This February thaw reminds me of a day ten years ago that I ran off into the woods in shirt sleeves and bare feet, but a heavy heart with the impending loss of my precious Moses, and found the wisdom to help me understand her acceptance and accept my own role in her transition. It’s been a lesson that’s carried me through many losses since then, of beloved felines, of my mother, and others gone from my life. I also recorded the poem with a slide show of photos so you can listen to it as well as read it.
Every year the winter opens up to a few days of warm intoxicating sun and mud in January or February, and I’ve run outside to celebrate the day. In 2012 it was February 5, two days after Cookie died, and as I enjoyed the warm day without her and remembered this poem, I knew exactly what I wanted to create as a dedication to my faithful heart cat, my best friend.
I originally wrote this poem in 2006 for Moses as I knew her body was failing and she had little time left, and in 2012 was glad to dedicate my first recording of one of my poems to Cookie, leading me to a new means of expression and sharing my creative efforts. I have a link to the recorded poem with slideshow at the end of this article along with a few notes about creating it. I originally wrote this post in February 2011, just weeks after I’d lost my mother, and knew other losses were in my future.
FEBRUARY 2011—I ran out for a happy two-hour sojourn as far as I could go on the trail and into the woods on foot to see the brilliant swatches of green catching the late winter sun, the stream rushing along, birds flying crazily overhead and singing in one big chorus.
I took off my shoes and ran through the mud in my bare feet, stepping into the freezing, rushing water of the stream, climbing hills and rock faces and photographing with my camera and my mind’s eye and all my senses the exhilaration of this day, coming back with muddy feet, wild hair filled with leaves and twigs, scratches on my arms and lots of images and inspiration.
It’s a traditional respite from a frozen winter, a “spring thaw”, too early to be permanent but enough to reawaken our senses and begin stirring the life forces in all of nature.
The full moon in February is often called the “Hunger Moon”; though people have managed through the deepest extended cold of winter, their food stores put by at the previous autumn’s harvest may be near gone and a frozen landscape still surrounds with not much nourishment in sight until the first edible greens begin to sprout in March or later in far north regions. People and animals who’d made it this far would often perish if spring was too long in coming.
But beneath the snow plants have been gathering energy, seeds are swelling, roots are spreading, and above the snow the days are growing longer. Just two warm days in January or February are long enough to melt the snowcover and pour it into streams, soften the top layer of loam in the woods and everything that has life will spring to life, even if only temporarily, insects hatching, mosses blooming, ferns sending spores into the wind, living just long enough to reproduce, though the parents themselves may not survive.
These in turn provide a burst of food and fresh water for birds and animals to rejuvenate and energize and prepare for the effort of the months ahead, giving birth and raising their young.
I’ve always found the spring thaw, whenever it comes, to be a magical time, a gift from our compassionate mother in nature, perhaps, the world so full of life and energy that tired souls weary of the struggle of daily existence in a harsh frozen world will be reminded of better days to come. It feels like a moment outside of normal chronological time where we can find peace in a chapter of hardship, difficulty or sadness.
This day also reminded me of a similar spring thaw in 2006 when I knew that my Moses was letting go. I hadn’t lost a cat in quite some time and was frightened at the prospect, though she was calm and accepting as was her nature. I just happened to be in the woods for a photo assignment the day I realized Moses’ condition, and as the air was full of life around me I decided to take some time in the woods after the assignment.
It was that loving respite from my fear and worry, feeling the life and energy around me, that filled my heart with the understanding and acceptance I needed to help Moses through her last time, and, as it turned out, four others within the next 18 months.
But now as the years have passed all my losses have become one and are no longer losses, not a big chasm of dark sadness but a bright collective of memories of all their lives mingled with mine in the same way I remember the turns of the seasons. Their losses are not separate from me and my life, but their lives are a permanent part of who I am and the cats I live with today as I remember being in the garden with Moses, the day I first saw Stanley with ice crystals collecting on his fur, the way the furniture was arranged when I moved in here and everyone collected on the table by the door when I left in the morning, watching Mimi outside and realizing she had to come to live with me.
Their lives are not a part of my past, but of my present; just as the earth holds the memories of all that’s past and turns it into new life, so do I.
We are resilient; even after the harshest treatment has forced us to retreat and protect ourselves, we are ready again for the fullness of life when encouraging conditions return.
I wrote the first six verses of this poem sitting on a moss- and lichen-covered rock in the woods that day I realized my life was about to change with Moses’ imminent transition and something beyond that which I could not yet discern, then the last verse during her last few days, though I was never happy with it. In 2012 I found the words that were, well, right, for Moses and Cookie and all others and realized the poem was not about loss, but about letting go of anything you love while still loving it forever.
Things I Found in the Woods
Dedicated to Moses, the most gentle, loving being I have ever encountered.
Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling all around
hurrying down hillsides before the freeze returns.
A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, practicing its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.
Ferns, newly-green, draped on cliffs,
fluttering like garlands in the mild, caressing breeze
gathering a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.
Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.
Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
cavorting as if winter might not return tomorrow.
An understanding that life and love are cycles,
and that the moment must be taken for what it offers
even if what it offers is not what we expect.
The strength and courage to show as much dignity as you,
and to walk this last precious part of your path with you
and when I can walk no more beside you
to let you go.
“Things I Found in the Woods” © 2006 B.E. Kazmarski
I had never before experienced the spring thaw in such wonderment at the transience of life—still winter but everything that lived was taking advantage of the moment.
So was Moses. So should I.
So I resolved just to let her follow her course and she would let me know what to do.
I have kept this lesson in my heart with each of the older kitties I’ve loved since. I don’t care what’s coming for us. I love them right now, this moment.
Ten years ago I lived with a largely different group of nine cats. 2012 began with only Cookie and Kelly still with me from those early days of feline rescue, beginning as an artist, setting up my business, working at home. By the end they had joined Moses and all the others, and while I feel bereft at both their loss and the loss of the connection with that past, they left me in good paws, Mimi having spent a good part of Cookie’s last year apparently learning from Cookie her role as main human caretaker, and she and her children helping Kelly, and me, through those last confusing months.
Ten years from now I’m sure the group will be similarly changed. But each of them from before this time and the years to come is forever a part of my life.
That’s why I continue to share them all here, in photos and art.
Listen to the Poem
I have always enjoyed reading my poetry to others, and have wanted to try a little multi-media project including a slideshow of photos with narration. I am glad to create this first one for Cookie, who spent many long days and nights over 20 years staying by my side as I found my creative life.
There are no photos of Cookie or any other cats in this; though I wrote it for Moses and dedicate this project to Cookie, it is what I found I feel about love, loss, and letting go. I was led to this knowledge, of course, by my cats. Thank you kitties, as always, for showing me the way.
It’s also not timed quite right as some of the groups of images are shorter or longer than the stanza. Some of the photos I included at the end are from significant moments, for instance, the asters on Cookie’s picnic table bench from a morning Cookie and I were in the yard in October 2011, the “Wolf Moon” in the bare tree and the sunset with the evening stars references to my mother who also passed at this time in 2011. Coordinating, more or less, with the second verse, the forsythia with the tiny song sparrow in the middle of it is actually from the morning of February 2 as I held Cookie on my lap and knew her process of dying had begun; it was the day of transition from winter to spring and all the birds were singing their spring songs, and a song sparrow landed very near to us and sang for a while.
I have since invested in a better microphone and have more advanced software, and some day will recreate this including not only the photos but the video clips so you can hear the birds and rushing water that I had first imagine, but for now, this is the version I created with my whole heart in the moment. Watch the video below or click here to see the video on YouTube, “Things I Found in the Woods”.
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