Julyin’ Around

The title is deceptive because I’m doing no such thing. Like everyone else who begins the summer thinking it’s actually going to be a ‘break,’ I’m being swiftly disillusioned by the hectic, flyby nature of July. So much to do, so little motivation. 🙂 I’ll be brief about a couple of things I learned last week so you, too, can get back to running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

Remember that teensy-weensy rant I made about the bats with white-nose syndrome? Well, I retract the harsh words I used. Okay, I didn’t use any harsh words; and I didn’t rant on the bats but, rather, the practice of erecting metal gates to keep people out of the caves.

Last Monday, my family and I were at the mouth of Sauta (a.k.a. Blowing Wind) Cave at dusk to watch the exit of the largest known summer population of gray bats in the Southeast. While we waited for the sun to go down, our guide discussed what the endangered gray bats would face should white-nose syndrome be introduced into their colonies. The illness spreads rapidly with a bat mortality rate of 95%. Ninety-five percent! The first cases of WNS were documented in New York, and the steel bars at cave entrances are the only means researchers have come up with to hamper the spread of white-nose syndrome in various bat species. No one seems to have a clue how to manage the illness or the bats that contract WNS.

List of mammals of Florida
List of mammals of Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can you tell I’m feeling a little more forgiving about the barriers that keep me out of the caves now? Amazing what a little knowledge can do. One more thing I learned about bats: It is not their natural practice to swoop out of a cave en masse. That’s only if you scare them. They stagger their exits, circling around for a bit and winging away. At least the gray bats do.

Now, on the 4th I learned that if I allow my son to attempt to steer me down a small river in a kayak, there is an 100% possibility that the kayak will flip over; and I will come close to losing my sandals, my lunch bag, and the oars. And there’s the same probability that I will shriek and thrash around like the crazy woman I am for a good ten minutes before I realize, yes, I can stand up in the water.

Have a happy rest of the week!

Doing The Research…Naturally

While Realm and I were in Manchester, Tennessee, we drove up to McMinnville to tour the Cumberland Caverns. I’ve toured three cave systems now, and I would like to tour more. Mammoth Caves is definitely on my list, but I was looking for something less commercialized. With that in mind, we drove to a place called Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. I looked it up online, and, at the time, the website mentioned there were caves open to the public. There aren’t that many caves that are open to the public anymore. Many cave mouths we’ve visited have all been fitted with big, steel teeth.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area was no easy place to find. The roads wrapped round and round and up and down, only to land us in front of a wooden sign with a bright yellow update tacked to it. The caves at Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area were closed. *grumble, grumble*

White-Nosed Bats “It’s those snot-nosed bats again,” remarked Realm as we stared at the sign, crestfallen.

I do feel sorry for the bats and the bacteria they’re being exposed to by people traipsing into their caves, but I don’t think blocking off the caves is really a solution for that. The bats in the commercial caves are free to visit and spread bacteria, right?

Our tour to nowhere ended up being a good thing, though. We found a surprise just down the road from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lee Carter Natural Area. (Yes, I love typing that name out. It’s a ridiculously long and unnatural name for a natural area.) “Natural Bridge,” announced the sign.

I’ve been to Natural Bridge near Stanton, Kentucky—which is huge. Sewanee Natural Bridge wasn’t big at all. It was super narrow. I noticed that right when I was crossing, at which point my peripheral vision had my brain doing a double take. My knees started knocking. I looked up.

“Can you believe it? I’m freaking over this little bridge!” I exclaimed to Realm, who was already across.

He looked back and said, “Keep your eyes on the step ahead.”

“I need blinders. I’m not even looking off the sides! My brain is just picking up the sidelines!”

“Focus on the next step,” he repeated.
Rilla and Sewanee NBThe area around the bridge is beautiful with lots of rocks to climb and mini-trails to explore. And the walk back across the bridge was much easier.

Now I could go into a long-winded application about how we writers can be distracted or intimidated by things that are just in our peripheral vision, but I won’t. I’d rather talk about how barring up the caves isn’t really about the bats. It’s about keeping zombies from hiding out in them when the Zombie Apocalypse comes. But that’s beside the point, as well.

The most natural question for this post is: Why am I so interested in visiting caves anyway?

The most natural answer is: My protagonist, Casey, with the help of the Dragonfly Prince, must travel through a range of caves to avoid a hunter. I’m interested in the details, like common cave structures and the relative wetness/dryness of different cave systems. It’s research. Naturally.