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The Valley Revisited, August 20, 2009

By Jo Cross

M. Josephine “Jo” Cross, local author and former La Veta mayor, joined the Huerfano Journal in July of 2008 in order to write a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant series reminiscing about the funny things that have happened, and about the people that have made things happen in the Cuchara Valley.  She told the Journal in November of 2008 that she expected that many of her pieces would be published posthumously.  She died Dec. 5, 2008 at the age of 93.  We have honored her memory by running the remainder of her stories this summer.

    This is her final article, written on October 21, 2008… in her words, “and that was that.”

Going Batty

CUCHARA- The Devil’s Stairsteps, about midway between La Veta and Cuchara, was the daytime place to hundreds of bats.  The rock formation of the Staircase must have been honeycombed inside to make space for so many bats.  The south face of the rocks had a dozen or more small black holes for bats to enter or exit.

    Bats, as you may know, are night feeders and of great benefit to man, as their chief diet consists of flies and mosquitoes.  When they return after a night’s feeding, the first ones cling to the rocks with their tiny claws.  When all the rock face is covered, the next layer of bats cling to the first layer, and so on until three or four layers of bats are at rest through the daylight hours.

    When the sun goes down and twilight begins, the bats leave their resting place, circle in the sky until all the bats are out, making a huge black cloud as they circle.  Then they disperse, flying in all directions.  At least, that is the way they do at the Devil’s Staircase.  It is a sight to behold, as we did from time to time.

    Most cabins had a screen over the chimney top, a galvanized metal mesh cemented by a row of rocks to hold the screen in place.  Some of the older cabins did not have screens, and birds and chipmunks occasionally came down the chimneys.  This story is about such a cabin.

    One night at about 9 pm, a knock came on the front door, and when I opened it, Dorothy Flowers stood there, a dish towel tied on her head and a broom held, bristles up, in her hand.  I was about to ask if she was going for a ride, when she said, “Jo, I need help. I’ve got a bat in my house.”  I got my broom and my searchlight flashlight and went to the Banty’s which they had rented that summer.

    Suddenly, the bat appeared, darted around the room, then vanished.  It was simply nowhere in sight and no vase or receptacle where it could hide.  The bat would fly out occasionally, then be gone faster that I could follow with my light.

    The fireplace was aglow with the bright fire that Dorothy had lit when she came home from a friend’s house.  On the opposite wall from the fireplace hung a large wooden shield with a mounted rack of antlers.  I walked to it tilted it and the bat flew out. It was a Fledermaus, all right, for it was flying and squeaking like a mouse as it flew. We battled vainly, since the bat’s radar was working well and it avoided us and our flailing brooms.

    Finally I said to Dorothy, “Let’s use our heads instead of our muscles.  The bat wants out and we want him out.  Go open the doors to the outside and stand there to keep out any cats or dogs.”  She did, and I got the bat moving.  It flew out into the night and that was that.