The bat cave - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 18, 2014

The bat cave

Heart 0 Comment 0

THE ORIENT Land Trust outside Villa Grove is called that because the mine that was once there was also called the Orient. Nobody knows why. It could be there were Chinese workers, but frankly that sounds like inventing a circumstance to fit the tale. So we have to accept it was called the Orient and that the trust that owns the land now has the same title.

They dug iron ore here from the last quarter of the 19th century through to the Depression. By then competition had made the work less profitable and the owners shrugged, reluctanty, and moved away. In the years they were there, they built two towns, one in the hills and the other where the hot springs resort is now. Indeed, what was once the general store - accepting only company money - is one of the accommodation cabins.

Quiet camping at the Orient Land Trust
Heart 0 Comment 0

A stone path leads from the resort up into the hills. It's hard to imagine how life was here on a bleak, dusty hillside, living and working with the same people day after day in conditions which would horrify today.

Little of what they knew still exists. There are waist-high foundations of substantial houses which accommodated overseers and managers but, of the workers' sheds, there's nothing.

We walked up through these hints of history as we made our way in a small group to the bat cave. We walked past slag heaps and remains of rail tracks that carried spoil to be tipped a litte higher each day. There were old buckets and other vestiges but otherwise a fascinatng period in social history - to me, anyway - has been eroded by time, weather and, for all I know, pillaging.

The bat cave is a ragged hole in one of many cliffs, overloking a dark ravine. We got up there as dusk approached, knowing that a quarter of a million bats - all male - were waiting to emerge in their nightly search for insects. They roam up to 100km and swallow enough insects each evening to fill a removals van.

And so we stood, a dozen of us, perhaps more, growing silent as the light fell and the first bats scouted the way for the rest. And then the swarm began, silent but for the mellow rattle of wings against the air, the bats having decided in advance in which direction they'd fly.

We stood and... well, stood. There was nothing else to do as repeated waves of bats flew little higher than our heads and turned west towards the mountains and the sunset. Now and then one would spot an insect the others had missed or ignored and it would wheel against the tide and dip and dive and then join the rest. It's a myth that bats can't see. They see surprisingly well, but they've developed a second sense, sending rapid clicks into the air to see what bounces back. The bat could see the insect it snatched but it used echoes to avoid colliding with the others. It's because of that dual sense that bats can fly at night and, because they can fly at night, that their eyes are painfully sensitive to bright light. From which comes the legend that they're blind.

Oh, and another nugget from a book about sound: it's as well we can't hear bats. If that clicking were at a frequency we could hear, it would be as loud as a passing freight train.

We stood and watched wave after wave emerge from the cave, all but silent, and wheel into the sunset and the crop to be harvested. And then, awed by the spectacle and the inadequacy of humans, we walked back down the stony path, through the old mines, and left behind aerial carnage on the scale of a world war. Nature can be impressive and cruel, for our hour of wonderment was at the expense of how many millions of insects.

Sunset in bat country
Heart 0 Comment 0
Rate this entry's writing Heart 0
Comment on this entry Comment 0