The crocuses have finished and now it’s time for the color show of the yellow daffodils and blue squills; a little later we’ll see the tulips. In late September 1996, Allegro supervised the planting of this garden that we could see from the dining room window. Wearing his harness and leash my big orange boy was chasing after leaves and occasionally a vole in the leaf litter while I organized the bulbs. Sadly, he had been diagnosed with lymphoma just a week before and we were simply trying to make the best of the time he had left. We had just lost Kublai, but I had found during his illness that getting out in the sun and fresh air, feeling his paws on the soil and doing cat things, made him feel better in the moment, and that often lasted for several hours afterward. Kublai had often gone outside with me but Allegro had not, still, I thought I’d give outdoor visits a try with him.
Allegro heartily approved, and even though it didn’t extend his life, he and I both enjoyed the time much more than if we’d stayed in the house, worrying, still grieving Kublai. I am best when my hands are busy, and cats very often benefit from getting environmental enrichment by going outdoors safely, no matter their age or condition. When we went back indoors, Allegro would always eat just a little bit, and it was a brief moment of normalcy for both of us.
Each year when this garden sprouts and blooms, each bulb in its turn, I remember that time with Allegro, the two of us sitting on the flagstones in autumn sun, me trying not to cry when I looked at him, finding bits of joy among all the sadness. I started calling it “Allegro’s Garden” even then, and even though it wasn’t dedicated to him since he was still there with me. I’ve referred to it that way in my mind ever since. I established the formal memorial garden with the sleeping cat a year or two later, but this little garden is special. Each year brings joy with the rebirth of life and color right outside the window where I can see it without effort, and remembering the simple joy of Allegro, his greatest gift.
A Memorial Garden
It’s spring here in the northern hemisphere, and if you’re planning your gardens this year you might want to consider a little memorial garden. Spring-flowering bulbs are a good choice for this since they are often more reliable than perennial plants or even a bedding of annuals. They sprout when the days are still short and usually cold, and a succession of bulbs like these offers color from sometimes as early as February into April. They don’t need to be trimmed regularly, and actually die back in time to plant other flowers there, or planted around a tree you can enjoy them before the tree leafs out. Remember that lilies are highly toxic to cats, and many bulb-blooming plants are toxic to all pets—they have to eat a lot of flowers or fronds to be affected, or eat the bulb itself, but it’s best to be careful and keep them away. Since these plants are blooming now, take a look around and see what others have and what you’d like, and be ready to plant when autumn comes.
A Little Story
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, squills and tulips 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.
. . . . . . . .
The Cats In My Garden
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
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.
You may also recognize some of these flowers in my back yard in recent posts here as well as on my photo blog Today. At that time I established several of the flower beds I still maintain and photograph, and remember the cats who supervised me through the years. You can read more about this subject, the meanings of certain flowers and think about establishing a memorial garden or adding a few flowers in memory of beloved animal companions you’ve lost in “Of Flowers and Memorial Day” and “In The Language of Flowers”. I realize I referenced these yesterday as well, and will probably do so again this spring, it’s a theme in my writing and poetry this time of the year.
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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals 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.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!