"Losing all these bats... what does it mean?"

As a public affairs specialist for the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specializing in white-nose syndrome, I spend a lot of time working with the media. When a journalist is covering WNS for the first time, we oftentimes have to start with the bat basics: why bats are unique, important, beautiful. Why people should care about bats and the impacts of WNS. It can be a communications challenge to say the least.

But before we can even BEGIN to talk about this terrible and complex disease and its impacts on North American bat populations, I have to sell the journalist on the idea that they should care- that their READER should care- about bats and this deadly disease. It's not always an easy task. 

Of course there are the standard arguments to make about the importance of bats and the potential impacts of this disease in terms of our economy and natural world. Those facts and figures on how critical bats are to agriculture, to forests and cave ecosystems.

But there is something else, something I personally think is rooted way down deep in the human experience. It's tough to put your finger on, especially in this day and age where it is easy to not be connected with our natural world. It's the joy of catching a glimpse of a bat at dusk. From your porch, your dock, walking down your street. I bet a lot of the time it doesn't even register for most folks, it's a part of night falling. Just like sunset and moonrise, cooler temperatures and night time insect sounds kicking into high gear. 

There's poetry in that moment- the magic of seeing one of the most mysterious mammals on Earth. I can't transform those feelings into something beautiful, making the "what does losing all these bats mean?" question into something more evocative, or the horror of this disease into something more visceral. But there are people out there that can.

Wayne Clifford writing at Anchorage Provincial Park, Grand Manan, NB (2006), photo credit: M.J. EdwardsOne of those folks is Wayne Clifford, a long-established and highly respected Canadian poet. During his undergraduate years at the University of Toronto he shared the E.J. Pratt Award  for Poetry with Michael Ondaatje and since then has gone on to publish 11 books of poetry. Following a career as a college professor, he is now retired and living on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, which was confirmed WNS-positive in winter 2011-12

I am grateful there are people like Wayne who can express that sense of loss and the devastation of WNS in a much more graceful way than I. Thank you, Wayne, for sharing your poetry with us.

A Lament for Bats


The late twilight’s darks are simply dark.

The birds have settled in and nothing flies

except the blood lust making buzz.

                                                        The stark

of moon is drained of rising’s blush, and dries

a far and bone-bleached white. But there!

is nothing….

                      Once, I thought, I’d hear the cries

that echoed bugs if I’d just take the care

to stand that still, and hold my breath, and poise

my frame into a sort of aural stare,

but never could I catch a chirpy noise

nor webby rustle of a velvet wing.


What can I know of rites that night employs

to bring its children out from dream, or fling

them off into forever? Someone’s boot

brought home a fungus, a bit of whitish thing

that grows in bats, and turns my question moot.


No acrobat now juggles in its arc

mosquito whine. The pale, old nursemaid’s mute.

And bits of dark don’t flit. They’re simply dark.


Wayne Clifford
Grand Manan, NB
March 2, 2013