Kublai is giving me instructions on how to be a better snow shoveler. He was 15 years old, and that winter was snowy well into March when each day I went out to fill the bird feeders before I went to work. Even though Kublai wasn’t well that winter, nothing dulled his love for snow. I discovered that when I was still in college, a school that was in the “snow belt” in northwestern PA, near Erie, when we often had snow from October to May. He would leap into a drift and happily flounder around like I do in a good place to swim. I thought I’d actually taken some photos of him plowing his way through deep snow in the back yard, and I may find them eventually. Below he runs through the maze of paths around the yard that go from one feeder to another.
It was also the first time I discovered how a little supervised sojourn to the back yard could perk up a kitty’s appetite and attitude. These two photos were taken the same day as one of the photos from this post. He was my first garden cat and regularly visited the yard in summer and other warm seasons, but with my work schedule and the short days we rarely had the chance to go out in the snow. This would actually be Kublai’s last winter, so I’m glad I wised up and started to take him outside each day. He really thrived with that, and I loved him out there with me. Below he makes his way around the deck to the side of the house.
Vintage photos from previous years
A Morning in Late Winter, 1994
No, it’s a different black cat in a photo from 22 years ago this month. It’s Kublai enjoying the sun on the landing where nearly all cats who’ve ever lived here have enjoyed it.
It was a sunny weekend morning in March 1994, featuring Kublai, Cookie, Stanley and Fawn on the upstairs landing that looks a little different with the temporary carpet I’d laid, and without the pine wardrobe where everyone suns themselves now. But it’s the same window, same windowsill, and even the same lace curtain, and the same eternal wash of late winter/early spring sunshine in the window.
I’ve always wanted to paint the top photo, and at one point I considered it as Kublai’s portrait photo (more on that below), but decided I’d rather have one where he was looking at me. This one, however, is still on the list, and it’s one of my favorite photos of him.
I found this envelope of photos from March 1994, and I can only tell the date that closely because I finished two pieces of artwork around that time and photographed them; sometimes a roll of film could sit in the camera for months waiting to be used up, and sometimes it waited years to be developed, so any dates on the prints are totally unreliable.
I know I had pulled these to use as reference photos for the portrait I painted of Kublai, “Are You Looking At Me?”, in 2005. Because the envelope was from one of the early boxes of photos, way in the back, it had been in the stray photo box since then. Well, at least I knew where it was!
Cookie, looking like the absolute doll she was, is hanging with her big brother, and Kublai has done with hanging out on my shoulder and decided to have a handy nap while I play. Cookie, I know now, was taking instructions from big brother, as she would in later years be expected to know how to take care of the human. A rainbow spot on the floor lets me know it was a magical moment.
Below, Cookie very quickly came to own the sink…and to fill it up, at age 2. She had been quite hungry upon arrival and it was possible her early diet of whatever came along changed her metabolism, but she also ate more than a kitty should. Yet even after I’d exercised portion control—and I had not let them free feed since well before Cookie’s arrival or even moving to this house—many of the “premium” foods I was purchasing had large amounts of corn, which no one seemed to question. Cookie did not digest the corn very well, her teeth suffered and she also gained far too much weight with it. Once I’d learned about corn in foods and found diets that didn’t include it, for several months at this time actually cooking my own meals for them and also raw feeding, Cookie lost weight with normal portions, but she was left with a rotund form, you know, “The Goddess”. And she was darned cute while occupying the sink, which really was the smallest pedestal sink on the market then.
In my ongoing effort to organize old projects and photos I’ve been sorting through a that box of misplaced photos. I’ve always been pretty diligent at keeping my photos in order knowing if I had to dig through all my photos to find any single one I’d never do it, so I rarely pull single photos, instead pulling the entire envelope of photos and negatives, mark the spot the had in their dated box, and try to return it.
But in this little house the photos were not always in a place that was easy to get to, and I did pull individual photos now and then too, thinking I’d put them back right away. Rather than risk their being lost by putting them in a desk drawer or hanging them on the refrigerator, I designated a box specifically for these photos I’d pulled, intending to return them when the massive set of shoe boxes and clear plastic containers was more easily accessible.
And now it’s interesting to look back, with the perspective of today’s feline family who we’ve all seen on this very landing, on a little family from so long ago. These four are the ones who were always with me, and while Cookie was a relative newcomer—she was only two!—she was, like Kublai, Fawn and Stanley, at my side wherever I was in the house. Not included in today’s array are Sally, Moses, Nikka and Allegro as well as Sophie, who still lived with my mother at the time.
My favorite photo of Fawn, a slender little torbie cat with marbled toes and stripes all over, and a long, long tail with two orange stripes on the end that were her flag of notification—depending on what those two orange stripes were doing I knew her mood right away, and when she sat the stripes were always laid neatly over her paws. She was about six here.
Fawn was the one kitten who remained with me from the very first mama cat I rescued. She was the “runt” of the litter, just a slender little torbie cat, very attached to me and rather friendly at that time. I had adopted her sister Nikka out to my brother, then took her back in 1993; Nikka made it her business to stalk and terrorize Fawn, who grew less social with time, but always attached to me.
Often I pulled photos when I’d resolved to get a start on a certain portrait or painting I wanted to do; some of these I did, some not. Other photos I pulled as reference photos for portraits or illustrations, not feeling the need to have the entire package out, and all became residents of the stray photos box. Later when I was better about pulling an entire envelope of photos I still wasn’t always good at replacing them, but I did at least keep it protected in the envelope and matched up with its negatives.
Apparently, it’s been a while since I’ve put photos away, and a visit to this particular box is always a trip down memory lane.
Stanley was so handsome with his big green eyes with the white diamond in between, and his friendly personality, though he was the most troubled cat I’d ever known. But I loved the moments when he was relaxed and happy, and I always knew he felt best when he was with me.
He was probably between 12 and 14 here, still with clear eyes and alert ears. He had suffered about five urinary tract blockages as well, and I had just started on the path to more natural diets and naturopathic treatments and homeopathic remedies of which Stanley was a major benefactor. Once we discovered the right diet for him I managed to control the urinary issues with observing and catching the effects with natural means, and Stanley was overall a much happier cat and never blocked again.
You will also recognize Stanley from the painting “After Dinner Nap”, the face that launched a thousand portraits.
And just for interest, the “poster” on the wall above the table is my hand-lettered version of “What a Wonderful World”, lettered in black on the left, and with the title in bold letters reversed out of the “blue sky” background of regular old chalk on the right. I had designed a number of these and sold a few designs back then, but licensing art was so cumbersome that I gave up and decided I’d try again later. I still have this in my studio.
Also there with Stanley on the table is my mahogany angel, which I carved in my senior art class in high school. I wanted her to look like a totem in the wood, rough and undetailed. The Norfolk Island Pine on the left was a housewarming gift from a co-worker when I moved here, decorated for Christmas for my first Christmas in my new house; this plant grew quite tall but finally quit growing new branches in about 2009, and no matter what I did it simply withered and turned brown. The Swedish ivy was a cutting from a larger plant I’d had for so many years I don’t remember; it grew quite large and woody, I took cuttings and started a new plant, over and over, and I still have a few last cuttings from this plant.
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