The Messy Playroom

four black kittens in a box

The Sleepy Siblings pack into the box for a nap.

There they are, the littles sleeping in a heap in a box, just like they do today. The event happens to be the day they had their first set of shots, and after tearing around the bathroom with the general excitement of visitors and each of them disappearing and reappearing one by one…well, they managed to get the bathroom like that several times a day. I have several photos of this because this first is a little unclear—these are on film, and the prints aren’t the best, though I have no means of scanning from the negatives at the moment.

The pattern you see in front of them all is really a window screen. The bathroom has a bifold door but I didn’t want to cut the kittens off from the rest of the house by leaving the door closed. I used two tall narrow screens from my old casement windows hinged to the doorframe and opening like shutters so that during the day the kittens could see onto the landing and interact with the rest of the house, and also be cooler since it was August and September.  Mimi could easily jump the screens to get in and out so she had her breaks too.

Mr. Sunshine is hanging out of the box, here at the corner, and you can just see a light spot on his year which is his yellow paint. Giuseppe is behind him with a tiny bit of green paint visible, then Mewsette, then Jelly Bean. They are seven or eight weeks old here. In photos further down you’ll be able to see them better.

four kittens in box

Their faces are a little more clear.

They were sleeping off their shots, so I opened the screen to see them more clearly. Lessons about photographing a bunch of black cats were just beginning as they are almost indistinguishable in the box. The little cardboard toilet paper roll and tissue box are full of toothmarks—I had forgotten how kitten chewed on everything! They had about a dozen toilet paper and paper towel rolls in there, and they and the tissue box were reduced to shreds in the time there.

four kittens in box

The view from above, too sweet.

This print wasn’t very well-printed, and when I lightened it it began to fall apart, but you can see their little faces in the box, Sunshine, Giuseppe, Mewsette and Jelly Bean, and you can see a bit of the white spot on his chest, and the white hairs in his ears that looked like big brushes until he grew into them.

I had always thought about one of the top two as a painting, just a silly colorful kittens’ playroom!

Reference this little heap with yesterday’s cuddle puddle on my desk.

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

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

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


5 Black Cats + Friday 13 = 18…Somethings

black cat nursing black kittens

Mimi nursing the color-coded Fantastic Four.

Black cats and Friday the 13th don’t have anything to do with luck, good or bad, or I’d be in real trouble today! But it does give me another opportunity to share another photo of the Fantastic Four as little fuzzballs in order to maximize the black cat presence on the internet today. They are about three weeks old here since this was taken August 20, 2007, and they were born on July 26. I had just moved them into the room that would become their ancestral home, the bathroom, before it was made into the mint and white feline palace.

I keep referencing the colors of tempera paint I dabbed on their ears to tell them apart, and how that influenced their names and readers have asked if I can somehow show this to them. So here they are, the color-coded kittens!

You see only three colors, green, yellow and red. I had white for Jelly Bean for his white spots at neck and belly, but they were so obvious when he was that tiny, and the white hairs in his ears were like long brushes—you really can’t see in this photo, but they extend slightly beyond the edges of his ear—so I could tell who he was from front and back. He was also noticeably smaller than the others.

And I chose the colors and applied them totally arbitrarily, so I had no plan to match their names to them in any way, just grabbed a kitten and dabbed the paint. In order in this photo they are Jelly Bean, Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette. It’s funny to see how striped they were at this age.

By this time they were quite active—amazing how much development happens in a week when you look at the last photo I posted when they were two weeks old. But this was why I had to move them to the bathroom; I couldn’t let them go in my “old studio” or I’d have never found them in there, and I couldn’t keep them in that cage, regardless of how big it was. They were ready to rock and roll!

I’m sure Mimi is glad when she looks at photos from this era that she no longer needs to “assume the position”, as I always joked with her when she flopped down to let them nurse, just like this, several times a day. It’s just too bad you can’t hear them all purring.

And of course, you can probably get your fill here on The Creative Cat with photos and paintings and sketches of black cats! Just click the links or choose a category from the list at right, and you can even choose their names from the category list as well if you have a personal favorite. I am organizing that list so things are easier to find, but for now they are alphabetical—not color coded, though.

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

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

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


Embarassing Baby Pictures

four black kittens

The Fantastic Four...at two weeks old.

Well, it’s not embarrassing, it’s really cute. They are about two weeks old here, August 10, 2007, and they were born on July 26. They’re so precious, the little fuzzballs.

I keep referencing the colors of tempera paint I dabbed on their ears to tell them apart, and how that influenced their names and readers have asked if I can somehow show this to them. I found the photo I wanted to use, then started looking at baby pictures, and…well, if you’ve ever watched a litter of kittens, or puppies or other animals or even a human grow up you know how it is when you start looking at pictures.

And then I had a difficult time deciding which one to use! So I have three, in a little series: Sleeping, Waking, and Awake. And I really can’t even tell you which is which a lot of the time unless I noted something in the file name.

four black kittens

Waking up, yawning and stretching!

Here they are yawning and stretching! You can clearly see stripes on all of them—the one in the middle has a shadow from the bar of the cage they are in because I turned on the ceiling light, but they were all fairly gray-black, lots of stripes, and lots of individual white hairs on their legs, faces and tails that disappeared in the next few weeks.

four black kittens

Awake and ready for action!

I noted a few things with this photo, but they didn’t have their permanent names yet. I do know that this kitten in front was the girl, so it is Mewsette, the first to do everything and I always remember that serious, determined expression on that tiny face! Directly behind her was Jelly Bean, and I recognize his profile, as well as some of the features of Mr. Sunshine’s face behind him. The lazy bum is Giuseppe, who always woke up last with great fanfare—unless one of the others landed on him and started wrestling!

As you can imagine, I have a zillion photos of them, but most of the good ones are on film from about a week later when I moved them into the bathroom and the light was better. But compare them to the Fantastic Four you know now.

There is a reason why this time with these kittens is very, very special. Briefly, this was an era when I was still grieving one very recent loss, and five losses in total; I had had their half-sister Lucy put to sleep for FIP on July 10, 2007, just a month earlier, and in 2006 had lost my four oldest cats, Moses, Cream, Sophie and Stanley. Before Mimi joined us with her babies, my household had suddenly gone from nine cats to four and as hard as Cookie, Kelly, Namir and Peaches worked I would say I was in shock as well as grief. But having this little pile of kittens at my disposal to hold and hug and kiss and photograph and love, as well as their mom, the gentle, understanding Mimi, helped to change that for me. I spoke about this on Pet Memorial Sunday last year, glad to share it with others deeply grieving their loss.

But this is where we all began, four demanding little black fuzzballs on the work table in my studio!

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

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

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


Creating With Cats: Author and Artist Christine Davis

When you read an illustrated book, do you ever study the illustrations and wonder about decisions the artist makes about medium, technique, style and even subject? And what about the book’s physical size and shape, the whole little visual package in addition to the story that’s in it?

Often some or all of these decisions are assigned by an editor or art director working for a publisher who may have chosen an illustrator for their particular style or familiarity with the book’s subject matter. But when you are the writer, illustrator, editor, art director, publisher—and marketing department, shipping department, receptionist and all else that goes into making a book—all those decisions are made, or at least begun, with one person.

And so it is with Chris Davis, who began with a story and a vision, and ended up with a small publishing company to create, print and distribute her stories just the way she wanted them. While many people self-publish today, Chris began her venture in 1997. And while Chris said she’d written and managed many and various things while in “corporate America”, she’d never attempted artwork of any sort, but now she has to her credit five illustrated books featuring cats, dogs and other animals.

christine davis

Author and illustrator Christine Davis

A little background

Chris describes herself as a “stubborn New Yorker” who is used to “doing things her way”. As a fellow artist I understand this to mean that she has a clear vision of what she wants and of the best way to accomplish that, in this case to tell her story, and she will achieve that vision by whatever method it takes.

She actually began her working career while still in New York and “bounced back and forth” between gigs as a singer, either solo with her piano or with a band, and working temp jobs that required a very organized and detail-oriented problem-solver.

artist's studio with cat

Chris's studio with Molly.

While Christine grew up in New York, she has lived in Portland, OR for the past 35 years after following her muse across the country to such varied places as Tucson, AZ and Denver, CO to see where to best to live out her dream of living in and working with nature and all the creatures there; since 1991 in a house built on a quarter-acre wooded hillside. Her studio is in her dining room, and her cats enjoy a unique and attractive outdoor enclosure built just for them.

And while I associate her with cats after having initially read about the four sibling cats she lived with, Chris actually lived most of her life with dogs and began her career as a storyteller through a story inspired by her dog, Martha.

for every dog an angel

"For Every Dog an Angel" by Christine Davis

Gifts from her animal companions, and then some

Of course, her entire career as a published author and artist was inspired by her animal companions, and Chris reached for spiritual guidance as well. Chris relates that her forever dog, Martha, who’d traveled out to Portland with her, suddenly had what appeared to be a stroke, living two weeks in confusion and decline. Chris was determined to heal her but did not succeed.

She’d been working with a Native American healer and drumming regularly and turned to her drumming for solace. She was given the title For Every Dog an Angel in this way and “told that people were looking for this book” though she was not given the story; that had to come from within her.

Once she’d published this book people asked her for a feline-oriented book in the same theme, but Chris didn’t have cats then or know them very well at all. However, the universe provided them for her to learn about—that was when Jake discovered the four abandoned neo-natal kittens under the deck who they rescued and raised, and after getting to know them Chris could write For Every Cat an Angel with confidence.

After sharing stories with Chris in e-mails and seeing her books I e-mailed her, telling her that I’d like to write about her experience and about the technicalities of how she creates her art and her books, to which she agreed. I sent her my list of typical questions including what medium(s) she used, how she determined what images would illustrate her story and how she actually painted them, and we planned to talk. In just a few days, though, Chris had written up her answers to these questions as an essay and sent it back to me—an example of her quick and organized methods.

Forever Paws, by Christine Davis

While I’ve been writing all my life, I’ve never studied art and never knew I’d be illustrating my books. The closest I’d come to creating art was doing the company picnic posters back when I worked in corporate America. It was a big day when I added a red magic marker to my usual black marker and really jazzed up the poster!

illustration from for every cat an angel

Sample of Chris's illustration style.

When I wrote the first edition of For Every Dog An Angel in 1997 I met with some local artists, wondering if I could hire someone to paint the illustrations for me. Everything I saw seemed too majestic, and felt like it would overpower the simple words. So I grabbed a makeup brush and a $.99 tray of watercolors and did some quick drawings, hoping to show others what I had in mind. This unexpectedly led to my doing the artwork for all my books.

My beloved dog, Jake, was the inspiration for my books Old Dog & the Christmas Wish and The Shelter Dog.  The Christmas book is very special to me, because it was the last book I wrote with Jake still by my side. There are several sketches of Jake that were used in the book.

Until I wrote Forever Paws my main medium was always watercolor. I’m deeply connected to water, so when I paint with watercolor I use a lot of water, which helps to get the “flowy” effect in the art.

I’d been playing around with acrylic and began to see the fun of using that medium, so

Forever Paws was painted with watercolor and acrylic – plus a liberal sprinkling of fur (just can’t seem to get that out of the artwork!).

It was the loss of my dear sibling kitties, Dickens and Pippen, that led to the writing of Forever Paws. Losing them to cancer, within a few months of each other, left me brokenhearted. I knew that Dickens, Pippen and Jake were together again, but I missed them terribly.

Then I began getting these colorful images of the fabulous time they were having up in the stars. I saw flying dogs and cats, glowing paws, a river of tears…even a dragon! The message from Pippen was clear – there was another book to be written.

illustration from forever paws

"At the River" from Forever Paws.

I wrote the story fairly quickly, then began the task of bringing to life all the visions I had seen. One page in particular was quite challenging – the page with the woman holding out her arms and her critters touching her heart.

When I first sketched that page it was a completely different picture. After I painted it I could tell it wasn’t quite right. I drew the same picture a second time, but painted it with new colors. It was still wrong.

For a third time I drew the exact same picture, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to paint it. I realized I wasn’t moved by the art, and changing the colors wouldn’t solve the problem.

I sat at my table, closed my eyes, and held out my arms, asking the universe to please show me what I was supposed to paint.

And then I heard two words. 

“Paint this.”

I knew what that meant – paint this moment, with my outstretched hands, open to all possibilities.

So I picked up my pencil and drew the picture that appears in the book. It came effortlessly. I looked at the woman’s face and saw so much love and beauty there. I am particularly drawn to the spiral shape, and drew spirals all around the woman. Suddenly both the picture and I were at peace.

It was several days before I painted the illustration, but when I did I knew I had found what had been missing from the first piece of art.

This page is really what Forever Paws is all about!

illustration from forever paws

"Open Arms" from "Forever Paws"

I really love the story of the illustration “Open Arms”. While I’m sure all illustrators have their own way of visualizing what they’ll do and then creating their visualization in their medium, it isn’t always a straightforward creation, even when you are working for yourself. “Open Arms” helps to explain how even what you had thought was a good illustration can turn out to be the wrong one, and how visualization sometimes needs to be creative in itself in order to get to the right place.

And like most illustrators I know, she gives each of them a title as she is working so she has a convenient way to refer to them to herself or to others.

Color Palette

In addition to what Chris answered above, I had always noted her strong palette of colors: blues, greens, purples, natural choices for as much as Chris loves water and its imagery and said her entire house is done in these colors (and I will note that even in her essay each of the book titles was in a different shade of blue, purple or green). Another artist had mentioned to Chris the idea of using complementary colors like blue and orange and purple and yellow which are sort of “opposites” and which enhance the qualities of each other when used together. I had noticed a good bit of various shades of orange in Forever Paws and Chris said the use of orange was “a new thing” for her.

illustration from forever paws

"Woman with Cat and Dog" from "Forever Paws", an orange background with the blues and purples.

The book itself

Often the size, shape and binding of the book are determined by the publisher or by a convenient template or materials available at various printers, but in this case Chris decided that as well. She had the idea of a gift book and visited bookstores, looking at, holding and reading gift books until she found one that was “just right” and patterned her book after that.

In addition, where certain pages or parts of a book are often left blank, she decided to add at least minimal color or artwork to pages that don’t often have anything, such as the end papers with the starry violet pattern, and a few violet stars here and there on front matter pages that are usually only text.

selection of cat themed gifts

Cat Lover Comfort Gift Box from Lighthearted Press.

Promotional and complementary products

Chris also carries the same themes, styles, colors and even artwork through all of her promotional materials as well, and while she sells her books from her website much of her sales are wholesale to veterinarians.

She has also developed a line of complementary products such as her Rainbow Bridge Wristband, and a line of pawprint and dog- and cat-themed tissue packages, seed packages, scented candles available together or packaged in a pawprint gift box.

Molly and Star

Today Chris’s animal companions are Molly and Star, but she is certain that the universe will bring her another animal companion or companions, feline or canine or other, whenever the time is appropriate. And likely there will also be more books as Chris’s life with her animal companions continues to unfold. Visit her Lighthearted Press website to look at all of Chris’s books, read about her cats, stories of all her animal companions and remember her work when you or a friend unfortunately lose an animal companion.

Also read my review of Forever Paws.

Read other articles in my Creating With Cats series.

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All images in this article were provided by Christine Davis and Lighthearted Press.

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.


Book Review: Forever Paws by Christine Davis

Cover of book forever paws

"Forever Paws" by Christine Davis, from the author's website.

For anyone who’s felt the empty, aching void left in their heart by the loss of a beloved animal companion that no tears or words can seem to fill, Christine Davis’s beautifully-illustrated gift book, Forever Paws, will tenderly help to fill and heal it with loving and beautiful thoughts and images.

The comforting rich turquoise book cover and the calming violet end papers lead into a colorful world of starry backgrounds and pastoral pictures where polka-dot dogs and stripedy cats along with whimsical horses, bunnies, mice and birds all proudly display their glowing, magical paws, hooves, feet and claws as they wait in the hereafter for their human companions to join them.

And those human companions, with the impressions of those paws prominently impressed on their hearts, watch and wait and wander until their time comes to leave their tired old bodies and, led by the light of those Forever Paws, find their way to the bridge in the stars to meet again and spend eternity with all the animal companions whose paws have touched their hearts.

This story and its detailed illustrations as well as Christine’s other illustrated books are not simply the fanciful imaginings of an animal lover but the real stories of her own experiences with animals she has loved and lost turned into art. Years ago Christine’s forever dog, Martha, inspired her first illustrated book For Every Dog an Angel and launched an unexpected career in creating illustrated story books, and from there the cats and dogs who have shared her life inspired a series of similarly lovely and deeply touching gift books: For Every Cat an Angel, Old Dog & the Christmas Wish and The Shelter Dog.

page from forever paws

"Many Paw Prints" from "Forever Paws", provided by the author.

“Remember what you are feeling, there’s another book to be written.”

Years ago Christine’s forever dog Jake found a litter of abandoned kittens under the deck, and Christine took them in, bottle-fed them and raised and kept all four. At the end of 2010 one of those cats, Dickens, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer so advanced Christine had to let him go just hours after the diagnosis, then she discovered Dickens’ sister, her forever cat Pippin, also had cancer and lost her just a few months after Dickens.

Losing two cats that close together can leave an animal lover of any depth reeling and complicate grieving—how can you do justice to two loving souls who’ve shared your life, at the same time? And then consider the relationship of the four siblings, now parted, the depth of saving their lives, bottle-feeding and raising them to happy healthy cats, and even the long-ago bond with Jake, who had found them. A tender heart might never mend.

In a note from the author in the beginning of the book, Christine remarks that although she thought she’d “said everything I was meant to say about loss in my books…”, someone mentioned she’d never written a book about coping with the loss of an animal companion. After the loss of Dickens and Pippen, her “world fell apart”, and she heard the words, “Remember what you are feeling—there’s another book to be written.”

black cat reading forever paws

Mewsette studies all the animals drinking from the "River of Tears".

Forever Paws is that book, “a loving gift from my precious feline friends…”, Christine’s own exploration of her grief turned into the universal story of our relationship with our animal companions: we meet, our lives lovingly intertwine, and though they must leave they take a little piece of our hearts with them and leave their pawprints in its place, then enjoy a peaceful and happy existence with other beloved animal companions, drinking from the river of tears and dancing among the stars until we go to join them. And even though they are not physically with us, they are always available to us, watching over us. Oh, that Purgatory could be so sweet.

I like books, and despite the fact that more often than not I enjoy audiobooks to save my eyesight for my art and illustration, I still like to hold a book, illustrated or straight text, read from its pages and let it carry me off through my imagination to another world. I can take a book off into the woods and not worry about devices or batteries or jostling the thing while I’m climbing down a steep path to my favorite reading spot along the trail. A book is always ready for me.

two black cats reading forever paws

Mewsette comforts Jelly Bean as they remember Peaches.

When I lost Peaches in October 2010, Christine sent me a gift copy of For Every Cat an Angel, and while I’d been corresponding with her and studying her style on her website and blog, I finally had a chance to study one of her books. What a pleasure to see not only her illustrations combined with her story and to experience the story as she intended us to see it, but also to admire the details of the book itself, the quality dust jacket and its sturdy bound cover, the book’s size and shape, just right for carrying along for comfort and holding to study each page and enjoy its message without being overwhelmed with details of content and images.

Christine published Forever Paws in late 2011 and sent me a review copy and a note that told me she’d taken the liberty of hiding the names of some special animal companions in the artwork, and had placed a bookmark in the page where I’d find Peaches’ name. I’m so proud that Peaches is forever remembered in this book that will touch the hearts of so many.

Christine also didn’t know that this book had reached me at an auspicious time for another reason. I wanted to immediately share this book with everyone, but I also knew the extent of Cookie’s illness and every time I sat down to begin my review I could not focus and knew I’d have to wait. Cookie’s paws have been burnished in my heart for years, and now she waits for me and I can think of her among the stars and the green grass with the other loving animal companions in Forever Paws.

illustration from forever paws

"At the River" from "Forever Paws", provided by the author.

About Christine’s career as an artist and writer

Because I love to study the work of other artists and discuss style and technique I’ve been planning a profile of Christine for my feature Creating With Cats. As a follow-up to this book review I’ve published that article, another story of someone who had didn’t start out as an artist but ended up that way, inspired by her cats and other animals in her life.

Please read more about Forever Paws on Christine’s website, Lighthearted Press and also take some time to read about her other books and the special gifts she offers for those grieving the loss of an animal companion.

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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.


We Miss You

six cats on desk

Six cats on desk.

I’ve appreciated each and every message and comment I’ve received in the past week while I’ve been busy healing. Of course, I’m up to my eyebrows in another creative endeavor, my best method of healing. Sometimes these creative projects mean going off for 40 days and 40 nights to work things out, but in this case it’s really only been about 4 days and 4 nights, so very soon I’ll have something new for you, and I’ll also be resuming my usual posts. I’ve let the Fantastic Four write this one for me, though. Until tomorrow…

We miss all the attention we got being stars on the internet, we miss being artist’s models, we miss our Bernadette mom’s busy schedule and her happy plans, even staying up all night with her to get things done. And we miss our sister Cookie. We always will, but we are ready to get back to inspiring our mom and entertaining and enlightening you because Cookie spent years showing us how. She’d be really mad if we didn’t do it right, roll her eyes and walk away with her tail flicking back and forth. Nothing can make a big cat feel really, really small like a little tortie cat just walking away, flicking her tail in disgust.

Cookie showed us a lot of cool stuff.

It’s almost a week since Cookie left us, and we have done our best to help our Bernadette mom feel better. Cookie taught us this too, and she’d be even more mad if we didn’t get this right. We spent a few days sitting around looking out the windows and sighing a lot. Cats are good at this, so we know we did this right. Jelly Bean sat on her and purred his most healing purr until he was exhausted. And Mewsette loved all over her with head butts to the face and a tail up the nose now and then and even slept under the covers with her a few nights.

We Four were with her every moment, all four of us, running up and down the stairs to show we were excited about whatever it was she wanted to do, rubbing all over her and being as cute as possible. We got a few smiles and lots of kisses. After a few days of this Bernadette mom got back to work and we could tell she felt a little better every day. Now she is on the trail of some new project that we know nothing about, but we can’t wait until it’s done because we know she’ll be really happy then.

two cats on desk

Kelly relaxing on the desk.

Kelly hasn’t been as frightened as she was, and instead of rolling up and hiding inside herself she’s been hanging out on the desk and following Bernadette mom around too. She still doesn’t understand that when we run up to her and smell her we just want to be friendly and help her feel better too, but we think there’s some hope, and we’ve all managed to hang out around the kitchen or the desk with some purrs and cuddling. We can’t even imagine how old Cookie was or how long she and Kelly were friends, and we don’t want to think about how it would feel to lose a friend like that.

two cats on a pillow

On a Rainy Afternoon, Cookie and Mimi

Our Mimi mom was very quiet and we didn’t see much of her. This was very puzzling—she’s our mom, and she always spends time cuddling and bathing with us every day, but she just seemed sad. We sat with her in front of the heater vent in the kitchen and bathed her, but she just curled up against us and slept, no baths for us or playtime. We knew she missed Cookie, but we just never knew how important Cookie was to her and that they had been good friends. To us, she’d always just been our mom and our friend.

black cat in yard

Mimi enjoys the morning.

Then one day Bernadette mom just picked her up and carried her outside and stood on the deck with her back to us, holding her. We don’t know what happened, but Mimi mom felt better when she came in, and so did Bernadette mom. The next morning Bernadette mom took all her stuff outside like she used to with Cookie, her bird seed and coffee and camera and hot water for the bird baths, then came back in and put something around Mimi mom’s neck, then unrolled a long thing and added that and out they went! They were on the deck for a while, then they disappeared out in the yard. They came back in and our Mimi mom was really happy and spent some time with us and followed Bernadette mom around, talking. We could tell this made her very happy, but we don’t get the “outside” thing. Now they do this every morning, and Mimi mom goes to the back door just like Cookie used to. They look at each other and blink their eyes. It’s okay, we Four have each other, and they can be friends.

four black cats on tables

We are ready to help our mom.

We’ve done our best to be the most inspiring models any animal artist has ever seen, and we know our Bernadette mom can’t go too long without sharing some of the photos and sketches she’s made.

And we can tell you that she read every single message everyone sent to her, more than once, and we can tell you they made her feel much, much better. We know this. We are cats. We sit on her. We can feel things people can’t. And we know our Bernadette mom. We were taught by the best. You will be hearing from her.

Cuddles and purrs,

The Fantastic Four

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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.