Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bat Caves of the Armendaris

Imagine 3 million warm blooded mammals, packed side by side into the crevices of the lava tubes. Each bat follows a precise daily pattern, a clear violation of the first rule of predator avoidance. The lava tubes of the Armendaris Ranch, on the Jornada del Muerto (dead man's journey) are home to the second largest colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats in North America. Every night, just before sunset, the winged mammals emerge from the safety of their subterranean dwelling to seek sustenance. Each bat consumes nearly twice its weight in insects each night, and may travel up to 40 miles to the feeding location.

Our group of ten was here to witness the incredible nightly flight, seen by few other humans. For the bat caves are tucked away among the vast lava field on Ted Turner's equally vast ranch in central New Mexico. Because we (Hawks Aloft) conduct research on the ranch, I had permission to lead a tour for our organization. Although I've watched the bat flight several times, it never disappoints me, and tonight was no exception. We were not alone while we waited for the bats to emerge.

Other winged predators wheeled and screamed above, whipping themselves into a feathered frenzy of activity. First there were the falcons, the pair of American Kestrels weighing only about a quarter pound themselves, flying into the entrance of the cave and perching nearby. And, the young Peregrine Falcon, climbing so high that it became a lint speck on my binoculars before stooping down and then pulling up, and repeating this over and over. Perhaps this young bird was practicing its aerial acrobatics in anticipation of the meal it hoped to secure for itself. Then there were the Swainson's Hawks, eleven in all, screaming as if to beckon the bats from their roost. Their circles tightened as they spun in ever faster formations, and the screams intensified. For the bats, the predatory birds formed a veritable death gauntlet which the smaller mammals must successfully negotiate in order to survive.

As if by an unspoken bat agreement, the first bat appeared to have been tossed out by its compatriots to check out the nightly threat. A Swainson's was first on the scene. The lone little bat flitted from one side to the next as the hawk closed in on its prey. At the last moment, though, a deft and sharp turn, saved it from an untimely end. The gauntlet was not yet over, for the Peregrine waiting high above, tucked its body into a stoop and dove on the hapless bat. Feet tucked into yellow fists, the Peregrine streaked ever closer. Perhaps this bat had played this game before, for at the last moment it rolled to one side and avoided the clutch of the falcon's talons. Then, it was the Kestrel's turn. Again, the little bat out maneuvered even this small falcon. The bat would live to see another day!

The bat flight continued for several hours, until it was too dark to see any longer. Not often visited by humans, these bats fly all around their human visitors, their fluttering wings like fairy kisses on your face as they pass, never actually touching you, and never leaving any unwelcome droppings.

I thank Tom Waddell, ranch manager, for making this trip possible, and for being such an excellent steward of the land. I also thank Ted Turner, for setting aside vast tracts of American lands, where wild things can continue their existence in a natural setting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bernina Beyond Borders

It's finally done! I Fed Exed it off a week ago, just before my family trip to Minnesota. This quilt was designed especially for Bernina as part of my commitment to the Bernina National Teachers program. I used their new logo on the Swiss flag, birthplace of the company, and placed the American flag in the opposite corner. Flying Geese traverse the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, and the bright star represents the wonders that are possible with these incredible sewing computers. I swear that mine does just about everything, except maybe the laundry. It is an absolute wonder to sew on. I am so proud to be one of the Bernina National Teachers!

All of the free motion quilting was done using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) that ensures that every stitch will be the same size. There was a considerable learning curve, but I now feel that I know new tricks and techniques to make this tool a valuable asset in my quilting tool box. One of the tips that helped me considerably was to shorten the stitch length to 1.5. This enabled me to stitch tiny loops and curves that you will find within the geese.

The Bernina logo was digitized on the Bernina Designer 5 Embroidery Software by Julie Hogan, of Ann Silva's Bernina Sewing Center in Albuquerque, and the quilt label was designed using the same software by my friend Twila Bastian.

I appreciate their assistance, as well as the ongoing support from Ann Silva and my local quilting group, Designing Women.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Southwest International Folk Dance Institute

Each year in August, the Southwest International Folk Dance Institute holds a four day dance camp on the campus of NM Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico. Two teachers, each specializing in a different style of dance offer instruction mornings and afternoons. In 2007, Turkish, and Latin with Jim D'Apice and Jodi Fleischman were taught. From 9 a.m. - midnight, it is possible to dance for 12 hours of the each day. Run by a dedicated group of volunteers, this is a must for dancers in the Southwest.

She Dances

This story began, as most stories do, a long time ago, but not so far away. A friend suggested that the very thing needed to take away the long, slow, quiet evenings of winter weekends just might be International Folk Dance. Now, this quilter/birder had never before thought about such a thing, but ever the intrepid explorer, she thought she might just give it a try. So, she took herself across town one Saturday night and signed up for a beginner dance class. Little did she know that the world as she knew it was about to change - - for the better.

No more Saturday night doldrums. In fact, the problem soon became the appalling lack of Saturdays in each year. The Albuquerque International Folk dance community warmly welcomed the newcomer, and ensured that her feet would become nimble (or at least less clumsy!) and that one day, the novice dancer would go away to a camp for the express purpose of learning new dances from foreign lands. The camper just returned from that remarkable weekend, where she learned two new types of dances, Turkish, and Latin with Jim D'Apice and Jodi Fleischman.

Typical of a camper (remember your childhood), the novice danced her feet and legs to exhaustion, ate too much good food, laughed and visited with folks from throughout the U.S., and slept little as parties went on into the wee hours of the morn. So, packing up might have been a breeze, had not the lack of sleep affected the thought processes. It was only 24 hours later that she realized that she had left her party clothes neatly hanging the closet at camp. Perhaps her daughter will not read this post, which would be a good thing. When that little miss went off to her first camp at the tender age of 8, she also returned home sans camp clothing. Ah, the irony of it all!

Latin Dance Teachers Perform in Lemon and Lime

We were thrilled that our Latin dance teaching duo joined in our nightly theme parties. Here, Jim D'Apice (left) and Jodi, are decked out in their finest lemon-lime garb. Note the wire basket hat worn by Jodi, which nicely compliments Jim's headgear!

As teachers, this dynamic duo from Seattle, WA, are remarkably willing to share their expertise in Latin dance. Their teaching style is generous, playful, and enthusiastic, as evidenced in the photo shown here. We learned a number of dances including Rueda de Casino, Bachata, Cha-cha, and Merengue. And, as an added plus, they even taught two gender specific classes, "Hombre" for men, and "Hip Action" for the ladies.

In the humble opinion of this novice dancer, they are the BEST!!!!