The Cats in My Garden

daffodils pushing through leaves
Daffodils are reaching for spring, the same daffodils I planted with Allegro.

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 recently 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 16 years ago 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 am still thinking of Cookie and Kelly last year and how my household has changed and 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 today. Kublai and Allegro were my first two losses; there have been so many since these two, and yet the flowers we planted and the yard we loved continue to flourish.

. . . . . . . .

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.

purple crocuses
Tiny crocuses given to me by an elderly neighbor, planted with Allegro, still blooming today.

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.

orange and white cat
Allegro napping in the sun on the windowsill.

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.

Tiny and delicate but vibrant Blue Siberian squills planted with Allegro's supervision.
Tiny and delicate but vibrant Blue Siberian squills planted with Allegro’s supervision.

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.

My garden path with the bright orange field poppies and forget-me-nots.
My garden path with the bright orange field poppies and forget-me-nots.

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.

. . . . . . . .

The photo of Kublai and me, below, was taken by a friend who visited at my request and photographed him and me together using my camera. I wished I’d done it sooner considering his condition, but I’m glad I have the photos now, no matter how he looks. He didn’t actually have cancer unless it had been inflammatory bowel disease that might have turned cancerous, but this simplified it for the article; we never really did determine what caused him to waste away as he did, and I’m not sure even now we would be able to determine it. Allegro had lymphoma, and his loss was very sudden.

The columbine leaves and birdbath top mentioned in the story are in the background of this photo; this was also a favorite haunt of Cookie through the years. Kublai had both front legs shaved for IVs from various treatments, and was down to about six pounds from 12. I just love how he’s looking at me. He was my rock, and he knew it.

And just as an aside, you may be familiar with my curly red hair which is colored with henna. This photo shows my natural color, which is not terribly different.

black cat in garden
Kublai and me in August 1996.

For another story related to this time read “The Artist’s Life: The Splendor of Autumn”, about turning to nature and to my art to begin serious landscape paintings following their deaths.


Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy.
Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy!

Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

13 thoughts on “The Cats in My Garden

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  • March 25, 2013 at 12:39 pm
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    Bernadette, your achingly beautiful story about the deep love between you and Kublai and Allegro brings to mind my theory that all cats are special, but some are more special than others. (As much as I hate to pick favorites.)
    I’m 58, and I’ve been had by cats since I was 13. That’s a lot of cats!
    Probably my most heroic cat was Hobbes. He developed lymphoma which metastasized rapidly. Through it all, he did anything he could to make me happy. If I encouraged him to join me for a brushing session, he would, even though he felt awful. He kept eating because I begged him to eat. The day before his ultimate decline, I brought him down to the basement with me so that he could jump around in a huge pile of packing paper. It was always one of his favorite games and, although physically rigorous, he played and played, I think because he knew it was the end and he wanted to share that with me one more time.
    What amazing gifts he gave me. Even to the end. My gift to him was to release him from the suffering which came upon him so quickly. I was with him. It was so hard, but I celebrated the life he’d shared with me and the dignity of his transition to the other plane.
    Thank you for writing, Bernadette. You share with all of us every day.

    Reply
    • March 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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      Meg, thank you for sharing the story of Hobbes. How close the two of you must have been, such an exchange between the two of you! And what a wonderful memory, though I’ll bet you are in tears each time you remember. I agree about giving him the final gift as well; people often don’t understand that the process of dying is often very painful and advanced lymphoma especially so, and when they say they’ve had enough they truly mean it.

      Thank you for reading.

      Reply
      • March 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm
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        No tears. Just love and amazement.

        Reply
        • March 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm
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          It’s funny, Meg–I felt and feel the same about Kublai, not so sad, but still thinking about it all.

          Reply
  • March 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm
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    I don’t know why, but this has deeply moved me! Maybe it’s the beautiful writing or maybe there is resonance there. Maybe both!

    Reply
    • March 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm
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      Thank you, Carolyn. I think we all experience these moments of remembering a loss, and noting how much time has passed. Thank you for the compliment.

      Reply
  • March 24, 2013 at 11:54 am
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    Such a beautiful glow in the crocuses (crocae ?!) , and such beautiful lovingness, (+ such beautiful curly hair. :))

    Reply
    • March 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm
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      Diana, those crocuses (yes) hold a lot of memories, but I shot a lot of photos of them before I got that perfect one. Yes, lots of curly hair!

      Reply
  • March 24, 2013 at 10:53 am
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    This story reminds me of when I lost Jasmine (right after Memorial Day 1992). She was my heart cat who was with me from the time I graduated high school, through college, when I got married, and when we moved to Pittsburgh. She was originally an indoor/outdoor cat with free roam of the neighborhood until she became much older and couldn’t find her way back home. After that I kept her inside unless I was in the yard with her. When she passed away, I had her cremated, buried her ashes in the backyard, and planted a rosebush on top. It always gave me comfort to see her roses blooming year after year.

    Reply
    • March 24, 2013 at 11:03 am
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      Vicki, those early ones seem to stay with us–I think they teach us the most of all our animal teachers. I had no idea at this time my actions would continue down the years, but perhaps it’s why I found this article at this time of the year when I’m remembering them.

      Reply

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