Outdoor Adventures: 2009

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

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

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

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

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

tortoiseshell cat with daffodil greens

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

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

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

cat walking on bricks

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

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

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

two cats with photo bag

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

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

two cats in spring garden

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

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

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

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Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Bringing it All Together with Design

photo of two cats in a garden

Namir and Cookie inspect my gardening.

I’m happily planning out this year’s garden and I would bet those of you who garden and manage a habitat in your backyard are as well, so it’s high time to consider design and layout for this and your backyard wildlife habitat for the coming hear…and remember those sweet summer mornings in the garden with my feline companions.

Design to include pest control

Ick. Slugs. Everywhere. And they weren’t drowning in my beer traps, they were having a pool party and getting the munchies later.

photo of section of backyard garden

The upper section of my garden at prime growing time...and prime slug time.

When I first established my vegetable and flower beds in this yard, I used a number of ingenious methods of “clearing” soil to save time, much of which involved newspapers or other waste papers (those wide computer printouts from the old dot-matrix printers, for instance) covered with straw or wood chips, which I could get for free by the truckload from a friend with a tree service business. This layering killed off the grass and softened up the soil for easier tilling or hand-turning, kept the soil moist in the heat of the summer, and also became a convenient way to set up paths between the beds and walking paths.

The second year, I used some of the same methods to mulch the beds around my plants, and added the brick patio and brick edging on my raised beds.

white cat in garden

Sally of the Garden, sleeping under the Brussels sprouts.

The third year, slugs ate all my seedlings as soon as they came up. I had created the perfect breeding ground for slugs in the damp soil under all that paper and bricks. I had to get rid of the slugs or trying to grow vegetables and flowers was senseless, but I liked my brick paths and mulching. With my feline garden patrol I certainly couldn’t spread slug bait all over my garden and flower beds.

Carrying an armload of my trusty copies of Rodale’s Organic Gardening and all the books I’d purchased over the years to learn the various techniques of raised beds and drip-irrigation and composting along with organic pest control out to the garden, I tried every trap in the book—in all the books.

None was effective, even in combination. I was spending way too much time trying to kill slugs. Perhaps I should just whack them with the big heavy gardening books. Time to look at an alternative.

At about this time, introducing or attracting predator species became a possibility for home gardeners. This was practiced on organic and some conventional farms, but an entire field is a little easier for predators to find and inhabit than a row of green beans in your backyard. So, we just had to work a little harder.

photo of vegetable garden with lawn

The larger part of my garden mulched with newspapers.

Now, what ate slugs, aside from people who called them escargot? Nope, ducks and chickens were out in my community, so it actually looked as if I needed some sort of amphibian or reptile. Well, that would go over big with the neighbors. The neighbor kids would think it was cool, though.

But I didn’t need a big amphibian or reptile, something inconspicuous would do the job. A garter snake! I studied the sort of habitat a garter snake would need but this was early in my backyard’s career, and I had very little groundcover that a garter snake would enjoy.

How about a toad? I have a friend who has a farm and one big puddle in their driveway produces legions of toads every year. We managed to catch two, and I let them go in the garden near one of the three the little toad abodes I had carefully prepared for them. I know that at least one stuck around because I saw it now and then, that year and the next, though it apparently didn’t use any of the abodes I had set up. I didn’t care because the number of slugs slowly decreased.

I also used a variety of methods related to me by long-time gardeners at my nearby Agway which included using copper to zap slugs—on researching I discovered that copper transmits through the slug’s slime and gives them a good zap, not killing them but certainly repelling them. A friend’s father had saved miles of copper wire which I used around small beds and surrounded certain plants with circles of pennies, both of which worked as long as the wire and pennies weren’t covered up with mulch or leaves.

Decide what you want in your habitat, and learn about it

honeybee on goldenrod

A honeybee on goldenrod in later summer.

This, again, was several years before I declared my backyard a wildlife habitat, but it was my first real lesson in working with the system. I hadn’t ever used chemicals, but I was out there trying to use human methods to trap or kill some overburdening pest and hadn’t had any major infestations. Here I had learned about how nature keeps things in balance, and after seeing how well it worked it became my first line of defense and, ultimately, what led to developing my habitat.

You may not be concerned with slug eradication, but you may want to attract Baltimore Orioles, or monarch butterflies, or bats to take care of your mosquito problem, and you always want to attract pollinators like honeybees. The steps to do that are to find out what the species needs and prefers, then to determine how you can add those features to your habitat.

Enhancing your habitat

Consider birds, the most obvious fauna of any habitat. Nesting birds will arrive in the spring, eat, build nests, raise families, eat some more, then migrate South to be replaced by migrating birds coming from farther North. Each group of birds has slightly different needs, as do birds while they are migrating. You may provide for all groups and not even know it.

They all need:

  • cover for protection from predators
  • sleeping areas
  • food for themselves as adults
  • a ready supply of fresh water
sparrows in shrub

Sparrows waiting in line.

You’ve got some brambly shrubs like climbing roses, viburnum and forsythia that provide cover and protection from predators, a spruce where plenty of birds can sleep at night, you put out seed in the winter and you keep your birdbath filled.

In addition, nesting birds, spring through late summer, need:

  • nesting materials appropriate for their species
  • food for their young during nesting time

You’ve left some grasses to grow a little taller, tossed out some old yarn and dog hair for nesting material, and you have loose soil in all your garden beds where parent birds can find goodies to feed their nestlings.

Migrating birds, late summer through early autumn, need:

  • easily accessible, high energy food
  • easily recognizable cover for resting overnight
birds and squirrel at feeder

Birds at feeder with Buddy.

You put out seed and suet in September keep your birdbath filled, and birds can spot that spruce a mile away.

Winter birds, which are migrating from further north, need:

  • easily accessible, high energy food
  • a ready supply of fresh water, even on freezing days
  • cover for protection from predators
  • protected sleeping areas

You keep your feeders filled all winter and also have suet, the dense shrubs are still in place and the spruce is still doing its job.

You are actually taking care of a habitat with all you’re doing now.

But you could generally enhance what you are doing by providing a variety of seeds in different feeders. Goldfinches like thistle seed, which is dispensed in a perforated bag or a feed with tiny little holes. Woodpeckers like the suet, but they love a mix of nuts in their seed and even some dried fruit. Press some peanut butter into the bark of a tree trunk for nuthatches. Chickadees, titmice and cardinals will stand in line for sunflower seeds.

house sparrows

House Sparrows at the winter bird bath.

Also, don’t underestimate the need for water, especially in the heat of summer and the freeze of winter. In my yard in winter, the “winter birdbath” gets as many visits as the feeders. I put my concrete and clay birdbaths away, but use heavy plastic dishes like the bottom dish for a large flower pot or even a foil cake pan and fill it with hot water in the morning. I may fill it again later in the day, too, but I have several dishes and simply bring in the frozen one in the morning and put out a new one. Plenty of birds drink, and sometimes just sit near it for warmth. You can also purchase birdbaths intended for winter use or coils or other devices that keep the water from freezing.

Bergamot flowers attract hummingbirds—and bees.

What about other species?

In the same way as the list above, choose your species and determine what its needs are in all seasons it would appear in your habitat. A few examples:

You practically stand on your head to get hummingbirds to visit your habitat. With their long slender beaks, hummingbirds can reach nectar in the bottom of a tube-shaped flower, but they will also eat from other flowers and are famously attracted to red, orange and pink flowers, such as geraniums and petunias. Consider planting some perennial phlox and adding hanging baskets of red petunias along with your hummingbird feeders.

photo of monarch butterfly on echinacea

Monarch and Echinacea © B.E. Kazmarski (this was not taken in my backyard)

You would celebrate the day a monarch butterfly visited your habitat, but you’ve never seen one though you see plenty of other butterflies. Monarchs center their diet around milkweed, feeding from the flowers, laying their eggs on the undersides of the leaves, and, later, eating the leaves in various life stages. You may not be able to grow milkweed in your back yard, but before milkweed blooms and after it is done blooming they will eat from plants that have clusters of small flowers such as lilac and butterfly bush  or composites such as Echinacea and black-eyed susan.

And the bats to take care of those mosquitoes? Try also attracting other night insects—keep a light on to attract moths and plant fragrant night-blooming plants such as evening primrose and heliotrope. The bats will find the abundance and variety of insects and move right in. They also have the same needs as birds and other animals in shelter and water. Bats are extremely sensitive to chemicals, so don’t use any in your yard, including fertilizers. And keep your cat inside.

photo of rose turtlehead

Rose Turtlehead, there's a bee inside the blossom © B.E. Kazmarski

And I finally got that garter snake to move in when I let the grass and a ground cover called purple-leaf wintercreeper grow all along the fence next to the slope that I’ve let grow wild, so if you want a little snake to eat slugs and catch lots of insects, lit some dense groundcover grow undisturbed.

Other enhancements

Generally, reduce your lawn to a minimum because it’s just not useful to wildlife—it doesn’t provide food or cover, and in fact leaves most species vulnerable. Surround your grassy area with groundcovers, flower beds, and shrubs so that wildlife can quickly take cover if need be, or manage your lawn so that it grows longer and includes native plants instead of just grass.

Put your food and water features near or even in the planted areas. Don’t put the bird feeder in the middle of a grassy yard because it will leave too many birds vulnerable to predators, though it will make it more difficult for the squirrel to get to it. Of course, you want to see all this wildlife that you’ve attracted to your habitat, so don’t hide it in the woods, either.

Consider a pond so that ground-dwelling species can drink as well, and you can include some fish and water plants.

photo of cooper's hawk on brush pile

Cooper's Hawk on Brush Pile, I heard little bird scufflings in the pile when I took this photo... © B.E. Kazmarski

And minimize and eliminate your use of chemicals. Chemical smells mask the smells of food sources for wildlife, and those that come in contact with it will absorb it through their skin, paws, claws or even mouth and nose. My grass is only about half grass because I let grow whatever wants to, but it’s always green because the plants are hardy. I’ve also discovered that all the residents in my habitat keep each other in balance and I’ve only had to use traps and soap sprays on the things that grow in pots on my deck.

Set up a brush pile or two in your yard as well. I use the trimmings from my roses and other shrubs, just piling them in corners for the rabbits and other small mammals to hide underneath, and even the birds take cover when the Cooper’s hawk swoops in.

Try to stick with natives

close-up photo of fleabane

Fleabane © B.E. Kazmarski

Why native plants? We humans forget that every species on earth is not as adaptable as we are. Most species recognize only certain plants and insects as home and as food, but they aren’t able to make the judgment that other similar things may suffice if what they know isn’t available. Planting native species of flowers, shrubs and trees welcomes the species that are native to your area.

This doesn’t mean that non-natives are bad, only that they may not be recognized by all species as viable habitat. I have two huge forsythias directly under or near feeders, and they are constantly inhabited by the most adaptable birds—sparrows, jays, cardinals, chickadees—but I never see the oriole in them in the summer, or the woodpecker or blue bird. I often see them in the climbing roses and the mulberry and dogwood trees, however.

photo of raspberries

Every year it's a race for the raspberries © B.E. Kazmarski

Good for wildlife, safe for your pets

Most of us are owned by companion animals, and they share this habitat as well, to some extent. Not all natives are safe for your pets, though, so this will narrow your list a bit.

But only a bit. Remember that foliage isn’t only for cover and nesting, it’s also for eating, and berry bushes and plants are universally loved by birds and all other wildlife, and perfectly safe for pets—if you don’t mind a few thorns on your raspberry and blackberry canes. Highbush blueberries are about the best you can do, followed by cranberry, huckleberry and a host of other local berries that grow in dense forms with not thorns.

Other shrubs providing food (to the birds, not you) and cover are most viburnums, native hawthorne and native juniper, all perfectly safe for pets and recognized by most species as home.

photo of pink climbing roses

Pink Rose Bower © B.E. Kazmarski

And good old roses, not the hybrids but your grandparents’ fragrant climbing tea roses, provide a dense cover for birds and other wildlife as well as food because many species visit the flower and birds eat the rose hips in the fall as they migrate.

For trees, most species of fruit trees have some toxicity about the bark or the fruit, but I haven’t seen a pear tree on any list, and various dogwoods are native all over the country. I have two mulberry trees and I had heard somewhere that it’s considered the “tree of life” because everything can eat from it, and indeed I’ve seen everything from goldfinches to the groundhog eating in the tree.

photo of dogwood branch

Dogwood © B.E. Kazmarski

And for non-native species that most wildlife can live with, that old-fashioned forsythia and lilac can’t be beat. The species of spirea we use for landscaping aren’t really native to this continent, like bridal-wreath spirea, but they provide cover and are absolutely beautiful in full bloom. I have a variegated-leaf wiegela that small birds love, and hummingbirds visit the trumpet-shaped flowers.

But remember, a dog chasing your wildlife will not encourage it to stay, but most people don’t leave their dogs out all day long and the birds and bees learn to take off when they year the dog, returning when the dog disappears.

And it would be completely unfair to let a cat or two loose in your habitat. In photos of my habitat you’ll see one or two of my cats now and then, but they only go out with me, under my supervision—or rather, I’m under their supervision, but either way, they tend to stick with me, then I take them back inside. I can see what my neighbor’s cats do to my habitat, like little Mimi before I took her in.

A great online resource

photo of house with trees

The southwest corner of my yard with the silver maple, 60-foot spruce, river birch and dogwood (and my pink Escort)

An overall resource for finding native species and answering a lot of questions is www.eNature.com. This will give you a start in finding your local native species of flora and fauna, though it’s not as specific as I’d like it to be.

And am amazing resource in finding indoor and outdoor plants that are toxic to dogs, cats and horses is on the ASPCA website at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/ under both “17 Common Poisonous Plants” and a hugely comprehensive list of over 400 plant species in “Toxic and Non-toxic Plants”, which even has photos.

Good luck with your habitat

Get out that graph paper or that garden design program and take these long cold nights to dream of your summer garden!

About the art and photos used in these articles and on this blog

All the images used in this blog are mine, many from my own backyard. For years I’ve been documenting the flora and fauna here in photography and art, just for my own purposes. All of the images are also available as prints and notecards, some of which I have printed and sell regularly, but I can custom print any image on my site. If you see something you’d like, check my Marketplace blog to see if it’s a recent offering, the Marketplace on my website, which outlines everything I sell as merchandise, or e-mail me if you don’t find it in either place. Please also respect that these images and this information are copyrighted to me and may not be used without my consent, but please ask if you are interested in using something and feel free to link to my articles.

Identifying the fauna in your habitat

Next will be information on looking for and identifying the living creatures in your habitat.

Read the other articles in this series:

Previous:

An Introduction to Backyard Wildlife Habitats

What’s in Your Backyard? The First Step in Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

What Else is in Your Backyard: The Fauna That Fill It

Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

Also read about my art, photography, poetry and prose inspired by my backyard wildlife habitat:

Art Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Photography Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Poetry Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

______________________________

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


My 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 »


Memories of Snow

tortie cat on branch

Cookie balances on her maiden voyage on the branch.

This might have been nice to remember last week when we were melting on our feet, but we certainly weren’t out in the yard last week!

This huge branch fell in the snowstorm in March 2010, the heavy end end on the ground near our picnic table and the other kind of balanced on the fence and some brushy shrubs I have near the fence. When the snow melted just enough for Cookie to join me as I filled bird feeders, she came outside with me. I was eyeing up the branch, trying to decide what I’d do with it, but Cookie had no doubts. As soon as she discovered it she decided it was meant to be her personal backyard playground set, stepped up on it and followed all the branches out as far as she could, then sat down in the middle. She also discovered it made a great step stool onto the picnic table bench, saving her just that much effort of getting from the ground to the bench, then up to the table.

She does this every time we go outside, no matter the season, and today was no different. After I cut the grass I let Cookie out to supervise my work for a while. I remember the day we went out to explore our “new” backyard after the heavy snow and ice and extended cold. Cookie thinks I make too big a deal about her age, but I’m just as thrilled to see her out there climbing her branch this year when she’s 19 as I was last year when she was 18. She’s one tough Cookie!

tortie cat on branch

Cookie surveys her realm.


On Planting Peas

photo of pea vine tendril

Pease Vine

It’s my annual paean to gardening and the cycles of life. While it may not seem to have much to do with cats and animal welfare, my garden, my backyard, my love of the seasons and enjoyment of all the creatures who live in my yard, even the slugs and groundhogs, is all rolled into one big idea. And for as long as I’ve been gardening, there has always been at least one cat who shared my work, and their spirits are as much a part of my garden as the living things.

Every year in the month of March I awaken one morning with the knowledge it’s time to plant the peas, another step in the flow of the seasons. Though I have plants growing indoors, this is truly the beginning of the gardening season for me. Whether it’s the sun, moon, weather, schedule or simple urge to get out there and get my hands dirty I don’t know, but I enjoy the simple manual labor without assistance from any electronic device, ears open to the birds, face feeling the breeze, hands and feet feeling the earth.

This photo is obviously not from today, but one of my favorites from pease past.

Click here to read “On Planting Peas”


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.


Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

This is the fourth and final installment in considering your backyard wildlife habitat, plus I’ve published posts featuring the art, prose and poetry which my backyard habitat has inspired—scroll to the bottom for the links.

Ick. Slugs. Everywhere. And they weren’t drowning in my beer traps, they were having a pool party and getting the munchies later.

photo of vegetable garden

My Garden in May (just about prime slug time) © B.E. Kazmarski

When I first established my vegetable and flower beds in this yard, I used a number of ingenious methods of “clearing” soil to save time, much of which involved newspapers or other waste papers (those wide computer printouts from the old dot-matrix printers, for instance) covered with straw or wood chips, which I could get for free by the truckload from a friend with a tree service business. This layering killed off the grass and softened up the soil for easier tilling or hand-turning, kept the soil moist in the heat of the summer, and also became a convenient way to set up paths between the beds and walking paths.

The second year, I used some of the same methods to mulch the beds around my plants.

The third year, slugs ate all my seedlings as soon as they came up. I had created the perfect breeding ground for slugs in the damp soil under all that paper.

Carrying an armload of my trusty copies of Rodale’s Organic Gardening and all the books I’d purchased over the years to learn the various techniques of raised beds and drip-irrigation and composting along with organic pest control out to the garden, I tried every trap in the book—in all the books.

None was effective, even in combination. I was spending way too much time trying to kill slugs. Perhaps I should just whack them with the big heavy gardening books. Time to look at an alternative.
The story continues, keep reading…