September 11, and September 12, 2001

September 12, 2001
September 12, 2001

September 11

Aside from being in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, I am nowhere near New York or Washington DC. I am, however, barely an hour away from Shanksville. On the hot sunny morning of September 11, 2001 I was just finishing early morning work in my garden and yard when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thinking it was an unfortunate accident I continued listening to the radio for details and shortly thereafter heard that a second plane had hit the South Tower and knew instinctively, as I’m sure we all did, that it was no accident.

My radar for tragedy was sensitized; just a few months before my mother had unexpectedly nearly died after lung cancer surgery, held on for six weeks then miraculously awakened from a near-coma one day and gone on to recover, rehabilitate and return home. The previous year my brother had suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident. I was integral to their recoveries and care, and my carefully-planned self-employment was unraveling.

When I heard the news just before 9:00 a.m. that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I was out on my garden patio by the basement door, putting another coat of paint on some vintage wooden chairs I used on my deck before winter would peel the last of it off. I always worked in my garden and did small projects early in the day to make sure they got done before I hit my computer, and to make sure I didn’t hit the computer as soon as I got up and stayed on it all day long. It was a hot, sticky late summer morning, my verdant garden a green jungle, birds twittering everywhere stocking up for migration and winter, and work waiting for me indoors. The first report was that it was likely an accident, planes had hit buildings in the past. Then the second plane hit the other tower, and even though we had no proof it seems we all knew it was intentional. Everyone in the area was looking at the towers at that point and saw the direction, the turn, the increase in speed prior to hitting the tower, and suddenly a perfect morning had turned unreal.

After the plane hit the Pentagon, I put Moses, my garden cat, inside the basement, much to her consternation, as if she needed to be protected from what might be happening, and as the story grew I thought of my mother and brother and if I should get them and put them somewhere just to make sure they were safe too. Everything seemed suddenly slightly askew.

Jets fly overhead all the time. I have lived in the flight path for Pittsburgh International Airport all my life and close enough to an Air Force base and not only do they fly overhead, they circle and slow down and make noise and fly at crazy angles as they come in for a landing. A noisy plane flying low overhead is something I didn’t even notice. But two planes had just hit the two towers of the World Trade Center and a third had hit the Pentagon. I suddenly noticed that the sky was very quiet for that time of the morning.

Then in the growing quiet, in that empty perfect clear blue September sky, a single plane went overhead and my hackles rose, a cold tingle running to my fingers on that warm morning as I watched it seeming to struggle through the sky overhead. Shortly thereafter we heard about the crash in Shanksville and I imagined the comforting familiarity of perfect green rolling hills of my Western Pennsylvania home bathed in morning sun, now wrenched open and strewn with the wreckage of violence.

I hurried inside, no longer feeling safe under that warm blue sky. I thought of my mother in her home about a mile and a half away, just back from several months in various hospitals after lung cancer surgery that unexpectedly nearly killed her. She was still weak and needed daily assistance for most activities, many prescriptions and home oxygen. If all this was suddenly disrupted, what would I do? Should I go to her house now? Should I try to get her to a more secure place, like a hospital?

And my brother was in a nursing home 30 miles north of me, continuing his recovery from a traumatic brain injury the previous year, also requiring a lot of daily care, medications and supervision. Should I try to move him closer? What if I couldn’t get to him?

And my sister a few miles away with her younger daughter and grandchild? And my niece and her three babies, one of them just six days old, a few miles in the other direction? Should we all find a place to go?

Anyone else would have run for the television, but I didn’t have one then, and I don’t have one now, so I never got to see the very first images that showed up on CNN that morning, heard the fear in the newscasters’ voices. I listened to the familiar voices of the local and NPR reporters describing the events on my radio, feeling calmer listening to their words and being able to move around my house than I would have being trapped in front of a television.

Did any of us know what to do in those first hours and days, even those of us so far from the terrible scenes of death and destruction more horrible than we could imagine?

It wasn’t until the gentle, perfect beauty of September 12 that the effects of what had happened became reality. I live very near Pittsburgh International Airport and at the intersection of two interstates right outside of Pittsburgh, and hear the noises of all this traffic every day, especially in the morning. The next day, with travel restricted on land and in the air, was so eerily quiet. The beauty of the warm sun and clear blue sky, the peaceful twitters of birds and hum of bees we could rarely hear with traffic and daily noises, the clear views of the tree-covered hills made the morning seem like paradise at first but became unnerving as the hours of daylight passed and we had no more of our questions answered, nor know the extent of the damage and death as it was still unfolding in all three areas.

Perhaps those perfect September days were given to calm us before we learned how our lives had changed.

September 12

Today looks no different from yesterday
but forever against the backdrop of a blue September sky
we will now remember the loss of our innocence.

September 11 was a blur of images and fears and unknowns, and for me it wasn’t until September 12 dawned and brightened into another seemingly perfect September day, blue sky and all, that what had happened, and the permanent change it brought, really settled in.

poem September 12 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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Adopting Again After Loss: Why and How We Adopt Again

I spoke on the topic of “Adopting Again After Loss” at the 2018 Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony hosted by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. I first presented this talk in 2016, refined it a bit in 2017. This year I decided it’s an appropriate presentation to use from now on. We three speakers found that our presentations had information that overlapped each others’, and that works well. This is the transcript of my presentation.

In the early 90s I painted a portrait of a petite black cat resting on pillows on a wicker chair. Samantha’s owner had rescued and adopted and lived with families of cats all her life, but Samantha was her only cat at that time. After Samantha passed following a long treatment for renal failure, though she volunteered at a shelter and met and considered many cats to adopt, to this day she has never adopted again. She is happy with the memories of all the cats she’s loved, especially Samantha, and still helping cats by volunteering.

Another friend recently lost an elderly member of her dog family, but Trixie’s loss was sudden and unexpected, and painful in a way that’s particular to an unexpected loss. Though seeing any dog reminded her of her loss, she went to the Humane Society the next day and adopted an older dog who had been surrendered because she had a list of old dog issues. Within weeks Belle was in better health and integrated with her canine family. She doesn’t replace Trixie by any means, but rescuing a dog helped ease her grief, and caring for another elderly dog helped ease the suddenness of Trixie’s loss, especially when she responded so well.

Just as grieving a loss is different for each of us, and different for each loss, so is the decision to add another animal to our lives after a loss. The first thing you might say is that you never want to suffer that pain again, and it’s just inconceivable that you’d adopt ever again in your life. Of course, in time, you let go of that fear of pain because with 150 million or more pets in American homes right now it’s clear that we do adopt again.

Whether or not you have other pets in your home, sometimes the pain of grief is so intense the thought of another animal companion is actually upsetting, and yet sometimes the need to fill your arms again and hold an animal close is so strong it’s all you can think about. No decision is right or wrong in itself, and only you and your family know for certain.

Adopting a new animal companion at any time is not a small decision. You’re making a lifetime commitment to love and shelter and care for the new companion, and so you hope your choice whether or not to adopt, and the animal you choose, is the right one, and right for all involved, both human and animal family members.

But when your emotions are in such turmoil, how can you know for sure? One way, even though it may seem even more painful, is to put yourself in the presence of a number of animals in different situations, which not only gives you choices but helps to temper your reactions. And when one of the strongest pieces of advice in managing your grief is to find people who understand your grief at the loss of a beloved pet and stay away from people who don’t, deciding to look for a pet puts you right into a sympathetic audience with other pet lovers, most of whom have no doubt been in the same position as you.

One way you can start is to not even consider adopting, but to help animals in some way, volunteer with a shelter or rescue for pets, or even for wildlife or farmed animals in a sanctuary for instance.

Contact your shelter about walking dogs or playing with cats in their care, because those animals can never get too much attention from people, and generally they are even more adoptable, and adoptions are more successful, the more attention they get.

Offer to foster for a rescue or shelter so you can bring an animal into your home and get to know the animal without the pressure of keeping them forever because the shelter or rescue, and possibly even you, are looking for a home for the animal.

If you want to start looking for a pet, sometimes a shelter is too intense, too many animals and people and public enough it may be intimidating or frightening, so instead you could start on the internet where you can look at pictures all day long on shelter and rescue websites and sites like PetFinder and Pet Harbor, in the privacy of your own home. You can then follow through with meeting one or more of the animals who caught your eye.

You can also look into a local rescue, which is usually smaller and more private and often without a shelter at all but using a series of foster homes for the animals in their care. This way you get to meet animals face to face, but in a more private setting, and may be able to interact more naturally because of it.

Shelters and rescues also have adoption cages and adoption events at local pet stores, and if you’ve been shopping for pet supplies at a particular store, and may be shopping for other pets in your care, you might feel just as comfortable in a place that’s familiar where you may even know the staff. Of course, visiting places that remind you of your pets may be painful as well, so be sure you are ready to face some memories too.

And just as with any other adoption, make sure you ask yourself what you expect from this adoption, and when you find a pet who catches your heart, ask yourself why you want to adopt that animal. Try to look at the long road and picture the future for a moment. Rebound adoptions are like any other rebound relationship, they may be the perfect fit, but just as often they don’t represent a whole relationship and don’t last. Don’t hesitate to stop and ask yourself some realistic questions. You’ll find answers for the moment and for the future.

Sometimes well-meaning friends will address your loss with the offer of a pet who needs a home. We who rescue are always offering pets for adoption because that’s the only way we find homes for them, so it’s a natural and friendly thing for many people. This can be a blessing from a friend who knows you well, or it can be a mistake from someone who doesn’t. Because a friend, or friend of a friend, has approached you it’s more personal and it may be difficult to turn them down if you’re not ready yet, or you really aren’t interested in the pet they are offering you. Don’t ever feel pressured by someone else’s desire for you to have a pet. The decision is always yours.

And there are times when an animal simply shows up in your life, either literally in your back yard or in your life somehow, and there’s an immediate connection. Many of us would swear the pet we’ve lost, knowing what a loving human companion you are and how your heart is searching, has sent us an animal companion to either care for and love while we find a new home for it, or to keep forever. I’ve no doubt this happens and can relate dozens of stories, including my own, but maybe another time.

One thing for certain, even if you had never had a pet before, once you have, there is a pet-shaped space in your heart with room for more. Don’t decide not to adopt because you fear being hurt by loss. Remember that nearly all your time with your pet was the simple happiness that comes with everyday unconditional love, and someday that memory will outshine the memory of the loss.

My sympathies on your loss, and love and light in your journey to healing your grief.

I frequently write about pets and pet loss on my daily blog The Creative Cat, the blog is set up to encourage myself to write more. This presentation was originally published there. Below I refer to a number of other presentations. I’ve been intending to catch up with adding my essays and stories about animals here but never seem to find the time. I reference a number of other presentations below, so I think I’ll start with getting those up here while I’m at it.

Loving Again After Loss

I’m always happy to speak on this topic. It’s focused on why we choose to live with animals, especially after a loss. Deb, the owner of the business, is one of my customers for graphic design and PR as I am one of her customers for cremation when I lose one of my cats. She watched me over a period of years lose a number of cats, then gain a number of cats, then lose again, and decided I would probably have something valuable to say about loving and losing and loving again, and I always draw from my own experiences:

In 2011 I spoke about losing all my senior cats in one year, and then losing Lucy, but that she brought me Mimi and her children.

In 2012 I spoke about losing my two oldest kitties, Cookie and Kelly, in one year and though I’d just lost Kelly a month before I knew it had changed my relationship with cats forever.

In 2013 I spoke about taking in Lakota and Emeraude knowing my relationship with them would be brief, and losing Lakota after six weeks but loving him nonetheless ( I didn’t realize I hadn’t shared this here, but had had it published in Pittsburgh PetConnections in September 2013. I will probably share this article again this coming Sunday as its own feature).

In 2014 I mentioned that our relationship with pets is not all about us, but about both of us, we and our pet and what each of us feels and gives and takes to and from each other, and pointing out that fosters, Emeraude, Kennedy and Basil, then named Smokie, had each been abandoned and even grievously injured by humans, and yet let go of that pain and turned around to love and trust another human who was a complete stranger.

In 2015 I spoke about animals being healers, and how they can soothe our grief without us even knowing it.

In 2016, 2017 and 2018 I gave the presentation above.

Why do we take animals into our lives? Because we need them, and also because they need us, and we can’t fear to love for fear of loss.

For more on the topic of pets


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Short Story: Into the Storm

Change of Season, 11 x 18, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

The morning’s session had gone very well. Leaping aboard her little boat, she clamped her painting onto the easel so she could study it while she washed up and had a little bit of lunch, then she’d get right back to work on it while her thoughts were fresh.

The painting was a large pastel depicting the first tinges of an incoming autumn storm, and though the morning had been hot, the sun cooking her arms and legs and reflecting from the sand up under her hat to dry her face as she stood on the beach, she had felt the first twists of a breeze from the storm, still miles away, coming across the continent to bring autumn from the mountains to the shore. Even the light was changing, dimming just a bit as a thin haze washed onto the blue of the dome overhead like the foam of waves washing onto the beach, the entire palette moving from summery bright blue and warm yellow and white to amber and olive, the ocean darkening to teal.

This was what she wanted to capture in her painting, that moment of change, and that was why the painting had to be so big. She wanted to capture the subtle change across the sky, the dimmer tones inland and brighter tones over the ocean, the first choppy whitecaps, that pathos she had always sensed when autumn crept across the palette of the land, whether in the eastern hills she had known and loved, or the shoreline she studied now. Even the heat on her skin, the flush on her face, and how cold those tiny tendrils of cool breezes had felt on her skin, those had to be in the painting too. She set up her palette of pastels on a table next to the easel, pulling the colors she knew she wanted to the front and arranging them in the way her hands knew best without the need to look down.

It was good to come in when she had, even though only the intense heat had made her stop and come in for cover. She had reached that point where she was in her painting, the point where she had to leave the reality of the physical place for the surreality of the inner place, to interpret her senses and the deeper emotions she felt but could never verbalize, only paint. That was what made her paintings different. Viewers could sense the place, and not just enjoy the view. And this was why she had won the painting contest, and this little painting vacation to visit and paint in the space of her choice without interruption. The chance to be so totally focused on her work was a rarity in her life as an artist, filled with clients and shows and costs of materials and art festivals and getting the car fixed not to mention the commercial design work that actually paid the bills. This week was the chance of a lifetime.

And it was the perfect time of year too as there was no one on the beach to interrupt her focus at this time of year. She stood back from the easel and sat down to focus once more, thinking of the empty beach, devoid of tourists in early October, adding to the sense of desolation—this beach recently filled with colorful, noisy people enjoying their time away at a place they loved, suddenly silent and the storm inching its way across the sky, sly, quiet, no thunder and lightning, just that change in light.

Suddenly she heard a pounding on the door. Startled she looked about and realized she was on her boat. She had thought she was on the beach still, painting. She stood up and noticed the light was odd. Had the storm come up that soon? That pounding and yelling—was someone on her boat? She had been tied to the dock, that wouldn’t be hard to do. But she had fallen asleep–what time was it? She couldn’t see very well—was it night? She fought her way to the door, past her painting, hoping her pastels didn’t land all over the floor, she got to the door and tried to pull it open but it was locked. How to unlock it? That knocking, it was so confusing!

“Are you okay? Hey, Bernadette, please answer!” Pound! Pound! Pound!

Who knew her name here? Who was this? She suddenly didn’t want to open the door at all, and her grasp of where she was seemed to be fading.

Then she saw seemed to snap back to reality and recognized…her studio? At home? In Pennsylvania? What?

And the person at the door, it was Michelle. What was happening?

Then she realized, she wasn’t on the beach at all, there was no boat, she hadn’t won the contest yet. It was a hot summer afternoon and she was working from photos to create this painting for that contest. And she had gone so deeply into place to get the right feeling into the work, and laid down on the floor to think about it and rest her back, and…


This short story was a submission for the Spring 2016 Writer’s Weekly 24-hour Short Story Contest. You sign up ahead of time, and on the day and time the countdown begins, always a Saturday, the page on the WW website that includes the topic goes live and entrants get a link in e-mail.

Here was the topic:

A brisk breeze pushed through the hatchway, cooling her sunburned cheeks. Saltwater lapped at the hull. A mariner’s lullaby. She smiled, pondering her perfect life. No people. No stress. Just the occasional storm, and sojourns to the mainland for provisions. Just as her tired eyes closed, violent knocking and shouting erupted on her starboard side…

You don’t need to use the exact text or even the scene described, just use it as a starting point. I was kind of lost with the context of being on a boat because I’ve never been on a boat on the ocean, really just a riverboat here in Pittsburgh, or a canoe. I remember the word count was between 800 and 900 words.

I spent some of those precious 24 hours thinking how the heck I was going to be believable in writing about being on a boat on the ocean when I didn’t feel I could imagine it clearly enough, and decided I’d focus on being in the ocean or on the beach, which I could imagine. Quickly I leaped to painting, and then to the painting I included here, one of mine from 1993 after my one and only visit to the beach at Chincoteague Island, VA, as my inspiration for why I was on a boat on the ocean. As I wrote, the whole idea of the painting itself, the painting contest and even falling asleep, just fell right into place because I knew I’d easily fall right to sleep after being out in the sun on the beach painting for the morning and then wake up disoriented.

It turned out to be great fun, and I remember that I got down to the last second to submit because I didn’t remember I had to reformat basically without formatting so that no special software was needed to read it. I didn’t win anything, but I liked how it turned out and I’m happy with it nonetheless.

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Roiling clouds blown by winds
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.

Hazy wisps in autumn
Moving slowly from one horizon to the next,
Never amounting to much.

The heavy purple rainclouds of a late spring afternoon
Looming on the horizon
Shadowing the early wan sun
And promising a rainy night.

The approach of the first storm of winter
As flat gray clouds form in the west,
In their shadow bringing the first reminder
Of the eternal cold of year’s end.

poem copyright 2000 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I’ve always loved the language of the sky. I grew up on top of a hill where I could see lots of sky in all directions. Though we lived in a suburban development the open sky was freedom from all the congestion below, and I watched them march overhead, across the valley, in all seasons. Watching the sky was like watching the facial expressions of a deity.

When I had my first solo art exhibit, in addition to the artwork, I worked my writing into the exhibit by pairing images with poems or essays or statements to make little flyers that I could print out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper and mount on the wall. Even though no line in the poem describes the painting, I used the poem Clouds with the purple clouds of an autumn rain looming over the bright trees surrounding a waterway in “Autumn”, part of the four seasons series of paintings.

Clouds, poem for display.
Clouds, poem for display.

You can read about the exhibit and the series of paintings as well as my integration of my visual and literary works in The Extraordinary in the Ordinary.

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Before the Change


Whispering together high overhead
against a cloud-riding sky
the gentle patter of leaves in the wind
of a coming storm
is to be remembered as they are
at the height of their fullness
before the blaze of autumn color
marks the beginning of their end.

poem copyright 2011 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


A weather front often affects the conditions far above the earth. If you listen you can hear the leaves in the treetops whispering of the change to come long before it will affect us, and sometimes I seem to hear actual words, though I know it’s just my human senses forming the sounds into a familiar pattern. But these trees know it’s an autumn storm to come, and soon their green leaves will turn to gold and red and bronze. We are enchanted by autumn colors, but they find their true identity when they are still green and strong.

There is always more to another’s  life than we know in our experience of them.

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Five Sentence Fiction: Foretold

Sluggish Bumblebee

The morning’s brilliant sunshine belied the cool air, but the bumblebee, sluggish at breakfast on the spent seed head, foretold the change to come. The season had been awaiting the moment and the moment was here, and even as the day warmed and the bees efficiently bumbled on their way, grand and beautiful clouds appeared on the horizon, slowly, quietly parading across the sky, their size and numbers more dense each hour until by afternoon the blue overhead was hung with dreamy cotton and the voice of the wind whispered high in the treetops of what was to come. The day grew darker and more quiet until by early evening all was so still and dim that when the first few whispering patters of rain began their sound was clear, though unintelligible, as if speaking a language, like that of the trees, not of this place.

The rain fell quietly all night, lovingly soaking the hardened earth of late summer until, sated, it slept. As the next morning dawned the rain slowed and stopped, the clouds parted and cleared in a reverse of their arrival the day before, leaving the sun to shine brilliantly in the blue dome of morning, but the heat was gone from the earth, once again, for another season.


I composed this story for a weekly writing challenge, “Five Sentence Fiction”. The keyword was “Breakfast”. I took “breakfast” as a time, not an event or a food because in the heat of August I was impatiently waiting for the season to change.


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Short Story: The Evening Star

The Evening Star

The dusk deepened as she walked up the winding trail through the trees. At the top of the hill, at the edge of a clearing, a cliff with a steep drop to a river gorge created a break in the woods and allowed a view far into the distance, and there this dim dusk among the trees would brighten again to the last light of a summer evening, coloring the sky and clouds overhead in warm shades from coral to cobalt.

She had discovered the lookout while hunting, and visiting this place to watch the sun set and the stars appear had become a comforting routine for her. This time of day, the progression of the sun to the horizon and slipping below it, the gently deepening darkness and the animals preparing for sleep or beginning nocturnal habits, was so much like home that she could forget she was in a new place. Visiting, and frequently, eased the deep sadness that she would likely never see her home again.

Adjusting to the differences had not been so difficult as she had thought. In most ways this place was just more primitive, which they had known and prepared for. They’d all had to rely on a combination of the anthropological history they’d learned and survival skills some of them had picked up by choice, enjoying breaking free of the highly technical rigors of modern life to walk away from it for a while.

Ironic, too, how many of them had learned their survival skills in professional team-building sessions, never knowing they’d end up using the primitive skills as much as the team-building.

Reaching the top, she walked to the edge and stood, her gaze scanning slowly from one side to the other, rolling over the panorama, stopping briefly on recognizable elements in the landscape, their little settlement, a particularly large tree, a small stream, then lifting her gaze to the sky around and above her, looking from the brilliance of the early sunset to the deep blue on the opposite horizon.

The day had been hot; this new climate was challenging. The cool touch of the evening breeze now brushed past her rising from the valley below, ruffling the tall grasses like a playful hand and sifting through the trees beyond, refreshing and relaxing her, the open space soothing as she stretched and breathed deeply the rising dampness of the coming night.

This time of day had always been pensive for her, and finding this spot had given her the place to go to review the day. Nearly a year had passed since they’d landed here, and on the day they’d arrived the evening had been much like this, so much like home that she had felt welcomed, and buoyed with hope that they had done the right thing.

Four seasons had transpired, slipping one to the next much more quickly than they were accustomed to, but they’d still had time to prepare shelter and food and adequate clothing. In that time they’d honestly managed to pull together as a team and build a small community, a fact which, upon reflection, had surprised many members, thinking they were already a tight group. A shared need for survival can either bring people together or put them into competition with each other. This first year had brought out talents, built relationships and formed leaders, though not without hot debate and some raised hackles now and then.

Only three members had been lost to accident. Learning to function in the wilderness none of them were accustomed to, these deaths had been difficult and frightening and brought a big dose of cruel reality to their experience, but they had managed to hold together, grieve together and bury their dead together. There had been a two natural deaths, too, a cancer none of them could do anything about in this primitive place despite all the modern tools and medicines they had packed in preparation, and heart disease left untreated by medication no longer available, a frustrating predicament for people as advanced as they had believed themselves to be.

Only one person seemed to have snapped from the stress of it all, and he had angrily decided to leave the group, packed as many provisions as he could carry, and took off following the river. He was angry because no one was willing to explore beyond a day’s journey and look for civilization in this place, other people, cities, modern conveniences rather than sitting and waiting for death. He was the only truly single person in the group and determined this was his role because he’d leave no one behind.

His outburst had come about after one of the accidents, a horrible fall down a cliff that had left one of the women paralyzed but screaming in pain, and all they found they could do was sedate her and keep vigil until they determined it was time to use the euthanasia drug they had brought with them for instances like this.

It was true, before that accident they had been approaching the whole thing as an adventure, as if it was one of their team-building wilderness sessions that would soon be over with assistance and rescue right over the next ridge if necessary, because of course they would be going back one day. Watching her suffer, a beloved friend, unable to do anything, they had suddenly realized how alone they were, how limited, that one by one they would all die in one way or another and in some future years there might be no trace left of them at all. And as if each of them had come to the same understanding as a group through that incident, also the idea that traveling back home, or even communicating with their home planet, was unlikely to happen, in their lifetimes, if ever.

But they were so few, down to twenty-seven now, and to send anyone off into the wilderness was simply to suffer another loss. Three children had traveled with them, and no doubt there would be more, but it would be ages before there were enough of them to spare a small group to travel and start charting the area beyond their small valley. They were scientists, had been trained for this and had brought their instruments, but plain old survival took more time than they liked to admit. They had decided not to hunt animals because of the risk, but still all of them really needed to search and gather, and cook and preserve food, and make and mend clothing, not to mention the nightly challenge of attempting to communicate with equipment that didn’t work well in this climate and needed maintenance they could barely provide.

She knew that her not-so-long-ago ancestors had lived like this, and while she had known their life was difficult she had never realized just how difficult, how fragile life itself was. Her confidence—no, arrogance—as a scientist had led her to think her race would never have to endure that again. She wondered how her ancestors had ever managed to not only survive but flourish and accomplish things not found anywhere else in the universe with these everyday challenges of just getting enough food to eat.

Though everyone doubted now that anything resembling civilization existed here, they had gladly given their friend what he felt he needed and sent him off, not expecting to see him again but secretly hoping he would somehow find civilization and bring it back to the valley.

He had returned, however, just a short while ago, followed by three, well, were they people like themselves? They looked half animal with an abundance of hair and no spoken language, but they walked upright and wore rudimentary clothing, their hands were strong and dexterous using tools they had made, and they had wordlessly led members of the group around to various plants and shown them what to do with them. Although the learning curve had started quite high, they had quickly discovered the point was valuable foods and medicines beyond the capability of their own scientific equipment brought for the purpose. They did their best to express their gratitude and set up travel and communication between their two living areas, exchanging members to live in each others’ groups.

The sunset colors had reached their peak of brilliance as the sun passed behind strips of dark purple cloud edged in glowing gold, rays of light reaching upward and downward in pink and yellow, trees, rocks and the grass on her outlook glowing with the coral of the deepening evening. She waited until the sun was halfway below the horizon to the west, then turned and looked above the horizon to the east, and there it was, glowing red against the vivid deepening cobalt of the eastern sky. She’d also noticed this the night they’d arrived, like a welcoming beacon, and the clear view of it was one of the reasons she returned frequently to this spot.

It seemed to pulse, signaling perhaps. It was home, the fourth planet from the sun, the planet they’d left a little over two years before, traveling by the craft that had been built for the purpose of interplanetary travel, though their trip had been somewhat extemporaneous. That first night she had wondered if the pulsing red glow was the holocaust they had left behind still burning, the populations of their race killing each other in a misbegotten firestorm they had barely escaped, or to be honest, had simply run from. If so, the place was still burning.

The ship had stood stocked with medical supplies, food and clothing, oxygen, water and all else that would be needed during the someday trip to the third planet with the climate so like their own. It was opportune that they who had designed and built the ship and trained to pilot it were all stationed conveniently close, and by their position had been closer to their government’s plans than others as well. They had guessed that this annihilation was a possibility.

In the last few days when, despite the rhetoric that negotiations were ongoing, these leading scientists could see the missile silos being prepared for use. They passed the word among staff to get families together, pack what they could and get ready to leave if necessary. Was it selfish to save their own and use their training to take the chance on flying out, hoping they weren’t hit by a missile, and getting above the atmosphere before it became too toxic, the air polluted with radiation, carbon monoxide and debris unusable to convert to hydrogen fuel? Or was it reality that they would be the most likely to survive it if they undertook this mission and, because of that, because someone should represent their race in this universe, they should.

So they had followed the mission they had trained for, watching their planet glow with outrage until its atmosphere was so clogged with smoke and debris that they could no longer see it as they silently moved farther and farther away. They traveled without incident and landed safely in the northern hemisphere of the planet, avoiding the huge sheets of ice that blanketed the north and south poles of the planet. From studying this planet they knew the spot they landed would have been a fertile plain surrounded by low mountains and several bodies of water, safe for landing and easy for travel, perhaps rich with food similar enough to their own that they could move right in.

Of course, they had no intention to stay. Each night they signaled home base, never receiving a response which was something they had, somehow, never expected. They had planned to go back as soon as possible, even if only to see the destruction, but as time wore on they could see now that maintenance to the ship, fuel, food…so many things stood in the way that instead of months, it might be years, or generations before anyone could go back. Perhaps none of these travelers would ever know the outcome of that horrible war. How strange to go from the seeming omniscience of constant, instant communication and information to this mocking silence.

She watched as her home planet glowed ever more brightly in the deepening sky, pulsating slightly with the beat of her heart. As it rose above the horizon and the night sky deepened, the little planet was soon surrounded by stars in their familiar constellations.

They had survived almost a year here, had made contact with natives, had built a society and would someday have children of their own no doubt. Soon they planned to begin growing edible native plants rather than gathering what they needed and possibly to attempt to domesticate a few animals that resembled those from home. They’d build small towns and the struggles of power and desire would emerge, and only time would tell if they had also brought with them the potential to destroy this civilization, too, or if they had left that potential behind in the lifeless destruction on that beautiful, glowing red planet.

This story began to build itself far back, when I was still in college and reading Omni magazine, enjoying the futuristic science fiction of the late 70s and early 80s. It was to be my first novel, and I began writing in earnest immediately after graduation, dreaming of continuing on with my Master’s degree.

But life caught up with me and family issues took the time I’d carved out for writing, and I lost touch with the energy to write an entire novel. I carried the beginning draft for years, occasionally rewriting it, then in 2010, when I took the photo of the evening star which I used to illustrate this story, I decided that nothing would stop me from at least writing a short story, and so I did. As with most of my creative writing I let it sit for a while, tortured it with rewrites a few times, let friends read and critique it, and finally deemed it ready for publication, at least on my own blog.

Read more:   Essays   ♦  Short Stories  ♦  Poetry

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Poem for Saturday: All Our Foundations are Gone

All Our Foundations Are Gone

There used to be a house here
snug against the hill
three floors
and steps to an upper terraced yard
in this impossible spot.
Breakfasts, dinners, Christmas trees, hot summer nights,
births, deaths, first days of school, graduations, conspiring teenagers,
changing colors of paint and people.
That was before the road was this busy
and its door opened right into traffic.
Now all that is left is a limestone foundation
and broken plastered walls with faded pink paint
embedded into the layered shale hillside,
and a chipped whitewashed alcove where the Blessed Virgin Mary
once spread her hands and watched over the home from the upper terrace.
Soon even that will be gone
and a new road will carry away
the last memory of the founders of this place,
but foundations are beyond physical presence,
and ours to build upon.

poem All Our Foundations are Gone © 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I am always sad to see old neighborhoods decay and fall to the wrecking ball, buried under with the backhoe. I’m not against progress, and sometimes a neighborhood has lived its span and is ready to be removed. But for better or worse, those old neighborhoods carry memories of individuals and the collective, people lived and died there, and they are the foundations of what we are today. Without them we are in danger of forgetting both the good we’ve done, and the bad, at risk of forgetting our roots and also repeating the same mistakes we made in the past.

This photo was taken in a city neighborhood, obviously on the top of a hill with an incredible view, a Victorian-style house that fell to decay after standing empty a decade or so and needed to be taken down for the safety of the neighborhood.

The poem was written as I watched what had been a two-lane road out of the city, which had at one time been a thriving neighborhood all on its own, wither as the road became busier and wider, and the homes and businesses closed and stood unused. Seeing the stately old houses, some with lace curtains still in the windows, fall apart and be removed, revealing the pastel paint colors of the walls, faded flowered wallpaper, the structures of what people had made their own home place, thinking of the lives and events that might be forgotten in the process, I wrote a reminder of what might once have been there.

Read more:   Essays   ♦  Short Stories  ♦  Poetry

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Poem for Today: Pawprints and Raindrops


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.

poem © 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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.

CWA-BADGE_BlackMuseI wrote this poem in 2009 but finalized it just in time for my annual poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in February 2010. “Pawprints and Raindrops” went on to be published on a variety of sites on the internet, and it also won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion for poetry from the Cat Writer’s Association in 2010. In spring 2012 I began recording some of my poems, especially those with highly visual content so that I could also create a slideshow of images to accompany the text. I’ve recorded it with a slideshow of images which you can watch right here.

If it doesn’t play above, here’s the link to it on my YouTube Channel (good heavens, I have a YouTube channel):

~ ~~~ ~

You can also read the account of that day in 2011 in “Where’er You Walk“.

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.

On The Creative Cat

Enjoy other poems about my cats.

Listen to other recorded poems about my cats.

Visit my YouTube site for all my recorded poems (so far).

Visit my Poetry page here on Paths I Have Walked.

Read more:   Essays   ♦  Short Stories  ♦  Poetry

All Rights Reserved.   ♦   © Bernadette E. Kazmarski   ♦


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Poem for Lughnasadh: Wild Apples

Grasses and Sparkles
Grasses and Sparkles
Grasses and Sparkles

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,
Stands trailside,
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.
Months before,
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.

Poem “Wild Apples” by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2007, may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author. Links to this blog are fine.


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

Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.
Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.


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).

You can order one below or on Portraits of Animals.

About the books and the poetry readings

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.

Read more:   Essays   ♦  Short Stories  ♦  Poetry

All Rights Reserved.   ♦   © Bernadette E. Kazmarski   ♦


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