arc, falling ill within a few weeks, and dying about a week later. But we don't know about the incubation period of the bat strain of rabies (and there are several), and it only makes sense that the particular genius behind viral evolutionary design might engineer a bug that can lie latent and infect other animals while keeping its host going strong for as long as possible. Whoever He is, there's ample evidence that the Virus God is not a benevolent one.

Speaking of benevolence, your generosity has been overwhelming, and the hot stew I've been sitting in has been seasoned with tears as the electronic transfers and now the mailed checks arrive. I'm deeply moved by your commitment to this weird and, I hope, unnecessary cause, by your willingness to send money to try to build rabies immunity in my blood, an imperfect hedge against a dreadful disease. Before this story fully unfolded, my animal-loving Liam helped me feed the bat off the end of a long tweezers, and because his dear little face was at the splutter level, he and I are going in together on Wednesday for our first shots. You've donated enough to cover me, and I'm going to cover him. If you wish to help, know that I am not yet cried out of grateful tears. Almost, but not quite. See the little bat button in the right sidebar if you wish to donate to the Zick Health Fund. Two courses of the vaccine will cost $1,230.00, six shots at $205/shot.

What looks like Liam's hand in this photo is actually a beige washcloth. No touching!

Tomorrow, I will load the bats in their deluxe tank, and a lovely adult male sharp-shinned hawk with a broken wing, into the back of my car and spend the day driving them all to Columbus, to the Ohio Wildlife Center, the only facility that will receive them and, in the case of the hawk, repair it. Bill of the Birds helped me see that the broken sharp-shin was a messenger for change, to tell me it was time to surrender the bats. The bat caretakers at OWC have already been vaccinated, and it only makes sense to lessen our risk by giving the animals over to them. I will miss the bats terribly; I look forward to our every contact. I'm choosing to look at the next month as their stay in a spa that has an exercise room. If all goes well with flight conditioning (which will start in mid-April), I may have the chance, come mid-May, to don my gloves yet again and hang the little couple high on a tree right near the house where they were originally found. Happy tears? Oh, bet on it. And by then, Liam and I should have enough antibodies coursing through our blood to blow them a goodbye kiss.

Thank you good readers, good people.

Dee Dee (left) and Darryl. Dee is cussing me out.

7 comments:

Man. Driving in the fog. The Virus God is benevolent, of course, but just for viruses. I don't want to see that god duking it out with our gods because I don't have that much faith. I do, however, have a dab of cash--winging your way like a bat in a bedroom.

ahhh Julie. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for loving the bats.

Posted by Anonymous March 28, 2010 at 12:27 PM

I feel so much relief knowing that you and Liam are going to get those shots together. Then you can go on loving and tending bats to your heart's content.

I'm looking forward to photos of your Sharp-shinned hawk friend too.

Gentle Soul/Science Chimp - have enjoyed reading about the bats and wish you and Liam all the best with the shots. I'm grateful that there are people in this world that take care of critters. Thanks.

Oh, I don't want them to go... I'm all sniffling and bawling and I haven't even met them. It's just that I know how you love.

Thanks for adding a Paypal option for those of us too disorganized to round up a stamp. I'm sad to see the two bat critters go, but glad they have such a great place to go to. This bat-care experience and getting vaccinated surely will alert the universe to send more bats your way, pronto! I'll be looking forward to caring for them vicariously through you. PS Chet Baker showed up in a dream of mine recently. Such a handsome, polite chap he was...

Posted by Diane Borders March 28, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Beautiful. Brought me to tears for sure. I'm so glad you and Liam will be safe and protected, and can go on creating wonderful memories together taking care of those gorgeous bats!

Dana

Posted by Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 12:03 PM
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