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Bits of Umbrella



Waiting for the bats in Austin

Transform a recycled umbrella into a very clever bat puppet. ~ Martha Stewart

I like to visit Martha Stewart’s Web site from time to time, and this morning the home page featured an episode wherein Martha made a bat puppet from an old black umbrella.  I didn’t want to watch the episode, which was oddly titled “Halloween Bats and Chinese Cuisine,” so I searched for written instructions. Evidently they aren’t yet posted, but in searching for “umbrella bat” I came across something even nicer: a bat costume made from a black umbrella!

[U]se a bolt cutter to clip metal joints where angled support bars meet spokes; also cut off central rod and handle. Trim all metal as closely as possible; cover any remaining sharp points with black electrical tape. Slit opposite-facing panels midway between spokes, all the way to umbrella top. With pliers, untwist small wire that holds plastic center piece to spokes, and remove both wire and plastic; umbrella should separate into 2 pieces. Discard plastic. To rejoin spokes at top, cut wire in half (or use any similar-gauge wire), and thread a piece through the small holes in spokes of each half; bend in a loop at each end. Secure loose fabric to spokes on each umbrella half: Catch edge of fabric with a 3-inch-long piece of 28-gauge wire, and twist its ends tightly around wire that holds spokes together; trim ends.

There were additional instructions to make a harness to attach the wings to a child. That project called for grosgrain ribbon, hot glue, safety pins, welding equipment, and a tractor. Okay, I made up the last two items, but if I wanted a bat costume, I would buy one. All that wire-clipping and bolt-cutting sounds like a first-class ticket straight to the emergency room.

But it’s nice that Martha has come up with two ways to recycle an old umbrella. It reminded me of my own umbrella-recycling story….

A couple of years ago, in a failed attempt to be more environmentally responsible, I took the Metro to work for several months. It didn’t work out for several reasons that I won’t go into here. But on one of the days when I was still trying to soldier through, my co-worker, Mary, offered me a ride from work to the train station.  I accepted with great pleasure, because it was raining something awful and the prospect of waiting for the bus held no charm.

We walked to Mary’s car with our umbrellas up and angled to protect ourselves from the driving rain and blustery wind. Sadly, the forces of nature overcame my umbrella during the walk, and one-third of it flopped over and became useless. When we got to the car, Mary threw her umbrella into the floor of the back seat, and I threw mine back there too, with slightly more force than necessary. I thought: “Gah. I am not taking that umbrella out of this car. It’s trashed.” 

Now it was very wrong of me to dump my umbrella in Mary’s car simply because I couldn’t be bothered to take it with me and give it a proper burial. I wouldn’t have done it except that I was so fed up with that umbrella that I couldn’t bear to look at it, much less pick it up and carry it somewhere. So I washed my hands of it.

The next morning, Mary stopped at my office and held out my umbrella. “You left your umbrella in my car,” she said.

I explained that I had decided I never wanted to see that umbrella again. 

“Oh, it’s fine now,” she said. “I fixed it.”  And she had!  I told her it was like a fairy tale, where elves come out at night and fix things for people. Not that I deserved it, of course—but if I hadn’t abandoned my umbrella in her car, it wouldn’t have gotten fixed and had a second life. This was truly a Good Thing, because my umbrella was tan, not black, and wouldn’t have been suitable as a bat puppet or bat costume.

Ernesto and I have often talked about putting some bat houses up around our garage. When we were in Austin this past June we walked from our hotel to the Congress Avenue Bridge where spectators line up to watch more than a million bats fly out into the dusk. The bridge was still empty when we got there, so we passed the time before sundown exploring the nice trail along Town Lake, just below the bridge. Ernesto found an informational display about the bats, and he read every word while I sat on a bench and took a couple of pictures. When Ernesto was finished reading every word about bats that he could find, we settled onto a nearby dock that was touted as a good place from which to see the bats.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, more people arrived at our dock, including children. It was difficult for parents to explain to children that they, the parents, didn’t know when the bats might come out, and the children should just be patient (and quiet). The children were neither patient nor quiet. A small boy threw leaves, caring not a bit that they landed on persons not in his own party. A little girl on a Snow White blanket whined incessantly and worried about ticks. That made me worry about ticks.

At long last, someone noticed that the bats were flying. They didn’t emerge from under the bridge in a big swoosh. They were completely silent, and we had to watch the skyline to see that there was a huge number of flying objects in a line up there—a line that went on and on and on.

D. H. Lawrence despised bats, but this passage from his poem “Bat” is a good description of what we witnessed that evening:

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.  

In the poem, the narrator initially mistakes the bats for swallows.  He describes their

serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.  

Later, he realizes that he is seeing bats and refers to their “Wings like bits of umbrella.” And so they are.



The BEST holidays

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