I am proud to announce that I have had poems published on the Autumn 2006 edition of hotmetalpress, an online poetry journal!
In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled "Stories From Home/First Person" for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar.
Also visit "Paths I Have Walked", a show of my poetry and art at Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall on Thursday, February 1, 2007.
Please also visit my graphics page for other samples of my professional writing, used in pieces I've designed for clients (the copy makes much more sense in context).
At left, "Summer", mentioned in the essay; clikc on the image to see a larger version.
No matter what I may do during the course of everyday life, in my heart I am an artist be the medium painting, photography, poetry or performance, and my constant inspiration is the panorama of the world around me.
The natural world then, in its selfless way of simply being and not doing, is a ready source of inspiration, always prepared to take me in to lose myself in its deceptive depth and complexity, returning refreshed, with new insights about myself and the course of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of sunlight splashed on the grass in the backyard, the whispering and fluttering leaves of the elm and maple trees, and the face of a perfect pink zinnia, just my height. The times of day, the change of seasons, the character of light and shadow still fill me with that same thrill of excitement which today encourage me to run to my materials to either record what I see and feel, or to just create, no matter what the subject of a work may be, even if it’s only in my mind.
I could not live in a place without such variety of pasture and wood, valley and hill, season and weather, which translate for me as color and shape, texture and pattern, shadows and light and mood in both word and visual form. I take the “long way” along back roads to and from destinations, always finding places to which I can return later, to draw, to photograph, to watch a sunrise or a sunset or just to be, releasing myself from the everyday jangle of stuff and refilling the well of creative insights.
Some of these places have become so special to me that I have bonded with them as if they were living beings, rounding a curve in happy anticipation, lingering to capture every physical and emotional detail, feeling a protective fondness as we do for the things we love.
Creative expression takes a certain release to let what flows into the eyes and heart flow out onto the paper without hesitation or judgment. The works I have created of these spacesa certain field on a summer morning, a hillside and valley in winter twilight, an abandoned pasture in the heat of Augustwere done with the certainty of a lengthy and complex relationship. These are the works to which I return to study as I have returned to the physical places, amazed at what I have done and knowing that it’s my love for the space that has enabled me to distill the image into a medium in a way that speaks to me and to others. Because I have studied these places with such intensity I know every rock and plant, and the very moment when the June sunrise creates the most intense shadows across a path or when the last light of a winter dusk illuminates the snow with indigo.
And so it’s like a betrayal to see the FOR SALE sign blocking my view and I am no longer permitted to visit, knowing that the days are numbered. I have been moved to tears to see the big trucks move in, pulling up all the trees like so many weeds, plowing under the grasses and goldenrod and brambles, cutting into the slopes which had caught the sun or were drifted with snow, paving over the soil which had nourished generations of flora and fauna.
And for what? Another ticky-tacky housing development, discount store and strip mall or generic office building? It used to be that these constructions occurred only occasionally and in or near already-populated places while the landscape would roll on in its ageless way, but now any piece of land is fair game and I can’t seem to do a thing to protect these places where I find such beauty.
What is the value of the beauty of nature? What is the value of inspiration drawn from that beauty? Is the value of these developments, with their transient nature and predictable uniformity, greater than the value of a work created in the likeness of the landscape it replaced? More valuable than the simple beauty of the landscape itself, which maintains its own nature at no cost to or effort from anyone? Some of the world’s greatest social and political philosophies were drawn from observation of and participation in natural processes, and some of our greatest decisions were made during a walk in the woods or a sail on a boat, and it was the pensive quality of nature itself that facilitated that process.
The environment is taxed beyond its capability, an ecosystem is diminished, native fauna are no longer welcome in the only place they’ve ever known, neighbors to the site have lost their peaceful privacy and I’ve lost another friend, another site which had turned my creative spark into a flash of inspiration.
I first wrote about this in 1999. I had been commissioned to paint four pieces of equal size and decided to do the four seasons, using landscapes typical of not only southwestern Pennsylvania, but also of the immediate area within five miles of my client and myself. When the lushly overgrown field that was the model for “Summer”, my favorite, the one that still takes my breath away when I look at the original, went up for sale, then was stripped and graded away to a mud flat with a pre-fab office building stuck at one edge, I wrote the first version of this essay, committed myself to leaving the day job and working at home and doing my best to record the landscape around me. It is still a mud flat and the building has never been more than half rented.
Since then, I have painted dozens of places in the Chartiers Valley, and feel as if I curse the areas I paint; no sooner do I finish a painting than the site goes up for sale. I find a place where there is no traffic noise to sit and observe the sky and soon enough there are houses on the land that I could never afford to purchase.
The rate at which I’m losing these places is alarming. Where I used to be able to take off on the spur of the moment for a burst of inspiration or a drawing session en plein air, I now have to check to see if that space still exists. I used to be able to walk or bicycle but now need to drive, and drive farther all the time to find new places to restore my creative self.
I understand the need for new development to meet society’s growing demands for services and purchasing ability. I can see a farmer’s reasons for selling the old family farm to developers offering a fine price for land; the family that has struggled at backbreaking labor all their lives can at least have a decent retirement and live comfortably for a while. But while we have inner cities and small towns with infrastructure in place but which languish in blight, often within a mile or two of new development, any fool would think we were simply in a race to pave every square inch of our region, and this while our population declines.
Perhaps it is selfish of me to want these places to remain undisturbed just so that I can experience them at will and create my pretty pictures of them. But I’m not the only one who wants this, and I don’t want the works that I create to be the documented remainder of a once grand and complicated natural landscape.
MEMORY OF "SUMMER"
October 24, 1999
(pastel painting, "Summer" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski; click on the image to see a larger version.)
No matter what I may do during the course of everyday life, in my heart I am an artist and my constant inspiration is the beauty of the world around me.
The natural world then, in its selfless way of simply being and not doing, is a ready source of inspiration. Some of my earliest memories are of sunlight splashed on the grass in the backyard, the whispering and fluttering leaves of the elm and maple trees, and the face of a perfect pink zinnia, just my height. The times of day, the change of seasons, the character of light and shadow still fill me with that same thrill of excitement which today encourage me to run to my materials to either record what I see and feel, or to just create, no matter what the subject of a work may be, even if it's only in my mind.
I could not live in a place without such variety of pasture and wood, valley and hill, seasons and weather, which translate for me as color and shape, texture and pattern, shadows and light and mood. I take the "long way" along back roads to and from destinations, always finding places to which I can return later, to draw, to photograph, to watch a sunrise or a sunset or just to be, releasing myself from the everyday jangle of stuff and setting free my non-verbal, non-logical creative self.
Some of these places have become so special to me that I have bonded with them as if they were living beings, excited to see them, sad to leave them, protective of them. Creating artwork takes a certain release to let what flows into the eyes and heart flow out onto the paper without hesitation or judgment. The works I have created of these spaces-a certain field on a summer morning, a hillside and valley in winter twilight, an abandoned pasture in the heat of August-are some of my best. These are the works to which I return to study as I have returned to the physical places, amazed at what I have done and knowing that it's my love for the space that has enabled me to put the image on paper in a way that speaks to me and to others. Because I have studied these places with such intensity I know every rock and plant, and the very moment when the June sunrise creates the most intense shadows across a path or when the yellow of an autumn sunset turns golden and enhances the brilliance of the leaves on the hillside.
And so it's like a betrayal to see the FOR SALE sign blocking my view and I am no longer permitted to visit, knowing that the days are numbered. I have been moved to tears to see the big trucks move in, pulling up all the trees like so many weeds, plowing under the grasses and goldenrod and brambles, cutting into the slopes which had caught the sun or were drifted with snow, paving over the soil which had nourished generations of flora and fauna. And for what? Another ticky-tacky housing development, discount store and strip mall or generic office building-hardly the stuff of inspiration. The environment is taxed beyond its capability, an ecosystem is diminished, little critters are no longer welcome in the only place they've ever known, neighbors to the site have lost their peaceful privacy and I've lost another friend, another site which had turned my creative spark into a flash of inspiration.
The rate at which I'm losing these places is alarming. I no longer get my daily dose of beauty just by driving to work. Where I used to be able to take off on the spur of the moment for a burst of inspiration or a drawing session en plein air, I now have to check to see if that space still exists. I need to drive farther away from Pittsburgh all the time to find new places to restore my creative self.
I understand some of the need for new development to meet society's growing demands for services and purchasing ability. I can see a family's reasons for selling the old family farm to developers; no one buys farms to work them anymore, and the family can at least have a decent retirement after a lifetime of increasing struggle. Perhaps it is selfish of me to want these places to remain undisturbed just so that I can experience them at will and create my pretty pictures of them. But I don't want the works that I create to be the documented remainder of a once grand and complicated natural landscape.
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to Home Page December 25, 2005 Yesterday I handed over one of the last of my commissioned animal portraits for this holiday season. The couple who came to pick it up was dressed in Steeler sweatshirts and jeans, black leather jackets and a Santa hat, and smelled a little of beer and cigarettes, not the type many would imagine would want a portrait of their cat, but I knew better. This is their second portrait, the first being a gift from the woman to her husband of a portrait of his cat a few years ago; this second was a gift from him to her of her cat, who she had put to sleep earlier this year. Back to Bio page to Home Page
I AM SO BLESSED
She was ushered into the kitchen and he to my studio so he could look at and approve her gift from him, and as I lifted the cover from the drawing, still on the easel, his face softened and his breath caught. "It's him," he said softly, "she's been grieving him all year and she's really going to cry when she sees it," as his hand, tattooed with a black snake that continued up under his sleeve, lifted to brush at his eye and cheek. We called her in, even though she had wanted to wait to see the portrait until Christmas morning, because we needed to share this moment, and we all had a good honest cry together at the loss of her cat, the losses of mine remembered, the meaning of the season and the joy of being able to share even a sad moment with another understanding human being.
And they had brought gifts to me-dishtowels with cats on them, a little teapot shaped like a cat, and the best little box of chocolates I had had in a long time, so generous even though the joy of sharing those moments with them was gift enough for me.
It gets a little messy at times but I wear my heart right out on my sleeve so that my emotions are always conveniently ready whenever I need them, but still an excess wells over into tears at the abundance of a moment. This was not the only experience of sharing tangible and spiritual gifts I've had this holiday season or even this year, but it was the one that pushed me over the edge into a semi-permanent state of blissful excess in love and sharing that is the holiday season for me: no one can do wrong, I love everyone, the world is a beautiful place and everyone in it is divine.
This excess makes life is so much easier in living without judgment, in seeing right past the motorcycle jackets and tattoos, the divisiveness among races and classes and creeds, the big wars and eternal conflicts among nations and individuals, seeing through all the meanness that humans can visit upon each other to who we really are underneath, and we're not very different when it comes down to it. In fact, we're very much the same.
This condition will wear off in a while, although it never goes away entirely. I consider it an affirmation, a blessing, and a gift.
I am humbled by the generosity of the two with the portrait, their simple kindness in bringing gifts and their willingness to share their emotions without reserve, and by the generosity of all such gifts given to me now and all through the year by the people in my life. I only hope to be able to return a portion of it in kind some time in the future, and to pass it on to others, to help win everyone over and fill the world with love.
December 25, 2005
Yesterday I handed over one of the last of my commissioned animal portraits for this holiday season. The couple who came to pick it up was dressed in Steeler sweatshirts and jeans, black leather jackets and a Santa hat, and smelled a little of beer and cigarettes, not the type many would imagine would want a portrait of their cat, but I knew better. This is their second portrait, the first being a gift from the woman to her husband of a portrait of his cat a few years ago; this second was a gift from him to her of her cat, who she had put to sleep earlier this year.
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Wednesday, February 2, 2000
There was a death in my neighborhood recently-right in my own backyard.
I glanced out the door to my backyard on a still, brilliant January morning, the open air sparkling with fine snow flurries glistening like tiny diamonds floating aimlessly in no hurry to reach the ground, and the rooftops, branches and grass lightly dusted with the finest of down. Then a bit of movement caught my eye, just beyond the edge of the deck-the killer, its back to me, standing astride the breast of its victim, spatters of blood in the snow all about, turned its head
A variety of birds are typically insistent at the feeders on the deck and in the backyard on clear frigid mornings like these, knocking each other about, hopping around and flying back and forth to the trees, but the scene was oddly still aside from the airy glitter. The young Cooper's hawk had taken another victim, a rather large rock dove, from the ranks of my avian visitors. No wonder the crowds had completely disappeared. I would probably run and hide in the basement if a comparable threat appeared to me in my surroundings.
As any good birdwatcher would do, I grabbed my camera, always ready by the door to document visitors, threw on a coat and shoes and eased out the door.
No need to worry that the hawk would fly away. It was in no manner intimidated by my appearance. I snapped one photo as soon as I was out the door, then edged closer to the scene, clicking away with the shutter, until I was no more than ten feet away, although still on the deck. The hawk continued to survey the yard.
Whether perturbed by my intrusion or because it was time to be off, the hawk dug its talons into the breast of the dove and flew over to my neighbor's hemlocks, just beyond my fence, and a chorus of crows suddenly started a ruckus all around. I watched the tree, waiting to see if I'd have a chance at any more photos of the hawk.
As I listened to fluttering and flapping in the dense hemlock but unable to see into the tree, I wondered how the hawk would be able to perch while holding a dove that large. Using one set of talons to perch and the other to hold, or using its beak to hold while
Suddenly the dove hit the ground under the hemlock, and while the flapping continued a red-tailed hawk either flew out of or around the tree from the other side, swirling around and down and under the tree, landing next to the dove. It stepped up onto the dove, dug in with its talons and with two deep undulations of its wings took off from under the tree, rising and turning with one more graceful wave and circling away.
The crows continued their loud conversation then took off to follow the red-tail. The Cooper's hawk soared out of the hemlock to a nearby wild black cherry, perching very near the top, out of range of my camera lens but clearly visible in the deciduous tree.
Snow flurries continued to sparkle in the crisp air. The whole incident had taken about five minutes.
Later that day, when the light dusting of snow had melted, I found two circles of feathers and down in the grass, similar to what was left behind from that morning's incident, where apparently the hawk had dispatched with other doves. On another day I noticed small feathers and down continually drifting through the bare branches of the maple in front of my house and went out to find the hawk in the dense Norway spruce next to the maple I'll leave it up to your imagination.
I have read that in order to discourage the hawk from considering my yard a diner I should leave my feeders empty for a few weeks or more so that the birds would move on. Without enough birds to choose from, the hawk would then leave, too. I tried this when I had first noticed a hawk several years ago, but I only lasted about five days, and there were plenty of birds around before I started feeding them, anyway. Perhaps I am making these birds easy prey for this predator, or perhaps they are in danger from it wherever they go.
After all, I encourage the birds to stay around through the growing season-the cardinals, jays and other bug chasing birds work hard all summer long (along with the spiders, toad and garter snake) to keep my garden free from aphids, whiteflies and whatever other little bug pests they happen to find. It's part of the big chain of events which is nature supporting itself, and the hawk predating other birds is a part of that chain as well.
What makes the appearance of the hawk most amazing to me is that I live in Carnegie, two streets from the main street, not six miles from the Point. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do to this earth, the lives of the wild creatures carry on around us, although abbreviated, interrupted and more difficult to be sure. We feel that we can't live without brand new housing developments, office complexes and shopping centers within three miles of our homes, but the birds, raccoons, groundhogs, bats, deer and other wildlife seem to make do with what we leave them.
And if we leave them more than just a little or maximize what we have to offer by naturalizing areas of our own yards or neighborhoods and not using chemicals, we work with that natural cycle.
Wildlife isn't only what's "out there" in undisturbed woods and fields-it's also what's in our backyards, if we take the time to look and know what to look for. And once we see the diversity of species that live there and learn how they all coexist to keep each other in balance, it's hard not to imagine our backyards and whole neighborhoods as small ecosystems and respect the other creatures that share our space. Once we do that, it's a small step toward building an awareness of and respect for the rest of the world around us.
This awareness doesn't need to lead to a paralysis of development, but it should lead to a reconciliation of what we feel are our priorities with the needs of the creatures who share our space, plus what our environment needs to nurture and support all of us.
I've been feeding the birds at this house for about ten years, and in those years I've seen less diversification of bird species; now most of my visitors are the sturdy doves, sparrows and starlings, although I have a few permanent blue jays and cardinals. But the tufted titmice and cedar waxwings no longer visit, and the late summer oriole which had always terrorized the fall webworm cocoons hasn't shown up for a couple of years.
During these years, open space and former farmland, which used to sit just on the edges of the borough of Carnegie, is quickly disappearing under development, as are the undeveloped areas in Collier, Robinson and Moon Townships. It's pretty clear that we've chopped up the local environment and made it either undesirable or unlivable for many species of birds and other creatures who used to live here.
The death of the dove is really a symbol of the continuance of the natural environment. The real death in the neighborhood is the permanent change to the environment and the loss of some of the members of this habitat.
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Friday, January 2, 2004
(click on the image to see a larger version)
It is early March and I am planting peas. The wan spring sun is finding its heat and lays like a warm hand upon my back as I work. Signs of approaching spring fill my senses in the mild air on my skin, the scent of damp soil and the shrieks of children as they run in frenzied circles of freedom, much like the birds swooping and circling above whistling their mix of songs.
We have passed the first intoxicating days of air that does not bite, endless sun warm enough to melt the last snowfall into a composition of dripping and trickling, soften the soil and make one's blood run with the abandon of a stream overflowing with spring thaw. The dawns have come noticeably earlier and the muted indigo dusks have lost the sharp quickness of winter and softened to a moist lingering evening.
Perhaps it is the phase of the sun or the moon, the proximity to the vernal equinox or some eternal voice that speaks to those who will listen about the time and season of things, or my own impatience to join in with the cycle that has been going on without me for a few months. Whether it is any of these reasons or all of them or none of them, I awaken one day in March every year with the knowledge that this is the day to plant the peas. It is as clear a yearly anniversary for me as any holiday, and can never be planned.
This particular morning, awakening with this revelation, I reviewed the process of planting and imagined once again the garden I had been planning since the previous autumn, fed my cats and stepped out onto the deck with my coffee as the sun lifted above the horizon. I listened to what the birds said in their morning song, closed my eyes and caught the scent of an early spring morning to find its opinion, and felt the warm sun wash assurance over my face and thereby determined that, yes, for whatever reasons, this day was right for both me and the peas.
I sorted the packets of peas out of the basket of seed packets, got four of the jars reserved for this purpose and filled them with warm water, opened the packets and poured the peas into the jars, taping the empty packets around the jars to keep them sorted. The peas would soak for a few hours, welcomed into this world with a gentle bath, softening their outer layers and awakening the seedling within.
Seedlings are growing under lights in my basement, but at this stage they could be houseplants. Planting the peas is the real thing. Putting seeds in the ground is an act of faith and trust that both you and nature will do your parts, that neither will you plant your peas under the wrong conditions and expect them to survive nor will nature scramble the seasons and instead of turning toward summer, turn back toward winter and eliminate the growing season. It is a promise to honor the needs of the seeds you sow, and so be rewarded with their provender.
Going about my daily business of checking the e-mail and the fax and making and returning a few phone calls, I was really only biding my time until the sun warmed the area of the garden where the peas would be planted. In early afternoon I dropped everything else and changed my clothes, preparing to break my own dormancy, clear the debris and decay of inactivity and begin to set my own seeds for another year of activity.
I had fondly reviewed each step of the process of planting peas while I completed the other necessary responsibilities of the day, and the outline of my task for the day was clear, but it was also leading me to visions of the garden to come and my excitement was building. Dressed in a flannel shirt over a t-shirt, jeans and work boots, I opened the basement door and burst outside, the first of many days I would do so. I chose my tools and moved everything to the long, narrow planting bed along the fence. This bed gets full sun nearly all day and has the best drainage for spring planting, and as they grow, the peas can twine their tendrils through the fence wire, giving the plants themselves the maximum amount of sunlight on their leaves and making the mature peas much easier to find at harvest time.
A slight breeze rustled dry leaves stuffed into corners of the garden and caused bare branches to click and rattle together. The earth's crust looked dull gray-brown and callused with winter debris and clumps of frostbitten soil heaved up as the soil froze and thawed through the cold, but as I cleared away a winter's worth of trash from its surface the moist soil beneath looked as rich as chocolate cake. As I applied my spading fork, gently pressing, lifting and turning forks full of soil to loosen it for roots to sprout and stretch an early robin followed close behind me. She ignored my polite question about her health and comment on the weather, intent instead on being the first to grab the fresh treats upturned by my work.
While the robin, joined by others, continued diving at creeping soil dwellers startled by their abrupt turn of soil, I rolled the wheelbarrow to the compost bin. I lifted the layer of tangled plants and autumn leaves to expose the fine humus beneath, last year's garden trimmings and kitchen vegetable scraps recycled by nature to fertilize this year's harvest. The robins hardly noticed my approach as I wheeled the barrow back to the bed and only moved a few feet up or down the bed as I began dropping forks full of compost over the soil and turned it under in another pass with the spading fork.
The steady work warmed me, rinsing the winter's cold and stiffness from my muscles and bones, and already I felt stronger, more balanced, more purpose to life than when I had awakened that morning. Even though little puffs of cold air still rose from shadows, working under the warming sun I found I could stand for the first time in a t-shirt, letting light breezes brush my arms, imagining what, in just a few months, would feel like unbearable heat, and this barren landscape of a backyard garden would be a tangle of growing things.
Then it was time to draw the furrow, one long, straight row all the way down this narrow bed. As the furrow grew I remembered pea plantings from previous years, envisioning little sprouts in the soil, dainty white blossoms all over robust vines, delicate tendrils reaching out and upward, fluttering leaves creating a complicated pattern in shades of green with sunshine and shadow. As the last act of preparation, I got three thick, short twigs and, visually dividing the bed into four parts, one for each variety of pea, I placed a twig as a divider.
In the kitchen, I put the jars of soaking peas into a little basket then took them down to the garden while trying to decide in which order I should plant them. I plan my garden pretty thoroughly, but still allow for some last-minute changes. I could stand there all afternoon debating with myself the best order for planting the four different varieties while grackles and blue jays kept a running commentary on my activity and everything else around, their squeaks and whistles and pops thrown from one to another from tree to tree and sometimes joining together just to make noise like a crowd of boisterous people. I know there is no need for change in what I had planned. Everything was ready, and it only remained to actually put the pea seeds in the furrow.
My fingers slightly apart over the top of the first jar, I held the jar close to the soil and walked along the bed in the first section, pouring the peas' soaking water into the furrow, then filled the palm of my hand with some actual pea seeds. The peas, softened, warm, nearly hummed with life as I pushed them around in my palm. Carefully balancing my handful of pea seeds I dropped to one knee at the end of the bed. Taking one pea seed and then another in two fingers of one hand from the palm of the other I placed them one after another an unmeasured inch apart as if offering a gift. Creeping along on one knee in a seemingly ancient ritual of supplication, I continued down the bed, planting each of the four varieties in the same way, suppressing the surges of my inherent impatience borne of a life adapted to automation, with the orderly, sustained labor itself, letting the job take the time it needed to take, enjoying the activity, enjoying the travel without concentrating on the destination.
Now the pea seeds stretch like a strand of irregular freshwater pearls, pale green in their rich brown velvet bed of nurturing humus, plump from their soaking, fully awakened and ready, as I was this morning, to rejoin the cycle that has been turning while we have been dormant. Each one contains the ability to sprout, sink roots down into the soil and push cotyledons up through it, grow leaf after leaf, branching, reaching and climbing, its intent to give life to potentially hundreds of progeny. These peas have so many odds against them in the immense challenge of bringing new life into the world and the responsibility of carrying on their species, and yet their only defense is to stand there and take whatever is spent on them and do their best to fulfill their biological obligation. Surely after so many generations of being tossed into the soil and left on their own they have learned some organic equivalent of fear, yet they show no concern at their position but seem excited, eager to get on with the process.
I know it will snow again this season, the soil will freeze again, clutching around each tender seed, the rains may fall too much or too little, the heat may rise to an unusual summer's pitch earlier than is expected, all of these things and more have happened in other springs; the conditions for life are never perfect. And suddenly, as every year, I feel a rush of protective love for these brave little peas, and that bond between a grower and the growing thing is formed, and I know, and the peas know, and everything else I will plant and nurture in this little space I call my own, that I will keep my part of the bargain and protect and support them in any way I can, and they will do their best with what is given them, and in the end they will gladly give and I will enjoy whatever gifts they have to offer, be it nourishment or visual delight or practical necessity.
Birds flying overhead cast moving shadows across the warm dark earth as I work, their paths crisscrossing as if to bless my activity as I move back along the row with my hoe, gently piling loose soil over the peas, surrounding them with all the nourishment I can give them, and then again as I return with the watering can, soaking the bed from end to end in my final act of planting before I leave these peas on their own.
A haze of high, thin clouds has formed on the southwest horizon, dulling the sunlight with a gossamer veil. I can once again feel the chill of winter and put my flannel shirt on over my t-shirt, gather my tools together and begin putting things away. Still at its lower winter angle, the sun will soon fall behind the tips of bare trees, then behind rooftops, then behind the silhouette of the edge of the earth, bathing this newly-turned bed full of pea seeds in the soft lavender of an early evening in late winter.
Later, when the lavender twilight has deepened to an indigo dusk, then dissolved into a cold blue-black night made velvet with moisture, I will hear the first few raindrops tap against the roof and windows, weighted with sustenance gathered from the earth in this thaw. As the drops are joined by more and yet more until there are no more individual drops, I will imagine each drop washing the soil down around each pea, pressing it ever so gently into the hand of its mother, who will cradle it, giving it the divine spark of its new life.
And I have once again passed
this anniversary and rejoined the cycle.
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Care for Your Senior Cat
This article is the latest installment in a series I've written for My Three Cats & Co., Inc. I write a new article about every two months on a topic the client and I agree is viable, and the older articles are archived. I research the topic and gather or stage the photographs or create the illustrations that go with the article. I've also done a considerable amount of art for this client (including "Bogey" wearing my reading glasses, below, created in PhotoShop), and intially designed their website, including the overall concept and backgrounds and a good bit of product description. To read the other articles in this series and browse their website, please visit My Three Cats & Co., Inc. at www.mythreecats.com.
Loving Care for Your Senior Cat
Bogey dares you to guess how old he is. He knows you'll be wrong, because he knows that cats have a unique way of hiding aging from even the most attentive owners. Once cats reach three to four years of age they can go well into their teens before they show signs of physical weakness, arthritis, failing eyesight and hearing and other common ailments of an aging body of any species.
And even then they can often get along just fine with a good diet, lots of love, and a little something extra from their people. Just like senior humans have special needs befitting the physical age of their bodies, our cats will benefit from an appropriate diet and exercise, regular health checks and even some palliative care you may not give to a younger cat.
"Senior" is as loose a term with cats as it is with humans, and feline aging is not the equivalent of canine aging.
We used to assume that dogs and cats both age, over the course of a lifetime, an average of seven "human" years for every year the animal is alive. Cats, however, tend to live a little longer than dogs, so while dogs are still averaged at seven "human years" for each "dog year", cats average only five "human years" for every "cat year".
In addition, the age considered "senior" for an animal was, and still is in some cases, only seven years old. More recently, though, other authorities and perhaps even your own veterinarian, differ in opinion, especially for cats, varying from eight to twelve years of age.
From kittenhood, Tabby should see the veterinarian yearly as part of her regular care even if there's no apparent health issue, as a benchmark from one year to the next. If a health problem arises, our cats can't say to us, "Hmm I think it was in January that I first noticed that ," but an observant veterinarian will know if a lump, bump or symptom was present at the previous yearly examination. If you've been lax when Tabby was young, and unless your veterinarian indicates any chronic conditions developing, tighten up your schedule when she reaches about ten years of age.
In addition to this yearly checkup, and because health symptoms are that much more likely to arise in an older cat, consider a "senior exam" for your cat between ten and twelve years as well. Many veterinarians and clinics offer these as a matter of course, but be cautious what they include, which is sometimes no more than a regular yearly exam with a basic blood test, but the cost is triple the charge for a regular annual exam.
The purpose of the senior exam is to determine baseline data on the cat's major health indicators at an age when everything appears normal. Find an exam that lists not only the procedures but also the conditions or symptoms for which tests are performed: a CBC, or complete blood count, does not include the T-4 or thyroid test, and in some cases does not include measures for BUN and creatinine, the indicators for renal failure, two very common chronic illnesses in older cats. So in addition to the usual exam of eyes, mouth, ears, weight, heartbeat and temperature, a geriatric exam should also check your pet's blood, urine, blood pressure and/or radiographs for problems such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or arthritis. None of these conditions may be present, or only the earliest symptoms, but later if you do begin to see changes in Tabby's lifestyle you have a record of her body when she was healthy and your veterinarian has a much more clear starting point for diagnosis.
If you haven't already, start reading labels. Tabby may tend to fill out around the middle as she gets older, or she may be a little chubby to begin with. Also, while maintaining the proper weight balance is critical as cats age, be careful with weight loss and management.
Cats are "obligate carnivores", meaning that they must eat protein to maintain their body tissue. While many senior foods may advertise reduced protein content because it's assumed to be better for an older cat, the only content that should be reduced is calories, just like a human diet or senior program. If protein is changed at all it should only be made more easily digestible, but should still be animal protein, not vegetable protein.
One other change in the food content should be an increase in fiber, obviously necessary as the cats' digestion changes, also aiding in hairball prevention.
If you currently feed only dry food or leave dry food available all the time, you may also consider feeding an increased amount of wet food. It has a stronger smell to attract her, is easier to chew and swallow, and the increased moisture content is always a benefit. If you feed at specified times, consider feeding an extra meal in between; just like senior people, Tabby will eat less at each meal and her digestion can only handle a certain amount, but she needs just as much food through the course of a day.
Feeding at specified times instead of leaving food available all the time is a good idea all through Tabby's life. For one reason, the food is always fresh, and sense of smell is what prompts a cat to eat; with aging this becomes critical. More importantly, monitoring Tabby's dining habits is important as she ages, and a change in her consumption or even her attitude toward mealtime and her food can often be the first early indicators of a health problem.
Quality treats with high nutritional content can be given to your senior cat occasionally, and is a way of nurturing the bond between you. Treats generally come in crunchy, soft or liquid form. Kitty Kissers and Kitty Kaviar are all natural treats. For additional healthful treats and supplements for your senior cat, look at CatSure, a nutritional supplement formulated to meet the needs of aging cats, Joint Health, an oral supplement for joint relief and cartilage maintenance, and Lap Happy Milk, a nutritious treat.
Tabby may still be racing to the top of the cat tree and running laps in the middle of the night at age 15, but at some point she'll slow down in either speed or frequency. While it has always seemed that she could sleep 18 hours a day and eat whatever she wanted and still stay in prime physical shape, she may need a little encouragement as she grows older.
Physical activity not only helps
to keep her muscles toned, but it also keeps her heart and lungs
and circulatory system in good condition, helps with digestion
and elimination and even appetite if that starts to wane. If you
don't already play with her on a regular basis, find some toys
that get her excited to leave around, and some interactive toys
so that you can see she gets her exercise. Da
Bird is an intriguing wand toy that will keep your senior
cat amused. Another great idea for her is the Cat
Sitter Video or DVD, especially designed to entertain cats.
Another way cats can exercise on their own, is to provide a sturdy
cat tree with several perches or landing spots. Visit our Furniture
page for a look at some great alternatives for your well deserving
Cat Fancy: http://www.catchannel.com/cat/care/elderly/default.aspx
Other sources include "CatWatch," the newsletter from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and "Catnip", the newsletter from the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Senior Cat Care, Beyond Food and Water
This article is Part Two in exploring Senior Cat Care, a follow-up to April's information on diet and exercise for senior cats. Part Two will give you tips on how to optimize your senior cat's environment and important information on senior illnesses and palliative care. See Part One especially for the definition of "senior".
Right now, Bogey is still pretty much at the top of his scratching post. He's got the benefit of a good diet, lots of exercise with all his toys, and the knowledge that his little world really does revolve around him.
Many cats will go on like this well into their teens, still spry and playful with a good appetite and a good attitude, perhaps just sleeping a little more and losing a little muscle mass even with regular exercise. But just like humans, other cats will begin to deteriorate at a younger age, or will develop chronic or terminal illnesses. And because many of us have rescued our companions from a life on the streets, many will bear the marks of that early deprivation, well enough when young, but with increasing difficulty as they age.
OPTIMIZING THE ENVIRONMENT
Somehow, the favorite chair is a little higher than it was last year, it's hard to lean down to the food bowl, those steps to the litter box in the basement are pretty scary and she'll never get up on the bed without assistance again, it's just too tall. Just as cats will adapt to or hide physical illnesses, so will they adapt to these growing daily challenges of aging. You'll think perhaps Tiger doesn't like that food, or wonder that suddenly he has developed terrible litter box habits and doesn't want to sleep with you any more.
As you would if you thought your Tiger was ill, observe the changes to his habits and do your best to determine the cause. Does he sit on the floor and look longingly up on the chair or the bed? Does he head for the stairs and not go down, or have obvious physical difficulty negotiating them? Give him a little assistance in the form of a foot stool or step stool next to the chair or bed and see if he still likes to sleep there. Consider purchasing raised dishes for his food and water.
And even though you may not like a litter box in the living room, Tiger may be very appreciative and use it diligently, which will keep you both very happy. An attractive covered box with odor control features may work just fine on the main floor of your home.
Eyes and ears can begin to fail in older cats, too, and Tiger can become disoriented easily if furniture is moved without a reintroduction to the room. If he's got a favorite sleeping spot, try to maintain it through a remodel. He may also need a few extra hollers if you call him for dinner, too. Also, consider a night light here and there to light Tiger's way around the house. If he starts to wander around the house and yowl, some affection and sweet words from you can help to reorient him and provide him with reassurance.
Encourage activity as long as possible, as this will help circulation, joint flexibility, weight, appetite and elimination. Consider also products designed for seniors that will help in these areas, such as Cat Sure and Joint Health.
Our senior cat Bogey also loves some green in his diet, so we grow grass for him and have it accessible to him on the floor of our main living area. This helps him to maintain a clean digestive tract.
And just as older people tend to be less adaptable with temperature changes, try to keep a warm spot available at all times for an old cat to curl up in when it's cold, and a cool spot in the summer. For extra warmth and padding for those old bones, what cat wouldn't like a Woolies igloo or cat bed.
These conveniences will help your senior cat remain independent for as long as possible.
In a body that doesn't move as well or digest as well, consider the rigors of bathing. Tiger may not be able to reach all his areas and may develop knots or mats in his fur, even if he is short-haired, or a rash or flaking skin where he can't clean the oils as he used to. As he ages, or with certain physical conditions, he may shed more, and constipation is a concern in older cats, often exacerbated by fur from grooming. Brush or comb him all over, especially in areas he may not be able to reachhe'll really appreciate that, and the regular working of his skin will help to keep it clean.
Get to know the big three benchmarks in Tiger's daily life: activity, appetite and weight. Note any change in these three, especially if it happens over a short period of time and if it involves more than one indicator. Tiger may slow down as he ages, but if he just quits doing things he formerly enjoyed, like playing with a certain toy or starts sleeping more or in a completely different place than usual, he may be dealing with a chronic illness. If he suddenly loses interest in his favorite food or food in general, or starts losing weight despite his appetite, observe him carefully and make an appointment with your veterinarian for an exam and tests. Remember that your veterinarian will need your observations for a complete diagnosis.
The most common diseases in older cats are kidney and liver failure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, anemia and cancer. The list needn't be as frightening as it sounds-with early detection, a good diet and palliative care, these diseases can be cured or managed for more years of a good life. Along with the recommended twice-yearly exam by a veterinarian, observe your cat's food and water consumption, and note any changes in behavior.
Increased activity level and a ravenous appetite with weight loss can indicate hyperthyroidism. Very common in older cats it is easily managed with medication if it is simply an overactive thyroid, but can also be successfully treated if it is caused by a thyroid tumor. A complete diagnosis is made with a physical exam of the thyroid and a blood test to check for thyroid hormone.
Those symptoms can also indicate diabetes, along with frequent urination, which is diagnosed with a blood test and urinalysis. Many senior cat owners have managed the daily glucose test, insulin shot and dietary changes and been able to enjoy their cat's company for years beyond the diagnosis.
An increase in water consumption along with a decreased appetite and occasional vomiting can mean kidney failure, also diagnosed with a blood test. It can't be cured, but can be treated over the long term with dietary changes and hydration-even after all that water is consumed, Tiger can still be dehydrated because his kidneys are not functioning as well as they could be. Regular doses of subcutaneous fluids, often daily, will help Tiger's kidneys continue to filter the body's fluids, another treatment that can be done at home.
Cancer can be obvious in a highly visible growth, but can also be hidden inside, evidenced only by decreasing activity and appetite and weight loss. Many cancers can be treated without surgery, as surgery would be a last resort for an older cat, and treatment can keep it under control for suite some time.
While many of the environmental changes can be considered "palliative", this really refers to actions you take or treatments you give that help his body function normally or may simply make Tiger feel better. Dehydration is not uncommon, even when no chronic condition is present, as the body simply slows down. Regular application of subcutaneous fluids can help your cat fight diseases and simply feel better.
And beyond anything else you might do, it's vitally important that you constantly give them affection, remind them how much they mean to you. The unfortunate truth is that cats only live a brief span of years compared to us, and that we're likely to outlive them. However, if we commit some thought and some time to their senior care, we can certainly prolong their lives and provide for their comfort. After all, they have been our constant companions, offering unconditional love over many years. They deserve our special attention now, in their "sunset" years.
Cat Fancy: http://www.catchannel.com/cat/care/elderly/default.aspx
Other sources include "CatWatch," the newsletter from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and "Catnip", the newsletter from the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Let Your Cat Cat Around
I wrote this article on my own after having read about the issue in one of my birdwatching magazines. I solicited places to have it published, and still place it in newsletters where appropriate.
Landing right in front of her, the unsuspecting dove pecked around in the shelter of the deck. Sophie transformed into the feline assassin, crouching, creeping forward soundlessly, eyes wide, ears alert, tail twitching. Responding to centuries of instinct she pounced, only to be foiled, once again, by a pane of glass. She sat by the door, complaining, as the dove continued cleaning up some spilled bird seed.
This is how Sophie chases birds. And based on startling facts about just how many birds and other small creatures cats kill, this is the only way Sophie will ever chase anything but catnip toys.
"But cats are supposed to be outdoors," some people say, or "that's nature, cats kill things" and "it's cruel to keep a cat indoors", "my cat never kills anything" or "I can't keep her indoors".
The list of common sense reasons cats should be kept from roaming outdoors generally ensures their own health and safety. Consider also the sustained existence of wildlife, including that in your own backyard.
Statistics show that about 68 million cats are kept as companion animals in the United States; according to owners about 40 million are allowed to roam. Add to that the estimated 60 to 100 million stray and feral cats, and that adds up to a lot of cats outdoors.
A study at the University of Wisconsin, counting only the observed killings of an average of 1.5 million rural free-roaming cats for four years, gave a conservative estimate of 31.4 million small mammals and 7.8 million birds killed each year. A one-year Virginia study of native wildlife, again counting only the catches observed, found that each urban cat caught an average of 26 individuals, the rural cats an average of 83 individuals.
Take either of those studies and multiply by the total estimate of cats outside, or by the number of cats wandering your neighborhood, and it's a wonder there are any small animals left. While sparrows and chipmunks may seem plentiful and we don't want those moles in our lawns or mice around our foundations anyway, cats kill whatever they can catch without regard to the Endangered Species Act and that catch might also be an endangered wood thrush or a star-nosed mole. Humans caught are prosecuted for violating either federal or state endangered species legislation and businesses are made to accommodate the needs of species considered endangered, but roaming cats suffer no punishment and may be doing more damage than humans in some areas.
And that cat may not even be hungry-in cats, the urge to kill is unrelated to the urge to eat. A preliminary study offered cat food to six cats who were then presented with a live mouse. All of them stopped eating, killed the mouse, then went back to the cat food. First this killing instinct, then we give them an unfair advantage with health care and shelter, and there is no competition.
An average of 1,500 injured animals per year arrive at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania's Wildlife Center in Verona, and according to Jill Nadzam, Rehabilitation Manager, about 40% of the injuries treated are cat attacks. "It's the most preventable injury. When cats bite a small animal about 80% of the time it's fatal, even with antibiotics," she said. "And bells don't do anything-wild animals don't necessarily associate it with danger."
"Cats are great hunters and can grab a bird right out of the air with their claws," said house-call veterinarian Barbara Smith, DVM, who urges her clients to keep their cats indoors. "Their teeth are very small and sharp and puncture the skin very easily, and their saliva causes one heck of an infection."
The domestic cat is not native to North America, but began arriving only a few hundred years ago on European ships. For this reason an introduced feline predator disrupts the local ecosystem, a carefully balanced arrangement that evolved over millennia, by indiscriminately killing off native prey animals. Scott Detwiler, naturalist at Beechwood Farms, home of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania which houses a number of injured raptors for educational purposes, adds that by killing small prey "they are depriving native predators of a meal."
Native predators, both mammals and raptors, need a sizable territory supporting only one individual or family unit. They usually have only one batch of young per year, often producing only one offspring which must then move off to find its own territory. Cat territories overlap, and with an artificial food source, even the well-meaning practice of managing feral cat colonies with trap-and-spay policies, populations can swell through reproduction or attraction, and the concentration of cats can out-compete native predators and decimate native populations.
But in many areas wildlife has no choice but to try to co-exist with cats. "Habitats for wildlife are diminishing, and what's left is pretty fragmented," said Jeff Wagner, County Natural Heritage Coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. "Wildlife is funneled into smaller and smaller areas." These areas, often our own backyards, become traps.
And if you want to truly consider your cat to be a part of the ecosystem and let it outdoors, then you have to accept that your cat is prey as well as predator, take away all the competitive advantages you give it, and honestly let nature take its course. On their own, cats have an average lifespan of three years, and kittens have only a 25% survival rate. They are prey to anything that would predate on a rabbit, adults being about the same size. That is hardly what one would consider a pet.
"We strongly encourage people to keep their cats indoors when they are adopting, and this is one good reason," said Charlotte Grimme, Executive Director of the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania; all of the shelters encourage this, she said-why else would they put all the effort into rescuing animals only to put them back out on the streets? "People can easily let their cats outdoors, but about 10 years ago all the shelters got together with the city of Pittsburgh to try to change the laws relating to animal control and protection, which had not been updated for about 50 years," Grimme continued. One of the things the shelters wanted to introduce was tagging cats just like dogs. "If the cat goes outside, it has to have a tag," she explained, on the assumption that this might deter people from letting their cats roam because of the expense and trouble of obtaining a tag, and the fines for a roaming cat with no tag.
Cats can get accustomed to living indoors after having been outdoor cats. I live with six lovely felines right now, and have rescued and fostered many more through the years who all came from the great outdoors but were ultimately convinced that the windowsill would have to be good enough. Plenty of alternatives to roaming outdoors are available if your cat really needs the fresh air. Cats enjoy screened porches and can become accustomed to leashes or confined areas outdoors. One of my senior cats, hobbled by hind legs that were malformed by bad early nutrition and who can't move faster than a walk, enjoys as much as an hour of sunning herself on the warm brick patio next to my garden under constant supervision, although she once watched a mole run right over her outstretched paw with sleepy disinterest.
For more information on this
subject and the complete details of the studies quoted in this
article, please check www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat
Story of Smudge and Carol
I have occasionally written articles for the Animal Friends newsletter, the Petsburgh Press, where this was published, so when I assisted a friend in adopting a dog after she had lost her ten-year companion, I offered to write the article for Animal Friends, and always provide the photos, art or illustration, as I did here. On reading the article, you'll see why the adoption was so special. Friends often become customers (and customers become friends), and I'm working on a portrait for Carol of the dog she lost in 2003 (see "Diviana" under "Portraits" on my "New Works" page), and I created a portrait of her with Smudge for her sister and brother-in-law to give to her as a Christmas gift in 2005, see below and on my "Commissioned Dogs" or "My People" pages.
The Story of Smudge & Carol
For the first few weeks in her new home, Smudge seemed like a senior dog with her quiet and serious demeanor, but you'd never know that to see her now with her perky ears, bright eyes and exuberant nature. Is this the little schnauzer mix who was rescued by Animal Friends from a shelter in Kennedy Township where she was about to be euthanized? No one knows how Smudge came to be wandering alone, but Carol Covi knew how to overcome Smudge's reticence and let her love again.
Carol had recently lost her beloved Diviana, a miniature schnauzer given to her as a puppy eleven years ago. Named for the goddess of protection, Divi took the mantle of her namesake very seriously Along with the usual daily pitfalls from which every dog must protect her human, Carol has also lived with spina bifida since birth, and variously uses crutches, a wheelchair and a motorized scooter to maneuver inside and out.
Finding her home a little too quiet, another canine companion was a must for Carol, but with her physical challenges a very special dog was in order. A call to Animal Friends to describe her dream companion should this angel appear in the shelter brought an almost immediate response from adoption counselor Marty Sheets. Carol visited Animal Friends just before Halloween to meet "Bertie," who went home that night with the new name of "Smudge."
One might think a 15-pound dog might be at least a little frightened at the approach of a motorized scooter in a tight space, or be frustrated with a person who couldn't run and play, but animals are understanding creatures who accept just about anything we hand to them. Smudge never questioned anything about her new person. That's not to say it didn't take some work on Carol's part to win Smudge's trust. "At first she wouldn't play, wouldn't get up on my lap, she just wasn't interested in the things most dogs want to do," Carol said. Carol made it her mission to invite Smudge onto her lap at every opportunity, ask for kisses, offer treats, and what dog could resist? All the while anyone could see Smudge coming to trust that she really was a permanent part of this human's life.
And for many of us adopters
of stray animals, it's fun to try to piece together your new companion's
background. After seeing Smudge's happy excitement at sighting
a cat on the sidewalk, Carol noticed other things. "She washes
herself, rubs on my leg, sits down to eat and does the stretch
when you call her and takes her time about getting to you-I think
she lived with cats!"
I am proud to announce that I have had poems published on the Autumn 2006 edition of hotmetalpress, an online poetry journal!
APPLES FOR MY LOVE
by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
July 4, 2006
I read a poem
About another poem
Read to a young boy by his second-grade teacher
Which caused him to fall in love with her
And carry her memory through all his mornings and evenings
Inspiring his life as a poet and lover,
The premise of the poem I don’t know to be true,
About a tradition of lovers in France
To leave an apple on the bedside table at retiring
So in the morning they could share a bite upon waking
To cleanse the night must, then kiss to begin the new day together
Sweet and satisfying to each other.
Whether true or not,
And though you are as distant as that boy and his teacher and the poem and the apple,
I will leave an apple at my bedside
For the morning when, finally, you are with me.
drafted May, 2005; finished April, 2006
The dogwoods are blooming up and down
The breaking of the cold,
The unusually warm, brilliant spring day
Has brought my neighbors out to wash cars and cut grass.
Like the returning birds
Their conversations drift and circle from yard to yard
And cross the street on capricious breezes;
We have been put away all winter
Like articles of summer clothing
Our potential at rest,
Yet now, even at night,
Pale, airy clouds of blossoms
Hover in the darkness all over the neighborhood.
To live my life like a tree,
to grow steadily from small beginnings,
fervently when possible, and quietly adapt when necessary,
stand in peace and harmony with my neighbors,
bear my fruit appropriately,
bring shelter and comfort to others indiscriminately,
and when my season is over
graciously give my gift to the earth
for the benefit of myself and all around me,
and without fear
patiently wait for my moment to return
To live my life like a tree,
(charcoal sketch, "The Sentinel" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski; click on the image to see a larger version, or visit "Winter White".)
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Roiling clouds blown by winds Hazy wisps in autumn The heavy purple rainclouds of a late
Before a summer thunderstorm,
Huge constructions in purple and blue
And lurid green tinged with coral.
The delicate lace of a fair summer day,
Puffs and wisps in white and cream
Shaded with lilac and blue
And edged in yellow.
Moving slowly from one horizon to the next,
Never amounting to much.
Looming on the horizon
Shadowing the early wan sun
And promising a rainy night.
Roiling clouds blown by winds
Hazy wisps in autumn
The heavy purple rainclouds of a late
(pastel painting, "Fall" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski; click on the image to see a larger version.)
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A field of grass,
In the spring, new bright green velvet
In June, tall and deep green
(pastel painting, "Summerfield" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski; click on the image to see a larger version, or visit my Landscapes page.)
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The field of grass
The amber of ripe stems
(pastel painting, "My Hillside in Autumn" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski; click on the image to see a larger version, or visit my Landscapes
Pale blue in late winter,
(pastel painting, "Cloud Study" by Bernadette E. Kazmarski, click on the image to see a larger version, or visit my Landscapes page.)
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August 14, 2000
Shocking scarlet at their first emergence into the sun,
White potatoes creamy and translucent,
Their skins clear, smooth, free of blemishes,
Still damp from the tender soil,
Warm like new babies in the sun.
I hold a new life in my hands,
Each a miracle of nature.
SNOW AT NIGHT
March 26, 2006
I check under the streetlight whenever I pass the window,
the still night scene like a Hopper painting, tranquil and perfect,
or the set on a stage, ready for the players, the houselights dim.
I anticipate the first action of the play,
and I grow impatient
the stillness, the leaden sky as the afternoon aged
weighted with promise,
the early darkness,
then suddenly a bit of movement under the arc of the streetlight,
I hold my breath and still myselfwas that it?
then a pause, then again, at an angle, a bit of ash gently drifting,
and another, then two at once,
then too many to count, meandering,
all in the same direction,
appear in the streetlight’s cone of illumination, then disappear.
I am transfixed
as the flakes simply continue as if without plan,
my neighbors’ windows are all covered,
lights and flickering TVs behind curtains and blinds,
I am the only one who has witnessed the beginning.
June 30, 2005
An ancient rambling rose
Spread her arcs of deep red blossoms,
Rich against the yellow painted wood siding
At the corner of the house,
A creamy lace curtain in the window just above,
All soft, washed by the warm, gentle sun
Of an early June evening.
I paused, considered, returned to the spot,
Coming back to capture the last of the moment
Just before the shadow of the house across the street
Crept up over the rose,
The siding and then the window
Revealing faded, peeling paint
And a gray, sagging curtain,
The rose but a clump of brambles
Among tall grasses and thistles.
FOREVER WITH EACH OTHER
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
She still wears her hair long, with bangs,
slightly tinted the red of her teenage years, thought not exactly;
he still wears a t-shirt and jeans
even though he’s a little thicker around the waist than high school,
because that’s how they picture each other.
She still wears that shade of red lipstick
that was popular during the War;
he still has enough hair to slick back
with a few waves
just like their wedding picture.
To those of us on the outside looking in
it may seems as if they’ve missed a few decades
still dressing like the 70s
or the 40s
or some style entirely their own,
walking as if they still had the
balance and charm of youth,
but we’re not in on their secret.
Somehow they’ve preserved that moment
of meeting in the hallway in high school,
or running into each other on campus,
or being introduced at a party,
and they still see in each other
what they recognized that moment
as if the decades still lay ahead.
July 20, 2007
Your petite silhouette lingers
long, graceful legs tipped with soundless slender paws
the waving tendril of a tail curls in a perfect circle
as you pause in your eternal dance
and enrich my life,
awakening nascent creative visions
and laughter at the silly joy of youth,
yellow eyes illumining my world
leaving rainbows in your wake;
the images you inspired in your brief existence
erase the sadness of your leaving
and as I remember and render your antics
I can share you with the world.
Things I Found in the Woods
January 13, 2006
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.
A fraction of your dignity,
and the desire to walk with you to the end of the path
as you transition from this beautiful world into the next.
MY FIRST DECISION
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I am riding my little red bike up and down the street
in the sun I think it is July the black pavement
is a little soft and smells like asphalt down the street
it looks wavy above the surface just like the mirages
in the desert you read about I am the only one out in the street
I ride to where the hill starts on one side then to the
bend where I can’t really see the house on the other
then turn around every time I go past the house I check
the driveway for the big light blue car with wings
on the back it looks like an airplane I’ve never
seen one close up from every house I pass I hear
the hushing sounds of an crowd and Bob Prince
I know his voice everyone is watching the Pirate game
on TV my mother father sister brother are in there in
the shade watching the game they cheer and yell and scream
when anything happens it sounds exciting but I don’t understand
I’d rather be out here in the blue and yellow afternoon
riding my bike up and down the street forever
just the scent of a hot July breeze grass and sunshine
and the hushing sounds of the audience and yet
another announcer announcing another Pirate game
has brought this all back in a rush thirty-some years later.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Oh, I can’t stop looking at all the feverfew
in my garden,
I just keep running from one cluster to another
those tiny perfect daisies
in umbels as if floating without stems
on waves of bright green leaves
the dots of dew flashing, sparkling
in the day’s new sun
just arrived over the horizon
its color still warm and yellow
as if it’s a cookie just taken out of the oven
and I have to look at all the feverfew
from every angle
until I’m done looking
and I discover I’ve forgotten all the problems of yesterday
and all the ills of the world that I feel the need to carry
and I’m laughing
and dripping with dew myself
and visualizing stunning works of art
and amazing poetry and prose
most of which will ever be realized
nor do they need to be
the inspiration only needs to settle into my soul in this early morning in June
and its glow will warm heart
and keep me laughing with joy
through this day
and the next
and the next.
AUGUST 28, 1941
Bits and pieces from The Pittsburgh Press, evening edition
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
1935 Ford sedan for $95.
’33 Auburn Sedan for only $5.68 per month.
Cary Grant’s Mexican jaunt to invest $300,000 in silver mines there.
Fred Astaire is building a private golf course on his San Diego County ranch.
Steelers Make Guard Out of Dan Williams, Texas Tackle.
LifeGuard tires save lives, money, rubber.
America’s snapshots better than ever…most of them made on Kodak Verichrome filmto those in Service, send the news of your new life in the Nation’s service with the portable form of snapshots.
New York Central System, Travel in comfort, every Sunday to Cleveland $2.50.
Mt. Lebanon, New, 6 rooms, 2-1/2 baths, brick, large wooded lot, $9,600.
I can give you my word that Roosevelt, the man, has a deep personal hatred for war. Roosevelt, the president, has the task of carrying American Democracy forward under God against any resistance.~Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.
Pirates Run Over Phillies, 12-2.
College days are with us again as students across the nation start cutting rugs and classes.
At the “New Carnegie Theater”, Carnegie, PA, Cary Grant, James Stewart in “Philadelphia Story”, also Cartoons and News.
Hitler’s Broken Promises Occupy Nearly 1,000 pages in his own words“My New Order” from Reynal and Hitchcock.
Ten Homewood children, between the ages of 7 and 12, held a lawn fete last Friday afternoon at the corner of Gettysburg and Edgerton Streets for the benefit of the Milk and Ice Fund. Today The Press received the proceeds, $3.57.
Among the novelty high shoes this season is one of black patent leather having bowknot patterns showing an underlay of white kid.
And when we witness the downfall of dictatorshipwhat then? A world union of self-governing peoples to guarantee and enforce peace.~Associate Justice Owen Roberts, U.S. Supreme court.
Today’s newspaper boy, tomorrow’s leaderWhen Robert S. Bogda, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Bogda of McKees Rocks, finishes high school, he intends to go into the steel mill with his father. He is the junior merchant who delivers The Pittsburgh Press daily and Sunday to subscribers around Ridge Avenue. Bob likes to travel and also runs errands for neighbors to augment his fund for travel.
A program that is heralded as the world’s first all-Negro opera will be previewed on KDKA at 8:30 tonight as Negro performers from all over America perform selections from “Celeste Aida”.
Bellevue couple welcomes twin girls.
But did anyone see the storm darkening the horizon?
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
He doesn’t have to give this gift to her
and she doesn’t have to receive it
as she could easily feed herself
but she perches on a fallen branch
while he flies to the feeder
grasps a sunflower seed
and flies back to perch next to her;
they tilt their heads as if to kiss
as she accepts this seed of his love,
the bright red cardinal’s first act of courtship
to his dark red mate
on Valentine’s Day.
AFTER THE FLOOD
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
After a day of rain
the creek has been rising
and by night it thunders down its channel
writhing around its curves like a medieval dragon,
pulling at its banks and anything overhanging,
carrying whatever it can grasp along the way,
and I have seen this creature before
in the creek’s rise and fall,
now tamed by engineering,
filling its channel to the brim, then receding
each spring and summer
and not felt threatened but fascinated
by its power, power not of humans,
power to change absolutely to a form
unrecognizable from its usual character,
yet always returning to the quiet,
sleepy nature which I had explored from childhood.
But I am remembering another night
when the creek refused to stop at its brim
but spilled over and over and over,
thundering down all the hillsides came its sustenance
tributaries filling their valleys as never before,
rushing to join with the writhing creature,
mixing and turning and thrashing and smashing anything in its path
so drunk with its own power
that it forgot all those who loved it,
who lived on its banks and in its valleys,
listened to its soft murmuring voice in the darkness of a summer night,
but even as I pleaded with the creature to stop, it had gone too far,
my friend, my refuge, how could you betray me,
I knew that the creek would not listen,
it was no creature gone on a rampage
it was simply following its nature, and this one time
it defeated our intelligence with its simple power
and all our homes, possessions, lives
were nothing in its path.
The next day the beast no longer raged,
the sun shone and the air was mild,
and the autumn continued like any autumn before,
but we were changed, all of us,
the long journey ahead, longer than we knew
and our place here will never be the same.
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