The Fish Story

Don’t Kick Her Out of Her Tree; Check My Neck for Any Bat Bites

By JAY MAN | Feb 22, 2017

I had just watched another episode of Animal Planet’s high-flying “Treehouse Masters” series when I read about a ruckus in Miami, where a media-dubbed “hippie grandmother” was being put upon by the city for living in a treehouse … since 1992.

Shawnee Chasser, 65, is a bona fide, red-white-and-blue-blooded hippie, having vociferously protested the Vietnam War before standing up, bralessly, for women’s rights back in the day. Today, her long hair, a mix of protest purple on the ends and silver gray toward the roots, offers a flashback look to the grooviest days of the ’60s. She can often be found holding a highly-contented pet raccoon in her arms. True to some form or other, she earns money by selling organic popcorn.

In 1992, wanting to retire from a tumult of social issues, Shawnee took to a treehouse life, utilizing a massive tree, growing on her own land.

Life within her treehouse is hardly Tarzenesque. Her arboreal abode is well appointed, with plumbing, electricity, and two stories of modest living space, replete with many other controlled-environment comforts. What’s more, her treehouse is more adjacent to a tree – hugging the side of it – than tenuously balanced within its branches.

To most who see it, the oddish domicile is far from unsightly, having been carefully and caringly designed by her late son, as architect. In fact, Shawnee’s Place is up there with some of the upper-end creations on “Treehouse Masters.”

Nonetheless, the governmental masters of Miami – the keepers of a $7 billion in-house budget – are advising the hippie grandma to come back to earth with her alternative lifestyle. They cite municipal “safety and sanitation” standards that must be adhered to, even though she’s on her own property – and doing quite nicely, thank you. In simple terms, Miami is saying, “Shawnee, tear down this treehouse.” Fines have followed.

But hell has no fury like both a woman and a hippie concurrently scorned. Her response to the man is a throwback “Hell, no … I won’t go!”

“I’m not taking down anything,” she vowed during an interview. “I’ll chain myself to that tree house.”

Wow, a civilly disobedient, purple-haired grandma and her pet racoon padlocked to a tree house! Now, there’s something you don’t see every day.

And, just like that, the whole world was watching, often in a throwback way. The treehouse hippie’s plight made the evening news – around the world. It was big in Japan. For whatever reason, Aussies were livid. Then reinforcements charged in.

“Shawnee’s treehouse is a peaceful, harmless structure that hurts nobody,” Ari Bargil, with the property-rights advocate group Institute for Justice, told AP. “The county’s only concern should be whether her treehouse is safe. Instead, they are imposing an ill-fitting regulatory framework on her, and thus essentially fining her for being different.”

Even the Christian Science Monitor chimed in, via Amanda Hoover. “The battle between the woman and local officials is one of free will against local regulations that dictate how community members can use their privately-owned property. Inspectors say the treehouse’s structure doesn’t constitute safe or legal living conditions, while others argue that individuals should be able to live in unconventional homes that don’t affect others in the neighborhood if they so choose.”

This tale of good old-fashioned protest hits kinda close to home by my thinking. While I’m far from a treehouse type – having fallen out of trees on an all-too-regular basis – my flagging 1930 Island home is pretty much on its last branches, figuratively speaking. It is a ground-level “simple-plex,” humbly holding its throwback own amid a growing forest of raised, overfertilized, multistory, paid-by-Sandy manors. I get a sense of being looked down upon at every turn. Can it be long before I need to dye my hair purple – and commence with my own “Hell, no, I won’t go!”? Of course, if other upscale Islanders want to get together and offer me an insanely pretty penny, providing I make like a tree and disappear, I’m not that much of a former hippie.

GOING BATTY – IN A GOOD WAY: Here’s hoping local bats are making a comeback after dropping to near-extinction levels, ravaged by some sorta white-nose disease that hits them when it hurts: during hibernation.

I’ll offer some bat upbeatness. During this bout of freaky warm weather, sunset skies have shown a fine spattering of these emerging masters of acrobatic flight. As I was hiking back to my truck near Brookville, the winged rodents were flying as if already in summerish fifth gear – their head hair pinned back like a Hollywood blonde’s in a convertible. I have no idea what brought that dated non-sequitur image into my mind. At least I didn’t see them as having flowing silk sports-car scarves around their necks.

While I’m a ravenous devotee of a rapid bat recovery, I’m sure as hell not all lovey-dovey with those buggers. In fact, even as a dyed-in-the-wool naturalist, they kinda freak me out. That might very well come from a young-days, bat-on-neck misadventure. I’ll explain.

As a kid, I was biking over the Causeway to do some woodsing about. Right at the peak of the Big Bridge, I saw a very fuzzy bat, just sitting atop the railing, sorta stunned. I hit my squealy brakes. I figured it had been side-swiped by a vehicle – though, in reality, I had never seen a bat close up so I wasn’t sure if maybe they all just routinely stand around during the day, looking stunned.

Seeing it was precariously perched, and me being an I-heart-animals type, I went into a wildlife rescue mode. I took off my trusty backpack. Using a small digging tool, I raked it into the pack, receiving what seemed to be far-from-friendly glares from the confused creature. “It’s OK, I won’t hurt you,” I offered, as if it was conversant in no telling how many languages. It just went with the flow. Once it was inside, I zippered up the pack – or not.

From my build-up, you can likely guess what soon happened.

I clear the Causeway, pedaling along in my good-deed-doing mood, heading toward Hilliard Boulevard, when I feel this warm, hairy mass going from my collar to the back of my neck. Oh, I knew what was up … in a heartbeat.

It’s likely that no bicyclist had ever performed a faster dismount-drop-and-roll – shaking my head wildly while rolling down a small embankment. I was improvising the best bat-ridding maneuver I could spontaneously come up with.

In case you’re unaware, bats have some sort of super grippers that allow them to tenaciously cling to things. Enough said.

Thinking I had shaken off the bugger, I lay dead still on the ground. Nope. This time I felt a little claw-like movement on my neck.

I then resorted to a Gypsy Rose Lee tactic. Tearing off my backpack, I less-than-sensually flung it. I then I stripped off and hurled a light Army jacket. Finally, I performed a button-popping de-shirting. Half-naked, I commenced to shaking my head, having long been warned that bats go for your hair if you don’t comb through it daily. Thanks, Grandma.

Standing there panting, I was confident the bat had been flung, or had taken flight, likely thinking, “Now, what the hell was that all about?”

But things were far from over. I instantly went into a full-blown hypochondriac mode.

I had learned in Boy Scouts to never dare mess with bats because they could be bearers of rabies, which remains true to this day. Making matters worse, I didn’t know if maybe I had been bitten – I mean amid all the commotion and what-not.

I anxiously hand-checked the back of my neck for blood, but I knew full-well a vampire bat has some sort of fang-silencer and an anticoagulant. Hey, when you’re in the hypochondriac mode, it’s Katy, bar the doomsday door …

So I grab my clothes and pack, get back on my bike, and proceed in making a day never to be forgotten by an older guy who was casually out for a stroll. Imagine a crazed-looking, bare-backed kid jumping off his bike, throwing down his belongings, and begging, “Mister, mister! Can you see if I have any bat bites on my neck?!”

I did just that, scout’s honor. The man stood motionless in his tracks, a bit bug-eyed.

Seeing he wasn’t moving, I added, “Look, mister, I found a bat on the bridge and I was going to let it go and I put it in my backpack and it somehow got out and crawled onto my neck and I jumped off my bike and rolled down an embankment but he was still there on my neck so I ripped off my clothes … and now I think I have rabies.”

The man must have been young at one time because, upon hearing the longer version, it suddenly seemed to make perfect sense to him. He began giving my neck and back a close look. I unnecessarily egged him on with “They’ll look like fang marks.”

After a very efficient look-about, I was told, “I don’t see a dang thing.” What a sweet relief it was hearing that.

Then came an odd bit of unwanted validation. As I picked up my shirt, jacket and backpack, there, still clinging to the edge of the pack, was the bat! In fact, the guy saw it first. He now took a keener interest in all the battiness taking place during his block walk.

I took the unshakeable bat quite well this go-around, coolly laying the bat-pack on the ground.

We both looked very closely at the creature. On closer inspection, it sure appeared healthy, though still sorta stunned … and likely more so since meeting me.

We then walked the pack and bat over to a nearby billboard, allowing it to slowly wing-crawl onto a thick wooden support pole. In its barely moving way, it seemed ecstatic to be ending its backpack days.

After profusely thanking the man, I biked off to finally do some woodsing, not realizing I had been a tad traumatized to bats.

As to the helpful gentleman, he likely finished his walk by hanging up his jacket at home, to the usual kitchen-based “How was your walk, dear?”

“Same old, same old … though some half-necked kid came runnin’ up to me convinced he was neck-bit by a rabid bat he caught on the Big Bridge, so I checked him for fang marks but weren’t none … but dang if that bat wasn’t still right there on his backpack, so we let it go on that big Beach Haven West sign.”

“Oh, that’s nice, dear. Here’s a tuna salad sandwich on your favorite bread.”

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