Since our family moved to Vermont from more urban environs, I've often thought -- and sometimes said -- "It's wonderful to live in a place where our children can see a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat, where the animals around us aren't limited to those that managed to survive having their environment paved over and built upon."
I say this during the magical moments when my daughters are catching toads in our yard, or when they spot an owl in a tree across the street, or when a doe and her fawn run right in front of us. I find it harder to say when my husband is emptying the 857th mousetrap, or when I'm digging a deer tick out of my child's back, or when the smell of close-range skunk drifts through the bedroom window at night.
You take the bad with the good.
Like the other day, when I entered my husband's home office to put our one-year-old daughter down for a nap in the playpen where she'd been sleeping because we'd had weekend houseguests. The shades were pulled, the room dim, but out of the corner of my eye I saw something that made me think, "What a large moth!" As the thing reversed direction and came straight towards me, I thought, "That's no moth, that's a BAT!"
When I imagine moments like this, I always assume I'll be stoic and heroic. Even in the moment, I said to myself: Don't be ridiculous. That bat is NOT going to land in your hair and suck your blood. Remain calm. Then I clutched the baby to my chest, screamed with all my power, hit the floor, and crawled out of the room on my elbows (remembering to close the door firmly behind me).
I reached the upstairs landing to find my husband and our three older daughters gawking up at me. Our four-year-old had recently encountered a bat in her preschool classroom, and during the ensuing chaos her teachers repeatedly told the class not to panic. Now, she pointed a finger up at me and said, accusingly, "You panicked!"
The question was: How to proceed? I was all for donning a hardhat (which we keep on hand for pest disposal -- don't ask), reentering the room, opening all the windows, and letting the bat fly free into the wider world. My husband, however, is an academician; his knee-jerk response in any situation is to do research. Within minutes, he had our pediatrician, the CDC, and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department on the phone, having learned that if an infant has shared a room with a bat, then exposure to rabies is presumed unless the bat is caught and tested.
Did I mention that, after putting the baby down for a nap, I was supposed to take the afternoon off to go drink coffee and write my next column for the Independent?
Instead, I found myself in the Porter Hospital emergency room with a wiggly one-year-old who clearly didn't understand that she was facing months of painful shots. My husband stayed at home, waiting for the Game Warden who was coming to trap the bat.
The ER waiting room was empty, probably because it was a beautiful summer Sunday -- the kind of day that makes a person say, "I'll just re-set this fractured femur; the ER can wait until after I finish my lovely hike." But there we were, thanks to my responsible husband.
Suddenly, the ER doors slid open and in walked two uniformed men. Two enormous -- tall, muscular, tanned, and not at all bad looking -- Vermont Game Wardens.
"That the little girl who had a run-in with a bat?" the shorter of the two asked me, nodding towards my daughter.
"Uh, yes," I squeaked, worried for a second that they were about to arrest the baby.
"Well, we got the bat. Actually, you got the bat -- it was caught in one of the mousetraps up in the loft. It's on ice in the truck now."
The loft area in my husband's home office is like the Killing Fields for rodents. Due to some amazingly incompetent dyer venting in our house, a hose runs from the roof through the loft wall, and this is where 99% of mice enter our home. As far as anyone can tell, the unfortunate bat must have crawled up this same hose to get inside the room.
Because the bat had been caught, my daughter and I were free to go. The bat's rabies test results came back -- negative -- several days later, so she escaped those rabies shots. In the end, I felt badly that we'd unwittingly killed a perfectly healthy bat, when I know that the bat population is on the decline (and when there's a mosquito metropolis in our yard.)
Upon my return from the hospital, the first thing my husband said was, "Did you see the size of those Game Wardens?" For the next two days, he walked around in a kind of daze, shaking his head and muttering, "How did they get so big?"
So our family is grateful to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. We are in awe of their fine employees. And if they put out an annual Game Warden calendar, we may just have to get one.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.