Her first kitten…

orange kitten

Orange Kitten

A 13-year-old girl who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian is going to adopt her first companion animal, a kitten—or kittens, if she has her way. How many of us got our start with companion animals just like that, pre-teens or young teenagers who loved animals and wanted to be veterinarians, and our parents appeased us by adopting a shelter animal?

And are you one of the many who was given a kitten or a puppy as a gift in childhood? If you’re anything like me, that animal made all animals a permanent part of your life.

I rarely travel, and one of the things I look forward to is meeting new people and seeing new things all the way, on this trip from the time I left the house in the pre-dawn darkness to catch the train until the time I arrived back home late at night four days later to greet my startled cats who were apparently looking for me the entire time.

On my way back  I overheard a conversation between one of two young girls seated behind me and an older woman across the aisle from them. It was just part of the buzz around me as we all settled in until I heard the word “kitten” my ears pricked up and swiveled around as much as a human’s can do.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug 1

In a minute or two I confirmed that a kitten adoption was planned over the coming week. Much as I like to meet new people and converse among the seats, I also prefer to give people their privacy when they are in a conversation amongst themselves, but I couldn’t resist.

I slid toward the end of the seat next to me, leaned back a little and caught the eye of the woman who was apparently the mother who had planned this. She smiled at me so I felt it safe to enter the conversation.

“Is someone adopting a kitten?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mom, “my daughter loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, and I’m moving to a place where we can have a cat for her. She’s never had a pet, and she’s so excited!”

Lucy With Rug 2

Lucy With Rug 2

13-year-old girls are way too cool to show excitement. When I looked around my seat to the one behind me, she glanced up from her computer game, just moved her eyelids and nothing else, and nodded. I smiled.

“I probably wouldn’t interrupt your conversation, but…” I briefly described my credentials as a cat lady, making myself out to be a professional on the subject of cats instead of just the crazy cat lady who was crocheting a hat in the seat ahead of them, which was also true.

Mom was glad to have someone to ask questions. I was glad to share the enthusiasm I always had for discussing cats and the information I’d learned over the past 40 years of living with cats. Teenage daughter played her computer game but listened, I could tell.

I asked for the details of how they were adopting and when, how old the kitten was, if they had things ready and what their daily schedule was like to see what information I could offer them, and answering Mom’s questions.

Lucy With Rug 3

Lucy With Rug 3

As it turned out, the kitten was one of a litter taken in to a shelter in Harrisburg. They had visited the shelter weeks ago and met this kitten and others and decided on this one and possibly a sibling, but had to wait until they had most of their vaccinations and been spayed or neutered. The kitten would be eight to ten weeks at going home, just at the beginning of that growth spurt and ready to raise ruckus as young kittens are programmed to do.

I told them that kittens at that age had a lot of energy and no common sense, and so they had to plan for the kitten to be very playful, but also likely to get into trouble without intending by climbing into or onto places that might be dangerous, scratching things it shouldn’t, and even playing rough with the humans.

kittens wrestling on the floor

Two of the Fantastic Four wrestling.

And, since the kitten would be home alone all day and even overnight later I told them that two kittens would be a better idea since the kittens would keep each other company during the day, beating each other up instead of getting into trouble while alone.

“Kittens are often misinterpreted as being ‘bad’ and sent back to the shelter because people don’t understand that during those weeks of development from toddler to teenager in human terms, they have to play hard to build muscles and coordination, to explore to develop their senses,” I said, or some variation on that. Kittens develop very quickly, and by sixteen weeks can be completely independent and even sexually mature—all this learning has to happen before that, even if they’ll never use it to kill live prey, defend themselves or mate or give birth.

A good bit of discipline, then, depends on understanding what the kittens are doing, and if necessary redirecting the energy into something more appropriate. I could imagine two little kittens ripping through the house they were describing.

“Little, little kittens can climb into places where you might not even fit your hand,” I said, “and even bigger kittens can get themselves into a mess, so check for everything they can get in to, because they will. And don’t be afraid to confine them to one room for portions of the day for their own safety, while you are away or while you are eating or cooking,” I continued.

Mewsette on Scratcher

Sunshine on Scratcher

Thinking of the teenager who I knew was listening and might be one of the few to actually go on and graduate as a veterinarian, I explained that all cats scratch things because they leave their scent from scent glands in their paws, they groom their claws, removing old layers of cuticle, and they stretch full-length and exercise their muscles. Just figure they’re going to scratch things, give them things to scratch that they like, put them where they’ll use them and usually they’ll just gravitate to what you’ve provided because it’s so convenient and not bother with anything else.

“I’ve used a lot of the cardboard scratchers that just sit around on the floor because the cats and kittens can step right up onto them and they immediately start to scratch when they feel that rough texture beneath their paws,” I said, adding that having at least one in every room is probably what saved my furniture along with a regular carpeted scratching post and a cat tree I’d gathered over the years. “They like rough surfaces—think tree bark,” I added.

black kitten with catnip toy

Giuseppe meets catnip.

“Remember that they think you are big cats, too, and they are going to try to play with you as if you really are just another cat,” I continued. “Don’t fall for it. Touching them is for affection, not wrestling. Never play with them directly with your hand or they’ll think your hand is one of their toys. If they want to wrestle, grab a plush toy and let them tackle that. Teach the little boys (her two young sons) to drag the sturdy string toys around for the kittens to chase, it’ll be a lot more fun for the boys anyway.”

Make sure the litter box is convenient, on the same floor and only one or two rooms away at any given time. Once kittens are litter trained it’s usually permanent, but if they have to go and can’t find the box quickly, they’ll find the next best thing, usually a spot that’s inconvenient to you.

Make sure food and water are always available, too. Kittens need a high-protein diet because of their rate of growth, and unless they are somehow ill they will eat and drink as much as they need to as long as it’s available. But keep the litterbox and the food bowl in separate rooms, if possible, or at least far enough away that the two won’t mix.

I know I offered many more little points in the guise of anecdotes and stories from my own and others’ experience, but finally it seemed as if they had all the information they could hold for one session. I asked the daughter if she had any ideas for names. She said she had lots of ideas but didn’t divulge any, meaning she probably thought I wouldn’t know who or what she was talking about, which was highly likely.

Fromage in Motion

Fromage in Motion

She and her friend got up and went to the dining car, and I had the opportunity to say to her mom what I had just been thinking, remembering about my own first kitten: “Just think of all the years of her life this cat will see, through her teenage years and high school, she might go off to college and leave the cat with you, but the cat will be there for her when she comes home to visit, or she may take it with her when she gets her own place. She could be into her 30s before she loses it. All those important years of her life shared with this one cat you are about to bring home….”

“Wow,” said her mother, “that’s right, cats live a long time and she could be married with her own children by that time.”

Her daughter returned and she pointed this out to her, to little response, but again the glance and the nod. She had to be cool in front of her friend.

Mom had to take a call from her office, even though it was Sunday and we were on the train, and there the conversation ended until they left the train halfway to my destination, when we said goodbye and good luck.

a photo of Bootsie, the gray and white cat I had growing up

My first cat, Bootsie photo © B.E. Kazmarski

I was left thinking about all the years I’d spent with cats, from Bootsie, my first cat, to those who are with me now, I’ve measured eras in cat lives. I enjoyed the thought of a responsible adult and a caring young woman adopting a shelter kitten, and hoped it brought many happy endings for the people and for those cats, and for other animals each of those children would encounter or adopt later in life, and even for other people, as we know that children learn important interpersonal lessons from animals.

And what a joy for the opportunity to share the knowledge I’d both observed and intentionally learned over the years, gleaned from both the happy and the sad events and memories. Isn’t that what I do every day through my writing and art so I can do my part to make life better for cats and all animals and the people who love them, and give people images and a voice to describe how they feel about their animal companions?

But for now, I’ll still think of the household with one or two new kittens, whichever they decided, and picture the girl with her tabby and the little boys running around with strings for the kittens to chase. It’s a very happy thought.

I’ll soon be telling the story of the orange kitten at the top of this article—another magical rescue story. All the other photos are of Lucy, Fromage and the Fantastic Four and other kittens you may have seen in my articles, but I hadn’t realized such a trend in black kittens in my house in the past several years. I’ll have to dig out those prints on film from earlier litters!

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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.


A Celebration of the Earth

cardinals on post

The Kissing Cardinals, Mr. and Mrs. feeding each other in a sweet courtship ritual.

A few years ago I answered the questions on a “What’s Your Footprint?” test on a website that gave points or demerits in accordance with how choices you made in your lifestyle affected the earth and I ended up with a negative footprint. How is that? Is it mounded up instead of impressed into the soil as footprints tend to be? No, it just meant I was below the minimum level of points for their scale. And it would have been even lower if they had listened to me about the scoring for use of a dishwasher*.

Well, big whoop for me—it’s not by any intentional virtue, though I have always tried to learn more and be careful about how much energy I used in daily activities. It began as a combination of selfishness and economic necessity, choosing what I could afford to buy and do and not wanting to simply fall in step with what I thought was a lot of wasted time and money. I was intrigued by how people managed in the days before modern conveniences and actually wanted to drop off the grid for a while to learn to live without these things, really, like, off in the woods somewhere, but not forever or even for very long, then pick and choose the ones I wanted and stay with them.

I never went all the way to the end with that, always living in a pretty conventional space but I really did examine all the things in my life and discarded what was not right for me and embraced what was. By coincidence I chose to do things that were also earthy-friendly.

I’ve gardened for 25 years, all but my first year by organic standards, and for many of those years as a vegetarian raised nearly all the food I ate, preserving what was extra for non-gardening months. I saved seeds, started my own plants from those seeds, composted everything compostable from my household including my waste paper from desk and studio and even my dryer lint.

That’s a lot of work, not composting dryer lint but gardening that intensively, and it’s not for everyone but those who love it and actively choose to do it. I really don’t know how the human race advanced when until this century people had to work so hard just to grow enough food to stay alive, and if they didn’t manage to do so they would simply die. Those are pretty high stakes, and I can see why, when modern chemicals promised and delivered growing crops with less work and less risk of loss, everyone jumped on it.

But we often don’t learn the risks of things until we’ve been actively involved in them for some time, like the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on soil and air and water and human health. When Rachel Carson wroteSilent Spring we had already been involved in use of agricultural chemicals at an increasing level for nearly two decades if we count testing and use during WWII. Rachel Carson, among others, could see the risks developing even at that early date, but others still saw rampant hunger in this country and around the world that these “modern” growing methods could alleviate, while, of course, others saw lots of money; in short, a lot of interests were at stake, and still are.

Many of the issues that determine how the earth is used and left for others are this big, involving most of the planet, like drilling for oil, clearing rain forests, implementing alternative energy resources, and seem way too big for individuals to have any impact if they either try to influence one way or the other, or simply go their own way and make other choices.

But everyday choices do make a huge difference, and simply because some issues are really too big for us as individuals to have much impact today, we don’t often realize that even a small act can much later have a bigger impact than expected, and can make change in ways we never intended. This weekend a friend hosted a “Rainbarrel Workshop” wherein people can learn not only how to make a rainbarrel but why they would want to go to the trouble. I gave him the materials I had researched and written and illustrated into an informational package the year after our community suffered a devastating flash flood, a flood that may have been mitigated though not eliminated if stormwater had been better managed.

What can a rainbarrel do?

  • One inch of rain over one square foot of roof yields about 0.62 gallons of water, though the average roof send only about 80% of the water that falls on it into the downspouts, the rest splashing off or even evaporating.
  • Multiplying by 0.8, one square foot of roof for a one inch rain gives 0.5 gallons.
  • One hundred square feet of roof (10’ x 10’) yields 50 gallons of water in a one inch rain.
  • One thousand square feet of roof (20’ x 50’) yields 500 gallons of water in a one inch rain.

So if you have one or more rainbarrels that catch your rainwater and keep it out of local streams and waterways, you are saving that many gallons of rainwater from overburdening your local system during high water events. If your neighbors also have rainbarrels your neighborhood is potentially saving thousands of gallons of stormwater.

Plus, you can use those gallons of water to wash your car or water your garden, saving on your utilities.

And when we host rainbarrel workshops usually about two dozen people attend, learn all these facts and spread them on, plus they met other like-minded people they otherwise wouldn’t have, and a community is formed.

Yes, maintaining a rain barrel, being careful about what you use on your lawn, turning off the water while you brush your teeth, combining trips in the car or sharing rides and myriad other choices you make do cause change, in you and in your environment.

But no one person can do it all. I drove a 35 mile round trip to work for ten years, all by myself on the highway instead of carpooling or trying to find public transportation or moving closer to where I worked while I was living off my little back yard. And I hate to think of what I’ve done to the earth in terms of cat litter over the years I’ve been rescuing cats and living with about nine at once for most of that time.

So do you choose to drive a distance to purchase organic produce or do you save the fossil fuels and visit a local grocery where produce might be grown with various amounts of chemicals? Do you choose to use wind-powered energy when you’re reading that thousands of migrating birds and bats are killed by wind turbines, or maybe they’re not? And information keeps changing?

In the end, it’s more about being aware and making choices than it is about following rules. Make an informed choice, and do what you can. We all leave a footprint of some sort, but we can wisely choose where we step and how heavily we walk.

I’m happy to pass along the things I’ve researched and learned over the years in my features Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat and Living Green With Pets. In my “other life” outside of writing about and painting and photographing and doting on my cats, I am a Master Gardener and it’s been my pleasure to work with a number of environmental organizations for years in writing and illustrating newsletters, brochures, websites, advertisements and other professional communications.

*About that dishwasher: the test claimed that the most modern dishwashers were more efficient than filling a sink with water to wash and rinse your dishes so the energy and water used by the dishwasher and the residue left by the soap you used left a smaller footprint than washing in the sink. I commented that I’ve seen people use more water to rinse their dishes before they even went in the dishwasher than I used to wash and rinse, but they didn’t go for that. I didn’t get any extra points for looking out the window and singing to myself while I washed by hand instead of watching TV or engaging in some other activity that might use utilities generated by fossil fuels and creating pollution either. Darn.

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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.


Feline Stress Relief

two black cats on lap

Giuseppe and Mr. Sunshine on a day when I apparently need a little more stress relief.

Giuseppe took a beating from me yesterday, picked up and squeezed, flipped over and pummeled, his skin pulled and kneaded in great handfuls, even his ears and tail and legs pulled and stretched in different directions.

But he’s a big sturdy kitty and can take this sort of treatment, understanding that this is sometimes the consequence of being on mom’s lap near the end of an overloaded week on a somewhat stressful day—for her at least. He actually enjoyed it, purring heartily all the while and sitting up expectantly on my lap, waiting for the next round of manipulations.

three cats on lap

Cookie, Kelly and Mimi make the day easier.

I often say I’m grateful for sharing my life with animals and with cats especially, and with these cats in particular, and this is one reason why—they understand what I’m doing and I think they even show up just when I need them to.

After more than 30 years of typing, first on typewriters, then as a typesetter on a computer keyboard beginning in the early 80s, I have no small amount of twinges and stiffness and minor damage to the muscles, nerves and tendons in my hands. Add to this the art and craft, painting, framing, crocheting and even gardening and home repairs, and my hands take quite a beating. I am as careful as possible never to push them beyond limits I recognize. What would I do without my hands?

When I’m feeling the effects of overuse in my hands, what better to do than pet a cat? Stretching my fingers and palms and stroking soft fur is soothing to both my hands and my self, their energy seeping up into my palms and fingers, mine released and dissipated into their fur as their warmth eases tired, cramped muscles, especially when simply I tuck my hands completely underneath them, and they begin to purrrrrr…………..

two black cats on lap

Giuseppe and Mewsette provide double the relaxing purrs.

And on a day in a short week where two large projects have overlapped, several jobs need to meet deadlines and situations arise and things aren’t getting done and there’s an issue with another project and the phone is ringing off the hook and there just isn’t enough time for it all, Giuseppe has stretched himself across my lap and I am using the loose skin along his back and neck as a living stress ball, kneading him as if he is bread dough, folding sections of skin against the palm of my left hand and then my right in turn, much the same way he kneads me when he is so inclined.

I talk to a customer, enforcing the schedule for printing and that we can’t wait until next week to finish something, it has to be today, holding the phone with my left hand and calmly talking while I gently pull on the tips Giuseppe’s long pointed ears with my right, first one ear, then the other; he pushes himself up on his elbows and tilts his head in anticipation, kneading my skirt vigorously with his front paws, squinting and purring.

Then I practice my drumming on his abdomen while I think through a design problem while the customer is waiting for the proof and I can’t come up with an idea, keeping time and beating out patterns with my fingertips and the day is flying by while Giuseppe air kneads.

photo of peaches on my lap

Peaches guarding mom's lap.

Several things completed in short order, calls to printers to check scheduling, calls from customers who will be off for Good Friday, all resolved for the moment, I sit back as Giuseppe has rolled over onto his back with my occasional drumming so I can drum on his belly and chest, but I stop drumming and shove my hands underneath him, enjoying the warmth and rumble of his purr on my hands and wrists and wiggle my fingers underneath him, causing him to wriggle in joy and wave his legs around in the air.

Then I slide my arms under him and pick him up and squeeze him against me, kissing him on the cheek and forehead and making questionable noises into his chest and belly. He licks my face and gets his paws tangled in my hair. I set him down and begin kneading again and tell him it’s time to get the heck away from this computer for a while. I know he understands me, whether it’s because this particular phrase is always followed by me standing up and heading for the kitchen or somewhere else that is not my desk or he truly understands me when I’m speaking which I don’t doubt, but he is up on my desk waving his tail happily, reaching a paw for me and ready for the next activity, whatever that may be. He is energized by this, knowing he’s played an important role in my day and helped me in a way only he can. Giuseppe is very pleased with himself.

holding two black cats on lap

Petting two black cats at once on a very busy day.

The day is not over, nor is it the first or last day of this nature, and I freely admit that I enjoy the excitement of it all, most of the time. It’s what I accepted along with choosing to work at home in this field. I am truly grateful to the generations of understanding cats who feel it’s part of their life’s mission to help mom get through the day and who enjoy it as much as me.

Here are a few other posts including cats on my lap—that one-handed photography is a real trick!

And when they can’t fit on my lap or I move around too much they provide stress relief right on my desk, like Giuseppe’s performance the other day!

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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.


Mimi This Morning

black cat on table

Mimi This Morning

Last year on this day, I fell in love. Or I realized I had fallen in love long before. Surely, when kittens are tiny, momcat doesn’t mind if her babies get the spotlight, a friend was interested in adopting Mimi when the kittens were weaned, and I think Mimi was not of the mind to have her heart broken again by a human. When Mimi arrived with her babies on July 29, 2007 we had a history, and weren’t sure we had a future. But we looked at each other that morning and realized we had forever.

It’s not any special day, just a nice sunny morning on a day I get to stay home all day to work.

Mimi follows me all around the first floor of my house, up and down the steps a few times, then settles into the bathroom as I take my shower and get ready for the day, talking to me in her little “eep!” and “meee…” noises. Mimi is petite and beautiful, but her voice is kind of an afterthought.

Sometimes you just love a kitty at first sight, but sometimes it sneaks up on you later. That would be Mimi and me.

At every opportunity, I reach out to pet her, pull playfully on the end of her tail, answer her comments and invite her to come along with me in what I’m doing. She hardly needs the invitation as she stops to wrap herself around my legs, jumps up on a counter and reaches out to touch me, give me head butts me wherever she can and rubs her face on me, making full, extended, direct eye contact whenever possible. Later she settles on my keyboard shelf nestling her little bottom against my right wrist, stubbornly refusing to adjust her position for my typing comfort, meaning that half of what I type must be deleted and retyped.

Prior to her coming to my house she and I had actually had a few conflicts as she constantly hunted in my back yard to take live kill to her endless kittens, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mimi came to me with her babies, and I admit I gave nearly all my attention to them—and who wouldn’t, seeing four perfect little black kittens…especially after having recently lost one of her other perfect black kittens?

But though I interacted with the kittens more often than Mimi, I didn’t insist that she stay with her babies and let her wander the house at will. She quietly and carefully explored, having no conflict with my other four cats, settling on the floor by the front door where it was cooler that August to rest her belly after nursing. Then she’d gracefully jump onto the end of my desk and tiptoe to the center where I was, carefully walking among Namir, Cookie, Peaches and Kelly, and finding a tiny spot for herself, rolling herself into a compact black ball, not to sleep, but to spend time with us as I worked.

What a nice kitty, I remember thinking, though she rarely interacted with me directly. Her former owner had told me she had been kind of distant, and this is what I saw of her. A friend was interested in adopting her when the kittens were weaned so I kept note of her personality to tell her future person, and not to be concerned if she wasn’t a lap cat.

As time has passed, I guess Mimi had the same realization as Cookie years ago, that she wasn’t going to be tossed back out, that she actually belonged here, and she began spending more time with me, and I continued to admire her petite figure and natural grace and encouraged her to join me. Then she began to seriously play and also assist me in daily tasks, following me, talking to me, and now and then sitting on my lap, though with three senior kitties those opportunities were few and far between. After raising six litters of kittens, Mimi is nothing if not patient.

When Peaches was still here, Mimi joined the senior girls to eat and hang out, though she’s hardly a senior with the need of extra meals, but to let me know she was “special”. She became one of my ladies in waiting along with Cookie and Kelly, and always sleeps next to me on the bed every night. She’s had time and space to develop her personality, learn to be a fun kitty, and trust a human, and though she’s still petite and quiet, she’s hardly the kitty who came in the box with her babies.

I have found homes for dozens of kittens and cats over the years. After a certain period of time, over a year perhaps, foster kitties stop being foster kitties for me and end up being permanent kitties unless I am keeping them for someone, as I did in keeping Dickie for my niece for a year. I love and care for them before that, but end up falling in love with all my kitties at some point, fosters or not.

So Mimi and I decided this is a serious thing, and that we really more than like each other. I know that kitty look that says, “thank you,” and the one that says, “I love you.” Does it balance out the losses suffered from living with so many cats? Perhaps, but it also adds another unique gem on the strand of the feline loves in my life.

Love at first sight is sweet, but sometimes realizing a perfect love has been there all along is much sweeter and long-lasting. This morning, Mimi sits on my keyboard shelf with her little fanny on my right wrist making it difficult to type well, but this is our thing. You know how it is when you’re in love.

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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.


Litter-ary Cats: T.S. Eliot

orange and white cat on piano bench

One of the reference photos for a portrait of my long-ago orange boy, Allegro.

I majored in English in college, and when in my junior year I studied Modern Poetry and encountered the following lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

…I thought I was imagining a descriptive that sounded an awful lot like a cat.

But modern poets didn’t write about cats, I knew that for sure.

The professor pointed out, however, that there was a section of cat imagery in this poem along with isolated lines here and there, and noted that T.S. Eliot regularly used feline imagery in his poetry. I remember he seemed reluctant to admit this fact. I was thrilled.

I knew there was a reason I liked this poet’s work from the first word (and still do). And that was even before I knew about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. My professors barely mentioned that one. Imagine a world-renowned, much-respected modern poet writing a book of silly cat poetry.

But write it he did, and it’s one that every cat lover should read. When I found this volume, I knew T.S. Eliot was a complete cat lover.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.

Now, does that sound like something you’d sing to your kitty when you were sure no one else could hear? And I guess it was moving enough to inspire Andrew Lloyd Webber to write one of history’s most popular  musicals, Cats, which is based on this book. However, even if you have seen the musical I recommend every cat lover read the original book. Webber took liberties with the original story, including the little portion about Jellicle cats I’ve included above which are truly only black and white cats, and that and the entire story make a little more sense when you read it in the original form.

black cat bathing on bed

Don't Look!

I don’t have a recommended volume—mine is incorporated in a huge heavy anthology of Eliot’s works which I treasure, but you can find a link to one of the original volumes of Old Possum in Google books in which the pages are displayed by permission of publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You don’t get all of the book or even the good parts, but it will give you a taste of what the book is all about and you’ll see the illustrations from that era, really cool and inspiring to me.

Better yet, visit your local public library where you’ll usually find at least one published copy of the book in either children’s or adult’s literature. The illustrations are wonderful in every version. In fact, find more than one!

One of the Fantastic Four, little Jelly Bean, is, in fact, a Jellicle Cat, hence his name, in part; also his nose looks like a shiny black jelly bean. Silly me. But he is very pleasant to hear when he caterwauls.

But Webber and Trevor Nunn didn’t stop with Old Possum. They also used imagery and text from two other of Eliot’s poems for the production’s big hit, “Memory” and no doubt took a lot of inspiration for the story from Eliot’s other poetry. Despite the fact the musical is about cats and much of it can be taken lightly, it’s about cats’ rough and often tragic life on the streets and much of Eliot’s poetry reflects the often rough and tragic lives of humans, with a liberal sprinkling of metaphorical cat hair.

The lyrics and no doubt inspiration for “Memory” come from two of Eliot’s other poems, Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy NightWith a quick read into each of these poems you’ll find imagery and actual lyrics used in “Memory” as well a few more feline images and references. This article on Yahoo Network describes all the references in the cited poems; this article on Wikipedia offers a little more about the lyricists and melody.

orange cat in sunshine

Allegro

And years after I first found the allusion to the yellow cat in Prufrock (above), when I lost my yellow cat on a soft October night when he was the young age of 10, I remembered this verse and thought how much it reminded me of my Allegro, and still does, years later. I look forward to finally painting his portrait on the piano bench, using the photo at the beginning of this article.

And as I write poetry about my own cats and move to subjects beyond I gratefully return to Eliot and my first introduction to the use of imagery in writing. In much the same way observing my cats taught me about the skills of visual representation, no other subject could have taught me the delicate lesson of dancing around technical description with words and sounds and rhythms to create a vision for my reader than to use something so visually inspiring to me, and which I loved so much, as a cat.

You may not find too many other cats in literature, but finding authors who lived with and were inspired by cats are frequent to the point of common. Mark Twain, author of the famous quote about crossing cats and humans and degrading the cat, had many cats who don’t appear in his fiction but do appear in his essays. Ernest Hemingway kept many cats in his Florida home, famously polydactyl (possessing multiple toes), the descendants of whom still live on the property he occupied in Florida. Read about Twain and Hemingway along with other authors on the Winn Feline Foundation blog in “Famous Cat Loving Authors and Pet Names”.

I’ve also written a “Litter-ary Cat” article about Mark Twain.

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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.


Feline Faith and Understanding

Peaches knows the door will open if she looks at the doorknob long enough.

This was one of my very first posts on The Creative Cat a little over three years ago—wow, here is little Peaches just being herself, the Fantastic Four were 18 months old, I know Cookie was right there with me because I have more photos from this particular morning, as was Namir, who was actually the inspiration for this blog and whose image is in the header.

Sometimes persistence is a very physical thing, sometimes it’s more cerebral.

Cats dislike closed doors, and will have you come and open the door just so they can look inside and see if there may have been anything that might at some time have been of interest to them. After even only a quick cursory glance, they may see that there was nothing of interest in there after all, and will simply walk away without apology. After all, you exist to fulfill their needs, and their needs aren’t all that great—what does it take to open a door, or put out some food, or move over in bed, or toss the toy, or pet them for the 32 seconds or two hours they want? Oh, and there are several other things that should be done, but we can leave these for another posting.

My house is very small, and without very many doors. The ones that exist are rarely closed, except those to the outside.

In this case, however, the door in question is the entry to what may be seen as “the good life” by the feline members of my household. This is the Spare Kitty Room, as I have no need for a spare bedroom, and often it actually contains a spare kitty, a rescue of some stripe or other, or a foster.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

Peaches continues to look at the doorknob.

It can also contain a sick kitty, one who is actively ill with some acute or chronic illness as rescues or very rarely a regular resident may be, or one of the very seniors who needs a little extra care. Often, the room is only used as an observation area to isolate which kitty has been leaving the really awful stuff in the box, or to see if if someone can pee.

Now, why would they associate a room with “the good life” which I associate with illness and recovery? For the same reason I was always envious of my accident-prone brother—he got all the attention, the extra gifts, the time out of school, lots of special treatment I never got! Both humans and felines can easily forget or ignore the side effects of illness when there is some treat involved.

In this case, the room is warm and cozy with the best bed, one’s own litterbox, usually special food and sometimes it’s available all day, not this ungenerous twice-daily dash for the dishes before it’s taken away again. A nice window with a bird feeder directly outside provides entertainment, and, because the Spare Kitty Room sometimes doubles as my art studio where I perform non-computer-related activities, they get special time with mom, and having mom’s lap to one’s self in a house with multiple cats is apparently worth more than food.

Right now, Kelly is in there because she was the one found to be emitting the nasty stuff in the box. She is very upset by the existence of Mimi’s Children, so she’s in the room having quiet time and getting special attention.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

Peaches is still looking at the doorknob.

So Peaches will patiently sit and look up at the doorknob, sometimes dozing off. Peaches is very sweet and I love her to pieces but I don’t think Peaches is the type of cat who reflects—in fact, I think her mind is most often nearly empty with only one thought at a time taking up a small portion, and that usually having to do with food or mylap. She is 18 years old and her age may have something to do with this, but I don’t think Peaches was ever the introspective sort, just quiet and consistent, pretty straightforward.* I’m not sure she’s even considering why she’s looking at the doorknob, only that if she does it long enough, she will get some sort of reward. Her focus can stay entirely on the doorknob, and when the door opens it can move to what is waiting inside.

I know she’s up there right now, waiting.

*Underneath that understated exterior, Peaches is a very creative thinker as I discovered when she considered becoming a photographer—read “Area Senior Cat Finds Muse in Photography” in the writing area of my website.

Read more about Peaches, the kitty I adopted at age 15 and who lived to be 20, It’s Peaches 100th Birthday!

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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.


Things I Found in the Woods, 2012

fern frond in the woods

A delicate fern frond reaches for the sun from last year's dried stems.

Every year the winter opens up to a few days of warm intoxicating sun and mud in January and often in February, and I’ve run outside to celebrate the day. This year it was February 5, two days after Cookie died, and as I enjoyed the warm day and remembered this poem, I knew exactly what I wanted to create as a dedication to my faithful heart cat, my best friend.

I originally wrote this poem in 2006, for Moses as I knew her body was failing and she had little time left, and originally wrote this post in February 2011. What I wrote last year about this time of year is still how I feel today, so I won’t change it, but bear in mind that its references are a year old.

And I have a link to the poem with slideshow at the end of the article along with a few notes about creating it. I have some things to learn about this, but I think I’m going to enjoy reading my poems this way, and I’m glad I could do this for Cookie.

FEBRUARY 2011—I ran out for a happy two-hour sojourn as far as I could go on the trail and into the woods to see the brilliant swatches of green here and there, the stream rushing along, birds flying crazily overhead and singing in one big chorus.

rushing stream

The water still cold but running free.

I took off my shoes and ran through the mud in my bare feet, stepping into the freezing, rushing water of the stream, climbing hills and rock faces and photographing with my camera and my mind’s eye and all my senses the exhilaration of this day, coming back with muddy feet, wild hair filled with leaves and twigs, scratches on my arms and lots of images and inspiration.

It’s a traditional respite from a frozen winter, a “spring thaw”, too early to be permanent but enough to reawaken our senses and begin stirring the life forces in all of nature.

The full moon in February is often called the “Hunger Moon”; though people have managed through the deepest extended cold of winter, their food stores put by at the previous autumn’s harvest may be near gone and a frozen landscape still surrounds with not much nourishment in sight until the first edible greens begin to sprout in March or later in far north regions. People and animals who’d made it this far would often perish if spring was too long in coming.

moss on log

Mosses leaf out and bloom.

But beneath the snow plants have been gathering energy, seeds are swelling, roots are spreading, and above the snow the days are growing longer. Just two warm days in January or February are long enough to melt the snowcover and pour it into streams, soften the top layer of loam in the woods and everything that has life will spring to life, even if only temporarily, insects hatching, mosses blooming, ferns sending spores into the wind, living just long enough to reproduce, though the parents themselves may not survive.

These in turn provide a burst of food and fresh water for birds and animals to rejuvenate and energize and prepare for the effort of the months ahead, giving birth and raising their young.

I’ve always found the spring thaw, whenever it comes, to be a magical time, a gift from our compassionate mother in nature, perhaps, the world so full of life and energy that tired souls weary of the struggle of daily existence in a harsh frozen world will be reminded of better days to come. It is a moment outside of normal chronological time that we can find peace in a chapter of hardship, difficulty or sadness.

Brilliant Memories

This day also reminded me of a similar spring thaw five years ago when I knew that my Moses was letting go. I hadn’t lost a cat in quite some time and was frightened at the prospect, though she was calm and accepting. I just happened to be in the woods for a photo assignment the day I realized Moses’ condition, and as the air was full of life around me I decided to take some time in the woods after the assignment.

It was that loving respite from my fear and worry, the life and energy around me, that filled my heart with the understanding and acceptance I needed to help Moses through her last time, and, as it turned out, four others within the next 18 months; it would not end there.

cat in garden

Moses in her garden

But now all my losses have become one and are no longer losses, not a big chasm of dark sadness but a bright collective of memories of all their lives mingled with mine in the same way I remember the turns of the seasons. Their losses are not separate from me and my life, but their lives are a permanent part of who I am and the cats I live with today as I remember being in the garden with Moses, the day I first saw Stanley with ice crystals collecting on his fur, the way the furniture was arranged when I moved in here and everyone collected on the table by the door when I left in the morning, watching Mimi outside and deciding she should come to live with me.

Their lives are not a part of my past, but of my present; just as the earth holds the memories of all that’s past and turns it into new life, so do I.

We are resilient; even after the harshest treatment has forced us to retreat and protect ourselves, we are ready again for the fullness of life when encouraging conditions return.

The Poem

I wrote the first six verses of this poem sitting on a moss and lichen-covered rock in the woods that day I realized my life was about to change with Moses’ imminent transition, then the last verse during her last few days though I was never happy with it. This year I found the words that were, well, right, for Moses and Cookie and all others and realize the poem is not about loss, but about letting go of anything you love.

Dedicated to Moses, the most gentle, loving being I have ever encountered.

Things I Found in the Woods

Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling all around
hurrying down hillsides before the freeze returns.

A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, practicing its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.

Ferns, newly-green, draped on cliffs,
fluttering like garlands in the mild, caressing breeze
gathering a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.

Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.

Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
cavorting as if winter might not return tomorrow.

An understanding that life and love are cycles,
and that the moment must be taken for what it offers
even if what it offers is not what we expect.

The strength and courage to show as much dignity as you,
and to walk this last precious part of your path with you
and when I can walk no more beside you
to let you go.

I had never before experienced the spring thaw in such wonderment at the transience of life—still winter but everything that lived was taking advantage of the moment.

So was Moses. So should I.

So I resolved just to let her follow her course and she would let me know what to do.

two cats on a pillow

On a Rainy Afternoon, Cookie and Mimi

I have kept this lesson in my heart with each of the older kitties I’ve loved since. I don’t care what’s coming for us. I love them right now, this moment.

Ten years ago I lived with a largely different group of nine cats, only Cookie and Kelly still with me from those days. Ten years from now the group will be similarly changed. But each of them from before this time and the years to come is forever a part of my life.

I knew last year at this time that Cookie and I likely wouldn’t have much more time, and here we are a year later, two weeks after she has passed. I love this photo of her and Mimi especially, and all the others of her I’ve shared and will continue to share. I took this message to heart last year and I’m glad that Cookie and I had a final year to say a long goodbye, and that I could share her with all of you.

Listen to the Poem

I have always enjoyed reading my poetry to others, and have wanted to try a little multi-media project including a slideshow of photos with narration. I am glad to create this first one for Cookie, who spent many long days and nights over 19 years staying by my side as I found my creative life.

There are no photos of Cookie or any other cats in this; though I wrote it for Moses and dedicate this project to Cookie, it is what I found I feel about love, loss, and letting go. I was led to this knowledge, of course, by my cats. Thank you kitties, as always, for showing me the way.

It’s also not timed quite right as some of the groups of images are shorter or longer than the stanza. Some of the photos I included at the end are from significant moments, for instance, the asters on Cookie’s picnic table bench from a morning Cookie and I were in the yard last October, the “Wolf Moon” in the bare tree and the sunset with the evening stars references to my mother who also passed last year at this time. Coordinating, more or less, with the second verse, the forsythia with the tiny song sparrow in the middle of it is actually from the morning of February 2 as I held Cookie on my lap and knew her process of dying had begun; it was the day of transition from winter to spring and all the birds were singing their spring songs, and a song sparrow landed very near to us and sang for a while.

I could have gotten a better microphone too, but I will stop explaining and making excuses, and I hope you enjoy it. Watch the video below or click here to see the video on YouTube, “Things I Found in the Woods”.

Also read and listen to “Pawprints and Raindrops”.

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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.


February 2, Not Just for Groundhogs, Well, Ever

groundhog

The Local Groundhog

Why all the fuss about whether or not this rodent sees his shadow?

February 2 isn’t just Groundhog Day and a holiday made by humans to break up the middle of cold winter season. It’s actually an occurrence in nature that humans have observed and found reason to celebrate long before people in Punxsutawney wanted to bring tourists to their little settlement in the woods of Western Pennsylvania.

sun and weeds

Imbolc-Brigantia-Candlemas

February 2 is exactly halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, marking the date that winter, literally, becomes spring. The seasons don’t change as if you’ve flipped a switch, but they move gradually from one to another in a cycle. The solstices and equinoxes mark the highest points of those seasons, and the cross-quarter markers in between mark the day one season has clearly blended with another. I notice this every year from my garden to the trail to just observing wildlife.

By February 2, in our modern time we notice the days have lengthened enough that there really is daylight when we leave work at the end of the day where just a week before it was still pretty dark. Ancient and not-so-ancient people saw it another way.

Nearly every culture and faith tradition has a name and celebration for this event. At the Winter Solstice, the sun stood still just long enough to make civilizations think it may have stopped moving, leaving us to suffer in the darkness and cold of winter. Then it began slowly moving again, the days lengthening so gradually that all we may notice is perhaps feeling better because there is more daylight, but ancient cultures centered feast days and celebrations around the return of life.

basket of squashes

Harvest

The full moon in February is often called the Hunger Moon because, though people have managed through the deepest extended cold of winter, their food stores put by at the previous autumn’s harvest may be near gone:

Half your wood and half your hay, you should have on Candlemas Day.

February lies ahead, often as frozen as January with not much nourishment in sight for hunter-gatherer or agrarian societies until the first edible greens begin to sprout, about a month away in early March, later in far north regions. Animals are often just as undernourished as humans, female animals are often bearing young, so hunting is usually out of the question. Yet the end was in sight and that alone was reason to celebrate in the harsh world before furnaces in the house and cars for travel and grocery stores offering food all year round.

garden in the snow

My Garden Waits

And beneath the snow plants are gathering energy, seeds are swelling, roots are spreading, and above the snow the days are growing longer. The ewes, cows, goats and the females of other livestock as well as of wild animals are beginning to produce milk in preparation for the birth of their young later in the spring.

So this day has many names to commemorate all these observations that would become celebrations to humans weary of the cold and dark: Immolc or Imbolc, translated from “in the belly” referring to mothers and their young, and the first production of milk in preparation for birth; Brigantia or St. Brigid’s Day, who welcomes the light with candles and represents the light half of the year; and Candlemas when candles for the year are blessed celebrating Jesus’ presentation at the temple and the purification of Mary are the ones best known in Western culture.

Another traditional rhyme shows us that the day had become one for prognosticating:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. But if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.

male and female cardinal

Valentine's Day

And before English and German settlers began landing on these shores, they were keeping an eye on the hedgehogs to determine if the little buggers saw their shadow on Candlemas or Brigantia morn. Other animals leave their burrows around this time as well—it’s snakes in another tradition—and you’ll often see birds pairing off. It doesn’t always happen exactly on February 2, but because the day was a longstanding cross-quarter day in the ancient calendar it’s carried the reputation of being a day for prognostication and celebration.

As with most other traditions, taking stock of things on February 2 came over on the boat with those early English and German settlers, and Pennsylvania still has many towns and neighborhoods settled all those years ago dedicated to these nationalities.

groundhog in cage

My guy going off on vacation.

So why a groundhog? Why not a groundhog? They don’t get a whole lot of credit for anything else, especially not in my garden! This is one day when a fat, smelly, not-so-pretty North American native that reminds us of a large rat can get some respect and news coverage, and that’s never a bad thing for anyone. Really, they’re kind of cute and silly, especially when they’re little, they only become oily undulating eating machines in late summer when it breaks my heart to find all the beans I’d been looking forward to are reduced to bare stems.

Why Punxsutawney? Why do they wear top hats and dress coats? You can read about the Groundhog Day tradition and about Punxsutawney on the “official website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” http://www.groundhog.org/. You can read more about the traditions of this day and this time of year through links on Wikipedia.

And with that, I hope it’s another year before I have to type the name Punxsutawney again.

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All images and text used in this article 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.


On Dying and Death, and Remembrance

angel daisies

Angel Daisies © © B.E. Kazmarski

I first posted this article a year ago as I summed up the loss of little Peaches and how her process had clearly prepared me for the loss of my mother, and how my cats often guide me through many important life events.

It is especially touching as I now work with Cookie.

A slightly edited version of this article in the Cat Writers’ Association newsletter Meow won a Muse Medallion as an “Opinion Piece, Essay, or Editorial” in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association annual Communications Contest.

January 30, 2010—I know I risk losing a lot of readers with a title like that, but this is really not a sad article unless you are working with current loss of your own.

I’ve been remembering my Peaches in a very strong way lately, feeling her little spirit walk across my desk and help awaken me in the morning. I had planned an article about remembrance in the aftermath of loss, but somehow it just wouldn’t come together, though I knew in the back of my mind both why I was remembering her so strongly and why I couldn’t focus on writing.

I recently lost my mother at age 85 after so many levels of illness in her life: decades of chronic conditions and surgeries, the lung cancer ten years ago that weakened and eventually put her in personal care, the beginnings of dementia two years ago, the move to skilled nursing a year ago, the weight loss and greater need for care all leading to the last few months of decline.

I would not compare the loss of my Peaches or any of my cats to the loss of my mother because the relationship is entirely different, but I can say that Peaches’ recent progress toward death and her quiet passing, and that of many before her, were what prepared me for understanding and accepting the progress of my mother’s passing, and this is the reason I write this on The Creative Cat.

silvery checkerspot

Silvery Checkerspot © B.E. Kazmarski

I have been lucky not to have lost too many people in my adult life. My parents were older and their parents older yet, so I lost my grandparents when I was really too young to have had a relationship with or remember them. My father died 20 years ago in the same nursing home as my mother after a recurrence of cancer and the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. I have lost a few dear aunts and uncles, but I was not part of their everyday life.

When I lost my father I was barely aware of the process of death. Twenty years later I have learned so much more, all in the daily ebb and flow of life with my cats, and I was prepared, not only for my mother’s loss but for the months-long process that led to it, and I’m anticipating the aftermath.

cabbage butterfly

Many Asters © B.E. Kazmarski

In any living being, living is an act of will, because without it a being does not thrive and eventually dies. But death is not the lack of that will to live, rather it is part of the same will as a being accepts that this physical body can no longer sustain and the body and spirit must part, but living does not necessarily end there. I make no conjectures about what happens after the body and spirit part, but for those of us who’ve felt the touch of a loved one no longer present, however brief or peripheral, I find it hard to believe that living is only accomplished in a physical body.

Especially in age and chronic or terminal illness, the process of death is the same in any being; at some point the person or animal realizes that the body has lost its potential for renewal, for self-support and will eventually stop functioning. Referencing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, each individual goes through the same process though with different means and at different rates, but eventually arrives at acceptance.

st john's wort

St. John's Wort © B.E. Kazmarski

Even though animals can’t speak in human words, the depth of our relationship understands communication beyond, or perhaps even before, the use of spoken language, and we perceive and understand many things sometimes without consciously realizing.

From late last summer I’ve been having an increasingly difficult time staying organized, focusing on anything for as long as I am accustomed, also feeling restless and distracted, sometimes fearful or angry, without any obvious reason for it. I may have a reputation as being a scattered and abstracted creative person, but I’m actually organized and efficient or I’d never be able to run my business and take care of my home and cats and affairs for my mother and brother, so this wandering lack of focus was not at all like me, and it was also very distressing because I really need to stay focused to support myself and make sure all is done correctly for two disabled people.

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

Years ago when I was walking my 25-year-old Stanley through his final months I experienced this same distracted period, these flashes of fear and helplessness that didn’t seem to originate with me, and I realized I was actually perceiving what he was feeling as he accepted his own passing in addition to my own process—and no doubt he was sharing my process. I remember looking into his big green eyes as we both understood this and felt relieved that we weren’t experiencing it alone anymore, and though the distractedness continued, I understood. I have experienced this same wandering focus, periods of fear or anger with each of my losses since—and likely before as well—but now I am prepared and understand that, when this begins, they understand they are in the final part of their process and their passing won’t be long in coming.

silvery checkerspot on butterflyy weed

Silvery Checkerspot on Butterfly Weed © B.E. Kazmarski

I knew that a part of what I was feeling this past autumn was my process with Peaches as she gracefully accepted the slow deterioration of her body’s functions through renal failure and simply age. As September passed she needed her sub-cutaneous fluids more often and supplements in addition to her food as her appetite began to wane. One Saturday in mid-October she refused food and supplements and told me she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and she was okay with that. I gave her fluids and little sips of milk and bits of supplements, but she let her body follow its will and gently went into her end stages the following Tuesday night. I sat with her all night long as she slowly faded until morning when she showed some signs of pain and I called my veterinarian (read “Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye”).

sweet peas and vetch

Sweet Peas and Vetch © B.E. Kazmarski

After Peaches passed, though, I still felt the pull of another loved one, the distractedness and restlessness. In November our quarterly meeting at the nursing home discussed my mother’s lack of appetite, weight loss and increasing frailty and difficulty swallowing and feeding herself, though she was not withdrawn. After a hospital stay in November we decided to implant a feeding tube in case the issue was that she just didn’t like her pureed food and thickened drinks (she really hated them) and just couldn’t nourish herself enough, hoping she’d gain weight and strength. In the same case at home, I might have tried a few force-feedings of one of my cats just in case they simply weren’t strong enough to eat and sustain themselves, hoping their appetite would take over, but stopping the feedings if it didn’t.

By December there was no difference in my mother, and I knew that nothing we did would change her now. My mother was accepting her end, in the same way Peaches had looked at me and let me know she wasn’t going to eat anymore, and it was what was meant to be. I have no doubt that Peaches showed me her process in preparation for what would come with my mother; I took daily care of Peaches and was intimately aware of what was happening with her, but my mother’s care was in others’ hands and it was a little more difficult to determine what was happening even through visiting.

forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots © B.E. Kazmarski

If I was distracted and restless before, I was about as non-functional as I’ve ever been in January, sleeping odd hours, sitting and looking out the window for minutes at a time without realizing, nearly incapable of visualizing a complete design idea along with more and more odd behavior, and every time the phone would ring I jumped and grabbed it. I let this continue, knowing there wasn’t much I could do. The nursing home called early January 20 saying my mother needed to go to the hospital, and while she seemed to be stabilizing she had a crisis Monday morning and we decided on comfort measures rather than life support because she would not have survived the condition, remaining on life support indefinitely. My sister, brother, two great-granddaughters and I took turns sitting in her room for her last two days.

Even though I knew that Peaches and my other cats had gone into some painful distress in their last few hours even after gently fading, I had no means of alleviating that distress or any other pain other than calling my veterinarian for a painless euthanasia. Humans, though, have a morphine drip and any other means the hospital can provide to assure the end is as painless as possible so I wouldn’t have to fear helplessly watching a painful end with my mother.

dogwoods

Dogwood © B.E. Kazmarski

And now after the processes of planning, meeting, greeting and thanking, I am remembering my mother, still accepting her passing as I will be for some time to come. I am grateful for the gentle guidance of the felines who’ve entered my life to teach me life lessons in addition to living their own agendas. I understood my own months of inner turmoil as normal and I was more prepared for her passing than I would have been otherwise. I won’t fuss and fret when I encounter a photo or a passing memory of my mother months from now and have a little cry, I’ll know that’s a natural part of my process of accepting her passing.

And I think little Peaches has been wandering about to comfort me in a way she could not have in life with our concern and treatment in her geriatric condition, and also to bring me quiet comfort in the way no other being could. After all, she lost her first human mom before she came to me, so she had an extra special lesson to teach me.

family

All of us

Here are the four of us about ten years ago, my mother, my sister, me and my brother. This photo was from my film camera, and I just couldn’t get to the box of prints to scan it again; I scanned it from a print I had made, which is rather faded, but it still gets the point across.

I hosted a poetry reading last week, just two days after my mother died. I decided to go through with it since all my immediate family could be there and it was a wonderful opportunity to share my mother with other people. I wrote a poem the night she died, and I’ve also posted that on “Today”.

I will write soon about Peaches, and many other things, now that I can focus and time is not so compressed.

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All images and text used in this article 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 Honor of Rescue

pawprint in ice with snow

Pawprint

The thermometer registered 14 degrees this morning as the sun finally rose on a frosty morning in my neighborhood.

And there were fresh feline pawprints in the light dusting of snow across the yard and up the steps to my deck along with prints embedded in the ice underneath. It could have been that tough tabby tom cat with the white paws who gets the Fantastic Four all upset when he trots through our yard—tom cats often seem immune to just about anything in the world around them with their single-minded intent and they seem impervious to life-threatening cold—or it could have been one of the other cats I’ve seen outdoors, some who I know belong to someone, others who might be stray, escaped, left behind, tossed outdoors. I’ve been monitoring the population in my little section of the neighborhood in the same way for the 21 years I’ve lived in this house.

Just a nice tabby cat sunning himself on the porch.

But one cat who is not outdoors on this brittle morning is Skeeter, who was the first cat I thought about as I felt the cold seep through two doors, and glad that though he lost his struggle to injury and infection, he hadn’t died alone and slowly freezing to death.

Did he know this was on its way when he came to my neighbor and friend Peg Bowman for assistance last weekend? Or had the abscess encircling his neck only become so intolerable that he would, in his own proud way, indicate that humans had some purpose in his life and that was to make him more comfortable?

Or had he perhaps remembered somewhere back in his dim past the love and affection of a human, someone who had chosen him and loved and petted him and sought that remembered comfort?

We rarely know the stories of stray cats who show up as if from nowhere, who may even come to our doors in their own way asking to share our company. A neighbor’s cat who likes your yard? A lost cat on its way home? An unintentional escapee trying to make its way in an unfamiliar world? A feral cat simply following the paths of other cats on its way to another food source?

We will never know how Skeeter came to be living outdoors as an intact male cat at the impressive age of at least eight to ten years, perhaps more. We know he wasn’t feral since he was too comfortable with the presence of humans and let Peg pet him after putting forward some objections and informing her he really was a rough, tough guy. But did he escape as a kitten before he was neutered, or was he intentionally not neutered as some cat owners choose not to do, was he simply not wanted in the first place, a little tabby kitten from an unintended litter foisted on someone who really wasn’t interested in the first place, thereby entering the stream of cats living outdoors to roam and reproduce?

cat in blanket

Skeeter after some pain meds.

Though we thought he had a chance of survival and we knew any recovery would be long and complicated, he came to us for human help, showed us he had a great will to live and we gave him the best we could. He in turn did the best he could, and though he died in surgery, his belly was full, he was hydrated and comfortable, had been treated gently and respectfully by the people around him, and he was already under anesthesia and felt no pain. Most important of all to us and, I think, to him, he was not outdoors, alone, in freezing rain, snow and brutal cold on his last days.

And apparently hundreds of other cat lovers felt the same as Peg and I circulated his story. We never doubted we were doing the right thing by Skeeter, and were sincerely heartened by the comments and even donations of others who supported our decision and helped with the costs of his medical care and were there with sincere condolences when we reported his death. I’ve always said that people who love animals are the best people in the world, and whether it’s an injured kitten or a battered tom cat they will give freely whatever support they can.

I’ve been rescuing cats for about 30 years, have had my share of cats approach me for help, seen my share of injuries and abuse and life and death. Peg is a long-time cat owner but somewhat new to rescue with her own two shelter cats indoors and at least one “porch cat”. She is already aware of cats in the neighborhood; when Skeeter showed up and she realized the extent of his injuries she didn’t question if she should do something only what was best to do for Skeeter. I am flattered that she called me and that I could be there to guide her and support her decisions. She’ll soon be volunteering with Animal Advocates in Pittsburgh; another cat rescuer in training.

And as she and I communicated on the phone, in e-mail, on Facebook and face to face on her porch and in the emergency clinic, we discussed not only his survival but also his death, and agreed that if treatment didn’t work, then walking the last part of life’s path and helping a living creature find a painless death was no less an honor than helping it live.

But the best part of rescuing cats is ending up sharing my life with my own rescues, those who’ve ended up staying with me, or should  I say more accurately “those who have come to rescue me”, and made my life the better for their love and taught me the importance of each individual cat.

So this crusty old tom cat, as was my impression of him, lived life on his own terms and is probably raising a lot of hackles with salty stories of life on the streets up there at the Rainbow Bridge, but I’m honored to have shared his last days and helped a friend give comfort to another living creature.

Other articles about Skeeter:

Skeeter’s Diagnosis

What’s the Matter?

Skeeter on Life With Cats

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