a small dark presence


Yesterday, while rain stuttered on our metal roof, I was reading in the living room. It was mid-afternoon, the light was grey (I’d turned on a small lamp behind me), and the house was quiet. But I thought I saw quick movement. Wings? My impression was that something was flying just beyond the end of the couch where I was lying with my New Yorker, something small and dark. My immediate fear was my retinas. A year ago I fell on ice in Edmonton and cracked my coccyx. It hurt. But because we were away from home, spending time with our family, I took heavy pain-killers and did all the stuff we’d planned to do. It was a lovely time and when I started to experience what I know now were entoptic phenomena (visual effects within the eye), I really thought they were part of everything I was doing: children’s theatre, riding a sleigh pulled by horses through the snowy streets of Strathcona, walking under trees silver with ice.

It wasn’t until three days later that the silver light began to fall to the right of my face, long beautiful streams of it. Mostly in a dark room (we were watching an abbreviated performance of the Nutcracker with our grandchildren), but then at other times, in the bedroom when I was resting with the blinds closed to the bright snow. I also began to see small nests of fine twigs or hairs in my right eye, passing by. None of this was painful. — from “The Blue Etymologies

We went to the Emergency department at Royal Alexandra Hospital and were referred to a resident ophthalmologist who just happened to be working upstairs at the Alberta Eye Institute and she conducted many tests and procedures. She determined that I had a new hole in one of my retinas and advised me to stay in Edmonton for treatment. We were due to return home the next morning and she agreed that I could leave but that I had to see a specialist as soon as I arrived back on the Coast. I did and he confirmed the tear in my retina, repairing it immediately. A follow-up appointment a few weeks later revealed a second tear, which was also repaired, The impact of the fall had begun the process of retinal detachment and so I was monitored for some time during the winter and early spring. It was really interesting to learn about what the eye perceives within itself and more interesting to remember the experience of seeing extraordinary blue sky, filled with tumbling clouds, and a sere desert, cross-hatched with red crevasses as the ophthalmology resident shone lights into the backs of my eyes.

On a snowy evening in Edmonton, I sat in a chair high above the city glittering below, and saw images so beautiful that I know why people have sought them since they first ate datura or drank fermented honey and ingested mushrooms so toxic they could not have lived long afterwards. In dark caves they applied ochre, charcoal, and ground calcite to show light falling from the faces of horses and spiral patterns that led them to a dizzy apprehension of time and starlight. Following the spiral, they went to the heart of the mystery. It was never ours. It was always ours. — from “The Blue Etymologies”

But yesterday? Fluttering wings? A small dark presence? I tried to forget about it, and mostly I did. The movement stopped and I kept reading. An hour or so later, I was in the kitchen, sewing in the big rocking chair by the fire, and the cat was on a chair beside me, sleeping. He suddenly woke, jumped down, and raced over to John’s shoes. Something fluttered and the cat backed away. I went to investigate and was surprised to see a small bat in John’s shoe. Between John and I, the shoe was moved outside and the bat gently shaken out. It sat in the rain. What to do? Using two long flat pieces of cedar kindling (our old roof shakes), John picked the bat up and placed it on a flower pot on a herb trolley under the eaves where it would at least be dry. In summer the bats often roost in the little crevices between the cedar fascia boards and the soffits so if this bat was one who knew our house, maybe it would tuck itself back into the crevice.

This morning? It’s hanging off a flower pot. It seems to be sleeping. It’s a strange time of year to see a bat but it’s mild outside and there are still insects around. My instinct is not to interfere but to let it find its own way to where it needs to go. How did it get in the house? Maybe the cat brought it in. But where did he find it? Maybe it fell from its roosting place. I know it can fly because I realize now, to my relief, that the fluttering I saw as I read on the couch was a bat and not my retinas trying to detach.


Little update: the bat was moving around on the flower pot and we didn’t want a weasel to find it. So John used this strainer (and an oven mitt) to encourage the little bat to enter the safety of the crevices between fascia and soffits where bats often lurk on summer days. Maybe they hibernate there too…

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