BAKKA NATTABAKKA BAT
In Mesoamerican myth it is the touch of the bat, even the vampire bat, that initiates the soul's night journey. My son, Max, aged three: "I don't like bats." "You don't? Why not?" "I think they're poisonous to eat." "Well, if not poisonous, not good to eat either. But, Max, no one is ever going to ask you to eat a bat." "Oh...ok." Five billion human beings, ten thousand languages, a hundred thousand plus dialects, but from the Arctic to the Amazon not a single recipe for bat. No bat gumbo, no bat souffle with truffles, no bat with rice and beans, no bat in aspic, no bat in wok with broccoli and snow peas. The French don't eat bat, neither do the Chinese. Bats themselves eat insects, a million tons a year...fertilize flowers like bees, drink water on the wing, eat fruit...but a few drink blood. Spaniards arriving in Mexico named them vampire bats, a full 300 years before Bram Stoker wrote the book on vampires. Vampires drink only blood. Prefer chickens, cows, and pigs to humans, but mostly feed on sleeping birds. Sharp incisors make cuts so neat and shallow, there's rarely any pain, bat saliva makes blood flow freely, a long tongue curls into a tube and sucks the weeping wound, lapping tears of blood into a hungry mouth. Vampire bats drop near their prey, scuttle softly over on wing tips. They take so little blood on these nightly visitations, as to do no harm, except when they carry diseases caught from victims, leave wounds open to infection, or they themselves having been bitten -- carry rabies. Consider the occasional vampire bite (species speaking) well worth the price of hundreds of thousands of tons of blood sucking bugs -- mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, green flies, no-see-ums and gnats.....Consider too.... Better bats eat us, than we eat bat! What's a quiet anesthetized suck, less than a dozen human beings a year. What's that compared to the horror of facing a bowl of hot bat stew, bat leftovers and the rest. The peasants of old Russia, those who Tolstoy said were "of the earth itself" told him, "God made mosquitos to teach men to be humble." Why the vampire bat? I look in my Audubon guide. Photographs, close-ups taken in broad daylight or by flash. I cannot warm up to bats. That's not the way to see them, like pornographic close-ups, certain things are clearer true, but the tune gets lost. But black-brown furry bodies huddled under a thermal rock in Yellowstone Park. Seen in the flesh bats are weird, but wonderful. Little furry bodies, all hanging up side down, naked wings folded in and pulled tight. Bats in the air above a mountain lake, dancing reels with the swallows and the swifts as the day ends that's where to see bats. They are flying overtures to night. I see bats I know I'll soon be, if not in bed, retreated to my campfire. While the fire crackles at my feet, I watch bats dart and weave a web above me, long after the swifts and swallows, wife, son, and companions have gone to bed. You can not see the bear in a cage. You can only think you've seen him. Cherokee, like those I was raised with, called bears -- the old man of the forest. You can only see a bear when there is nothing, but naked air between you, as when you step aside and the bear brushes you as it saunters down a trail lined, jungle thick with rhododendron or when "old woman of the forest" brings her cub along (half-way) to have your supper, and you smell her coming. Whew! And twist and yell just in time to save your cooking dinner. The same is true of bats see them in their cave or crevice, see them swimming high on twists of air, or see them rising from their black holed caverns like a billion tons of smoke. Because of this...and our deep sleep, we have the vampire bat. Bats keep us alert to the world of night. The vampire nightmare wakes us up to remind us who we were and are. You can brush away bat with a flick of your hand. There no need to be rough. Or bend low, take your index finger rub its naked wing a single stroke. Say: "Hey, bakka! I am as awake as you are. Go away." But sleep and you awaken weakened, sleep and you awake bleeding, sleep, and if you've been careless with your system of immunity, you may die. Stay awake, address the bat as a guest, an uninvited guest to be sure, but a guest all the same.... Say "Bakka...nattabakka...bat...vampire. Welcome.... I am awake. Thank you! Now be on your way." Do not kiss the bat. Don't be over friendly or sentimental. Don't molest it in its cave. Don't disturb its night with day, or your idea of day. If you talk be frank and open with the bat. Pull no punches. Say "Bakka, drink blood another night. Bakka, now you ask, I must confess I like your sisters and brothers who eat fruit and insects -- better than you." Think of Arjuna in his chariot. " All is one, yes, but there no need to let the vampire bat have his dinner.........if you're that dinner... Waking is enough. Addressed, the vampire bat will go away. Bats are, after rodents, the second most numerous mammals on earth. The only ones to take to the air. Were once shrews, who lived, lives underground. That's the key to bats -- in their history. According to the dictionary, of all the flying creatures, the bat's the only one "placental." Placental bats take to an ulterior night's air. Placental vampires serve a purpose Arjuna would have understood. We must voyage into a night, as if it were a kind of day. Explore the ulterior for interior reasons. Navigate like Polynesians by the feel of winds, our body's pulse, hunger and fatigue, our breath, smell, the sun, stars, watching birds, high clouds and counting the days. Watching night's placental bats. Vampires. Night lies a fallow field, empty yet placental, arterial...pumping! Planting time is spring. No early crop here I guess. Winter wheat grows somewhere else. I thought somehow we'd all be younger, more "californiaed," look more archetypical. Fifty years of life experience...maybe, but with bodies like twenty year olds. Night, and we grow more open heart and minded. Night and we become more available for new modes .........of transportation. "Navigate by supersonic sounds and echoes?" "Ok." So much to see without our eyes, so much to hear beyond earsŐ hearing. What's true and what's truly imagined to be true...I'm not sure it matters? The vampire or the idea of the vampire, or scuttling scrape of the vampires wingtips keeps us awake. Awake until we can begin to touch each other softly and gently as the vampire bat. Awake, helping each other stay awake into an ulterior night. What to find? I little know. When it comes to ulterior journeys past, I must confess. I was not entirely happy in the Pleistocene, and being seaweed, waving in the Saragossa makes me queasy. And what of vampires ?... A country and western song perhaps. "We won't need no vampires then...." A touch ... "Sister....Are you awake? " A touch... " Brother....Are you awake?" Yes, yes. Hearts and minds. We'll echolocate on each other and be placental. There's the web, the net and night's work. There's a way, or may or must be a way, so we won't need the vampire bat to keep us up all night. A sutra: Ga-te Ga-te, par-a-gat-e, para-sam-ga-te. Bodhi Savah! Change to a batty sutra: Bak-ka, Bak-ka Par-a-gate, par-a-sam-ga-te. Bati Savah! That's one prayer, now one other. "Beloved, see with your eyes, how the bat flies by its ears."
* Bakka is the Middle English for bat; from the old Norse nattabakka. Bat, Bakka, nattabakka has a completely different entomology than the German, Latin or Greek equivalents. When I found "bakka" I knew I had a more "personal" name for bats, one by which to address them directly. ** The prayer Ga-te, Ga-te, par-a-gate para-sam-gate Bodhi. Savah! is from the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra. One of the oldest and most succinct prayers in Buddhism. Recited at approach of death, it's one the few to make it all the way to Japan in the original Sanskrit. I make to batty puns substituting bakka for ga.te (gone) and Bati for Bodhi (awake). My own very free translation "Free, Free, Gone Beyond to Freedom... Awake! Thank God! (or Hooray!) *** Arjuna's conversation is with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. **** I refer to interior, exterior and ulterior worlds or realms without implying there is only one of each or that they entirely separate. "Ulter" from the Latin means: situated beyond, by extension both hidden and latent. I use the term ulterior; the Sufis, Moslem mystics, use the term "Alam al-mithal" -- in Latin; mundus imaginalis.