Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Story Jar - Flying Foxes

Published in the Patriot, April 18, 2007, Copyright Elaine Hardman

To me, Asians seem more reserved than Americans. They seem to walk slower and drive slower. Indeed, in parts of Southeast Asia people manage to navigate traffic without lights, stop signs or speed limits yet roads safely accommodate trucks, buses, bikes, cars and motor bikes carrying an entire family or a carpet or a shipment of pillows.

In Singapore there is a zoo that requires visitors to be reserved. One ambles through it looking deeply in the shadows. They call it the Night Safari.
All the animals are nocturnal and their enclosures are showered in artificial moon glow. Food is placed under quiet lights and animals learn to gather there for an evening meal.

Sometimes a loud screech will slice through the soft-as-silk night quiet but the people only whisper, as if sharing secrets in the shadows.
Inside the Night Safari is a huge netted enclosure full of trees and elevated walkways. It holds gentle creatures with wide, deep eyes, papery wings and tiny claws – flying foxes – the fruit bats.

To see them we crept, with other tentative visitors, through two rows of hanging plastic chain. We stood against a railing and looked down into trees at first seeing nothing but the leaves and branches. I don’t know who found one first, probably Jay, maybe Emilie. Could have been Josh or Rick. I do remember turning to look in another direction and finding myself nose to nose with a bat.

Its wings were translucent satin; its eyes round and glossy. The small mouth was slightly opened showing tiny teeth and its black, bony feet clamped around a branch.
We all strolled through the area watching bats roost and fly, the air moving slightly and silently as bats sailed and folded again into wing-cocoons. The bats ate delicate bites of banana, orange and papaya and we developed appreciation and admiration for these silent creatures.

Don’t get me wrong. When a bat somehow made its way into our house this summer, I dropped my mug – running and screaming for Rick before the pieces finished clattering on the floor. But, in their own place they have grandeur.

That trip to Singapore was in 2003 and the experience immediately popped into my mind when we were in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2006 and a fruit bat sailed overhead. Rick and I were walking downtown on our first night and that one bat made me start to look for others. I found them - in every direction – 5 here, 10 there, more than I could count over the river. As I looked, one glided between me and the streetlight showing a thin, silky wing – spanning at least 4 feet.

The next night, as I stood on the balcony of our guest house at dusk, every part of the sky was alive with hundreds and hundreds of fruit bats and all I could say was, “Wow.”


Emilie said...

very cool pictures, mom!! i loved those bats.

Elaine said...

Em, I'm so glad that our whole family had the chance to experience this place together and thanks for the blog-tutoring.