Monday, May 17, 2010
Bat Flowers, Bat Fish, and Fruit Bats
My first encounter with bats was in Lahore, in my dadi's house in Model Town. It was one of those pretty beat old houses with high ceilings, and a front gate that nearly fell on my sister and me when we were swinging on it one day, pulling down with it the huge cement pillar holding it in place. If there hadn't been a ditch for me to fall in, so the gate fell over the ditch instead of over me, I would've died. I think my sister got scratched. Don't ask how we survived ... it was that kind of house. Yep, probably full of jinns. It is where I heard my first jinn story. BUT that is not what this post is about. One night a bat flew inside the bedroom where we all slept together in a line of beds. I was transfixed, and probably a little scared. It was my first bat.
Years later in Upstate New York, I encountered more bats, and liked them less. They would fly into pizza joints and into my apartment building, and hang in the window outside my front door.
Years later in Sydney, I saw my first fruit bats. These were different sort of bats. They were cute. They also had a great other name: flying foxes. I returned to Lahore, Pakistan, to tell my hubby all about them and a friend overheard and said there were flying foxes in our very own Lahore. Sure enough, there they were in Jinnah Park, dangling upside down with furry red breasts exposed, though they can be hard to see -- from a distance, they look a bit like shapeless pods. Of course they made it into the book I was writing at the time. (There's a scene in The Geometry of God where Amal meets her lover Omar at Jinnah Park and they talk about the bats ...)
Years later in Malaysia, I saw a bat fish. These are terrifically hard to spot, but they favor mangroves, so poke around the roots and the weeds. They are so lovely, sort of like seahorses in how they drift dreamily. The one I saw swam right by me, all upright and introverted, and at first I thought it was a leaf. Because they are so slow, Dave and I were able to look at it till we were almost sated. Then it disappeared.
And now, a week ago, in Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu, I saw a black bat flower. These are some of the strangest and most gorgeous flowers I've ever seen (and apparently, quite rare). They have long silky tendrils or "whiskers" that are purplish in the sun and the petals are so glossy and rich. They aren't exactly pretty. They have no smell. But they are stunningly intense.
Check out the photos above. White bat flower; Black bat flower in Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu (a different one from the same cluster posted in the previous post); and flying foxes in Jinnah Park, Lahore. I know, the bats are shadowy. But if you zoom in and think friendly bat thoughts, they might reveal themselves.