September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Cats, bats, meteors all part of a summer night

By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Here's a riddle: What do bats, cats, meteors, owls and wolves have in common?
You guessed it. They're all going to be mentioned in this column.
See, they already have been.
This past Tuesday, Aug. 13, sleep started to elude me. I realized that one of the most famous meteor showers - the Perseids - was lighting up the night sky. So at 4:30 a.m., it was off to the deck on the north side of the house.
A canvas chair made a comfortable perch. I leaned back, looking to the northeast, where the constellation Perseus resides. Half a dozen bats flitted nervously overhead. I tried to ignore them.
I'm not necessarily afraid of bats, but we have had a few close encounters with them in our 40-year-old A-frame on nine acres. Earlier that evening, three of the cats clustered around the soapstone stove that's in the living room. A scritching and scratching inside attracted them.
The explanations as to what could be inside the stove - after dark - were few. Jessica and I narrowed it down to one thing: a bat. It somehow got in through the steel chimney, even though the smoke vents are protected by wire mesh.
We solved that bat problem in time-honored fashion. We did what people have done for thousands of years when faced with such a situation. We ignored it.
But the dark form circling the sofa, my chair, and the television was a different matter. There was no ignoring that bat.
We slid open one of the large doors leading to the deck, hoping that - like a wayward cow - it would spy the opening and pass through. No luck. The cats saw to that.
When the bat finally did spy the portal to its nighttime domain, Bonsai, the Siamese, leapt and grabbed the winged mammal as it zoomed too near the floor. The cat carried the bat from its near brush with freedom.
Jessica yelled. I yelled. I'm sure the cat and bat yelled, too. At any rate, the bat escaped the jaws of certain death and began its satellite circlings once more.
Two of the other cats - Guinness and Bones - joined the fray. There's something about a winged mouse - as I'm certain cats think of them - that's simply irresistible to felines.
Eventually, no thanks to the cats, but to several well-place whacks with a broom, the bat episode ended with a thud.
Later, on the deck, gazing at the heavens, I waited several long minutes. Finally, my reward. Zip. Across the blackness in a fraction of second, a yellow spark against the dark dome.
During the ensuing half hour, I watched as eight of these sparks - bits of meteors only the size of grains of sand and traveling 130,000 miles per hour - lit up the night sky. Eight in 30 minutes is nowhere near the peaks I'd read about. Accounts varied from 50 per hour on up to two and three a minute.
While I waited, enjoying nature's fireworks, two owls talked in the old pasture down the hill. I imagined the barred owls, with their "who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all" cries, to be discussing the night's hunting.
It's after dark that this nine acres between Plum Creek and the Kickapoo, Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers turns much more wild. Coyotes howling are common, and I've heard about bears in this hilly, rugged region, along with the occasional, supposed, sighting of a mountain lion.
I do not doubt the notion that a mountain lion could dwell here and go largely unnoticed. Two summers ago, when we lived closer to Seneca, on a dead-end, gravel road, we were grilling chicken just before dark on a sultry summer's evening.
All was quiet, but for the myriad chirpings of insects in the tall grass along the road. Then: Rowwwwrrrrr. That angry snarl from the thick woods just across the road starkly reminded us that we were not barbecuing in a backyard in civilized suburbia.
Whether or not we really heard a mountain lion, I do not know. But I hadn't heard a sound like it before, and I haven't heard one like it since.
A few days ago, I was reminded of that possible catamount encounter when I read that a beef farmer nearby had shot and killed an 80-pound gray wolf. The farmer had a permit to do so, for a wolf had been bothering his cattle for two years. It was supposedly the farthest south in Wisconsin during modern times that a wolf attacked livestock. That farmer lives near Steuben, a wee community along the Kickapoo, and only 15 miles away from me by road, and half that as the proverbial crow flies.
If you're out after dark during the summer, maybe you'll want to see the famed Perseids - sometimes called the tears of Saint Lawrence - for yourself. Next year's Perseid meteor shower will start around July 24 and last past Aug. 24, with the peak arriving around Aug. 10 through 14.
It's free, too. All you need do is look up.
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