Monday, January 28, 2013

North American Bats in Trouble

Bats--we all love them. They figure prominently in Gothic and Halloween art as well as in some of our most memorable horror movies. After all, doesn't Count Dracula take the shape of a bat and often fly to the abode of his victims?  And doesn't he wrap his cloak about himself like a bat wraps its wings when getting ready to sleep?

Some time last year, I learned that a nearby state park was no longer granting public access to its popular caves. The reason? Authorities wanted to protect the bats that lived in them from the spread of a lethal fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome, which invades and then breaks down the animal's nose and wing tissues as well as compromising the immune system. It is believed that human intrusion into caves where bats gather and hibernate is helping to spread the fungus. 

I really didn't know how serious the threat to the bat population was until this past weekend when Public Radio International's (PRI) Living on Earth aired a segment entitled America's Bats on the Brink, during which program host Steve Curwood interviewed Katie Gillies, the Imperiled Species Coordinator for Bat Conservation International; an organization with its offices in Austin, Texas.

Gillies began by explaining that erratic bat behavior has been reported this winter from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where the animals have been observed, not only flying in search of food, but even flying perilously close to human beings, who were forced to shoo them away with fishing poles. One trail walker reported being hit in the forehead by one. Gillies went on to explain that bats fall into a deep slumber during the winter months, during which their heart rate and body temperature drop significantly. White-nose syndrome, she went on to say, irritates the animals to the point that they repeatedly awaken from hibernation, thereby speeding up their body processes, which in turn, causes the onset on malnutrition. Since bats feed on insects their excursions into the cold winter night in search of food is an exercise in futility that only serves to weaken their malnourished bodies even further.

White Nose Syndrome, which is believed to have origins in Europe, has now spread to some 19 American States and at least four Canadian provinces. When asked how much damage the fungus has done to bat populations in places where the animals congregate she replied that some sites have seen a 99 percent fatality rate; this from a problem that was only discovered between 2006 and 2007. "We are witnessing what may well be an extinction event," she admitted. 

Equally troubling is an announcement that was made by the National Park Service through Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead on January 16 of this year. "It grieves me to make this announcement," she said, "a northern long-eared bat showing signs of White-Nose Syndrome was found in Long Cave in the park.The bat was euthanized on January 4 and sent for laboratory testing. Those tests confirmed white-nose syndrome."  Mammoth Cave National Park is located in south/central Kentucky. 

Although those of us with darker imaginations tend to think of bats quite fondly, we're not the only ones who are concerned with the animals' survival as they are a great asset to agriculture; this, due to their diet which focuses almost exclusively on insects. According to information Ms. Gillies gave during her Living on Earth interview, the average bat consumes between four and eight grams of insects per night. Further, the creatures collectively consume approximately 7.5 metric tons of insects annually. According to the bat-conservation official, Science Magazine has estimated that the animals provide a $23 billion benefit to farmers in the United States alone on an annual basis. The tragic side of all this is that white-nose syndrome has already dealt a serious blow to the U.S. bat population by killing approximately 5.7 million of these benevolent beings, thereby bringing some species into consideration for the Endangered Species List. Just how the decimation of bat populations will affect agriculture, insect populations and the environment in the future is anybody's guess. 

Steps are being taken to stop or at least slow the spread of the fungus. As mentioned earlier, some caves have become off limits to human intruders while at others, authorities only allow access after stepping through a disinfectant. Still, the future of many of our beneficial and beloved North American bats is in jeopardy. We can only hope that the dreaded white-nose syndrome fungus will cease its spread. After all, what would Halloween and our Gothic imagination be without bats?      


Mammoth Cave National Park News Release

Washington Post: Erratic Bat Behavior at Great Smoky Mountain Park

 <B>Living on Earth: Listen to the program

Photo courtesy Free Digital Photos Dot Net


Monday, January 21, 2013

Tarja Turunen in Rosario: A Class Act

It didn't take very long after hearing Tarja Turunen's voice for the very first time before I had fallen completely in love with her. Not only had she introduced a new musical concept to me--operatic vocals over heavy-metal music, but I loved her on-stage demeanor, style of dress, creativity and artistic sensitivity as well.

So associated was she with being an integral member of the popular Finnish symphonic-metal band, Nightwish, that it was likely, hard for affectionados to picture her doing anything else. After all, it seemed like a perfect match--well, perfect until fans learned that it actually hadn't been. The bad news came unexpectedly back in the autumn of 2005. That's when, after performing and recording a concert at Hartwall Areena in Helsinki on October 21 of that year, Tarja suddenly found herself outside the band that she had helped co-found. That's when fans had to wonder what would become of her. Would she make it as a solo artist? Would she stick with doing metal or would she instead, focus more in the classical realms?

Of course, at this point in time at least some of these questions have been answered as Tarja has released several solo albums since 2006, which include Henkäys Ikuisudesta, a Christmas-oriented LP, My Winter Storm and What Lies Beneath; the latter two returning closer to her metal roots. She has also released two live albums, which include Act 1: Live in Rosario and Live in Luna Park. A sampling of the music from these collections, as well as her EPs should be more than enough to convince any enthusiast that her solo career is doing just fine.

It's Act 1: Live in Rosario that I want to talk about however, as I had the pleasure of watching nearly two hours of that concert just yesterday. The best way for me to describe that DVD/concert is by saying, oh my God! The performance (actually there were two) took place at the impressive Teatro del Circulo in Rosario, Argentina during March of last year and both the CD and DVD/Blue Ray recordings were released in August.

This concert has everything. It begins with a four-minute neoclassical intro called If You Believe, during which the owner of the DVD first receives an introduction of sorts to both Tarja's band and the adoring fans who live in the country that she now calls home. Once she and the other musicians take to the stage however, there is little doubt as to what direction the music will take. This is symphonic metal at its best--thunderous chords and rhythms in perfect balance with her powerful but emotion filled voice. There are moving cello and lead guitar solos even as the keyboards belt out symphonic harmonies. Mike Terrana's drum solo is truly a sight to behold as is the performance of an instrumental entitled, Little Lies, during which two or three guitarists trade off on lead solos. During the middle of the program things calm down temporarily for an acoustic set; but before long, the metal starts anew. There is even a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, which eventually segues into Gary Moore's Over the Hills and Far Away, a tune Tarja formerly performed with Nightwish. Most of the song selection includes material from both My Winter Storm and What Lies Beneath, but this incredible performer also added some new material, which will likely be on her next album. Then of course, what would a performance by Tarja be without a rendition of the ever popular Nemo? 

Words do not describe how much I enjoyed my two hours watching Act 1: Live in Rosario. I am truly convinced that Tarja Turunen is an artist extraordinaire who has found a group of musicians more than capable of helping her excel in her chosen craft.

A word of warning: As I read some of the reviews of this concert at, I notice several complaints that the Blue Ray versions of the event didn't play. Apparently, most of these were created using the European Blue Ray and DVD formats, which are incompatible with most players used in the United States. So, if you decide that you'd like to own a Blue Ray copy of the above-mentioned event, you might want to make sure that it will work on your player. Otherwise, it might be safer to go with DVD..       


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Call of Cthulhu

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. - H.P. Lovecraft

With the above words, the early twentieth century horror writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, began the telling of one of his best known tales--The Call of Cthulhu. It is a story that begins during the winter of 1926-27 with the death of the protagonist's great uncle, a Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island named George Garmmel Angell. Angell's dying wish was that his nephew become the executor of his estate, thereby settling all his affair. The nephew's discovery of a mysterious box sets him on a quest for knowledge as he very much desired to learn more about the disturbing contents revealed from within. It was a relic of sorts, made from clay, that was shaped with the likeness of a monster having the characteristics of a dragon, octopus and human being rolled into one. The protagonist's investigation ensues and Lovecraft's tale of horror begins to unfold. 

This post is not intended to be a so-called book review however, so what I've mentioned above is all that I want to tell you about the story. If you haven't read it and would like to, just follow this link
and you'll be able to enjoy it in its entirety.

Friday night a friend, who belongs to a local book club that considered Lovecraft's fiction last October, handed me a DVD, which he said came from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. It contained a 45 minute film version of Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu. Surprisingly enough, the film was a silent movie, seemingly one of those pre-1930's productions that relied upon text for dialog while piano or orchestrated music played in the background. This particular film appeared ancient. Of course, everything looked as you would expect for a movie likely made in the1920's. The old film, seemingly suffering the ravages of time, would often fade into grainy lines before images and text reappeared. The characters, of course, were very reminiscent of those appearing in the early films of the teens and twenties. 

While watching events unfold, a confounding thought suddenly occurred to me. As a big fan of his fiction, I always had the understanding that, as a writer, Mr. Lovecraft's popularity was limited until after his death in 1937. So, why would they have put to film one of his stories during the 20's, I wondered. Further, The Call of Cthulhu, although written in 1926, was not even published until two years later. I was clearly baffled and resigned myself to discussing this further with my friend when next I'd see him. 

The opportunity presented itself the following afternoon. "Did you watch it," he asked me.

"I did. I enjoyed it but it left me totally confused," I reported. 

As I described my reasons for confusion he suddenly laughed. "It's not an old film," he said light heartedly. "It's quite new as a matter of fact; not more than a few years old. It was low budget." 

I was surprised by his revelation, but it also left me amazed. After a little more research I learned that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is involved with various productions, which include another film adaptation entitled The Whisperer in Darkness and a series of audio adaptations from the society's own Dark Adventures Radio Theater. Both the film and audio productions are available on CD and DVD and can be purchased through the group's website. Audio productions are also available for download.

I'm still marveling at how well done The Call of Cthulhu actually is. I enjoyed it when I first thought that it was a relic out of the 20's and the early days of film. Now that I realize the society created something that appears as a genuine product of that era--the time period during which H.P. Lovecraft existed and created his tales of horror, I consider their work a product of genius.  I'm convinced that were Mr. Lovecraft alive today, he would concur.

Cthulhu Lives: The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society Website.


Monday, January 7, 2013


The Yule festivities and holiday celebrations have come to an end and we find ourselves in the middle of winter--or, at least it feels that way. For me this is a time for introspection and in general, staying closer to home. It's a time of cold and snow, darkness and seclusion. I feel more creative during the winter months because I'm not so easily distracted. Overall, my mood and demeanor are more melancholy; and for whatever reason, this combination of things inspires me to sit down with a hot cup of tea on the desk and do some creative writing..

Although this is a good season for coming up with ideas for short fiction, my near lack of other activity leaves me struggling to find interesting things to write about. There are some exciting possibilities coming up on the horizon, and I have a feeling that 2013 might turn out to be a good year. Still, events haven't unfolded yet; and until they do, there's not much I can relate about them.

I have made one little change here--and I hope that it will only be temporary. For the time being, I have reactivated word verification for comments. I originally took it down because I really don't like going through that process myself; so why not make it easier for my readers here? The trouble is, over the past couple of days I've been getting spammed and have had to start sifting out commercial content from among the legitimate comments. I'm hoping that by reinstating the program for a while, the spammers will get discouraged and just go away. Then perhaps, I'll be able to disable it again. In the meanwhile, I hope this inconvenience doesn't keep any of you from posting.

I hope you're all enjoying the winter!

Photo source: Gothic Pictures Gallery
Author unknown