Sunday, May 23, 2010
The Cimarron River, Oklahoma. I felt I'd been dropped in the middle of a Clint Eastwood Western, the landscape was so different and so grand.
What lies beneath this foreboding landscape? A beautiful cavern.
I can't describe how wonderful it was to be shown around Oklahoma by people who love her. Debby Kaspari and Tim Ryan know Oklahoma in all her moods (boy, do they!). They've got the birds and wildlife and landscapes down cold. They've got all her quirks and peculiarities filed away, ready to pull them out at a moment's notice. So as soon as the Lesser Prairie-chicken Festival was over and my last workshop had been given, we took off on a little expotition.
First stop was Alabaster Caverns. I hadn't been in a real cave since I was a girl, dazzled by the colored lights in Luray Caverns in Virginia. What a treat it was to descend into this wonderland--a gypsum cavern, peopled by fantastic mineral formations and my new favorite mammal, bats!
Originally mined for gypsum, which is used in wallboard among other things, the cavern's owner realized he was sitting on a natural wonder, and he opened it to the public. You can still see the miners' graffiti on the wall. The lead in Orlando's pencil inscribed the soft gypsum, and halted any further deposition, so his signature remains perfectly clear since around the turn of the 20th century, while the other graffiti have grown over with minerals. I had the notion that this cave was alive.
Being a bit of a claustrophobic, I was happy to see the cavern pretty well-lit.
The idea of going into the bowels of the earth, straight back and down, gave me the wilhelms. But the lighted banister, which was pleasantly warm to the touch in the dank cavey air, helped immensely. I didn't let go of it except to take photos. Some passages were pleasantly large and high-ceilinged, while others were a bit narrower. But all were surpassingly beautiful.
There were some truly gorgeous formations and crystals.
The little visitor's center had the most extraordinary skellington of a Mexican free-tailed bat. I looked at those straw-fine wingbones and marveled that my Dee Dee hadn't broken every bone in her body blundering around in our basement. (Still haven't heard how the flight tests went, by the way. Still waiting to know if she'll be releasable, since the distal tips of her first three fingers on each wing got broken, so her wings curve under.) UPDATE--11:04 pm, May 23--Dee Dee is off meds and doing well in flight tests, finally extending her wings all the way and getting more lift. Lisa Fosco, Director of Animal Care at Ohio Wildlife Center, hopes for quicker progress now. Cross your fingers for Dee Dee's fingers!
Isn't that the most exquisite little flying DaVinci machine? Look at those shoulders! and the hair-fine spurs on the heels, which support the flight membranes. It was so very tiny, a miracle.
I was all in a lather to see some bats, and finally we spotted a lovely pair of cave myotis, a life bat for me!
I think our guide was pleasantly surprised by the ecstasy with which I greeted this sighting, having inured herself to the fearful reactions of so many thousands of cave tourists.
I angled around until I could shoot into their little squinched up faces.
You have to love that, all cuddled up in the cool cave for the winter.
I have to take an interlude here, much as I want to stay in the light.
Bat Conservation International announced on May 12, 2010, that white nose fungus has been found on a western Oklahoma cave myotis, a species which commonly winters with Mexican freetail bats. Each new species affected by this deadly disease, which has killed at least a million bats in the East, increases the potential range and devastation of this horrible epizootic. A leap from Tennesse and Missouri all the way to Oklahoma?? This is what happens when flying animals are attached by an epizootic. Infection in Mexican freetails could spread white nose syndrome from coast to coast and well into Mexico. Bats desperately need our help, as scientists race to learn more about this dreadful disease, which is leaping like wildfire into Tennessee, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and now Oklahoma. It also spread northward into Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Bats across the continent are at imminent risk.
I didn't treat white nose syndrome in my series of bat posts last winter. My heart couldn't face it. Still can't, really, but it's what's happening. As we look at the possible extinction of entire bat species, I feel the planet wobbling.
We spotted an eastern pipistrelle, a truly teeny weeny little animal, delicate as a fairy.
It was about the size of a silver dollar. Here, I'll flip it around so you can see its face and its charmingly pointed eartips.
It was so very good to see my friends again. I knew when I saw them and my heart started singing again that bats will always be in my life. How I wish I could throw a shield over them and protect them.