Friday, May 20, 2011

Mining for Bats

Visual  Storyteller Beth  Surdut 2011

Two miles up straight up a rock-pile masquerading as a road in the Ortiz Mountains of New Mexico, Thompson’s Big-eared bats swirled out of the old Santo Niño mine shaft at sunset. Wings beating like tiny bellows in the deep lavender air next to my cheek, they looked like spirits, their forms dark flutters in the cradle of a full moon. 
This is the kind of thing I live for—I’ve stood in a sacred and odorous bat cave in Indonesia that looked like a view into a many-storied tenement building; held a grinning fruit bat and stroked its suede-soft wings after leaving a sacred monkey forest in Bali, and was now standing in the cool of a starry evening in a mountain preserve given over to the Santa Fe Botanical Garden by a mining company.
About a mile up the road, which looked like one of those middle-of-nowhere ads with the disclaimer that reads “Professional driver--Do not attempt at home,” I had to ask my two volunteer passengers in the back to get out and walk. I realized that this was the first time I ever had second thoughts after signing one of those “if you die, it's not our fault" waivers. 
I’m not an adrenaline junky, but there is much that I will do to get to the great view, the sacred place, the isolated island, the animal adventure. So, singing  Bob Marley songs with  a guide,  I’ve ridden a jumpy polo pony into the hills of Jamaica, kayaked alligator infested waters in Florida, flown strapped onto a bench in a skinless home-built plane to see sea turtles in the Hawaiian ocean—you get the idea.  But this time, I turned to my companion in the passenger seat and said, “This is just plain stupid and there’s more to come--we’re going to have to maneuver this in the dark. Should have brought sleeping bags.”
We gathered under the light of a mica moon and walked up a small incline with wildlife biologist Mike Roedel, who said wryly, when I asked the name of a flower, “I don’t know, it doesn’t have wings,” but was otherwise informative about his field, so much so that he encouraged questions while we waited for the bats to swirl up from the mine. We learned that the majority of the bats we would see were males and that the maternity colony, as many as 140, were literally hanging out with their pups in the much more accessible Mining Museum in Cerrillos.
They began to arrive in ones and twos, about  4 inches long with rabbit-like ears, dancing a pas de deux, sometimes announcing squeakily that they were coming up the shaft, which was lined with a large echoing metal cylinder covered by an iron cupola to keep us from jumping in, I guess. We counted the bats; numbers ranged from 25 to 42. Wings swooshed by my head as I peered and listened for the next arrivals
There is so much to know--the set of the constellations, the rounded curves of the mountains, the moods of the desert, the creatures that have been here longer than we can remember. We came down off the mountain, every one of us enhanced by the wing beat of bat under a night sky.
The Compass of My Heart by Beth  Surdut
  This trip is no longer offered. However there is guided hike information on Santa Fe Botanical Garden properties that include mountains and wetlands at
More about my wild life @ ABOUT BETH SURDUT

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