Suddenly Spring: 2011

tortie cat in greens

Cookie is in the green.

Last year, April 23 was a rainy day just like today, but the forget-me-nots were just getting started. I’ve been looking forward to this picture of Cookie, along with the Queen Bee, below, on the picnic table.

Cookie sits amid the sprouting grass and forget-me-nots, deciding where in the yard to explore first.

Just a week ago Cookie’s speckled tortie coat still blended into the background of dormant grass, leaves and twigs and I would often lose track of her when she stood still. Now I have no problem at all as everything has greened up in just the past week and her camouflage has lost its effectiveness.

We’ve been checking the progress on what we planted in the garden last month, and this week the peas finally began sprouting, and while the spinach and lettuce had sent up a few scouts earlier they sprouted in earnest this week and began to grow. The asparagus sent up some spears and the violets, along with the forget-me-nots, added some color to the greenery. Cookie and I are glad our back yard is finally starting to look familiar, and it’s warm enough to take our walk!

And Cookie got to take a little rest on our picnic table, one of her favorite spots. Now it’s in dappled sun but when the trees leaf out it’s pretty much in shade. We took a little time to remember Namir; the three of us spent quite a few mornings and afternoons out there, and the picnic table was always a favorite spot for observation.

And with that, it’s officially the outdoor season.

tortie cat on picnic table

Cookie is ready to supervise my work.

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Unless I have linked the photo to something else, which is rare with daily photos, you can click the photo to see a larger version. I save them at 1000 pixels maximum dimension, and at that size the photos are nearly twice the dimension and you can see more detail in many of the photos I post. Please remember if you download or share, my name and the link back to the original photo should always appear with it.

To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Begin in Spring to Control Fleas

photo of yard in spring with bench under trees

The woodland garden in spring.

Fleas, like most other insects, live everywhere around us and it’s how we manage our surroundings that helps to control their populations. Like managing mosquitoes, for instance, by eliminating still pools of water where they can breed, you can also manage the flea population around your yard without the use of toxic chemical so that fleas can’t set up a happy colony where they are ready and waiting when your pet comes outside—or even when you come outside and carry them in

Spring is the prime time to get ahead of them, so take spring cleaning in your yard as seriously as in your home and begin early. By initiating or modifying a few of the ways you care for your landscape you can eliminate nesting and breeding spaces and welcome their predators, an effect that can last all through the warm months of summer and fall.

Where Do Fleas Come From?

Fleas begin in the great outdoors, even in the nicest yard, and don’t think that simply because you don’t let your pet outside, or it’s only outside for a short while, that fleas won’t find them. Fleas are tiny and can hop amazing distances to get to a warm body for their blood meal, they can ride in on your own body though they don’t generally feed on humans, and encountering another animal that has fleas either on a walk outdoors or even at the veterinarian’s office can infest your pet without it ever setting a paw in the back yard.

But fleas are slow to wake up in the spring and are a snack for a number of predator insects. These two facts of their life cycle help you to get ahead of them.

photo of two cats in the grass

Cookie and Namir relax in the yard.

Integrated Pest Management

I’ve always taken one or more of my cats into my back yard, so I’ve always included fleas in my pest management. Adult fleas are very particular about moisture and temperature, but flea eggs can live through a lot of punishment and still hatch and carry on the next generation so they need to be managed from year to year, not just for the summer.

Aside from the dangers of insecticide toxicity, using an insecticide generally kills off all the insects in an area, not just the ones you are targeting. Where fleas are concerned, an insecticide just kills the adult fleas which are only about 10% of the total flea population. There may be some residual left to kill the eggs and larvae as they mature into adults, but with unpredictable weather it’s often washed away before it does any good.

cat in grass

Namir in the backyard.

Pest insects have adapted to reproduce more quickly than their prey so the fleas will return long before their predators return, resulting in a more serious infestation than before. Without any predators you really need to keep applying the chemical, but all you do is knock down the numbers, never winning the game, and often completely kill off all predators, and not just those of fleas, while building up toxic levels in your soil which run off into local waterways, affecting more wildlife than you ever intended.

It’s obvious that species have been kept in balance for millennia by some means outside of human controls. I am a Master Gardener and began years ago to start my own plants, identify seedlings, diagnose pests and diseases and build soil. I manage my little yard as a wildlife habitat, friendly to all native species as well as the plants I choose to grow and have always called on the forces of nature to manage the populations as an ecosystem, allowing it to find its own balance, and this has worked for managing fleas as well as other insect pests in my lawn, vegetable garden, flower beds and natural areas.

The two basic steps in managing any pest that outgrows its controls is to find out where it lives and destroy that habitat to any extent possible, and then find its natural predators and encourage them to inhabit and flourish, forever if possible.

cat looking into wooded area

Mom has a lot of work to do!

Flea Habitats

Fleas live in moist, shady areas in the yard, in the thatch in your lawn, debris piles, leaf litter, cord wood stacks and even under your deck or porch unless it’s completely dry. They’ve often overwintered in these areas and with the moisture of spring eggs start hatching as soon as it’s warm enough and shady after trees and shrubs have leafed out, about when temperatures rise above 60 degrees at night or 70 degrees during the day.

two cats in spring garden

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

Spring Cleaning

One of the first things I do in spring, way before fleas hatch, is clear off all the debris in the yard and toss it in the compost pile, which as the materials break down heats up to a point that kills any eggs or seeds within it. I leave native plants standing for wildlife through the winter, but in spring it’s all taken down, even mowed if possible, then raked in order to remove possible pest habitat (including plant diseases which may have overwintered). If you don’t have a compost pile you can throw the material away in a bag, but just don’t keep it around, piled in a corner, or it can become a breeding ground for everything that laid eggs in it last year. This helps immensely with reducing the initial populations and you’ve also destroyed a lot of eggs and habitat for many insect pests.

This also helps to delay the onset of fleas in your yard, but they’re going to start hatching some time regardless of chemical or organic controls, so be prepared with methods to manage flea populations through their life cycle.

gray kitty under bush

My neighbor's kitty visits.

Manage Areas Fleas Prefer

To start with, try to minimize or eliminate damp and densely shaded areas in your yard—underneath a shrub, for instance, often a favorite place for pets to hang out on hot days because it’s cooler and the soil is a little damp. It’s absolutely flea heaven, especially if you’ve either left the leaf litter from last year or added some decorative bark or wood chip mulch. This one area can support three stages of the flea: eggs can be laid here, the larvae can live on organic matter, and they can build their cocoons here as well, hatching into adult fleas that feed on your kitty taking a nap in the shade.

photo of bird bath in garden

The bird bath in the shade garden.

My yard tends to be very damp and I also have a slug problem (that’s an understatement), and for years I’ve sprinkled diatomaceous earth (DE)in all the moist shady areas for the slugs that feast all night, also taking care of a good many fleas. This product is not soil at all but the shells of diatoms, tiny sea creatures, crushed to a fine powder. Sea shells are actually formed of minerals and while the powder looks like dust it is actually very tiny, very sharp particles that cut into the exoskeleton of the flea, causing it to dehydrate and die. It does the same thing to slugs, but other creatures, from earthworms to birds, simply digest it with no ill effect, and it’s completely a physical effect with no chemical effect at all.

Diatomaceous earth has a short-term effect outdoors, though, because it mixes with soil and other organic matter, diluting its effect, and is washed away by rain or even heavy dew, but generally sprinkling it weekly in damp shady areas through the summer is a good plan. Just make sure it’s the DE intended for gardening use NOT pool use because this has chemicals added, and wear a mask when you sprinkle it because prolonged inhalation can cause some respiratory discomfort.

At one time I used pyrethrum-based products to control fleas and other insect pests indoors and out, and while pyrethrins break down quickly in sunlight and are diluted by water, tests later showed that if they are not in conditions that break them down they can build up in soil and in the home, and can be toxic to some flora and fauna outdoors, and children and pets indoors. Many organic gardeners quit using them, though they are still sold for outdoor treatment as well as specifically flea control products. I have included a link to the CDC report at the end of this article.

spider on flower

"Daddy Long Legs" are flea predators.

Modify Your Lawn

Also manage your yard, especially your lawn, to encourage flea predators. You can apply beneficial nematodes to damp and shady areas as well as the DE, especially where you can’t change the conditions by trimming shrubs or cleaning up debris such as a bed of heavy ground cover like ivy or pachysandra, or where you’ve landscaped with mulch, sand, gravel or small stones. You may need to reapply every year or two; this was my experience, but they definitely keep populations down while they persist.

Natural Predators

You can also encourage the flea’s natural predators to come and live in your lawn and garden. Insect predators include ants, spiders and ground beetles, other species include amphibians such as toads and salamanders, reptiles such as garter snakes, and even birds that feed on the ground.

Hmmm… you don’t like spiders and snakes, and everything else sounds like something you don’t want anywhere near your house, except maybe the birds? Trust me, they are much more interested in their natural diet than they are in you, and unless you go looking you’d never know they’re there—except that you’d have fewer fleas and other pest insects generally.

tortoiseshell cat in forget me nots

Cookie in forget-me-nots

Welcome them by managing your lawn in a way that might be different from the typical grass-only buzz cut, incorporating native plants and herbs and allowing your lawn to grow a little taller. My lawn is only about half grass, while the rest is a mixture of short native plants and ground covers, plus opportunistic peppermint, pennyroyal and marjoram escaped from my herb gardens and the seedlings for next year’s forget-me-nots, daisies and other biennials and spring ephemerals. This diversity of flora encourages a diversity of fauna and eliminates large areas of one type of habitat so nothing has a chance to overpopulate.

Because I have less grass, I only have to cut the lawn about once a month after May. The native plants have a predetermined growth habit, most of them staying below six inches, and after the spring flush of growth the grass grows much more slowly. I can cut it higher than two inches, the minimum height to encourage ants and spiders, the main predators of fleas. Cutting the grass taller and less often helps the predators develop habitat and do their job on the fleas.

I also feed birds year-round, and while I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas.

Even if you’ve done all this you can still expect a few fleas, but you’re suddenly totally infested—what else can it be?

groundhog in cage

My guy going off on vacation.

Wildlife

It’s that darned squirrel that hangs out on your deck, or the groundhog that’s burrowed underneath it—or the opossum that nested in your piled-up porch furniture until spring, or the little field mice and voles who sacrifice themselves to your cats in the basement.

I had sprinkled the house with diatomaceous earth, bathed and combed the cats regularly, washed everything washable, swept everywhere just about daily, removed throw rugs and pillows and such, tossed non-washable things into a hot dryer, and removed as much from my house as possible. This was all I needed to do for years and the flea population never reached an infestation.

But this year the fleas kept coming back, and increasing all the time. Where were they coming from?

I began to notice that when I walked out on my deck, my legs were immediately covered with fleas, a dozen or more at a time. Fleas don’t fly, they jump, and while they can jump far, in a situation like this you can move around and check the numbers of fleas that jump on your skin (or wear a pair of white socks so you can see them easier) to help pinpoint an area of infestation. I started stepping around the deck, knocking fleas off my legs into a cup of water, then stepping again to see where numbers seemed the worst.

black cat at door

Mimi at the door, before the infestation.

Most wild animals harbor a few fleas, and some species are typically infested. My squirrels spend about half their time scratching, and wild rabbits, chipmunks, gophers, mice and voles are also heavily infested with fleas. The squirrels hang out on my deck trying to get into the bird seed, the rabbits hop around near the basement door, and I always have a juvenile groundhog who excavates under my deck before I can trap it, chipmunks run around chirping everywhere, and field mice and voles really do show up in my basement.

And I really did have an opossum on my deck that winter. Being nocturnal, we didn’t cross paths though I saw her through the back door now and then. With the unusually heavy ice and snow I didn’t have the heart to encourage her to find another home, and I didn’t unpack all my deck furniture this year, so I have no idea how long she stayed.

It was the area right in front of the door—right over the groundhog den under the deck—and on one side of that unmoved pile of things for my deck. The groundhog had left my yard to eat someone else’s vegetable garden, but left the fleas behind. I began deconstructing the pile of porch furniture and found evidence of nesting, though not recent. In both places, a heck of a lot of fleas.

So this was the source of my infestation, right outside the door that I kept open for most of the summer, locking the screen door at night and when I was away. Fleas could hop in when I opened the door, and ride inside as I walked in and out the door. My basement door has a space at the bottom because the concrete walk just outside is lifted and the bottom of the door jammed against it, so I trimmed the door.

Normally every spring I clean off my deck, sweep, wash and apply water-based waterproofing to the wood, then move things back, but this spring’s schedule didn’t allow the time. Once I cleaned off the deck, swept and washed it as well as hosed down all the items that were there, the constant re-infestation stopped. Whew!

Some Resources for Chemical-Free Outdoor Flea Control

You can get ten pages of results or more in an internet search on flea control, diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins and so on, but I try to find studies or information from non-commercial sources to cite.

Yardener.com has a series of articles about dealing with fleas in your yard, and the article about preventing fleas in the future is especially informative—plus the site is a great resource for dealing with all sorts of pest problems in your yard.

http://yardener.com/YardenersPlantProblemSolver/DealingWithPestInsects/BitingInsects/Fleas/PreventingFleasNextYear

Even though this article is from 1986, it gives a brief history of the use of diatomaceous earth from a study project at McGill University that is still applicable today about the effects and usage of DE.

http://eap.mcgill.ca/publications/eap4.htm

CDC Report on pyrethrins and pyrethroids: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp155.pdf

If you’re interested in more information about Backyard Wildlife Habitats, please visit the Backyard Wildlife Habitat page on my site with articles on developing your habitat and articles showing the photos, paintings and sketches I’ve done that were inspired but my backyard.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Outdoor Adventures: 2009

Namir and Cookie are not happy about having to go inside.

Namir and Cookie are not happy about having to go inside.

On this day three years ago I had some company out in the back yard, inspecting my work and making the decisions about who was inside and outside and when. I’ve often had one cat outdoors with me and could keep a close watch on their activities—as they usually did in watching mine.

Two cats was not so much of a challenge during the years when Moses was one of the kitties because she spread herself out on the warm bricks and napped the entire time.

But I still marvel that both Namir and Cookie actually stayed with me though they didn’t always hang together, and when I told them it was time to go in, they made faces at me, as you see, but in they went.

tortoiseshell cat with daffodil greens

Cookie pauses to let me see how well the daffodil greens match her eyes.

Yes, I watch them around the daffodils and other plants that may be toxic. No one has ever shown any interest in eating them outdoors. Cookie was famous for posing, and she knew she’d look lovely with the greens.

You can see the cluster of lettuce sprouts far behind Namir, below; that part of this cold frame simply got more sun so I began planting at that end every year. You can also see that his right front leg is shaved. He had very recently been in the emergency hospital for a bout of congestive heart failure. His neck would also have a shaved patch. I got so accustomed to seeing the shaved areas I didn’t even notice them. The April visit to the emergency clinic was one of his last though; he never completely recovered from that, and even with medication changes he only lived to July, though he had lived four full years after an initial prognosis of about six months.

cat walking on bricks

Namir stays carefully on the brick edge after inspecting the new lettuce sprouts.

But I’ve always noticed that a trip to the great outdoors of the back yard is an antidote to a lot of ills for them and me, even just a few minutes will do. My yard is a Backyard Wildlife Habitat so it’s full of smells and noises and movement and the noses get to work and ears swivel around and eyes focus on tiny movements, and soon discomfort and infirmities are forgotten in the important business of being a cat.

I had some artwork to photograph as well as working in the yard, and my two photo assistants are right on the job. I can only guess they liked to be with me, why else would they hang around that dirty old blanket I used to cushion the framed art from the bricks and to reflect extra light up onto the art?

two cats with photo bag

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

So as I watched Namir chase leaves and harass Cookie for fun, and Cookie cruise around and nap in the leaf litter, and had them both supervise my gardening progress while enjoying their time outdoors, I thoroughly enjoyed their presences.

two cats in spring garden

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

It was a joy to watch Namir sprint across the yard just for the joy of running and Cookie patrol the garden paths, even in the late winter when strewn with weeds and debris.

Mimi is getting accustomed to this. We’ll see what she thinks tomorrow.

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Unless I have linked the photo to something else, which is rare with daily photos, you can click the photo to see a larger version. I save them at 1000 pixels maximum dimension, and at that size the photos are nearly twice the dimension and you can see more detail in many of the photos I post. Please remember if you download or share, my name and the link back to the original photo should always appear with it.

To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Happy Easter, Eostre, Renewal and Spring

wild rabbit in back yard

Our Backyard Bunny

Have a blessed and beautiful day from our back yard to yours!

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To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Cat TV, Big Screen Version

cat outdoors with colorful ornament

Cookie with our WeatherFish.

After this week, and even on this rainy morning, certain kitties want to visit the yard. It’s my goal some day to at least screen in a porch for them, but I’d love to build a room for them like Chris Davis’s, mentioned at the end of this article.

As Cookie and I cruised the yard, cleaning up branches and pulling aside flattened leaves to find green sprouts—okay, I’m doing the work and cleaning while Cookie supervises—I could also look into each door and window of my house and see everyone else watching us.

I know how much they’d like to be out here with us, especially now that it’s spring and the air is just intoxicating, but unlike Cookie they’d be off to other adventures faster than I could spin around and see them go. And then so much for my Backyard Wildlife Habitat if I introduce a non-native species that would surely wreak havoc on the natural balance—so I see from the neighbor cats who visit. And cats don’t obey property lines and can climb most average backyard fences, and where would I be without them?

photo of cat and flowered dress

Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

I don’t let my cats outside to roam, but I have always had two or more garden sprites who hang out in the garden while I work outside. Usually this has been the oldest ones in the house who didn’t move too fast and were happy just to be in the outdoors. Cookie, however, has been outdoors with me most of the time she’s been with me because she feels she is somehow responsible for me, or so I gather, because she is never far from me, quietly vigilant, checking in with a head butt or a body rub every few minutes, purring happily and squinting her green eyes.

four cats at door

Giuseppe, Namir, Jelly Bean, Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine watch me out the front door.

But while I enjoy having one or more of my kitties outside with me, I’d also just like to give them the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without me chasing them and without a leash to be tangled in. I have always wanted to build an enclosure that they could access on their own which was strong enough to withstand both the rigors of clever cats and of the weather and wildlife that happen in my yard.

Chris Davis, author, artist and owner of Lighthearted Press, came to the same conclusion when she bought her property in Oregon and set up habitat encouraging native birds, then her dog found a litter of kittens and everything changed. The cats came inside for her dog Jake to raise, and she and her husband planned, designed and built an attractive and durable outdoor “room” using hardware cloth for the walls and roof, bringing in downed trees from the woods and building shelves for kitties walk, climb and snooze on. I haven’t let my kitties know about this or there’d be you-know-what to pay!

photo of cat enclosure

Colorful outdoor room.

When I first saw photos of it I thought it was a greenhouse room or deck with the colorful shelves, benches, tables and plants. Rather than leaving it as a plain and functional space with a grass floor and bare trees and a few shelves, they decorated the space to be a usable area for themselves as well. The room incorporates some of my favorite colors—purple, violet and turquoise—and people can fit in the room as well as cats so Chris can enjoy the outdoors with her cats.

Chris remarks that the enclosure is 366 sq. ft. on the ground. The large section of ground is 23′ x 13′, and the back portion is 10′ x 8′ (yikes, my house is 15′ x 22′, but at least it’s two stories). Plus there is another 66 sq. ft. of back deck.

“So yes, it’s a good size,” she says. “However, this could be any size—even a small enclosure would be loved and appreciated by any cat.”

They first built the structure 10 years ago, and it took about three weeks. Having designed the entire thing themselves they had no advice or other experience to help decide about materials or structure, but only a few changes needed to be made to their original idea.

“We upgraded all the decks and stairs a few years later when it became clear the pile of logs wouldn’t last in our wet weather,” Chris comments on the more rustic beginnings.

photo of cat enclosure

Original enclosure with grass

I wondered if she had left grass as the “floor” in the room, this being the most logical thing to do for kitties who like to be outside, but also thinking of the difficulty of keeping it trimmed in an enclosed space, probably by hand. Initially, most of the “floor” was grass, but ultimately that had to be changed.

“Unfortunately, the grass just could not thrive in the soggy ground. I tried over and over to bring in sod or seed it, but this is Oregon and there’s a LOT of rain. The slope behind the enclosure has natural springs, so a lot of rain wound up in the lowest part of the yard, which was the enclosure,” she explains. “I finally gave up and put in stepping stones with gravel for drainage, and have planted ground cover in the gravel which is growing better. In the summer the kitties love to sprawl on the stepping stones because they’re cool.”

She also decided to cut back on the plants she kept in the room.

photo of cat enclosure

Cat enclosure with Star.

“I do put out cat grass and a few safe cat plants in pots, but over the years I’ve pulled back on those because the kitties just LOVE to eat them…and throw them up. I can hang flowering baskets because they can’t reach those,” she said.

And do her kitties appreciate all her efforts? I can see a feline eye roll and perhaps a tail flick if they’ve found something that hasn’t met their specifications.

“I have 4 sibling cats—they’ll be 12 next month. When I had doggies they loved the enclosure, too,” Chris says of the lucky animals who share their special outdoor space.

And they don’t have the run of it all day and night, only under supervision, in part because of “visitors”.

“I used to keep the dog door open all the time, so they could come and go in any weather. Now I’ve closed that off and give them selected play time during the day, when I’m home and can supervise,” Chris says. “Although I’ve done my best to plug all the holes, I can’t keep the moles from digging under the enclosure and coming up. The cats brought three inside a few summers ago—they just drop them in the kitchen. Thankfully I rescued all the moles, but that’s when it became clear I had to supervise their time much more clearly.”

And do they have a litterbox al fresco?

“There are no litter boxes out there. It’s a hoot to see a cat come running inside, use the litterbox, and then go back out- just like a child!” Chris says.

As far as structural changes, “The only thing I would have done differently was build a weatherproof top. Right now it’s all the 1/4 inch hardware cloth (screen) which is hardy and has withstood our wet weather, but it doesn’t make it pet friendly in the winter,” Chris says. “That has never kept the cats from going out in the rain or snow, but I think it would have been more fun if it had an actual ceiling.”

Chris explains more about her cat enclosure on her website where you can read more about it, see more photos as well as click to a narrated video on YouTube.

cover for every cat an angel

Cover image

Chris Davis is the author and illustrator of beautiful gift books, For Every Dog An Angel, For Every Cat An Angel, Old Dog and the Christmas Wish and Shelter Dog, and most recently Forever Paws, books that celebrate our magical companion animals. When you visit her site to see the enclosure, make sure you read about her books and enjoy the samples pages she has from each one. I really love her whimsical style and the rich, bright blending of colors.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Here We Are Today, Sort Of

four black cats looking out the door

Three of the four and Mimi.

Here they were this morning, Mewsette, Giuseppe, Mimi and Jelly Bean. I tried to coax them all over to the door for a photo op, but Mr. Sunshine was much more interested in breakdancing in the sun on the floor at my feet. I just love how little Mimi is surrounded by her rather large children.

I know that Mewsette is looking at a chipmunk that always runs back and forth in front of the basement door, Giuseppe at Jelly Bean at birds perching on the clotheslines and Mimi is looking at Hester the Bunny who is, I think, larger than Mimi.

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Unless I have linked the photo to something else, which is rare with daily photos, you can click the photo to see a larger version. I save them at 1000 pixels maximum dimension, and at that size the photos are nearly twice the dimension and you can see more detail in many of the photos I post. Please remember if you download or share, my name and the link back to the original photo should always appear with it.

To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


My How We’ve Grown: 2011

four black cats at basement door

My how we've grown in the past year and a half!

Ah, two famous photos of the Fantastic Four! Above, the Four in March 2011 when they were about 3 years 7 months old, and below the Four and Mimi in September 2009 when they were just past two years. I can only catch these photos early in the day when I open the basement door.

No room for mom anymore! Here are Jelly Bean, Mewsette, Mr. Sunshine and Giuseppe lined up to observe the back yard. Compare to the photo below taken in September 2009 when they were just past two years old with Jelly Bean, Mr. Sunshine, Giuseppe, Mewsette and little Mimi, who is actually standing so she looks a little bigger than her regular size. I thought they were pretty big at two, but they are actually taller and more muscled at three-and-a-half. Their birthday is July 26.

five black cats at basement door

We do many things together.

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Unless I have linked the photo to something else, which is rare with daily photos, you can click the photo to see a larger version. I save them at 1000 pixels maximum dimension, and at that size the photos are nearly twice the dimension and you can see more detail in many of the photos I post. Please remember if you download or share, my name and the link back to the original photo should always appear with it.

To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Tortoiseshell Cat Stares Down Inner Demons: 2011

tortoiseshell cat and five black cats

Tortoiseshell Cat Stares Down Inner Demons

I was waiting for this one to come around! It’s a little blurry, but I only had one chance.

Clever pun, huh? Do you see the demons inside, staring out the door? Five—count ’em, five—dark solemn beings with pale eyes all staring directly at Cookie?

They don’t bother Cookie because she has Tortitude. Ask anyone who’s ever lived with a tortoiseshell cat, or any tri-color for that matter. She is 19, the kids are 3, Mimi is about 6. Cookie weighs about 8 pounds, together the black cats weigh over 50. I open the door and she walks right in between them as if they don’t exist.

Cookie has seen many cats come and go, and as far as she is concerned, this group of five is just another bunch of cats with whom she shares me. She is not impressed with the fact that they are all black. After all, she gets to go outside with me every morning and sometimes during the day, and she gets first dibs on my lap and my attention.

But the four siblings, here joined by their mom, are at it again as a group. How sweet it is.

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To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


The Gift of a Morning

tortoiseshell cat in greens

Cookie in my garden.

My sincerest wish as I remember Cookie is that all of you who read what I write, each of you who has a relationship with one or more animals, that your relationship is as deep, complex, satisfying and, if your species or breed allows it, as long-lasting as was Cookie’s and mine. I could never feel that I have any regrets, that Cookie and I “missed” anything but we lived as full a life as a human and cat could do. It depends on many things often beyond our control, but I wish those things for everyone who loves an animal, now and always.

Cookie gave me many gifts in all the years she was with me, including the visual discoveries from this particular morning in September 2011 which led to a poem and insights beyond what I wrote that morning, and remembering that morning and other mornings I have come to the end of a stage. The poem text and an audio version of the poem with a slideshow are at the end of this post.

tortie cat in front of painting

Cookie, my art assistant at age 19.

The last weeks have been working through a series of “never agains” as I remember and let go of the unique things Cookie did—stepping into a warmed pasta bowl while my back was turned; quietly climbing her way into any spot in the house despite her disabilities; loving every cat who was in the house when she came here and all the ones who came after; greeting everyone at the door with sincerity and making them feel welcome.

tortie cat with painting

Cookie my art assistant, at age one!

I have also been resuming everyday activities I had been intentionally avoiding somewhat or completely, those that Cookie and I enjoyed together and I now do alone or without her—sitting in the kitchen after dinner to crochet or read with all the cats around, where you see so many photos of her interacting with my crochet materials; visiting the deck and back yard each morning regardless of weather to feed the birds, drink coffee and take photos; and gardening, from starting the seeds in the basement to getting dirty out in the soil.

Much to the joy of the household, I’ve begun to take a break after dinner again so everyone can walk on me and test my crochet projects. Until yesterday I totally avoided my deck except for the first few days in February when Mimi joined me, only filling the feeder outside my office window, and yesterday I spent my first full afternoon in the yard without a cat in many years.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

And this morning I sat outside on my swing with coffee and crochet, a Sunday morning ritual whenever the weather was nice enough (nice to me and Cookie was anything above 40 degrees and no heavy precipitation) as I remembered all the years she had gone off to explore the yard then come back to climb up on my lap and have a nap, just Cookie and me doing things we enjoyed and each other, best friends.

We knew

I’ve been sharing daily photos and stories from previous years because so many more readers have found The Creative Cat in the past few months. We see a lot of Cookie from last year, including a number of photo essays of her adventures outdoors. I photographed her excessively all through the years, but the extra postings were intentional. I knew what was coming. I knew because Cookie knew, and let me know.

tortie cat on coat

You're Not Going Anywhere For A While

From January 2011, around the time my mother died when Cookie grew weak and lethargic for no apparent reason, we presumed it was because she, as usual, was carrying part of my stress. She recovered, but I saw in her expression a realization. She kept slipping back every month or so, losing a little ground in between and even having a few close calls with her kidneys, and we decided we’d treat every symptom we could and enjoy the rest of our time together.

She stole her last month, January 2012, right out of the jaws of death as after Christmas 2011 she was again lethargic and anorexic, and worst of all suddenly lost use of her hind legs, her body temperature kept dropping and her heart rate increased; her blood tests were frightening. That truly was to be the time but she fought it off, a little adjustment in medications helped but mostly it was her working very hard for just a little more time. We saw her in January looking and acting like Cookie, but I saw she had little control of her hind legs, her body temperature remained depressed, she had increasing difficulty breathing as her heart grew more enlarged and her heart rate slowly increased.

cat looking into flower pot

Cookie checks the "cookie jar", an old canister I used for outdoor plants this year.

Cookie needed a little help getting started each day, but once she was going she was Cookie again, until that last day. The previous afternoon, warm for February 1, we went outside, a treat since that was usually reserved for mornings only during the week, perhaps we knew. She had no interest in exploring but got herself onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curled up and purred. We went in with the memory of that warm sunny afternoon. The next morning I had to carry her outside for the first time in her life, and as I sat with her on my lap she did not revive as usual, ready to explore even just a little, just remained curled on my lap purring.

sparrow in forsythia

The song sparrow in the forsythia (it's hard to find).

Though it was still winter the birds were singing their spring songs, our friends the chickadees and cardinals and wrens who we’d fed and watched all winter. During a brief silence a song sparrow landed in the forsythia just a few feet away from us and sang its familiar three-note-then-warble melody several times, and I knew it was singing to us, and I knew what it meant. It was February 2, that magical cross-quarter day when winter finally begins to turn into spring, a time of transition where death falls away and new life begins. They were singing her home.

tortoiseshell cat in purple

Holding Cookie that last morning.

I am so grateful that I could just drop everything that day and spend her last hours with her, monitoring her condition and managing her discomfort with the advice and materials given to me by my veterinarian, sitting with her on my lap in the studio, our favorite room, ready to call my veterinarian or run her to the emergency clinic at a moment’s notice if the need arose. In the course of that last month there were many things I wanted to do for her but simply could not afford and tried not to be regretful in those last hours, thinking they would have made any difference or bought any more time; they were superfluous in her condition, and likely would only have made me feel better, not Cookie. What she wanted was me, and that I could give to her.

At 3:00 the next morning, February 3, lying next to me on the floor with all the other cats around, she opened her eyes and found my face, put her paw on my hand and held my gaze for several seconds, comforting me, thanking me and saying goodbye; she stopped breathing about an hour later.

Always with us

Loss is never made easier or less painful by any amount of experience or knowledge, but the long, slow goodbye of that last year was sweeter than words can describe. Relationships like Cookie’s and mine are rare but we who have experienced them know they never end, not even with death. Cookie has visited me in spirit, but she is always with me as well, just as she was for 19 happy years.

photo of cat and flowered dress

Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

On the day, at the moment, when I regretfully and emotionally decided to close my shop at Carnegie Antiques where she was my “shop cat”, the back door of the room lightly blew open and I felt Cookie enter, could see her hobbled little gait as she walked a circle around my feet, one of her lifetime habits, and her tilted face looking up at me half orange and half black, her green eyes with gold flecks; she was with me as I walked all around the building remembering all the places I’d seen and photographed her in the times she’d been there with me. As always, she appeared at just the right moment with her comforting and practical manner. I should only hope to meet a human with half as much wisdom and willing compassion as that little tortie cat.

We haven’t seen the last of Cookie. She will still show up in new postings of prior daily photos, and I’ve had a few paintings of or including her that I’ve been planning for a while.

And the passing of an animal companion like Cookie has always meant for me the coming of a time of transition and personal growth. Cookie led me to the door and opened it, it’s up to me to walk through and do something when I get there.

Here is the poem, and you can also watch it with the embedded video, below, or view it on YouTube.

The Gift of a Morning

I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and burdock
where I couldn’t follow.

She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods.
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Cookie’s Spring Adventure: 2011

photography of tortie cat in grass

This is the life!

I’m headed out to clean up my garden for the first time this spring, and I’m remembering Cookie having such a good time last year—especially escaping through the hole in the fence after waiting for me to turn my back long enough—and napping in the sun, and all the years we did this before now. It’s been difficult to be out there with all these memories, but I’m sure she’ll be with me, along with Namir, Stanley, Moses, Sally and Kublai.

Wow, this is the life! I could lie in the sun all day!

Yesterday, mom stopped everything she was doing and went outside in the middle of the day. We haven’t done that since I-don’t-remember-when! I know it’s been getting warmer and the days are getting longer—I’ve seen 19 years of this—but I can never quite keep track of where we are. But when mom does this, all the signs point to SPRING!

First thing in the morning, we went out on the deck and the air was still cold but smelled so good I got up on my green table where I can see the whole yard. It’s not easy for me to get up here anymore and it takes a few extra steps but I was inspired!

tortoiseshell cat on table

Here I am on my observation table.

Then it felt so good I got up on the deck railing and said “hi” to mom who was pointing her black box thing that makes pictures all over the yard. When she turned and saw me, first she took my picture as she always does, then she asked “just what the heck I was doing on the deck railing when I was 19 years old?” I didn’t see why being 19 made any difference in my being on the deck railing and turned around and walked around to the corner, but mom would have none of it and she picked me up! I was so mad I think I even let go of a few profanities. Then she set me on the deck and moved my green table too far away from the railing for me to step on it because “I stumbled a little bit”. She worries too much.

tortie cat on deck railing

What's wrong with being on the railing at 19 years old?

Then we went out in the yard and I walked all around and smelled everything while she got to work. Look at this jungle of branches! I remember when Namir and I used to hang out on this picnic table. I miss my buddy, even though he used to pull my tail.

cat looking into wooded area

Mom has a lot of work to do!

Mom had to help me out of the tomato cage, but I could have figured it out eventually.

cat in wire tomato cage

I didn't really need the help, well, maybe.

I had to keep checking on her to make sure she was doing things correctly. Humans do things for strange reasons—for instance, I can’t figure out why she covered up the hole in the fence in the corner of the yard. I loved to crawl through there and I’d end up in a completely new place. Mom would drop everything and come running, but she couldn’t fit through the hole and had to run all the way around to get me. She didn’t have to get me! I knew where I was! Now I can’t get through there anymore.

tortie cat observing

Sometimes I can't figure out humans.

I don’t like to get my picture taken but sometimes she sneaks up on me and catches me off guard, like when I was taking a bath and enjoying the sun. She said I made a “nice composition”. I thought I was a tortoiseshell cat.

tortie cat on duff

I thought I was a cat, not a "composition".

After all that activity, I was ready for a nap. I used to just curl up on some leaves and grass in the sun, but it felt kind of cold and uncomfortable. Then I found that mom had tossed her flannel shirt on the ground and that was just so nice and cozy, and it smelled like mom.

tortie caton flannel shirt

Mmmm, cozy and warm.

Everyone knows when I stretch out my right arm, the one with the fully orange index toe, that I am a happy kitty.

cat with paw outstretched

I am one happy girl.

(zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………………….)

cat sleeping

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.