Sally Sitting in Speckles, a Vintage Photo

long-hairred white cat sitting in the sun

Sally Sitting in Speckles, 1993.

Time to break the feline color trend with daily photos with a vintage photo from tortie or black—to pure white!

This is my white cat, “pet quality” Angora, the wild woman Sally. She was deaf as a post and sweet as sugar as long as you weren’t trying to do something dastardly like clip claws or trim the knots from her fur. We got along fine as soon as I quit thinking I knew what was best for her, though I did manage to sneak up on her and clip here and there now and then at great risk to the quality of my own skin.

Sally was so much fun to live with, not caring a thing for being deaf she would race around the house at top speed just for the joy of running, litter-ally running over any other cat in her path, then reporting back to me, landing like thistle down on a table or shelf near me and mumbling happily to herself and purring, her nose and ears brilliant pink and eyes bright pea green, wanting love and kisses.

Here, though, she fell asleep in the late-day spring sunshine, sitting in the middle of the floor. She lived in a very happy little world entirely of her own making.

I chose this photo for today because it was taken just about exactly 20 years ago, in March 1993 when Sally was about 10, and the light coming in the dining room window reminded me of this and a few other photos. But we needed a white cat for once!

This article tells a little more about Sally and her deafness: My First “Less Adoptable” Kitty.

Read more about Sally here.

______________________________

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.


Awakening, A Special for Valentine’s Day

awakening block print with red mat

Awakening, matted and framed, linoleum block print © B.E. Kazmarski

Quote reads: “‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’–Anatole France. Dedicated to my prince and princess and all those since who’ve awakened their part of my soul.

Because they opened my heart and awakened my soul, I have a special piece of artwork on Valentine’s Day.

“Awakening” is a linoleum block print, 16″ in diameter, printed in water-based ink on handmade white rice paper. For Valentine’s Day I’m offering a print matted with a rich red mat to encircle your feline loves.

ABOUT THE CATS

“Awakening” was inspired by my close companions Kublai and Sally who ran the household together for about 12 years and who actually slept curled like this. I enjoyed following the inspiration to combine the image of the two cats with the decorative border simply made of shapes and patterns that were both attractive and easy to cut in a block print.

detail of awakening block print

Detail of Kublai

I had seen the quote in a number of different places, and of all the quotes about how animals fill our souls this one, the concept of awakening, I found most moving. These two cats, especially Kublai, the “original” black cat, were a major part of my awakening not only to animals but to love in general.

Aside from the fact that they were both loving, friendly and social, they were complete opposites in the way they expressed this love and were as different in temperament as they were in color and texture as the loose reference to yin and yang illustrates.

In their own ways they nurtured about 30 foster cats of widely differing ages and social abilities, just as they nurtured me in the years they shared my life.

detail of awakening block print

Detail of Sally

“Kublai” is somehow derived from the word for “prince” in Sanskrit, and “Sally” is derived from the word for “princess”—Sarah—in Hebrew.

Block printing is a technique wherein the artist carves the surface of a piece of linoleum, leaving raised areas which will become the image. Ink is rolled onto these raised areas, then a piece of paper is pressed against the block and when it’s lifted away the ink remains, leaving the image on the paper.

I also print this image on textiles, such as t-shirts, curtains, tablecloths, shawls and tote bags! Please check my apparel and housewares categories to see what’s currently available.

Because of the nature of the medium, each print is unique and ink coverage is not always perfect. Most artists consider this random activity to be part of the process of creating an individualized print, and along with the hand-painting makes a unique work of art. ”

mat and frame for print

Mat and frame for print.

ABOUT THE PRINT

Mat is an acid-free rich red, my favorite shade to coordinate with plain black and white block prints; not too bright, not too dull. I cut the circular mat myself in my studio; the narrowest portion of the mat is 1.5″. The frame is a 1″ wide plain black matte-finish wood. The final framed size is 21″ x 21″.

I have two matted and framed prints available in my Etsy shop.

________________________

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.


My Feline Garden Sprites

photo of two cats in a garden

Namir and Cookie inspect my gardening.

I first posted this article in April 2009 as Namir and Cookie and I finished cleaning up the garden for another gardening year and republished it again in 2010 in honor of Peaches 100th birthday, and now in 2011 in honor of Senior Pet Awareness Month. A number of cats have grown to their senior years here, and one of the treats they get is to carouse in the backyard with me as I garden; the sunshine and fresh air is so invigorating for them and we can enjoy that little bit of extra time and special memories.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

It’s a joy to share the time and the experience with them, but with a flicker of sadness, 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. It means they are old enough to want to stick with me while I’m out in the garden, old enough that our time is limited and these will be our golden memories. It’s a tradition when the old ones get to be this old that they also get to enjoy time outdoors with me.

Because animals live shorter lives than we do, chances are we will outlive them. And if we adopt and foster a number of animals, we’ll live through that many losses. It never gets easy, but with the awareness gained from each loss, watching the oldest grow into their senior years is less shocking and painful. Animals are so graceful about aging, not like us fretting about gray hair and memory loss. The brevity of their lives may seem unfair to us, but that span is normal for them. The lesson is to enjoy them in this moment while preparing for the unavoidable, but not to dwell on either.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Artist’s Life: Early Feline Influences and Memories

birthday card with kitten

Did this birthday card predict my future?

When you are a “cat person”, it seems to begin with day one and work its way all through your life to the end, with cats intertwined with everything in between.

Cleaning out, renovating and organizing my spare bedroom into my studio has unearthed more works from my development as an artist. I first published a shorter version of this post last May as over the Memorial Day weekend I was reorganizing my house after moving my mother into a skilled nursing unit, sorting through boxes from her storage unit. In addition to my own boxes of papers and mementos I’ve been sorting things I found in boxes from her house, sold years ago but which I neglected to review until now  last year, and some of what I’ve found in all this has given me surprising smiles. I had no idea people knew I was a “cat person” even before I had a cat!

Some of these items either gave me encouragement to love kitties, or they inspired me in some way as an artist. I also have an extensive collection of cat figurines given to me as gifts in those early years even before I had a cat, but I’ll cover that another day! For now, remembering those early years is a treasure in itself.

So looking at a few of the things I’ve found, here’s an interesting perspective on how I got to where I am as a keeper of cats and as an artist.

Read the rest of this entry »


My First “Less Adoptable” Kitty

black and white photo of white cat

Sally

This is one of those “happily ever after” stories we promised you yesterday. We never knew Sally because she lived with our mom before the world began when we were born. But Cookie and Kelly remember Sally—that’s how long ago it was! We can’t imagine a kitty who was ALL WHITE because we are ALL BLACK, but even our Mimi mom understands that often cats with all white fur can’t hear and for some reason her original person didn’t want her. But from hearing how Sally ran around just for fun and found the bestest, warmest places to sleep, we know we wouldn’t care what color her fur was or what she couldn’t do!~The Fantastic Four

In this week devoted to “less adoptable pets” I have a story of a deaf kitty who shared my life for 14 years, and she was such a joy to know. One would hardly have known the difference between her and a hearing cat, nor cared! I certainly forgot.

Read the rest of this entry »


“Awakening” Block Print, hand-colored

hand-colored block print

"Awakening", hand-colored block print © B.E. Kazmarski

I had the pleasure of hand-coloring one of my favorite block prints, honoring my prince and princess, Kublai and Sally. Please read my article about the print and about my styles and variations of hand-coloring it on Portraits of Animals Marketplace.


My First “Less Adoptable” Kitty

black and white photo of white cat

Sally

In this week devoted to “less adoptable pets” I have a story of a deaf kitty who shared my life for 14 years, and she was such a joy to know. One would hardly have known the difference between her and a hearing cat, nor cared! I certainly forgot. I have also fostered other less adoptable pets and found loving homes for them, and of course, there is my famous Peaches, less adoptable because she was 15 years old, but she’s had plenty of attention here.

pencil sketch of cat in bag

In the Bag, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski, inspired by Sally

Adopted for her looks

The little deaf cat who began her life with me as a distant and defensive, emotionally neglected one-year-old grew into one of my greatest friends through our fifteen years together. A “pet quality” Angora kitten, she’d been adopted for her looks, the perennial kitten face, silky white fur, petite size. Not all white cats are deaf, but most Turkish Angora cats turn out to be, and the person who “bred” her didn’t warn the adopting party. The person who adopted her truly loved her, but between her high activity level and eventual deafness, and his schedule of being out most of every day, she became a little wild child, unaccustomed to being handled in any way. I heard later that Angora kitties are known for being physically combative and don’t necessarily like to be touched, but when I adopted Sally I thought it was just her youth and kittenhood that had influenced her personality.

photo of white cat sitting in sun

Speckle Sally Sitting, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

This was very early in my rescue career; I had two cats, believe it or not, my first cat, gray and white Bootsie, and my first cat adopted as an adult, solid black Kublai. Sally was cat number three.

A little wild child

I adopted Sally when she was about one year old from her owner who intended to give her up to a shelter because he couldn’t control her. At that age she literally bounced off the walls, knocking plenty of things around in the process. She had a limitless amount of energy and could not be handled. Worst, she attacked my older cat, Bootsie, causing her to go into an asthmatic attack. Sally’s time out room was the bathroom, which wasn’t large enough for too much movement so she’d quiet down.

"Awakening", block print © B.E. Kazmarski

I credited Kublai with taming her. He would watch her fly around and literally catch her in mid-air, pin her down and sit on her while she struggled and squealed, he looking at me telling me someone needed to do something about this little Tasmanian devil. Eventually he would let her go and she would pop out from underneath him and run off to some high spot to think about things—she never sulked or bore grudges—and eventually she quit the aeronautic adventures and began to play with toys. Best of all, she began to watch Kublai, who literally hung all over me, draped around my neck over my shoulders or with his arms around my neck and his face buried in my hair, and I could see she began to wonder about this affection thing. Before long, she was sleeping on my bed; later, she curled up on my lap one day as if she’d always been there.

pencil drawing of cat sleeping on windowsill

Sleeping Beauty, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

We were devoted

She became the cat who spent all day in the window watching and waiting for me to come home and bestowing upon me her fervent greeting when I arrived, who slept on me every single night, who followed me around the house waiting for me to sit down…She was a real free spirit, absolutely fearless, totally in the moment, unconcerned about her looks as truly beautiful creatures can afford to be, and usually off in some alternate reality.

Because she was deaf her 22 hours of sleep were undisturbed but when she was awake she was fully engaged; she had two settings, “off” and “high”. I sometimes lost her curled up in some cozy spot because she couldn’t hear when I called, but I would rap my heel sharply twice on the floor, and she would usually awaken and come to me. If that didn’t work, an open can of tuna would eventually waft to her nose and she’d come running.

Sally was one of my original garden cats, and was also the subject of the “my first piece of real artwork” (see below). “My little princess” became one of my greatest inspirations for artwork, and it was not just her luxurious looks but her emotional freedom as well which have made her the subject of several works.

Lesson number one

One October day, Sally quit eating, no drama, just stopped eating, and went for nearly two weeks eating only a bit now and then. My perceptions were in their elemental stages at that time, and I had a sense that she was leaving but I could see nothing wrong with her so I was puzzled, then panicked. Exams and tests had shown nothing wrong. It was obvious this was her choice, that she couldn’t live like this and wouldn’t live long. I picked her up and cried one day, asking her to tell me why, tell me anything, just not to leave me without knowing or just not to leave me.

That afternoon she began to eat again—cooked linguini only for a few days, then she was back on cat food. I was overjoyed, though I had no idea why she had done this. But she recovered without any issue.

white cat bathing

A Warm Bath, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

In January I was petting her and felt a small flat bump on her lower jaw, and this was what grew into the mass that eventually took  her life the following June. I understood in that moment that Sally felt the beginnings of that cancer the previous fall and decided she didn’t want to live with the condition, so she chose to just leave before it happened. She changed her mind for me, endured the pain so that I would have my explanation of her decision.

In his last days Kublai had taught me that sometimes my inner voice was actually one of my felines communicating with me. I’ll write about that moment some day, but by the time it became Sally’s time to begin saying goodbye, I had learned to recognize it.

white cat on blue stool

White Cat Reflecting, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Lesson number two

I came home from work one day about two months before she died, and she let the younger ones—at that time Namir, Kelly and Cookie—shuffle for my attention, then strolled down the “catwalk” of a table I had by the door. She stopped in front of me and looked right up into my eyes with her bright expression in those pea green eyes of hers, reached out her paw and pulled my hand to her face, licked the back of my hand twice and looked back up at me. “I love you”, I heard as clearly as if someone had said it. No, her lips didn’t move, nor did anyone else’s, it was the inner voice which I’d learned from Kublai was how they would sometimes communicate with me, when they really needed for me to know something, and Sally really needed for me to know this.

Tears welled in my eyes but I blinked them back as we held our gaze—I didn’t want to miss a moment in any sort of blur—and my unspoken response was automatic, “I love you, Sally”. I saw that sparkle in her eyes and I knew this moment was eternal. She let go of my hand, we broke our gaze and she very practically headed for the kitchen along with everyone else.

white cat walking in sun speckles

Speckle Sally Walking, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Sally was filled with the joy of being alive—she awoke every morning, gathered all her abundant energy and made every moment of the day the best it could possibly be, never spending time on what she didn’t have or couldn’t do. As all of my feline companions have taught me lessons in life and love, so Sally taught me this lesson, reinforced especially in her last days: even when her life was far from comfortable and she could barely carry out simple daily activities, she simply didn’t do what she could no longer do, and awoke and gathered what energy she had left and did what she could to make every moment, until her last, lived to the fullest.

One evening at the very end she walked in to my office, looked at me and I heard the words, “I can’t take this anymore.” I called the veterinarian the next morning.

thistle seeds

"Let Go", photo © B.E. Kazmarski

As got into my car after work a few days after I had had Sally put to sleep, a thistle seed borne on the wind by its long white down flew past my face, circled around in my car, then flew out the passenger window, and I had the strongest sense of Sally being near me. She was on her way to another life, still the beautiful free spirit she’d been with me, carried where life took her. I still love you, Sally, and I enjoy your occasional visits, borne on the wind.

_____________________________________________________

pencil drawing of cat sleeping on windowsill

Sleeping Beauty, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

“There she slept, and looked like a sleeping angel still.”—from The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault

MEDIUM: Pencil; SIZE: 18″ x 16″; 1989

This drawing is very special to me for several reasons, and not only because the subject is Sally. It was a turning point in my career as an artist; it was the first time I looked at a scene, took in all the necessary details, visualized the finished work, and actually created what I had visualized. This is what has to happen for anything I render, whether it’s a commissioned portrait from photographs or a drawing “en plein air”. Before this drawing, although I had created some works that had merit, it was all child’s play.

And of course the fact that Sally was the subject was one of the things that made it a success, which is one of the reasons I always say that my cats are the reason I am an artist today. Before that drawing, my visualization and interest had been almost entirely technical, concerned more with medium and technique. But her peaceful, relaxed posture, especially knowing what she was like when she was awake and fully engaged, made me weak with love. And as I worked I actually began to choose details that made the scene meaningful and conveyed what I felt, instead of trying to draw everything and convey only what I saw. From that experience I realized that what made good art for me was the inspiration of love, not intellect, so now, be it a cat, a flower or a sunset, I ride that swell of love as I create, and there is no art for me without it.

__________________________________________________________________

Nearly all the works you see in this article are available as prints or notecards. Please visit my website at www.bernadette-k.com and peruse “fine art and portraiture” and “marketplace online store” and also visit my shop on Etsy.


Early Feline Influences and Memories

birthday card with kitten

Did this birthday card predict my future?

Lately I’ve been distracted from writing articles I’d been planning by a few other of life’s events—ailing kitties, moving my mother to a higher level of nursing care, continuing to set up my shop and rearranging my studio now that all my merchandise is out of that room, leaving me space to work.

But these other events are not without their feline interest; when you are a “cat person”, it seems to begin with day one and work its way all through your life to the end, with cats intertwined with everything in between.

So looking at a few of the things I’ve found in my recent journeys, here’s an interesting perspective on how I got to where I am as a keeper of cats and as an artist.

The Birthday Card

So Exhibit A is a birthday card to me from my aunt and uncle which I found among my mother’s papers. I’m not sure why it was there and not among my things as most of them are, and I’m also not sure why it was among the papers where I found it. But the most remarkable thing is that it was given to me before I had a cat. My parents got me a kitten for Christmas when I was nine, but by the date on the card I could only have been seven. Had I already begun talking about how much I wanted a cat? Or was a kitty a more appropriate subject on a card for a little girl? And it’s a big card, 6-1/2″ x 9-1/2″ with pretty deckled edges.

No matter, the little kitty, the ball of turquoise yarn and flowers in her hair and around her shoulders were decidedly a portent for things to come. I don’t know if I’d create artwork like this if given the chance, but I do distinctly remember a few other kitty cards for the art, some of which I still have in my baby book or in my “inspiration files” that caught my eye all those years ago and influenced what I do today.

batik of orange kitty

The sixth-grade orange kitty batik.

The Sixth-grade Batik

Next in chronological order, among things I found while cleaning and reorganizing my studio was the orange kitty batik I completely forgot I had! I think I did this in sixth grade, and I clearly remember watching the teacher show us the batik process and visualizing the orange kitty with its paws rolled under and an orange kitty smile, like they do.

It also has echoes of The Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, long one of my favorite stories, and being an early cat person The Cheshire Cat was a favorite right away, along with The White Kitten.

But my kitty was gray and white, and to my knowledge I didn’t know an orange kitty of anyone else’s very well at all. But I actually remember painting the wax on the fabric in the correct areas and dipping the fabric into the dye, then later ironing it out onto newspaper.

Now that I look at it from the perspective of 25 years of drawing cats, I’m amazed at my 12-year-old’s observation skills and ability to visualize. What took me so long to get around to painting cats?

This had hung high up on the wall in this studio for several years, but as I added height to the shelves I took it down because it had become covered where it was hanging and packed it away. The memory of it barely entered my consciousness until I discovered it. What luck! I can’t wait to batik again! Sometime this summer will be a fantastic time in my new studio, and I’ve been visualizing in batik for a while now.

This also reminds me it’s been years since I had an orange kitty in my “permanent collection” of cats, a few fosters, but not one who stayed since Allegro passed in 1996. Finally, his portrait is on my list of new paintings…

Ceramic tile with cat

Bootsie on a ceramic tile from tenth-grade ceramics.

A Little Ceramic Tile

Next is a little porcelain tile bearing the image of my first cat, Bootsie, sitting on a windowsill that didn’t exist in the house where I grew up, but I guess I took artistic license in tenth grade. I remember the assignment was to make a relief tile from the porcelain, meaning it had a raised surface that had been carved into to form the image, and we would glaze afterward.

Bootsie was, as you see a gray and white tuxedo cat with pickle-green eyes. She was never as chunky as you see here, but I guess I had to have that cat smile until I learned how to work with cat faces.

So there she is, a little worse for the wear with a chipped corner and a big chip along the bottom edge, but still, perhaps I should consider this my first “portrait”! Perhaps I’m not correct in saying that my sketch of Sally in “Sleeping Beauty” (below) was my first “real” work because I took something in real life and managed to make it appear pretty much as I had visualized. In any case, my urge to share my love of my feline was there even at this time.

And like the batik design, I’ve lately had in mind some 3-D projects, especially little tiles or relief-type wall pieces, even flat pieces which are painted. A few years ago The Clay Place Gallery moved into town and I’ve had a great time attending shows and browsing the regular collection for ideas and gifts. I find many lovers of animals and nature among these ceramic artists!

ink sketch of cat on ladder

My first greeting card?

Beginnings of Illustrations and Cards

Then there’s a handmade greeting card which I found in my mother’s papers; my mother didn’t like animals well enough to give her a card with a cat on it but I think I just gave it to her as an example of something I was working on.

It’s an ink sketch of a kitty on a ladder in a style I’d be proud to accomplish today, but in the late 1980s, when I began working on cats in earnest, this was all new and very much inspired by a lot of study of what was current in illustration styles at the time. I loved the swirls of dots and strokes that both created patterns and shadows, and just provided interest to the non-objective space. I used the set of very expensive Rapidograph pens I’d kept from college, enjoying the feel of experimenting with lines and strokes and just seeing what I could produce.

I had one of the Workman calendars to work from because the photos were so wonderful, and it was then entirely printed in black and white so it was easy translation for me to work in monochromatic media such as ink, charcoal, pencil and textured drawing papers using other media.

There’s one thing that makes me think this was just a sample and not for general use—I drew the ladder with a ruler before sketching in the cat and the other elements of shadow and pattern. I remember at some point deciding just to freehand these types of lines and elements in my ink sketches because they just looked too stiff and, in part, defeated what I was trying to accomplish with the freehand areas.

My First Commercial Works

When I was done experimenting, I discovered I actually had photos of my own that I could use, ones I’d taken of my cats and others’ cats, and after this slow march from those early feline-oriented birthday cards through other media I finally came out with a finished work in pencil from one of my own photos. A few years later I collected four of my favorite little sketches and put together my first set of note cards.

pencil drawing of cat sleeping on windowsill

Sleeping Beauty, pencil, 1987

Sleeping Beauty

I always say this drawing was a turning point in my career as an artist; it was the first time I looked at a scene, took in all the necessary details, visualized the finished work, and actually created what I had visualized. In all the other things I’d done before, this was what I’d been trying to accomplish.

I still have this sketch, and for years Sally watched over me as I worked. Right now she’s on loan to Deb at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation so that Sally’s peaceful expression can bring comfort to Deb’s families when they visit her.

Visit my website to read more about this piece and to read a little bit about Sally, my joyful little deaf white cat who never noticed she couldn’t hear.

collage of sketches

Kitties Being Kitties note card designs

Kitties Being Kitties

And here’s the set of note cards that I still sell today. Three of them are ink sketches, and I’m sure you can clearly see the influence of the ink sketch above.

The second image of the two tabbies was drawn on a type of drawing paper called “coquille board”, a drawing board which has a mottled dot pattern impressed on its surface so that when you draw a pencil just across its surface you capture just that pattern, and in the end it serves much the same purpose as actually drawing all the dots and strokes. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll do a little article on it the next time I do a sketch using this drawing paper.

Visit my Marketplace to see these designs in more detail.

Where I Am Today

So there’s my little journey down memory lane for this memorial day weekend. I’m nearly done with both resettling my mother and reorganizing my studio and I’ll be back to work, seriously, soon, but it’s been interesting and enlightening to happen on this little review of my history as an artist. None of this is ever wasted, and likely I needed to look back at these things at this point in my career. I guess I’ll see in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.


Featured in My Etsy Shop, Sepia Miniatures Feline Photos Set

Speckle Sally Walking

Cats love to hang out in the sun, and sometimes the combination of their markings and the light and shadow can create an abstract effect, especially in black and white. I love miniatures too, especially in sets, just little accents that make a statement all their own.

See all three images and read about them on my Portraits of Animals Marketplace blog or visit my Etsy shop.


My Feline Garden Sprites

As part of celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday, this is an article I first posted a little over a year ago as Namir and Cookie and I cleaned up the garden for another gardening year. A number of cats have grown to their senior years here, and one of the treats they get is to carouse in the backyard with me as I garden. I keep a close eye on them because once or twice they’ve been known to disappear when my back is turned, but the sunshine and fresh air is so refreshing for them and I can enjoy that little bit of extra time and extra memories. Ironically, Peaches doesn’t even recognize that the outdoors exists!

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

It’s a joy to share the time and the experience with them, but with a flicker of sadness, 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. It means they are old enough to want to stick with me while I’m out in the garden, old enough that our time is limited and these will be our golden memories. It’s a tradition when the old ones get to be this old that they also get to enjoy time outdoors with me.

Because animals live shorter lives than we do, chances are we will outlive them. And if we adopt and foster a number of animals, we’ll live through that many losses. It never gets easy, but with the awareness gained from each loss, watching the oldest grow into their senior years is less shocking and painful. Animals are so graceful about aging, not like us fretting about gray hair and memory loss. The brevity of their lives may seem unfair to us, but that span is normal for them. The lesson is to enjoy them in this moment while preparing for the unavoidable, but not to dwell on either.

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

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

Out of the mixed bag of the eight or nine rescues I always seem to share my space with emerges a “couple”, a male cat and a female cat, spayed and neutered and totally unrelated except for having spent the better part of their lives together and with me. They become as the prince and the princess of the household and grow old together, growing wiser and closer to me as they age.

I am in my third “couple” now. Cookie is 17, Namir is 15 with congestive heart failure and other complicating conditions. Cookie is apparently fine though not as flexible as before, but Namir has had some close calls and spends a night or two in the oxygen cage in the emergency hospital for a “tune-up” at least once yearly since he was diagnosed four years ago. I’ve had cats live to their late teens and early twenties; even the best of care and love can’t bring back that seeming infinity of youth.

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.

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

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

Cookie (see “The Goddess” for another look at Cookie) has been my lady-in-waiting since she grew from a roly-poly tortoiseshell ball of an abandoned kitten to a generously-figured and poised tortoiseshell adult. She entered my household unresponsive to affection and “nursing” on one of her own toes for comfort, but quickly and wholeheartedly accepted that she was loved and welcome. She spends time on my lap, but more importantly she is always near, always vigilant, I’m not sure what for, but I’ve always been comforted by Cookie’s presence and perhaps that’s all there is to it. We give each other the gift of ourselves, and it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

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

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

Namir (he is in the header image on this blog, and see also “Darling Clementines”) entered my household as a foster from a friend who was returning to graduate school and just couldn’t take her two cats, and though we tried for months for find them homes they ended up here. Now one of the sweetest and most popular cats in my household—he’s even popular at the emergency hospital where, even with tubes and bandages he’s desperate for affection and takes a long goodbye when he leaves—was hardly even social when he arrived here. He’s very loyal and loved his mom, and every time I entered the room he’d stand up hopefully, then crouch and growl at me because I’d apparently taken away his mom. He arrived here in October; it was April before he accepted the situation.

Just recently Namir was back in the hospital and wasn’t responding as usual; after bringing him home I had to take him back. On his second return home he just wasn’t coming around. From his initial diagnosis I’ve been anticipating the final decisions for him, knowing that one day this little tune-up won’t work. This time he seems to have pulled through and is feeling well enough to swat the young men (Mimi’s Children) when they get out of line.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

Cookie and Namir acceded to their thrones a few years ago with the passing of Moses and Stanley. While Cookie and Namir displayed leadership potential from a young age, Stanley had been abused and was a real problem child into his teens, and Moses was a timid feral rescue, physically challenged by the after-effects of near starvation, but was the sweetest, most gentle soul I’ve ever known. These two entered my household a year apart and discovered each other’s gentle spirits when they were still healing from their time on the streets, and through it all were a refuge each for the other.

Moses (see “A Rosy Glow”) had malformed hips and legs from the beginning, and no matter what treatment I found for her, the best thing was simply a sunbath. She was terrified of the outdoors and of other people and things, but when it came to the line of the sun creeping out of the kitchen or basement into the outside, she decided she wanted to follow it, and as often as I could she and I went out into the yard, she to lie on the sun-warmed wood or bricks, me to work my garden. It’s no wonder she was unsuccessful at feeding herself when little velvety voles ran over her paws and birds hopped all around her as she lay there and watched. She adopted one clump of grass at the corner of one of the garden beds to graze on, and it’s still there in her memory. She surprised even me by living to be 19 years old, not showing any serious health problems until just a few months before she died.

Stanley dozes in the early spring garden while supervising my work.

Stanley dozes in the early spring garden while supervising my work.

Stanley’s misbehavior inside came in handy outside, and trips to the outdoors helped stop him from errant watering in the house. He was very territorial, and whenever he saw another cat in his yard, he’d pee on the next nearest thing, inside. When we began visiting the yard he would run around sniffing everything, especially the forsythia which was like a big feline chat room, and after downloading his pee-mail he’d upload a few replies. Apparently this was more direct than giving a reply indoors, and it had the added benefit of keeping most cats out of my yard, and discouraging all but the bravest (or least intelligent) rabbits and little critters from inhabiting my garden.

Stanley (see “After Dinner Nap”) was well into adulthood when he showed up on my porch in 1986, and he was with me for a little over 20 years. He was in kidney failure for his last four years, but I treated him with fluid therapy and vitamins, and he was vigorous until his last few weeks.

And Stanley and Moses took over from Kublai and Sally, the original prince and princess, so noted in one piece of artwork I created simply to commemorate their place in my household, “Awakening”, where you can read their stories. As opposite as you could get, but they were the leaders for years, and in their day the other cats would answer to them before me. Their photos are on regular film, and I’ll have to scan them one day and get them up here, but in the meantime they are the subjects of several pieces of artwork.

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

So as I watch Namir chase leaves and harass Cookie for fun, and Cookie cruise around and nap in the leaf litter, and have them both supervise my gardening progress while enjoying their time outdoors, I thoroughly enjoy their presence and remember their predecessors…with smiles more than sadness. Each loss prepared me for the next, and that was their final gift to me, and to the household in which they had lived. While I still miss all of them, even the ones who didn’t rise to royalty, I know that someday, perhaps soon, I’ll be missing Cookie and Namir, too. Loving them in the happiness of just this moment alone builds these smiling memories, and these will be an important element in dealing with the final decisions, and with their loss.

I just wonder who they are planning to pass the scepters on to. For now I tell the young ones who want to join us that someday they’ll be that old, too, and then they’ll be able to come outside.

For other writings on my cats in the garden and gardening in general, please read “My Cat Has Become a Serial Killer” and “On Planting Peas” on my website in the writing section.

Other articles celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday

Bid on this Print and Start Celebration Peaches’ 100th Birthday

How Peaches Stole My Heart

Old is Awesome!

Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1

Beyond Food and Water, Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, part 2

Other articles about Peaches

Peaches Applies for a Job

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

Peaches Says, “Thanks for All the Get Well Wishes, They Worked”

This is a short list—Peaches appears in many articles I’ve written on my household, on pet loss, and even some silly things I’ve written on my website before I had a blog! Search “peaches” in the search box for more articles.