Saturday, September 24, 2011

Contentment: The Pool at Night

An outdoor pool in the dark is one of my favorite things. I float on my back, ears under the surface to drown out sound, and watch the night sky.

On warm Yucatán nights, when the water temperature feels neither hot nor cold, after a few moments I cease to notice any separation between my skin and the liquid that cradles me. I float effortlessly and lose sense of the water. I bend my knees. Sometimes, arms extended, I bend my elbows and entwine the fingers of both hands across the back of my head. My respiration falls into a rhythm at which, although the buoyancy of my body drops and rises slightly as I breathe in and out, my face never dips below the surface.

Having reached this equilibrium, I drowsily observe the scene; moon, stars, clouds. These objects all have their own motions, but I add to the dynamic once in awhile by moving hands or feet, which sets the upward view slowly whirling and shifting.

Sometimes during this quiet repose I witness a lot of action. High winds aloft set clouds scurrying across the sky. The overhanging branches and fronds of the garden fidget in response to the breeze. Or bolts of lightning from a distant storm create a strobe-light show as they reflect off the thick atmosphere. I always hope to see falling stars. I see satellites.

But this isn't all.

Here in Mérida, owls come out at night. Often they announce themselves with a loud screech. Then a white silhouette glides against the black sky like a paper cutout suspended on a wire in a grade-school play. The bird of prey is patiently searching for its supper, maybe a careless opossum, rat or other small animal.

There are other flying night visitors that actually interest me more than the owls. These are the bats.

Certain bat species eerily pollinate the banana and pitahaya flowers when they are in bloom.  It seems strange because although with their broad, quickly-beating wings they appear to be sizable, active creatures, they make no appreciable noise as they flutter around and back again to visit different blooms.

The bats drink in mid-flight by swooping low enough to skim the water's surface with their mouths as they quickly pass by. For me, floating as I do, this is interesting to witness, especially when a bat takes this flying sip only a foot or two away from my face. Bats make a slight, wet, swooshing sound as they touch the surface, and leave a tiny wake. I have felt the breeze of their wingbeats on my cheek.

When not engaged in observing the nighttime environment around me as I float, I simply relax and let my thoughts drift along with by body. Sometimes I make decisions, solve problems or come up with ideas for blog posts. Other times I lock my gaze on the stars and attempt to quiet my mind and have no thoughts at all.

I suppose there are people who think it all a little odd, or maybe something to try once, but for me frequent sojourns in the pool at night are another of the little pleasures that make life here fascinating.

The idea for this post germinated after I read and commented on a post by my friend Lynette, The Big Ass Belle.


  1. Marc,
    I lived in Kansas for six years probably not far from where your grandparents lived. It was in a rural area on the wooded banks of a river and we had many visits from great horned owls "Bubo virginianus virginianus". They had a very distinct call that sounds like:"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you alllll? Did you ever hear it there where you live now? The Yucatan subspecies is "Bubo virginianus mayensis" which is a little smaller and a little lighter in color.

  2. Bob, I can't say I've run across the owls you mention here, although I've definitely heard some things that could have been the Yucatan subspecies when out in the countryside at night. In my yard I frequently see a pair of tiny ferruginous pygmy owls, and then there are these big very light-colored owls that I wrote about, which they call "stzoch," the Mayan name, and I don't know what we call it in English. I have a good friend here who is a birder. I'll ask her and let you know what I find out.

  3. Marc, we have a pair (couple, family?) of owls living on top of the old water tower, or the tree behind it, at the back of our property. I've had similar experiences seeing them screech and sweep across the dark blue night sky. I have yet to experience the bats while floating in the pool at night. We are looking forward to such pleasant experiences. I'm not sure I would have thought that feeling the breeze from their wingbeats, so close to my face, would be a pleasant sensation had I not read your reassuring post.

  4. That's fascinating, Marc! I did not know that about the bats, for instance; and maybe the poor baby "zorro" I recently photographed was actually killed by an owl? (I'd kind of presumed it a cat's deed.)

    In any event, you have ALMOST made we want to add a pool to my place. (But I haven't even been able to complete a major bathroom revamp, let alone take care of a pool.)

    Thanks so much for a lovely description of loving nature in the beauty of night-time solitude.

  5. how very descriptive-i almost felt like i was right there with you.

    i see lots of bats here at night but the only owl i've seen is in a pet store-kind of sad really but perhaps it was injusred and they are caring for it.

    take care,

    teresa in nagoya

  6. Such an evocative post, Marc. Your words are delicious. I want to eat them whole and digest at leisure.

    One of the pleasures of night at the house in Chuburna: small bats that swoop over the house, past the palm tree, low over the pool, then draw up sharply to skim over the back wall. I never tire of sitting on the back steps watching them. My floating observations are generally daytime. Surrounded by cool water and silence, I watch the frigates soar overhead, the clouds drift by, and am occasionally surprised by a low flying pelican.

    I think of night time pleasures elsewhere too: the dock at 99 Springs in western Kansas, late at night. Coyotes are howling in the hills behind the cabin, and owls are hooting in the tall cottonwoods near shore. Bats and swallows skim the lake at dusk and every now and then, something big breaks water and splashes back down. Night creatures and their seductive mystery.

    In Tulsa, late at night, walking the new puppy Bill, a great horned owl screeches and swoops so low I can feel the rush of air from his wings. My tiny white puppy whimpers and runs my way, his intuition for danger sharply honed even at eight weeks.

    I love this. I am thinking of the cat prowl. Did I write something about that long ago? I think you've inspired me. Delicious, Marc. Truly.

  7. John and Alan, we'll have to get together on one of your visits here. I'd love to see your owls, and you can come over here to see the bats, if you don't see any at your place...

    Alinde, I find a pool is just about indispensable around here. With the pool, I don't need AC. It's a heck of a lot nicer, and it's outdoors...AC keeps you in. I vote you get a pool...small, maybe. I think you could do it.

    Teresa, I like the idea that you are enjoying my pool moments in Japan. Thanks for being a faithful reader.

    Lynette, I hope you have the chance to use your pool at night, some time soon. I love the pool any time, but night is different. I got the idea for this post from one of yours about swimming in Tulsa. Thanks.

  8. Reminds me of the time my ex and I spent in the pool at the Holiday Inn in Mérida at dusk, the only ones there, watching the bats flit about and skim the water.

    Thanks for bringing back a nice memory.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where, alas, the bats are under threat from white-nose syndrome.

  9. I admire bats at a distance but am a little scare of close encounters. Stories of bites and rabies, etc. Do you worry about them at all?

  10. Kim G, I am glad to have revived a pleasant memory.

    Debbie, The bats seem so timid I really haven't given it any thought. I don't think they, these bats anyhow, are aggressive or territorial. When on occasion they pass close by in the pool I think all they want is a little water, so I am not too worried that anything else is going to happen. Vampire bats do live in Yucatan, but I am told that they are not seen in the city and mainly bother livestock that sleep in the open.

  11. Yeah, but ya gotta watch out that they don't get into your belfry :)

  12. Bob, touchy subject. I believe there are a few out there who suspect they got into mine some time ago.

  13. Very cute, Bob; and no, Marc, I don't believe many believe your "belfry" has been invaded either.

  14. Marc,

    There is a short-eared owl near my house that hoots every now and then. It's special call sounds like this, voo-hoo-hoo hoo. When I send back the same message, it responds. It's kind of an omen to an answer I'm seeking.

  15. A beautiful post. I could almost feel myself drifting peacefully in a pool in the dark, aware of all the busy night creatures. Your writing is wonderful. Thanks for the meditation.


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