August 8, 2020
I visited the Maple View Day Use Area near Nickajack Dam. At the boat ramp across the road from Macedonia Baptist Church, a flock of Canada Geese rested among the milfoil. A Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret waded the shallows in search of fish.
I wished I had brought my camera along.
I returned a few days later with a neighbor. A large patch of Arrow Arum had burst into bloom with purple flowers on spikes above the arrow-shaped leaves. With binoculars, my neighbor noticed butterflies working the plants, searching for nectar. I photographed the geese, heron, and egret.
We drove to the Maple View Day Use Area and noticed a blooming field thistle with numerous pollinators. Before we walked to the bat observation platform, I photographed a butterfly and a bumblebee on the thistle. I planned to return to see the bats that Friday.
I returned with six friends. We walked the trail to the observation platform and waited for nightfall. A few others had arrived before us, and more appeared as the day waned. A powerboat was anchored nearby, and the boat swam four children in life vests.
Standup paddleboards and kayaks arrived, and the wait for darkness was still interminable. I told my friends about how the cave was not flooded before the construction of Nickajack Dam and related the story of the Confederate Army mining the bat guano to manufacture gunpowder. I did not go into the account about Johnny Cash going into the cave to attempt suicide but finding religion instead.
I told my friends that a better version of these stories and the story of the bats appeared in Stephen Lyn Bales' book Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley.
I recommend that book to anyone who wants to know more about local natural history. I had brought a pair of binoculars, and my friends borrowed them to look over their surroundings.
Sunset occurred at 7:35 central time, and fifteen minutes later, the bats emerged. It was not a great cloud flying at once but a steady stream that continued for as long as we watched. I heard numbers as high as fifty thousand for the bat population of the cave, which is a maternity cave.
The females come here to give birth and raise their young, one pup per adult. The males live in another cave in Alabama, and both sexes hibernate in yet another cave. That third cave is where they gather to assure future generations of bats.
They swooped over the lake, catching insects. Several flew over our heads, but not too close, and still more emerged from the cave.
None of the others had brought lights, but I lit the way back to the parking lot with my headlamp, and we returned to Chattanooga. The bats, no doubt, continued to hut throughout the night and returned to the cave to sleep through the day.