On my way to Seward Park's biweekly Bat Trek naturalist walk, my Lyft driver, an elementary-school teacher driving nights to make up for her salary, reminds me that people found a rabid bat near Green Lake just last week.
"Trump is president and rabid bats," she says, sighing over the wheel.
"Maybe a rabid bat will take me out before things get worse," I say.
We both laugh, but as the car pulls in front of the Seward Park Audubon Center, I feel a tingle of excitement. The sun is setting over Lake Washington, painting the sky a dusky pink and tangerine. After the last couple of weeks, the prospect of death by bat feels like something I could look forward to.
When I arrive, I immediately spot the group. It's a diverse bunch—kids with bat finger puppets, couples, friends, and a few seniors—huddled around a man in Crocs holding up a framed desiccated bat.
Ed Dominguez is the lead naturalist at the center, and he's been leading bat treks, owl prowls, bird focuses, and native plant tours at the center for the last five years. Later, he'll inform us that we are unlikely to be bitten by rabid bats, as they are easy to spot: If they're rabid, they'll be lying on the ground. Unless we take the bat and make it spit into an open wound, we're probably okay.
That much kills my death-by-bat fantasy, but nevertheless, learning about this tiny mammal over the next hour and a half made up one of the most picturesque, fascinating evenings I've spent all summer.
If Dominguez weren't working at the center, he'd probably fit in on a children's television show. His love for his natural surroundings is evident in the breadth and depth of his knowledge on all things bats, owls, and their biology. He can sing bird songs, and for the hoots he cannot replicate, he has an app.
The bat he holds up to show us is tiny. It's just about the width of a hand, and most of it is made up of wingspan and a chunk of downy fur. But despite its size, a bat's physiology is remarkable, and it shares much of its DNA with humans.
We stop by the lake so we can get a better view of the animals zipping around. All of a sudden, two of them swoop over my head. I duck, like an idiot.
"The old saying you've probably heard, 'blind as a bat'—because they're flying erratically or one swooped over and almost flew into someone's hair—not at all true," Dominguez clarifies.
Bats' use of echolocation is exceptionally precise, and they actually have great eyesight. Bats, he tells us, vocalize in pulses at high frequencies, at about 10 to 20 pulses per second. When those sounds bounce back to the bats, they're able to identify objects as thin as a single human hair. Because of this skill, Dominguez tells us that bats like these, little brown bats, can eat 2,000 mosquitoes within an hour. The bats that swooped over my head knew exactly where I was, and they were probably going for a mosquito zipping by my ear.
Even more fascinating: Some of the bugs they hunt have evolved to have what can only be described as bat frequency jammers. So when bats start echolocating, one species of moth sends out a signal that tells the bat it's covered in a deadly toxin.
"It's amazing that because of this incredible method, some of their prey species countered it with evolution of their own," Dominguez says.
Scientists didn't know much about bats until recently, and there's still much to learn. Bats are small and hard to catch, so they've been difficult to tag and study. But what we have learned about bats over the last 40 years only proves that there needs to be more study.
We know, for example, that bats are unable to survive if they can't fly. Therefore, the thin membrane between their long fingers is exceptionally good at regeneration and repair. Bats, like bears, also hibernate in winter, where their tiny bodies are actually able to recycle their urea, mix it with amino acids, and use it to rebuild any loss of bone density they experience while they sleep.
NASA, Dominguez says, has started to research this process to see if it might be able to help astronauts who spend long periods of time in outer space.
One of the last things I learn about bats is that the mothers roost together. Baby bats are raised in a communal setting, and unlike other animals, mother bats usually have only one pup at a time.
By the end of the Bat Trek, the sky is almost fully dark, and it's difficult to make out the frenetic flapping wings we saw earlier. As the group strolls among the Douglas firs and California redwoods back to the parking lot, I develop a new fantasy that's more comforting than the one I had before. I imagine myself as a bat, cozied up in a winter roost, undergoing superpower transformations as I sleep.