Feeling Batty!

Special thanks to photographer extraordinaire Daniel Whitby for adjusting my camera settings and creating an incredible set! I still can’t believe that I was able to catch an image of this exquisite bat in flight!

In honor of International Bat Appreciation Day, I’m finally posting about my incredible trip to Panama! I have been fascinated by bats ever since I was a child and have dreamed of being able to study them in a real world setting. Last year I became aware of a bat survey being held in Panama and jumped at the chance to attend.

The expedition was being led by none other than Merlin Tuttle, a world famous ecologist who quite literally wrote the book on bats. The trip was co-led by Daniel Hargreaves, an extremely knowledgable conservationist from the U.K. Our team conducted a survey in the Mamoni Valley of Central Panama, a biodiversity hot spot teeming with life. We stayed at the gorgeous Cocobolo Nature Reserve which covers 1,100 acres of lush rainforest.  Over the course of a week, we studied 367 bats, which translated to 46 species.

I cannot begin to express what an amazing experience this was and I look forward to participating in more field work in the future. I also spent a day exploring Panama City before heading out to Cocobolo Nature Reserve and have included images from that location as well. There are a few photos of me taken by others where I was not sure who to credit; my apologies. To learn more about the amazing world of bats, please swing by www.merlintuttle.com!

While visiting Panama, I fell in love with Casco Viejo’s historic buildings.

I spent some quality time with this little Pygmy Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus phaeotis).

Cocobolo field station.

Nighttime in the cloud forest felt like magic.

This identification guide was an invaluable tool for studying bats in Panama. The species list is very expansive and the devil really is in the details!

Scenic photo from the first night we set up mist nets in the river. This is shortly before I stepped into deeper water, which resulted in my boots becoming completely flooded. This process would repeat for another night or two, and each time, I was amazed that the water could outsmart me so easily. I eventually just accepted my fate and embraced the experience. The jungle is no place for divas!

Look closely and you will spot an adorable White-throated Round-eared Bat (Lophostoma silvicolum). These bats are especially fascinating because they roost inside of termite nests!

The data collected while studying bats is recorded on a processing sheet. This information helps conservationists better understand bats, which aids in protecting them.

This little guy was swimming with us while we were netting in the river one night. Cheers to Alex Shepack for bringing him to the field station so that we could admire him!

Panama City skyline.

Check out this sleeping bat silhouette! Some bat species construct “tents” from leaves by nibbling on them until they fold. Once modified, the leaf can serve as a shelter, which offers protection from harsh elements and predators.

I absolutely loved working outdoors and becoming familiar with the sights, sounds, and hidden mysteries of the rainforest. It’s awesome how alive the jungle becomes at night! I learned so much from the people in my group and will always be grateful to them for their camaraderie, patience, and impeccable instruction.

Look at the ears on this charming Lophostoma silvicolum!

Then and Now

April 13, 2019

Dear Darlene,

I’m writing this letter to you a month after hearing that you had died. I stumbled across something on Facebook saying you were ill a while back and meant to reach out, but I became distracted with a million other things, and missed my chance. When I received the invite to your memorial I was floored. Feelings of regret for not contacting you have haunted me ever since. I have reread our last message several times and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to catch up after losing each other for two decades.

Kids these days (see what I did there) will never understand what life was like before social media and the internet. I moved away less than a year after we graduated from high school, and although we corresponded via snail mail, eventually we lost touch. I thought of you often, and whenever I ran across someone from our hometown, I would always try to find you, to no avail. I was over the moon when you tracked me down on Facebook in 2013! After so many years apart, it was amazing to speak to you, if only through a message.

I stumbled across a letter you wrote me back in 1995 yesterday. I was sorting through a box of stuff from my days living in Austin, and there it was, just sitting on top. Before I even read the envelope, I thought to myself, “How cool it would be if this was from Darlene”. It was. You were unapologetically yourself in this letter and I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was reading. You complained about feeling old at the age of nineteen and how being grown up was putting distance between all of us who were so close in high school. It’s funny to read those words now knowing how things change and the many years that would end up separating us.

You were always fierce, but extremely kind. I don’t recall us ever having an argument and I trusted you more than anyone else during those horrible last three years of high school Hell. I miss dancing outside of the taco stand in Compton after we narrowly escaped being arrested for somehow ending up in a riot. I miss listening to Black Flag in your room and hearing you talk about your new boyfriend. To my delight, you two remained together all of these years. I find myself wanting to track him down and tell him how fucking much you always loved him, but I don’t know if that’s weird. I miss wandering around Redlands at night looking for ghosts while everyone else we knew was getting drunk. I miss hanging out with Nole, who lived in the park and collected books. I loved that the three of us would talk about whatever we were reading and it didn’t matter where we came from, only that we had stories to tell.

I watched your memorial service through live streaming on my lunch break at work. I wanted to be there, but wasn’t able to make the trip to California on short notice. Listening to your friends speak about what a genuine person you were made my heart practically burst. I was so happy to know that you only got better with age and that other people had the opportunity to experience who you were. I followed my dream of living all over the country and becoming a fashion designer. You became a force of nature, dedicating your life to working with the homeless, primarily veterans. In our last message, you spoke of mentoring at risk youth because you remembered how hard things were for us at that age and understood “bratty” kids, even when other adults couldn’t. This didn’t surprise me at all and I hate the fact that I never realized the extent of the work you did and missed the opportunity to tell you how much you mattered. Since we were always honest with each other and never held back, I’m going to tell the truth right now; so many people on this planet are dicks and the world is darker without you in it. You did so much in the short time you were here and I have no doubt that you were only getting started.

The last page of your letter was just a pasted quote, “You already know how it ends”. I thought I knew, but I was wrong. I expected to be dead by thirty-five, because my mother only made it that far, and I assumed everyone I knew would outlast me. Here I am, celebrating my forty-third birthday just two weeks after hearing that you are gone. It’s moments like these where people ponder the meaning of life as they face their mortality, but I don’t have time for that tired bullshit. Instead, I find myself remembering the girls we were and being so damn proud of the women we became.

Thank you for all of the lessons you taught me. Thank you for always having my back when I needed it most. Thank you for finding me again and giving me that one last conversation between two old friends trying to catch up after twenty years apart. Thank you for proving everyone wrong by showing that strange looking teenagers can grow up to be badasses and society should stop underestimating people just because they don’t fit the status quo.

Well, I guess that’s it. I don’t know how to say goodbye because I don’t want to. I’m going to look for more of your old letters, but in the meantime, here’s one last letter to you.

Love always,