It rained this morning, softly whispering in the trees all around the house, and I have been remembering my little Kelly and this poem inspired by her and a certain drizzly summer morning in 2009. I could have no better tribute to her gentle and loving personality than a poem that also touched many others and won an award. August 11 was the day she left us in 2012, an abandoned or former feral kitty with a long story to tell.
Pawprints and Raindrops
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.
You can listen to the poem too—see the link below.
About the poem…
Kelly really did this one early Saturday morning in 2009. I listened to the rain in the blue light of early dawn and she knew I was awake and came over and walked all over my back, purring. We were the only ones awake. Kelly had tiny paws and they were always cold, something that was uniquely her, and picturing those tiny paws dimpling my skin through the sheet as she walked on me was what connected the rain, the water, Kelly and me. I remember visualizing the lines of this, images first, descriptive words later.
I’ve been working on her story as a book inspired by the five-part rescue story I wrote about her, “A Little Bit About Kelly”, which is what it started out to be, before I realized how much she had to tell.
At a bend in the trail,
The scent of wild apples greets me.
A tree abandoned from an old orchard
Or sprung up on its own from old stock, wild and uncultivated,
Heavy with small round burnished apples.
The late summer heat releases their scent,
Sweet and tart, that the world may know they have reached their prime;
The wild perfume of the coming season.
From another tree one single leaf lets go
And falls, papery, dry and curled, slipping through branches
Clattering to the summer-hardened clay of the trail,
Loud in the silent heat of the August afternoon.
Winter lost her grip, and, one by one,
The wildflowers of spring began to bloom,
Which, in their turn, faded into the shadows of the dense summer woods.
Now summer is losing her strength,
Autumn is thinning the woods
And bearing her own flowers and fruits,
Changing the palette of the landscape
With bright summer greens turning gold,
Deep rich shadows fading hazy blue.
Soon autumn will blaze along the trail,
And songbirds will move their chorus south.
Already winter has touched my hair,
And the smell of wild apples is in the air.
Seasons meld from one to another, not at the equinox and solstice but halfway between, in the quiet time when there are no other celebrations, but the sensitive person can feel the change, especially standing in the quiet relentless heat of a backwoods trail in August. I visited the trail on the traditional Celtic cross-quarter Lugnasadh and the Christian Feast of Lammas, when summer gently gives over to autumn, growth turns to ripening, the natural world begins to settle itself in for harvest and rest in the dark of winter, and later that day the sense of change, in the woods and in myself, was still strong with me, and I wrote this poem. It became a symbol and celebration of my own developing changes, my mother’s failing health and ultimate death, and reaching my own half-century mark shortly after, seeing that as my own Lugnasadh.
Also enjoy a recorded version including a slideshow of images.
We notice these changes in ourselves in the great cycle of our own lives. I had drafted this poem during an earlier summer, but I finished it for my first poetry reading, which was at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.
The gradual changes we barely notice were the topic of my 2009 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season. I have published the collections of poetry from each of the four poetry readings, 2007 through 2010, in a book entitled Paths I Have Walked, which you can purchase on my poetry page on this website and also the Books section of my main website.
I’m proud to offer a folio of my poetry
Paths I Have Walked: the poetry and art of Bernadette E. Kazmarski
FROM FOUR ANNUAL POETRY READINGS AT ANDREW CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY & MUSIC HALL IN CARNEGIE, PA
People who attended one or more of my poetry readings encouraged me to publish some of my poetry in a book from the beginning.
Once I completed my 2010 poetry reading, my fourth featuring the final piece of artwork in the “Art of the Watershed” series, I decided it was time to publish something and it should be those four poetry readings.
Poetry books are not best-sellers; it’s difficult to convince a publisher to risk effort on a beginning poet, and while self-publishing is the best option it’s not inexpensive and once you’ve got the book, someone’s got to market it. Plus, I’m a graphic designer and I designed books for years, and I want things my way.
All of this is a recipe for a little bit of trouble, but I decided the book was well worth the effort so I designed the book myself and had a set printed—no ISBN or anything formal, but it’s a start! I’m really excited to offer it.
Books are 4.25″ x 11″, 40 pages of information and poetry, with glossy covers featuring “Dusk in the Woods” and little thumbnails of all four pieces in “Art of the Watershed”.
$10.00 each including shipping (they are oversized for mailing first class).
My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.
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. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers.
My poetry readings and art exhibits were the vision of Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, after learning of my publishing of those two poems. I owe her many thanks for encouraging me to present this combination of my visual and literary art, a first for me. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor.
Green, green waves ahead
diminishing to blue over the northern horizon
exalted rises and shadowed valleys gradually made plain
to rolling hills and misted hollows
interstate unrolled as ribbon
around hill and following valley,
signs noting unseen destinations
bearing hopeful small town names:
little hamlets of Pennsylvania coal being crushed to diamonds,
glittering in the vales;
a gauze curtain of rain shower flows across hills
soaking opposite side of road
but the sun shines brightly ahead,
occasionally a sudden cluster of official orange obstructions
gives instructions to change directions
slowing pace to allow a close and careful study
of native plants along the roadside,
a stately brick farmhouse, a skull with empty windows, abandoned,
its outbuildings only roofs in the tall grass
as if melting back into the earth from whence they were created;
then a curving exit that leaves the noise of four lanes behind a rise,
a sojourn on a quiet two-lane three-digit backroad,
once the lifeline before the interstate, now empty;
clusters of buildings at intersections, one traffic light flashing yellow,
old farms and equipment,
rusted industrial structures,
a field gone entirely to Queen Anne’s Lace,
some cows on a hillside,
and everywhere roadside stands
celebrate the first flush of mid-summer bounty;
collect loose change from pockets and floor of car
and with the dole,
buy fresh homegrown sweet corn to feed thy soul.
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; this poem was one of those selected. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers. Every time I take that ride north on the interstate in the summer all the scenes and lines from the poem come back to me.
That was my garden last year. In fact, it was most of my back and side yards, the places I’d grown my vegetables from my cold frame to my raspberry bushes, where my native plants had stood and called to the bees and butterflies and hummingbirds and songbirds, all in their season. I’d walked among them as if it was my own private park, and indeed it was, my backyard wildlife habitat, carefully organized over 25 years and giving me both sustenance and inspiration, flattened by my tree in 2016, and grazed to dirt by the white-tailed deer who had never bothered my yard before but suddenly found it a paradise of fresh browsing.
Space for a sustainable garden was imperative in my choice of a home in 1990, and I found this tiny house on a slightly oversized lot. I planted periwinkle and pachysandra in the front yard, made my side yard into a terraced rain garden with stone steps and rocks and hybrid and native plants, and no grass at all. I worked out my 30’ x 50’ vegetable garden with brick paths and raised beds and the rest of the yard in herbs and native plants, blooming and fruit-bearing and berrying shrubs, and a small area for grass managed as a meadow and filled with forget-me-nots and buttercups in spring, tiny recumbent flowering native plants in summer and fall with a fair sprinkling of herbs just for fun. When I told people my yard was a registered backyard wildlife habitat and that I had no grass but for a small patch in the back yard they imagined my home surrounded by weeds and brambles, overgrown and shabby. But my neighbors and visitors were always drawn in by following the stone, brick and wood chip paths among the growing things to see what was here, and often remarked it was so much like a park they wanted to visit it regularly, and some people did.
That vegetable garden produced most of the food I ate for nearly two decades, eating it fresh and processing the rest into soups and sauces and cooked and also as frozen and canned ingredients. I started my own plants and a few years into it purchased heritage seeds and began saving my seeds as well, letting them adapt themselves into the nutrients in my soil and the light and humidity in my little ecosystem. I composted all plant waste along with my paper waste from my studio of natural fiber mat board and drawing paper and anything else appropriate. I quit using a tiller very early on, turning the soil by hand, so easy to do with all the organic matter. And with so many birds and insects all was kept in balance, I never had need for chemicals to kill off an overpopulation of insects or even to frighten off animals who would invade to eat. They didn’t invade, they lived here, and I left violets and plantain to grow along my garden paths so rabbits only nibbled the lettuce, and allowed the groundhogs to eat some bean plants and the raccoons some tomatoes if they would just stop before they had a full feast. There was enough to share for all of us. A wire fence grown over with grapevines and Virginia creeper and layered with brush piles pretty much kept the deer at bay as they nibbled on the leaves of the vines and occasionally found a way inside, simply looking beautiful against the backdrop.
And I started each day out there, in any season, always something to do, getting my exercise and fresh air, and then awakening my creative senses with my camera and sketch pad before getting to work as a commercial artist at my computer and easel. It was the best way to start any day, in the quiet of my habitat, and finding beauty in every little detail so that I could share it in what I created.
Over three years recently everything changed. One of my trees laid down under the weight of snow and ice one winter, flattening a section of fence, a neighbor’s tree fell in a storm the next year onto another section of fence and about 30 feet into the corner of my yard, then in 2016 my own beloved 70-foot wild black cherry tree simply shed all its huge branches one hot, sunny July day, covering all of my garden and back yard to my deck and beyond, and the front yard nearly to the street. The main trunk, still standing in the midst of my and my neighbors’ houses, could not be climbed to cut in sections nor could a lift be brought close and was instead cut so that it would drop at an angle across my back yard, safely avoiding all homes, structures and people. The fall smashed my cold frame, and cleanup took many species of plants with it, dislodged my raised beds in the garden, and left me with a portion of the main trunk across the yard because it was too big to be carried off, cut up or chipped up at the time. After years of praise for how beautiful my yard was I was cited for the mess that was left of what I’d had. I found a friend who could cut up the largest portion of the tree trunk by hand and haul off the seasoning cherry wood for his family’s fireplaces, cleaned up what else I could before winter. How quickly things change.
The tree fall began a series of events that included my brother’s sudden and unexpected death the day after the tree fall, and, immediately following, the final negotiation with a mortgage company that helped mitigate the extortion another mortgage company had perpetrated over a decade, cleaning out my savings, retirement, life insurance and any other assets and extra income I’d had.
So, it was a time to start over again.
The following year, 2017, I was working hard to rebuild those assets, finalize my mother’s and brother’s “estates”, and work on repairs in my home that I couldn’t afford in the decade of the mortgage issue. I had decided to focus on these things to hasten both my finances and the finalizations, and be free to focus on running my business again.
The cherry tree had been massive and shaded the rain garden and portions of my vegetable garden. Now without it plants held in check by the deep shade suddenly sprouted, not my natives but grapevines and bindweed and poison ivy and wild yam creating a tangled mess that seemed to spread each day. I bought vegetable plants and planted a small garden in a space I’d cleared in the back, but the deer ate everything, including some of my geraniums in hanging baskets that I’d been keeping and rejuvenating each spring for more than a decade. My old electric mower rusted off its wheels, and I decided just to let it all go and focus on getting life and finances back together.
I love jewelweed. It’s one of my favorite wildflowers and I’d always photograph it whenever I found it in the woods. Never before that year, considering all the native plants I’d let sprout and grow in the wilder sections of my yard, had I seen a single jewelweed plant, even though I have always had plenty of poison ivy and sap in jewelweed leaves and stem are the natural antidote to poison ivy’s urishiol oil, and, as nature would have it, they often grow together. I would have celebrated its presence because, for some reason, I find it quietly magical and beautiful.
Just a week or two after I’d walked away from my precious habitat the jewelweed was already a foot or two tall, all over the garden and back yard. It usually grows in shaded areas in the woods so once it gets started it doesn’t waste time setting in good roots first but grows up and up to have enough leaves to photosynthesize its nutrition and then begins to bloom.
I was enchanted as it grew, taller than me, and dense. A few other things had grown too, pokeberries and burdock, but they were only ornaments on the edge of things. Even though it meant I would see only the rising forest of jewelweed and nothing else when I looked out my doors and windows on that side, it held its quiet fascination for me in its meditative vertical stems, the efflorescence of yellow flowers, and then the steady hum of many busy bees in the canopy in constant movement pollinating each flower.
In September they began to dry out and fall, crumpling onto each other in waves. At the end of last year that’s where I left things.
Considering the change brought upon me by the events the previous year, over the winter I finally had the chance to think about the previous years and plan the next, and look at what should be a part of my life and what should not.
I desperately missed my garden. Not just the food, but being part of life in that way, a part of my little patch of soil, of exercising myself and my mind without intention, just as part of my daily work. A friend with an alternative wellness practice told me I did not feel grounded, and she was right. I felt as if I was floating through what was happening, not really attached. I wasn’t even sure what foods I liked to eat anymore. That grounding for me had always come from literal contact with the ground, walking around outdoors on the dirt and the grass and the paths I built. It built my immunity both physical and emotional.
I knew I had to keep the deer in check with the fence I’d had, and I had neither the time nor the money for it. When spring came I’d contracted for frequent vendor events and knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything until after they were done since they’d represent a good part of my income in the first half of the year. I watched my yard come back to life in the way I’ve always loved it, but I also saw my front sidewalk covered over with eroded soil and opportunistic thistles, burdock and poison ivy, bindweed growing up my gutters and what was left of my lilac being smothered by wild yam. And the jewelweed was back, beginning its ascent in all places it found suit to sprout. Thinking of the deer and the fence and the mess and the time it would all take, I decided I’d probably pass again this year.
In my sedentary previous year I’d begun to feel some pain in my right hip and leg and as it grew it was diagnosed as sciatica, a condition caused by being sedentary, by sitting or standing in one place without moving. My family has a history of spinal issues and I have a bit of scoliosis; in everything else that had happened I had stopped my daily yoga practice for lack of floor space for a mat, and my old exercise bicycle was binding for some reason and I couldn’t afford to get it fixed. The first step in healing sciatica is to be mobile, work out those muscles and tendons that haven’t been stretched. Even with my vendor events I hadn’t been able to ease the pain of it because a good bit of that was standing in your booth.
I had always spent about an hour a day outside in the yard, nearly every day. I knew this was what had kept things like sciatica at bay, and the gentle walking, bending and carrying movements of gardening had kept me flexible. And a little bit a day had kept the yard a showplace for decades. I knew that my garden and yard were things that needed to be a part of my life, now and probably always. So one June morning, just a few weeks ago, I decided to just start it all up again. Down came the jewelweed, I cleared the native and perennial beds of invasives, dug up the burdock and pokeberries, and planned to get whatever vegetable plants I could find at a local greenhouse, too late to start seeds and better late than never.
In the meantime the jewelweed stems dried in the sun atop the soil, and when I planted I cut rows through them and left them in place as a mulch to protect and nurture my nascent garden of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and squash, beans and carrots and turnips and beets. I left a few standing at the corner of my garden with the phlox for pollinators. I thank the jewelweed for arriving at my time of need and giving me a place to meditate on these decisions.
In the weeks I’ve been at this I’ve lost weight, gained strength, had pain-free days from sciatica, and am definitely looking forward to fresh foods again. I haven’t seen the deer in a while, nor have I seen signs of them. I think they understand. And I start my days outdoors for just long enough to energize myself and to awaken those creative senses that are essential to my business and my life.
And after this I hope to also have the energy and find the time to write as often as I once did.
Also read about my art, photography, poetry and prose inspired by my backyard wildlife habitat. I’ve been sharing it for years on The CreativeCat:
They tried to re-create the sun
in all its round perfection,
a flat perfect disc,
They set their creation on its edge
to work the surface smooth
and the edge clean
like the life-giving orb they worshipped,
but it began to move on its own
smoothly along its own track.
It was magic.
The sun moved through the sky
by means no mortal could see.
Now this hand-made sun moved along the earth
by similar means
but they knew, somehow, the portent of this moment
as they followed their stone disc
as it rolled slowly down the path
as if it was patiently showing them
As a child I remember the first times I realized the world had not always been as it was then, and especially considering a world without most of what I knew, a blank slate, yet to be discovered, made me a little fearful but very excited. How did a tree come to be called a tree? How did people figure out how to make bread? Most of what I saw had been invented or developed on the back of centuries of other discoveries, then taught and refined. But how were the origins discovered? Was it all by accident?
One day years later, as an adult, the idea in this poem came to me.
There’s something special about the garden in the morning. The metamorphosis of earth from night to day brings tiny metamorphoses and miracles to all that lives and grows.
I’ve been gardening for decades. Just two years ago, when one of my own trees fell on my garden and fences it finished off the work that two neighbors’ trees had done to other parts of my yard. It’s not manicured, it’s a backyard wildlife habitat with lots of native plants along with shrubs and trees and perennials, and my vegetable garden. My habit even in winter was to start the day with a time outdoors, always work to do, but then I’d find some magic, water droplets, a spiderweb, newly sprouted beans, and off I’d go into a creative wonderland, taking this visual inspiration into any direction I chose: photography, painting, poetry, essay, concept, metaphor.
Even before I began working at home as a creative person this was the best way to start the day, get my exercise and burn off my early morning energy, and awaken those creative sensibilities. I’ve missed it since I’ve been trying to rebuild my yard, and trying to spend every moment working instead, but I knew at some point I’d have to return. I remembered the magic.
I was in K-Mart the other day, just a quick run for a fan they had on sale, one item, intentionally going near closing time so I’d be in and out. I walked in the store and stopped to get my bearings, trying to remember the department the fans would be in and the quickest way to get there.
I walked right into the thick of sleeveless summer tops in gingham with white collars, striped tank tops, colorful crinkle cotton capri pants with an elastic waistband in the women’s clothing department right by the front door. Without taking a step toward them I assessed the style, the quality and the size, and my eye wandered over it all, putting outfits together for my mother.
Though she died in 2011, I still catch myself subconsciously shopping for her as I did for most of the decade she lived at home or in personal care after her lung cancer surgery, often too ill or unwilling to go out. I would take her shopping seasonally when she felt well enough, or we would stop at one store or another after a doctor appointment. Most of the time, though I am not a frequent shopper, I would pick up things for her as I saw them in my own shopping trips, like this one to K-Mart, drawn to a rack of clothes tailored a particular way. “Wow,” I still think to myself, “Mom would love that,” even if I walked nowhere near the clothes.
I knew my mother’s taste, very different from my own flowered skirts and bright colors and my inability to wear white or even solid colors for they’d quickly have some art materials or house paint or grass stains. My mother could wear all white without a spot, and preferred pants and more fitted and somewhat tailored clothes, kind of a business casual, sometimes with a bright accent color thrown in for effect. Even with fewer choices while living in personal care, her outfit would be just so, the hem on her capris rolled into a tiny cuff, the white collar on her orange and white gingham top standing up just a bit, and a white cardigan sweater draped just casually her shoulders, arms swinging free.
But when I visited she would not be wearing the outfit I had purchased, often in more than one size in case the first choice didn’t fit. There was always something wrong with the clothes I chose and took to her with such excitement. “Mom, look what I found!” just as I had done all through childhood with rocks and bugs and feathers and flowers and, of course, kittens.
Instead, I returned the things I’d bought, capris, tops, cardigans, socks, underwear, there was always something just not right about them. Or she would accept an item, then later tell me it wasn’t right, after I’d taken off all the tags and written her name inside the collar or waistband so that it would be identified if it ended up in the laundry, and couldn’t be returned. Yet I would often find her in a similar outfit that someone else had kindly purchased for her, one of the care workers who especially liked her.
However it happened, at least she had new clothes, and I would do my best to reimburse the person who’d bought them because often they refused. I had ideas but never figured out why the things I brought just weren’t right, and I don’t think my mother did either, though I think we both knew it didn’t have much to do with the clothes themselves. I tried to give my mother more than clothes, and she didn’t readily accept that either, yet I was the one she had turned to, even when I was a child. Through the years, the only gift I found that suited her was to purchase a flat of flowers and plant them for her for Mother’s Day each year.
Where the clothes were concerned, even though I knew she would likely decide the clothes didn’t suit her, I still bought them, and we would go through the same little drama each time. I simply could not go without making the effort; at the time I whined whenever I got the chance, but now, for the most part, I’ve forgotten the drama and only remember the excitement of finding something I thought she would like.
And here I am today, still putting outfits together for her. Still trying to please my mother? I think it had just become a habit, and somehow, even though she rarely accepted any of these findings from me, I knew underneath her difficult exterior she liked what I’d bought but found things hard to accept. As time went on and her eyesight gave in to macular degeneration and she could not see the stains and wear on her favorite clothes, she still dressed the same, or thought she did. The aides at the places she lived made sure to cajole her to wear something else when they knew we were going out.
My mother’s birthday is July 7, born in 1925. We often celebrated her birthday when we celebrated July 4, with a big cookout on her beloved in-ground gas grill and later watch the fireworks. We lived at the top of a hill and could see not only our own municipal fireworks from the park below but also other displays from many other communities around us. People would often come to our street to watch the fireworks, and cars would stop on the interstate on the other side of the valley to watch the display as well, and each year we would remark on how many cars we could see pulled over onto the berm to watch and how unfair it was as cars with flashing red and blue lights would move in and make them disperse.
On my way home from K-Mart, I drove that stretch of interstate and saw the fireworks display in progress, and I was one of those cars who pulled over. I’m not so interested in fireworks, but they added a grand finale to a day of memories.
My mother would have been 93 today, July 7, and we often celebrated her birthday along with the 4th of July.
The day was quiet and for some reason full of memories and contemplation as I worked in my garden and yard, and seeing a butterfly, which I’ve always associated with the spirits of loved ones, was not a surprise in those circumstances. Continuing the day to the clothing and the fireworks, I realized the butterfly, at least to me, represented my mother, who wore a cloak of personality to protect herself from perceived dangers, including me. I have my ideas why, but I am glad she is finally where she doesn’t need to protect herself anymore.
The sun shines at full volume on the brick street,
The American Legion has equipped everyone with a small American flag on a stick;
Children race around waving their flags
While adults carefully hold their flags,
Mill around looking for a good place to open folding chairs
Waiting for the parade to start.
Politicians roll by in fancy cars and fat shriners on tiny little cycles,
Floats from the Viet Nam War and the VFW,
Cheerleaders and dancers and a polka band
Police bagpipers and Civil War re-enactors and Marines,
Color guards from organizations we’ve never heard of,
Music and car horns and loudspeakers blending into each other as they pass,
Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances from every community around
And we wave and cheer for each of them,
Glad to know that there is someone who will risk their lives for us
on all these levels.
For some reason I always get choked up when I see
The high school marching band,
So seriously playing some arrangement they’d never otherwise listen to
And have spent months learning to play on their instrument,
Marching together in nearly perfect alignment,
Soon to take their places in a bigger parade.
Even though Memorial Day was founded to memorialize the losses of the Civil War, it came to be an important day of remembrance for our losses in successive wars as conflicts came nearly every other decade in the century following.
My parents’ generation called Memorial Day “Decoration Day”. It was the weekend to clear away the weeds, trim the grass, and spend time in the cemetery, and the graves of family members were decorated with wreaths and flags and freshly planted flowers, veterans or not. I’m not sure how it had lost the origin for them of remembering those who had died in service to their country but perhaps it had been the European tradition carried on in this country. For me it was a day to think about the grandparents whose difficult lives were over before I could remember them, and think about my parents as children.
I’m not one for parades, but I took my mother to the parades in our town for years, as well as my brother. I amused myself by taking photos of what everyone else was doing, memorializing their actions and reactions of the day.
I have never loved so deeply
as I did in that moment in the summer dusk,
hearing footsteps in the alley pause,
my heart racing to hear our gate
softly squeak open;
it was you,
I saw your beloved silhouette
enter our sacred space
coming home from work;
before our loving greeting
dissolves to our angry discontent,
to have it
“Eliot and the coffee spoons have found me once again. Take a poem, leave a poem. Enjoying a night of gallery visits right in my home town.”
This I wrote the night I drafted this poem, mid-March this year, as a caption to a photo. My town was having a crawl of businesses, plus there was a major conference ceramics exhibit and other exhibits too. Unusually warm for this winter I enjoyed my walk and spent some time in the coffeehouse.
I filled a plate with snacks and went to the counter by the window where flyers and newspapers gathered, and a box that said “free poetry” with napkins and paper and pens to write them with, and at least a dozen poems in the bottom of the box. On the side was painted, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” a quote from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, hence the reference in my comment above.
I’d had a poem rumbling around in my thoughts, and as I enjoyed the evening of galleries and friends I was wandering by myself and decided I’d make a creative night of it. When I walked into the coffeehouse I remembered the poetry box and knew I could and should spend time drafting the poem that was trying to be formed.
I had seen this actual place in the days just before that night, driven down the alley noted in the text, and the title, or something very much like it, appeared in my thoughts as if on a marquee, some of the lines scrolling through my thoughts like a ticker on the television. Yes, this is autobiographical, and I honor and learn from writers who can write of their own experiences, painful or otherwise; I truly enjoy learning about them, from themselves. But myself, I’m not sure I want strangers knowing that much about me. Or even people I know. But the stories are good, and this image came to me in a well of memory filled with a fair amount of sadness for the pain of that time. Still, I remembered that moment of anticipation and knew I had to write about it.
At the counter in the coffeehouse I drafted the poem, went to see the two exhibits upstairs and downstairs there, had some more snacks and gave it a rewrite, took a digital photo of it and dropped it in the box. Parts of this final poem are very much changed from that draft, parts are verbatim the little scrolling phrases that came to mind first thing.
A few years ago I answered the questions on a “What’s Your Footprint?” test on a website that gave points or demerits in accordance with how choices you made in your lifestyle affected the earth and I ended up with a negative footprint. How is that? Is it mounded up instead of impressed into the soil as footprints tend to be? No, it just meant I was below the minimum level of points for their scale. And it would have been even lower if they had listened to me about the scoring for use of a dishwasher*.
Well, big whoop for me—it’s not by any intentional virtue, though I have always tried to learn more and be careful about how much energy I used in daily activities. It began as a combination of selfishness and economic necessity, choosing what I could afford to buy and do and not wanting to simply fall in step with what I thought was a lot of wasted time and money. I was intrigued by how people managed in the days before modern conveniences and actually wanted to drop off the grid for a while to learn to live without these things, really, like, off in the woods somewhere, but not forever or even for very long, then pick and choose the ones I wanted and stay with them.
I never went all the way to the end with that, always living in a pretty conventional space but I really did examine all the things in my life and discarded what was not right for me and embraced what was. By coincidence I chose to do things that were also earthy-friendly.
I’ve gardened for 25 years, all but my first year by organic standards, and for many of those years as a vegetarian raised nearly all the food I ate, preserving what was extra for non-gardening months. I saved seeds, started my own plants from those seeds, composted everything compostable from my household including my waste paper from desk and studio and even my dryer lint.
That’s a lot of work, not composting dryer lint but gardening that intensively, and it’s not for everyone but those who love it and actively choose to do it. I really don’t know how the human race advanced when until this century people had to work so hard just to grow enough food to stay alive, and if they didn’t manage to do so they would simply die. Those are pretty high stakes, and I can see why, when modern chemicals promised and delivered growing crops with less work and less risk of loss, everyone jumped on it.
But we often don’t learn the risks of things until we’ve been actively involved in them for some time, like the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on soil and air and water and human health. When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring we had already been involved in use of agricultural chemicals at an increasing level for nearly two decades if we count testing and use during WWII. Rachel Carson, among others, could see the risks developing even at that early date, but others still saw rampant hunger in this country and around the world that these “modern” growing methods could alleviate, while, of course, others saw lots of money; in short, a lot of interests were at stake, and still are.
Many of the issues that determine how the earth is used and left for others are this big, involving most of the planet, like drilling for oil, clearing rain forests, implementing alternative energy resources, and seem way too big for individuals to have any impact if they either try to influence one way or the other, or simply go their own way and make other choices.
But everyday choices do make a huge difference, and simply because some issues are really too big for us as individuals to have much impact today, we don’t often realize that even a small act can much later have a bigger impact than expected, and can make change in ways we never intended. This weekend a friend hosted a “Rainbarrel Workshop” wherein people can learn not only how to make a rainbarrel but why they would want to go to the trouble. I gave him the materials I had researched and written and illustrated into an informational package the year after our community suffered a devastating flash flood, a flood that may have been mitigated though not eliminated if stormwater had been better managed.
What can a rainbarrel do?
One inch of rain over one square foot of roof yields about 0.62 gallons of water, though the average roof send only about 80% of the water that falls on it into the downspouts, the rest splashing off or even evaporating.
Multiplying by 0.8, one square foot of roof for a one inch rain gives 0.5 gallons.
One hundred square feet of roof (10’ x 10’) yields 50 gallons of water in a one inch rain.
One thousand square feet of roof (20’ x 50’) yields 500 gallons of water in a one inch rain.
So if you have one or more rainbarrels that catch your rainwater and keep it out of local streams and waterways, you are saving that many gallons of rainwater from overburdening your local system during high water events. If your neighbors also have rainbarrels your neighborhood is potentially saving thousands of gallons of stormwater.
Plus, you can use those gallons of water to wash your car or water your garden, saving on your utilities.
And when we host rainbarrel workshops usually about two dozen people attend, learn all these facts and spread them on, plus they met other like-minded people they otherwise wouldn’t have, and a community is formed.
Yes, maintaining a rain barrel, being careful about what you use on your lawn, turning off the water while you brush your teeth, combining trips in the car or sharing rides and myriad other choices you make do cause change, in you and in your environment.
And considering what I write about most frequently—stop littering! With kittens! And puppies and bunnies and any other animal that is already overpopulated in shelters. The resources taken to round up, house, attempt rehoming and, sadly, kill up to 4 million pets each year takes an enormous emotional, social, financial and environmental toll on us and the earth, not to mention it destroys living beings. Responsibility in this preserve the resources needed to care for all animals, from everyday feeding and health care to medical and social studies of animal health and the importance of animals in our lives.
But no one person can do it all. I drove a 35 mile round trip to work for ten years, all by myself on the highway instead of carpooling or trying to find public transportation or moving closer to where I worked while I was living off my little back yard. And I hate to think of what I’ve done to the earth in terms of cat litter over the years I’ve been rescuing cats and living with about nine at once for most of that time.
So do you choose to drive a distance to purchase organic produce or do you save the fossil fuels and visit a local grocery where produce might be grown with various amounts of chemicals? Do you choose to use wind-powered energy when you’re reading that thousands of migrating birds and bats are killed by wind turbines, or maybe they’re not? And information keeps changing?
In the end, it’s more about being aware and making choices than it is about following rules. Make an informed choice, and do what you can. We all leave a footprint of some sort, but we can wisely choose where we step and how heavily we walk.
I’m happy to pass along the things I’ve researched and learned over the years in my features on The Creative Cat in Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat and Living Green With Pets. In my “other life” outside of writing about and painting and photographing and doting on my cats, I am a Master Gardener and it’s been my pleasure to work with a number of environmental organizations for years in writing and illustrating newsletters, brochures, websites, advertisements and other professional communications.
*About that dishwasher: the test claimed that the most modern dishwashers were more efficient than filling a sink with water to wash and rinse your dishes so the energy and water used by the dishwasher and the residue left by the soap you used left a smaller footprint than washing in the sink. I commented that I’ve seen people use more water to rinse their dishes before they even went in the dishwasher than I used to wash and rinse, but they didn’t go for that. I didn’t get any extra points for looking out the window and singing to myself while I washed by hand instead of watching TV or engaging in some other activity that might use utilities generated by fossil fuels and creating pollution either. Darn.