As I assemble the photos and sketches I’ve done this snowy month, it’s time to celebrate spring with one of my favorite little kitty block prints.
I once had a pure white long-haired kitty with pea green eyes and a pink nose named Sally. She was also completely deaf, and completely fearless; without distraction, she lived in her own little world, full of sleep and joy and play. She was the inspiration for many sketches, paintings and photos, and for this little piece as well.
Almost everywhere I’ve lived has been a quince bush, an old-fashioned favorite for its early bright pink flowers—so early, in fact, that the bush in my neighbor’s yard in the years when Sally was young bloomed every year during the January thaw, and then snow would fall on the bright pink blooms, nestling in the curve of the branches like Sally when she’d found a good cozy spot. I have it shown with a watercolor hand-tinting, but you can see other variations on it on my Marketplace blog, and in my online marketplace where you can order the prints framed or unframed and even plain black and white.
I’m just beginning to print these now, and it’s exciting to see them all lined up; in a day or two I’ll start hand-tinting them, then let them dry for another day or two before I put some in the frame. I have always found a wonderful satisfaction with block printing. You can see other block-printed items, such as tees on my Marketplace blog and lots of prints of kitties in my online marketplace.
On the subject of poetry and cats, here is a poem I read at my 2009 poetry reading inspired by Giuseppe and all cats at play.
Cats are pretty intelligent, so I’ve never been able to figure out how they fool themselves into thinking that a little sparkly green ball is an object of prey, especially when they get all carried away and race all over the house, growl at other cats when they come near the catch, and stash it in a safe place when they are done.
I figure it’s a starting point for the imagination, something to follow down the rabbit hole like Alice into a wonderland of discovery.
GREEN SPARKLE BALL
by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Loping along, he freezes in mid-stride at the sight of it,
silently flattens himself, tail straight out behind,
ears alert, pupils dilated in amber eyes glowing from black fur,
his whole world centered on his prey,
a little wiggle of the hind end and he creeps forward
one soundless step, then another,
now, completely ready, he springs onto his prey,
a small bright green fuzzy ball with sparkly silver threads poking out all around.
Something about this toy sets off the receptors in Giuseppe’s brain
even though it’s been sitting innocently on the carpet
not moving or making sounds or being in any way provocative,
at the sight of it he’s transformed into the efficient killing machine
which is any feline.
Up into the air goes the green sparkle ball,
he swats, chases, corners it,
a big cat at 18 months, Giuseppe is 13 pounds of dense muscle,
but he picks it up delicately in his teeth and bounds up the stairs two or three at a time,
I hear him galloping around, even hear the bedsprings
as he pursues his prey around the second floor.
I’ve known this cat since he was two days old,
he has never been closer to the outdoors than a screened window,
he has never had to hunt for his dinner
except to find his way to the kitchen.
His mother had no chance to catch some unlucky mouse or chipmunk
and bring it home for an educational demonstration.
Why, then, this activity?
Later, he is sprawled on the bed with his brothers
and I find the green sparkle ball floating in the water bowl;
he does this with his toy, drops it in the bowl when he’s done playing
as if it’s stashed in a place where it can’t escape while he naps
and he can take up where he left off when he awakens.
Cats are not easily fooled.
When you get them a toy that looks like a real mouse
and toss it and push it around then retrieve it yourself,
they watch politely
and when you are done, resume their nap.
This object looks nothing like any prey he might ever chase.
So why is he chasing it?
And why does Cookie play pick-up soccer with a ping-pong ball,
and Kelly leap all around about a scrap of paper,
and the elusive panther caught on motion-sensor camera run after a blowing leaf
and the lion chase his tail?
Surely they see the green sparkle ball for what it is,
or are they so focused on their pretense
that for the concentrated time of play
the toy is convincingly real
and their activity vital?
Do I have a green sparkle ball,
something that relieves me from rational thought
and plunges me wholly into a world
entirely formed of my imagination?
Is that something that humans lost
in the development of rational thought,
our oversized brains finding this process unnecessary,
or is it there beneath our every discovery,
guiding our creative efforts?
When we let our mind play,
our thoughts creating a reality out of the raw materials available,
does that deep focus on the green sparkle ball
pull together seemingly unrelated bits we’ve gathered
and put them in an order we’d never otherwise see?
Did Einstein have a green sparkle ball,
that his thoughts pursued
until it led him to his theory?
Starting the first fire, inventing the wheel,
Proving the world is round, finding a vaccination for smallpox,
Composing a symphony, sculpting the iconic figure,
Creating any device that changes the world around it,
Does it start with chasing the green sparkle ball?
poem © 2009 B.E. Kazmarski
Thursday, February 18, was the date for “Coming Spring”, my fourth annual poetry reading and art exhibit at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, my home town. I featured 10 new poems and and the fourth and final painting of my “Art of the Watershed” series, “Spring Morning at a Bend in the Creek”, plus a display of favorite originals, prints and notecards; you can see the painting and read more about this event on my “What’s New?” blog.
My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.
Looking at my body of work, this, of course, includes my cats, and my cats are vitally involved in the paintings and photos I create; even if they aren’t the subject, they are somehow physically involved with their creation by sitting on my lap, rolling pastels off my table, drinking watercolor rinse water and so on.
Most visitors to The Creative Cat are familiar with my feline paintings, but I haven’t published too much of my feline poetry. I read this poem at my reading this year, and sometime soon I’ll feature other poems as well, some of which have photos, paintings or illustrations to accompany.
About this poem…have you ever partly awakened and combined your sleepy thoughts with the reality of your surroundings? So I did one rainy morning in summer. As at least one of my kitties is always vigilant about me, my little tortoiseshell kitty Kelly realized that I was nearing waking probably before I did and came over to greet me, and with her help I slipped off into an illusion of dreamy contentment.
PAWPRINTS AND RAINDROPS
I am not awake but aware
of the sound of raindrops
whispering in the leaves and tapping on the roof
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.
poem © 2010 B. E. Kazmarski
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. ACFL&MH invited me to perform a poetry reading and to display the artwork that inspired those poems.
After each show I’ve built a web page with the poetry and art I featured. Please visit, read my poetry and view my artwork. My prior readings have been:
“Paths I Have Walked” in 2007, featuring “Dusk in the Woods”;
“Winter Twilight” in 2008, featuring “Summer Morning on the Creek”;
“Change of Season” in 2009, featuring “Autumn Comes to the Valley”;
As both an animal artist and photographer and a commercial artist and designer, my cats are my muse, even if they aren’t the subject of my creative endeavor.
Ingrid King, author of Buckley’s Story, has featured me again on Buckley’s Story in “The Creative Process” as I get to offer my understanding of how I create a piece of artwork, writing or a poem, and how my cats have been my muse and encouragement all along, even in commercial art.
While you are there, take the time to read about Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher and about Ingrid’s holistic approach to animal wellness, and make sure you visit The Conscious Cat as well.
I met Ingrid King at the Cat Writer’s Association annual conference in November 2009 and heard her speak about her book. From her loss of Buckley, a joyful and affectionate tortoiseshell cat who was diagnosed with heart disease after only two years, came an entire book, written immediately after Buckley’s passing. Since then it has received glowing reviews in the pet and pet loss industries.
I featured Ingrid and Buckley’s Story in my series Pet Loss in the First Person in the article entitled “Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story”. Ingrid tells how her career wandered around, forming into a helping, healing profession until Buckley joined, then left her life. She began writing in the midst of her grief, with a goal of having the book available to others by the first anniversary of Buckley’s passing, like a promise kept.
Whoever Simon is he is lucky to have his Cat as a muse! I still laugh every time I watch the first video of Simon’s Cat’s rude awakening of Simon, and now “Snow Business 1 and 2” adds a backyard bird, and one not to be messed with at that! Enjoy the video, and I’ll keep a lookout for Simon’s Cat’s Bird out in my backyard habitat!
I’m sure plenty of kitties will be receiving heart-shaped treats and toys on Sunday, and of course they will be grateful for our enthusiastic generosity for their welfare.
But you might benefit your kitty, and many others, with another type of heart-shaped gift—a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund which funds research into Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart ailment among cats, and a very common disease among cats in general. This research will potentially save thousands of feline lives by studying the genetics of the disease and prolong thousands more lives while providing realistic treatment for cats who have been diagnosed with this disease.
Many of you have read my articles about Namir and his four-year struggle with, and ultimate death from, HCM in July 2009. Cats deal with illness and discomfort so well we might never know there was a health issue, and Namir had no time for any suffering, but behind our everyday activities was a lot of pain and discomfort on his part, and worry and watching on mine, not to mention four different medications twice a day, occasional trips to the emergency room when he developed congestive heart failure, watching him lose weight and muscle mass and ultimately know that he had no time left, and that I had to choose euthanasia rather than watch him suffer his last hours or days.
I was lucky to have Namir for years before the symptoms showed, and he lived to be 15. Others are not so lucky because it is not unusual for a cat to be diagnosed with HCM as a kitten and only live to the tender age of four or five. So it was with Steve Dale, nationally known and syndicated pet writer, radio show host and owner of Ricky, for whom the fund is named.
As Steve writes in one of his blog posts: “In 2002, I lost my best friend – a cat named Ricky. He was a unique dude. Long before Nora, he also played the piano (improvisations jazz). Being a social guy who didn’t relegate his musical skill to his own home – he performed ‘in concert’ at places like Petco and PETsMart. Ricky knew how to do as much as most dogs, the list included jumping through a Hoola Hoop, sitting on command, giving ‘high-fives’ and more. He helped to demonstrate cats can learn just as much as their canine cousins.”
Steve commented after a recent meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation’s board,
“I am gratified that in Ricky’s memory, we’ve actually raised over six figures for the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund, and scientists have been able to prevent some cats from ever getting his horrible disease. But we still have a long ways to go to prevent all cats from ever being diagnosed. Or to find an effective drug to treat feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Right now, HCM is among the most common causes of death in middle aged indoor cats, perhaps the most common. That has to change.”
Read the rest of the above post, including more about Steve Dale and the Ricky Fund on Steve’s blog in Celebrate Valentine’s Day from Your Heart to Your Cat’s Heart and Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research, and on the Winn Feline Foundation website where you can also make a donation.
Ricky sounds as if he was a really unforgettable character, playing the piano and doing tricks and more. Read about Ricky on Steve’s website at Ricky Showed Us What A Cat Can Be (careful, it’s a real tear-jerker, but well worth the read!).
Visit the Winn Feline Foundation for thorough and reliable information on feline health and health studies, and sign up to receive regular updates on their research.
More cats are kept as pets, but cats get less veterinary care and fewer studies are done on behalf of feline health (Catalyst Council). Research needs funding, some of which comes from foundations and government sources, but some of which needs to come from individuals like you. Cat owners need to show support for research and treatment in order to change this.
Animals know all about love. Brother and sister Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette cuddle themselves into a heart shape, and they look like they couldn’t want anything more than each other.
I had a little fun in PhotoShop with a photo that wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been. Sometimes they strike these wonderful poses when the light isn’t the best—like in the dark in the bathroom so I can see them when I’ve just turned on the light! I only got one shot. It’s fun to go beyond the everyday photo editing and play around with filters and colors and techniques.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Clean off those branches and put out some seed and suet if you can
I was entranced overnight as the snow quickly fell and piled on every surface, even tiny twigs. By morning I was ready with my camera, photographing out of windows and emerging on to the deck and porch to capture the rare and magical transformation of a snow-covered morning here in Western Pennsylvania. Shrubs and small trees were bent down and everything, my brush piles and tall natives left in the habitat included, was covered with an undulating snow blanket at least 18 inches deep.
Doves were lined up on the clothes line on my deck and wrens and sparrows were perching under the rockers and other chairs, using my deck for cover and no doubt waiting for me to put out the goodies.
However, as I cleaned off the deck and filled the feeders around the railings and the improvised bird bath I saw flocks of birds headed for both the deck and at least one of the feeders at the end of the yard (the other was hopelessly covered by its small tree completely bent over under the weight of snow), but they weren’t using the feeder and they weren’t perching, which was very strange behavior.
I had filled the seed and suet feeders and put out some ear corn yesterday afternoon so they would have it first thing in the morning instead of waiting for me to dig out. If the Cooper’s hawk had been around I wouldn’t have seen any birds at all, except perhaps a sacrificial mourning dove.
Then I took another look at this lovely landscape—the forsythia which is usually filled with sparrows, the pussy willow hosting the larger cardinals and blue jays, even the American Hemlock and brushy saplings around the larger feeder on which and in which the birds are usually perching in wait for the feeders, were all covered with several inches of snow which the birds couldn’t perch on. All the tall stems of goldenrod, asters, coneflower and bergamot that I leave standing for the birds to use as both perches and food sources were completely bent down and covered in snow. Even the ground around the feeders was covered with snow the birds couldn’t even land on top of without dangerously sinking in.
They had no place to land and nothing to eat.
This was a totally different interpretation of a lovely snowy morning, and potentially fatal to all my avian visitors. Where smaller mammals can and do tunnel under the snow and larger ones travel over it or can walk through it, birds can’t brush away snow and ice before they land or dig through it to get to something underneath. In order to use the feeder they need to land close, then hop to the feeder. Unless they could land right on the feeder, they couldn’t eat from it, and all their natural sources were under snow, not only in my yard but everywhere.
Well, I’d probably gotten as many photos as I wanted, so out came the broom and I waded in snow that had drifted deeper than the 18 inches I had measured earlier and swatted away at the forsythia, pulling the longer branches out of the snow on the ground so they could swing free. Then I reached the pussy willow from the deck railing on one side, and the lilac from the other side. As I was working a large clump of snow fell from higher up in the trees at the end of the yard and conveniently knocked the snow off of the feeder in the yard as well as the hemlock and saplings. Thanks, nature!
I was barely finished with clearing one bush and then the other before the birds were in it, chattering and fluttering. And even though they are familiar with me—the blue jay had announced that I had come out onto the deck earlier, and that’s the signal for birds to gather in the shrubs around the deck anticipating the daily feeder refill—they don’t usually fly right past my head to get to the feeders, but today they did.
“Eating like a bird” has been famously misinterpreted indicating a picky eater, but while birds don’t all eat twice their weight in food every day, they do need to eat proportionally much more than humans, especially in cold weather. Imagine having to hop out of bed into a situation you physically can’t negotiate and having to forage for enough quality food to equal about a quarter to a half of your body weight just stay warm and alive for the day and overnight, using only your face and toes as tools.
Tonight is forecast to be in the single digits, and some birds would simply die overnight if they hadn’t been able to find or access any food today. Out in nature, nobody would brush off the trees and fill the feeders, but with songbird populations imperiled because of habitat fragmentation and pesticide use, they could use a little help from us.
If you do feed birds, put out some extra stuff, especially high-protein, high-energy foods like hulled sunflower, peanuts and even other unsalted or plain nuts you might have on hand; I donated a cup of crushed walnuts, which were a really big hit. Dried fruits are very good for them now, too, even just a handful of raisins snipped in half so smaller birds can manage them. Many birds eat insects as well as seeds, and suet fills that part of their diet when no insects are available. The extra protein will help them get through a cold night and into tomorrow.
Don’t forget the water—just a shallow pan of warm water will keep from freezing most of the day and be easy to punch out and refill in the morning. Rising steam from warm water will help attract them to it.
I have articles on making your own inexpensive bird treats in Birds?! Attract them with homemade suet cakes and also a series of articles on Backyard Wildlife Habitats for more information on inviting and feeding wild birds and other wildlife in your backyard.
If you don’t normally feed birds it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to attract them to a new feeder or water source today. But at least knock the snow off of any shrubs with twigs small enough for bird claws to grasp, and especially from any dense shrubs they would normally use for cover. Birds roost overnight in tree cavities and in other protected places, usually huddled together for extra warmth. While snow is a great insulator this snowfall was really unique in that snow is piled on branches where I’ve never seen it, on the lee side of trees, and some shrubs are completely filled with snow, leaving the most typical spots for avian protection unavailable.
What?! It’s been cats, cats, cats, and now a bird’s nest?
This was a general purpose sketchbook and I used it for many things in addition to extemporaneous sketches; that’s why it was at my desk.
The story behind this one, though, doesn’t have to do with my backyard wildlife habitat or my love of wild birds. I’m a member of a small business organization, and several years ago I was included in an article about small business owners setting up a retirement plan for themselves. The theme, of course, was “nest egg”, and the editors wanted some illustrative photos of us showing the nest egg theme. The nests and eggs the photographer brought were not like any I’d seen in real life, and in part because I was to be photographed out in my backyard wildlife habitat and I’d say something about studying and sketching birds and their nests, I wanted to use one of the nests I had on hand with a few reconstructed eggs. That was too realistic, perhaps, so I went to the next idea—I make my living as an artist, so I’m literally “drawing my own nest egg”.
Hence the sketch of the nest with eggs. I still like it just as a sketch too. I’ve been meaning to frame it for hanging somewhere in the house, but here it ended up in the sketchbook. Like the others, this one is also for sale. Please ask if you are interested!