By Mark E. Cupp
A few years ago, southwestern Wisconsin experienced one of those good old-fashioned blizzards that I remember from my childhood. High winds, cold temperatures and lots of snow. The kind of storm that takes at least a day for city folks to dig out from and a couple of days or more for country folks to return to some semblance of normal. With a roast in the slow cooker and a wonderful aroma in the kitchen, I retired to the three-seasons porch to smoke my pipe (not allowed in the house!) and watch the storm. It didn’t take long before I was mesmerized by the fierce winds pushing the snow sideways in the late afternoon light.
All of sudden, THWACK, something hit the windowpane in front of me. The reverie broken, I tried to regain my senses and determine what had caused the noise. There, on the other side of the glass, was a bat. Now, I am not a bat expert so I’m not sure if it was a big brown bat, little brown bat, long-eared bat or what kind of bat, but I do know it was for sure a bat, albeit a very unhappy bat. I began to contemplate my next move: Should I try to rescue the bat? If so, how? If I did figure out how to rescue the bat, what would I do with it?
As these thoughts raced through my mind, another blast of wind took the poor creature down two more windows where it again clung for dear life. A few seconds later, a big gust, and the bat was blown onto the snow gathered on the open front porch. I ran into the house and raced to the front window. And there I witnessed a rare moment, certainly not a sight I have seen. The tenacious bat, fighting for its life, for its survival, was crawling toward the house where the crack between the wooden porch deck and the siding created a potential refuge. As the bat made its way across the snow, a curious trail was left in the wake — bat tracks! Bat tracks in the snow! I went to grab my camera, but in the 30 seconds it took me to find the camera and return to the window, the bat tracks were gone, erased by the wind, and the critter was nowhere to be seen.
Since that time, the unique sight I witnessed has haunted me. As far as I know, nobody else has seen bat tracks in the snow. I have reflected on that precious nature moment that would not have been recorded in my memory if I had not been in the right place at the right time. Such is the case with each and every nature moment I have been blessed to observe. Serendipity, indeed. As the years have passed and as I have shared this tale with friends and family, I have thought of the metaphor for life represented by the bat, driven by instinct and sheer will to survive, clinging to a glass pane and then crawling through snow in a blizzard, only to disappear and have the tracks do so as well. Our human lives are a daily struggle to survive, to make it to the next day, the next month, the next year, until our time is up. We leave our tracks behind but, alas, they, too, are evanescent and eventually are erased by winds of time.
I retain hope that the little bat that danced a dark ballet in a blizzard before my eyes found shelter from the storm and survived. I know one thing that has made an indelible impression on me, that being bat tracks in the snow.
Mark Cupp is a native son of Richland County. For the past 31 years, he has served as executive director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. He is an avid nature lover and enjoys hiking, canoeing, bird watching and fishing. He also dabbles in family history projects and writing prose and poetry.