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.
My garden waits under a blanket of spring
gently rippled snow comforting the earth
drowsing buds protected undercover
will burst and pour forth
hot, humid mornings, big yellow spiders, baskets of green beans
this heavy cover now protects, will melt and nourish.
When I look at my garden, surprised at all its hillocks and gulleys remembered full of life and covered so deeply and densely with growing things, I wonder how the miracle ever happens again that I have baskets of beans and tomatoes just a few months later when all seems frozen and gone. It’s really not. As one of those ironies of nature where unrelated processes fit together like a puzzle to make a whole ecosystem, it’s the icy blanket of snow that would seem to smother and freeze and end the potential that actually keeps the spark of life warm.
Oh, I can’t stop looking at all the feverfew
in my garden,
I just keep running from one cluster to another
those tiny perfect daisies
in umbels as if floating without stems
on waves of bright green leaves
the dots of dew flashing, sparkling
in the day’s new sun
just arrived over the horizon
its color still warm and yellow
as if it’s a cookie just taken out of the oven
and I have to look at all the feverfew
from every angle
until I’m done looking
and I discover I’ve forgotten all the problems of yesterday
and all the ills of the world that I feel the need to carry
and I’m laughing
and dripping with dew myself
and visualizing stunning works of art
and amazing poetry and prose
most of which will ever be realized
nor do they need to be
the inspiration only needs to settle into my soul in this early morning in June
and its glow will warm heart
and keep me laughing with joy
through the day
and the next
and the next.
Do flowers make us happy? Especially those little smiling faces of daisies and daisy-like flowers? Used to represent a universal flower type, little white flowers with yellow centers and a circlet of white petals have always been recognized as symbols of innocence and childhood.
I’m a sucker for a little white flower, be it chamomile or a daisy or an aster or…feverfew, even the mounds of it that take over sections of my garden every summer. It’s a native wild plant in my area and once it gets a root in the soil nothing can stop it. Yet it looks as delicate and happy and innocent as a flutter of butterflies.
Through the years caring for my mother and brother, money woes and running my business, the coming in and sadly, leaving, of members of my feline family have tended to pull me deeper into myself until I can’t get past myself to my creative self that is totally unaware of all these daily things. Sometimes when I’m weighed down by everything around me, a trip to the garden and seeing little smiling flower faces dotted with dew can awaken my creative senses and lift the weight off my shoulders—and a good thing because I need all my strength and balance to run around with my camera and sketchbook. A trip to the garden in the morning pulls me out of that space for just enough time that I can reach that creative self in time for another day’s work in my studio, and my kitchen, and around my house as I smile back at all those little happy faces covered with dew and suddenly see photos and paintings and fabric designs and, for the moment, forget anything else.
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”.
$8.00 each plus $2.50 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.
The re-emergence of life in my garden this spring is tinged with sadness as I picture two of my best friends, in spirit, wandering among the green and daffodils and last year’s leaves.
I have a whole household of cats and I never permit them outside to roam, although I take them outside with me while I work in the yard, retrieving them when they wander. Many years of finding and rescuing cats and kittens who have been abused, abandoned or injured makes me keep them inside except for these brief forays, but one of the things I love most about cats is just watching them be cats.
Last autumn, I lost two of them to cancer. The first was the love of my life, Kublai, a handsome, social and affectionate black cat who I met and fell in love with while was in college. More intelligent and sensitive than many people I know, he had enough love to give away and filled a void in my life while big-brothering every stray kitten and adult cat I had since brought into the house. The other was a big, quiet and gentle orange and white cat named Allegro who loved people and whose life was made complete by the presence and guidance of Kublai and me.
Kublai, tough as nails, held out against his cancer for a year with every treatment and remedy I could find for him. One of the best treatments was a trip into the yard more than once each day in my hope that the life in the garden and flower beds would help support him, but as my garden flourished I watched him decline. At the end of September, Allegro was diagnosed with a quick-moving internal cancer, Kublai died two days later, and Allegro followed him two weeks after that.
Now every spot in the yard has a memory of each of them. I have reinstated the bird bath top on the ground that Kublai used to drink out of every day right after I cleaned and filled it, and in the new columbine foliage I can almost see him lying in the shade under the trees. The new green garlic fronds remind me that I only had four more days with him and only suspicions of Allegro’s illness when I planted them. All the bulbs are up and ready in the little garden outside my dining room window that I arranged with Allegro, suddenly frail, at my side in the warm autumn sunshine just the day before he died. And as I rake up the leftover dry leaves I remember Allegro, just before I noticed any symptoms, chasing and trying to catch the first ones as they fell.
I cleaned up last year’s garden through a blur of tears and neglected many of the things I usually do and forgot things I had done, and I am almost surprised that anything is growing this year. After they died I had them cremated and sprinkled their ashes on the spots they loved best. I think it’s an expression that their love still exists that the iris, like Kublai nearly black with mahogany highlights, sprouted early and is thriving, and the carefree field poppy which is very orange, like Allegro, has already begun to spread and no doubt will bloom freely.
And in time I will forget the illnesses and in my garden I will picture Kublai lurking between the cornstalks and Allegro catching leaves with careless abandon.
I first published this essay on my cat-centric website The Creative Cat in 2013, though it was written for publication in 1988. Some of the references might be more clear in that context, but the sentiment is probably clear even without that knowledge. I included more photos of the subjects in the post on The Creative Cat if you want to see what everything looked like.
Years ago, while I was still working in my day job, I also did a fair amount of freelancing in design, art and writing. One place I’d had a few short pieces published was Organic Gardening Magazine in the late 80s and early 90s, mostly concerning gardening but also an essay. While sorting through old files I found this essay I’d written and submitted along with another they’d agreed to publish. It seemed as if the magazine’s readers and staff were all animal lovers and even gardening stories were full of cats and dogs and rabbits and chickens who were pets, and I’d read a few essays about the losses of pets as well. Though they accepted it this was not published; commentaries such as this were usually held to be used whenever there was a space for them. Magazine staff and format changed soon after this.
But it surprised me to find this story of my household from 1996 and my thoughts in March of 1997 which I’d forgotten I’d written; behind all the correspondence about an article that had been published I saw the title, “The Cats in My Garden”, and it all came back to me. Now, as I review photos from previous years and see all those of Cookie out there with me, and Cookie and Namir in my garden and how grand those years were, and how Kelly enjoyed her visits to the yard in her last few months, I think how my household has changed through the years. Now, beginning another gardening year, I read about another spring emerging after losing two of my cats, and I watch the daffodils, crocuses and squills I planted in 1996 under Allegro’s supervision sprouting and blooming now. Kublai and Allegro were my first two losses of the cats I adopted as an adult.
There have been so many since these two, and yet the flowers we planted and the yard we loved continue to flourish, and just as the flowers inspire me to photograph and paint each spring revisiting how I’d represented them in the past and still finding something new about them, so Kublai and Allegro and all the others continue to still inspire me to create with their image, and still finding things to learn about them.