Bats By Amanda Jernigan
They billow from a hillside in Cha’am. Together, they are more than plural: the planet’s darkest song, a tongue, a serpent muscling air apart, a dire banner come unfurled, a river flowing wholly from the old, mute mountain’s desperate heart, the last confession of the world. Conceive of each one singly, if you can.
This poem originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Poetry Magazine, by the well-published Canadian poet, Amanda Jernigan. At fifteen years old, she spent a year in Thailand as an exchange student. We guess that a trip may have included a visit to the Nayang Bat Cave near Cha-Am where she received her inspiration and that Cha’am is ‘poetic licence’ for Cha-Am. ‘Billowing’ is a very apt description of the appearance each sunset of probably millions of fruit bats that flow out from the mountainside in what appears to be a rather sudden cloud of smoke streaming into the skies.
Having said millions, some people only say hundreds of thousands, but others estimate 10 million in the swarms above, there’s no one counting! Nayang Bat Cave is something short of 10 kilometres north of Cha-Am, not really that easy to find, but if you head inland about 5 kilometres along the scenic route before reaching Puktien Beach the locals will steer you towards a very large outcrop with a distinctive cave in the face.
The nearby viewpoint by the roadside is likely to have a few visitors. It’s really just a platform on the roof of a building which has a perpetual ‘for sale’ sign and the owner may want 20 thb for the privilege. Around 6.30 pm you’ll notice an increase overhead of small flying creatures before the masses emerge from the hillside. Annoyingly though it’s just starting to get dark, so best to choose a cloudless sky for a clear background if photography is on your mind. After 10 or 15 minutes of the steady stream flooding from the hillside to find their nightly succor it’s all over, apparently returning at first light.
This is not a unique scene in Thailand, but many locals around Cha-Am may be oblivious to the spectacle. If you are into nature as a mass choreographed display, bats on this scale of unison takes some beating. Take a drive some evening to be a witness. You may also be inspired to poetry after the display!