Thursday, February 21, 2013

All About Bats

Yesterday, by attending a presentation at my daughter’s school, I learned a great deal about bats. I was wholly ignorant, for instance, of the fascinating diversity encompassed by that little monosyllabic name—well over 1,200 distinct species with some truly bizarre traits. You most certainly know about little Vampire Bats that will return again and again at night to suck on a porcine ear until the poor piggy finally collapses from infection or steady blood loss. But you may not know that these bats have a small slit in their bottom lip through which they stick their tongues so as to more efficiently suck their sanguine elixir. You might also not know that the Mexican Long-Tongued Bat is only about 2-inches long but sports a 1-inch tongue, which it uses to lap up tasty mango nectar. Then there is the rather creepy Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox that weighs in at 4 pounds and has a huge set of black, leathery wings that span over 5 feet. They do indeed look like large, flying foxes but are instead fruit-eating bats who reside in the Philippines. Here in Austin we have our own precious bat colony, comprised of many thousands of tiny Mexican Free-Tailed Bats who live under the Congress Avenue Bridge and soar from beneath their adopted home en masse each eve, creating impressionistic, smoky swirls in the dusky sky. These bats are among the “insectivores” that, according to my daughter, constitute 2/3s of all bats. These insectivores are nocturnal, as are the Vampires, but the fruit bats have no trouble seeking a hearty meal during the light of day.
When one seeks to forge a connection between Shakespeare and bats, of course the mind wanders to Macbeth, among Shakespeare’s creepiest plays. Most obviously, one of the Weird Sisters chants:
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

In concocting a “charm of powerful-trouble,” a bit of a bat fiber fits in quite well with the rest of the disgusting inventory. Moreover, Macbeth himself, when hinting to Lady M about the next murderous deed he is about to embrace, uses a bat image to unsettling effect:

. . . Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight, ere to black Hecate's summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.

But there is evidence that Shakespeare did not have merely a facile notion that bats were just icky things of darkness. In The Tempest, the ethereal Ariel sings a little ditty to celebrate his imminent freedom that includes a perfectly lovely bat reference, which situates bats among other merry, industrious, natural beings:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

I submit that lawyers ought to see bats in a similarly natural way. Indeed, they should feel some serious empathy for bats. Lawyers, like bats, are often unfairly lumped together; without regard to nuance, they are uniformly maligned as a dark, creepy, blood-sucking lot. The work that they do, which enables, not only their own survival, but that of civilization itself, is often dismissed as distasteful—until a person needs to partake of its benefits. I’ll leave it to your imagination to analogize how some lawyers’ work functions like bats’ role in keeping the insect population in check or, as with the fruit bats, in enabling pollination and other efficacious events. But without irony I say, spread those leathery wings and soar, lawyer, soar.

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