Photograph from Google Images
The nature writer J A Baker described the flight of bats as 'dry freaking' - a typically casual description that belies the skill of his writing. In two words he captures the experience, and the phrase comes to mind whenever I see them on the wing.
This summer I have been watching the bats in the caves at Newgale. Occasionally, they fly in the day, hunting moths that stray into the ridge lift. On Saturday, one took to the air from a cleft in the sandstone - its lunatic pattern of tumbles and falls (do you see what I mean - dry freaking is so much better) mesmerised me for fifteen minutes.
Bats, more than any other animal, remind me of how extraordinary nature is. We know they are effectively blind, 'seeing' the world though sonic resonance and yet able to pick out a hover-fly in a force six coastal wind. How must the world appear to them, I pondered, pulling up the collar of my fleece and turning to the curved horizon of St Brides Bay.
The idea has long fascinated philosophers. Schopenhaur thought long about the grim and (in his view) somewhat pointless existence of moles, leading him to his theory of Will and Representation as the ultimate force in life. Others, such as Kant, concluded the world as it is in itself is unknowable - we are inherently limited by our experience and capacity to understand. (For a practical example of this, try imagining an entirely new colour.)
But my fascination with bats is less to do with philosophical meaning and more about the sheer oddness of the way they exist. It is, I suppose, the recognition of nature as 'other'; of it always being 'beyond' us, no matter how far 'above' it we may think we are. Of course, we are part of nature too, but we should avoid reducing it to our limited perceptions.
Earlier this year I met a former researcher from BBC Spring Watch. She recognised the dilemma and empathised with my dislike of those wildlife documentaries that give lion cubs names like Sheeba or Shakira. The problem, she explained, was that without the anthropomorphism, the viewing figures plummeted.
That may be so, but I remain sceptical of the merits. The bats I watched on Saturday didn't require a name to be fascinating; still less did they require a narrative. Indeed, I'd argue words of any sort could never do them justice. Though admittedly, and through enviously gritted teeth, I'd concede 'dry freaking' comes damn close.