A mullein plant grows from between the bricks.
A seed on the wind found the only spot on a brick wall that has enough space to hold soil blown into it and perhaps a few decayed leaves, and sprouts. It’s a metaphor for many things.
No, that photo really is at the right angle, that is a vertical wall, and several feet off the ground as well. A little bit of moss is beginning to grow between the bricks, but a mullein plant? They have incredible tap roots and actually grow quite tall when they flower, but I guess it’s managed to find enough sustenance here to keep it growing and quite green.
Below, the full wall, just to get a perspective on what the mullein has accomplished.
When I looked out my kitchen window this morning, above is what I saw. I couldn’t paint it because the light was changing fast at that early hour, so I photographed it and worked on it a little later. I wanted to keep it leafy with a lot of movement, so I used all my pastels on their sides.
Below are two small sketches I did of Robinson Run along the Panhandle Trail. Both are pastel, and while there are areas I am very pleased with there are also areas I am not…but it just means I need to restock my field boxes of pastels with some of the colors I’m missing.
The first sketch was:
The second sketch was:
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 my 20-year-old tortoiseshell kitty Cookie died, and as I enjoyed the warm day 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 another senior Kitty, 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. You can read and listen to the poem and also more about Cookie, Moses, and the creative inspirations of my feline muses in this post on The Creative Cat; here on Today I have only the poem and the recording.
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 Bernadette 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.
Listen to the Poem
I have always enjoyed reading my poetry to others, and had always wanted to try a little multi-media project including a slideshow of photos with narration. In February 2012 I lost my 20-year-old kitty Cookie, my best friend from practically the day she joined my household as a rescue and who spent many long days and nights over those years staying by my side as I found my creative life; I created this first recorded presentation in honor of her.
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, my feline muses, 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 last October, the “Wolf Moon” in the bare tree and the sunset with the evening stars references to my mother who also passed last year at this time. 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 could have gotten a better microphone too, but I will stop explaining and making excuses, and I hope you enjoy it. Watch the video below or click here to see the video on YouTube, “Things I Found in the Woods”.
“Things I Found in the Woods” recording © 2012 Bernadette E. Kazmarski
I read this poem as part of my 2008 annual poetry reading and art exhibit, “Winter Twilight”.
Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.
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).
About the books and the poetry readings
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.
What primordial wash left these deposits of colored sand between layers of limestone? How many times did the landscape change to create these layers? How much time does this represent?
This highwall is a man-made cut along the Panhandle Trail in Collier Twp., PA, a former rail line from Pittsburgh to Weirton, WV and connecting to points north and west. A section at the trail head runs through the McShane Quarry of Collier Stone, providing Collier Gray limestone and other products around southwestern Pennsylvania.
The portion of the quarry around the trail is no longer mined, but several quarry ponds still provide interest and habitat, and in the woods huge quarried and natural boulders left behind are covered with lichen and moss. And like most limestone and sandstone formations, there’s a natural cave to explore. Farther along the trail is another limestone feature, the Fossil Cliffs where millennia of flora and fauna remain in this ghostly form.
Hand made birdhouses, created by local kids in school, hang in young maples along the Panhandle Trail in Collier Township. You can’t miss this one! And it looks like the birds have noticed it as well—this one is either showing signs of occupation from last year, or a new resident this year.
I looked up and saw the profile of a face in the rock.
Imagine the sound of water.
The limestone cliffs of the quarry seep groundwater dripping down the rock face into the partially melted quarry pond in a constant patter. The gray of the limestone and pale yellow of the wan winter sun color this image into a burnished antique gold.
The trail can be so noisy on a bright winter afternoon with all the water dripping and the stream surging with icemelt, and the birds making the best of a clear day to stock up on food. Even tiny bits of fresh green showed in protected spots, ferns and mosses just waiting for a sunny day to store up some energy to make it through the winter.
The Cold Moon of December is not quite full but illumines the land with the cool blue of coming winter in the deep dusk of a winter evening.
The mosses have been so thrilled with the unusually warm weather they are glowing, especially on an overcast day.
Do you suppose mosses were the original inspiration for shag carpeting?
Seen along the trail, perhaps washed up eons ago in the ocean that created our layers of limestone and fossils here in Western Pennsylvania.
Really just an old weathered tree trunk. But they certainly looked like ancient fishes at first.
There is magic as the landscape becomes a velvety darkness beneath the bright sky on a clear autumn evening.
On a still, hot afternoon, the time of day in the time of year when sensible wildlife take refuge in shade and rest, and even insects take a break in their brief but incessant calling for the continuation of their species, I encountered a trail off into time.
At first my ears rang with the silence of the afternoon and of my own stillness, accustomed to the noise of my daily life, the radio programs I listen to, the white noise of my computer, the sounds of my neighbors going about their summer days drifting into my windows, the thoughts that accompany my own daily activities.
Then, in the same way we let our eyes adjust to darkness and suddenly we can see all about us, I let my ears adjust to the silence and heard the slight rustle of a breeze in the very tops of the black willows, crickets in the grass, the occasional chirp or click of other insects, an occasional bird moving from one branch to another. My mind was momentarily as empty as the air with the resting of my senses.
This trail off the trail leading through woods to a field was so enticing but time was elusive.
I remember exploring the woods and fields that still existed when I was young, following a path just because it was there, soaking up the sun and heat of a summer afternoon and filling my senses with all it offered.
Because our daily lives are so full of activity we rarely experience silence, or at least the quiet that generations of people heard before us, before we had so many ingenious motorized things and methods of transportation, then there are those cell phones ringing everywhere and one-sided conversations. Even once we escape all these noisemakers our silence today is rarely complete. It is, however, restful to the ears and to the soul, as I find in an afternoon outing on the trail, in the woods, out in a field somewhere.
A few minutes into my trek onto the trail, no matter the season or the weather, and the reduction of sounds has an impact on me that nothing else ever does. I don’t realize until then how I’m often breathing shallowly or even holding my breath, gritting my teeth, holding my shoulders rigid, even when I think I’m relaxed and happy and ready to stay all day, or forever.
Actually, it is a false sunflower, but of all the woodland sunflowers I saw this weekend on the Panhandle Trail, I liked this one the best. Those five petals are so deliberate that they are difficult to ignore, and remind me of a wind turbine. Most sunflowers have petals, or rays, all the way around the central disk, but this one has apparently chosen, by genetics, to have only five. this variety, Heliopsis helianthoides, can have anywhere between five and eight. All the plants in this area with similar leaves and stems had five rays, yet in other areas along the trail, I know I’ve seen others with six rays and more. I guess they each have their own territory.
And the photo below is interesting in its own right. I use several different lenses when I photograph wildflowers, and I also manually change the settings, shooting “dark” so that I get all the highlights in the petals where the sun highlights them, for instance, while the background detail fades to focus interest on the flower. I usually have to adjust the levels when I get into PhotoShop, to lighten it up a bit. Often, I’ll simply choose “auto levels” and see what happens. I rarely like what it does—it’s usually too contrasty for me—but it often shows me elements of the image I wouldn’t see otherwise, like this! This photo began with the same color ranges as the one above, but who would think there would be blue and purple in the background and no green? And that zappy yellow! I love the effect.
A few more photos from Rock the Quarry yesterday, and two young ladies in pink waiting for their rainbow snowcone.
The making of snowcones is a family affair for the woman in charge here; I didn’t realize when I ran out to the snowcone truck when it came around my neighborhood I’d meet those same people again one day as an adult.
A fairly large flag hangs on the highwall of the old limestone quarry, above the quarry pond, along the Panhandle Trail in Walker’s Mill, near Pittsburgh, PA. Today the event was “Rock the Quarry XII”, an annual two-day community event that also raises funds for the trail development and maintenance. The trail runs along an abandoned railway line and through the older part of a limestone quarry (part of it is still quite active), and the festival has music and food vendors and games for visitors.
I am a day late with this, and I’ll just blame it on electronic items who have no respect for traditional feast days.
Seasons meld from one to another, not at the equinox and solstice but halfway between, in the quiet time when there are no other celebrations, but the sensitive person can feel the change, especially standing in the quiet relentless heat of a backwoods trail in August. I visited the trail on the Feast of Lammas, when summer gently gives over to autumn, growth turns to ripening, the natural world begins to settle itself in for harvest and rest in the dark of winter, and later that day the sense of change, in the woods and in myself, was still strong with me, and I wrote this poem. I also recorded it with a slideshow of images; this is embedded after the text of the poem.
by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
At a bend in the trail,
The scent of wild apples greets me.
A tree abandoned from an old orchard
Or sprung up on its own from old stock, wild and uncultivated,
Heavy with small round burnished apples.
The late summer heat releases their scent,
Sweet and tart, that the world may know they have reached their prime;
The wild perfume of the coming season.
From another tree one single leaf lets go
And falls, papery, dry and curled, slipping through branches
Clattering to the summer-hardened clay of the trail,
Loud in the silent heat of the August afternoon.
Winter lost her grip, and, one by one,
The wildflowers of spring began to bloom,
Which, in their turn, faded into the shadows of the dense summer woods.
Now summer is losing her strength,
Autumn is thinning the woods
And bearing her own flowers and fruits,
Changing the palette of the landscape
With bright summer greens turning gold,
Deep rich shadows fading hazy blue.
Soon autumn will blaze along the trail,
And songbirds will move their chorus south.
Already winter has touched my hair,
And the smell of wild apples is in the air.
Poem “Wild Apples” by Bernadette E. Kazmarski © 2007, may not be reproduced in any way without express written permission of the author. Links to this blog are fine.
We notice these changes in ourselves in the great cycle of our own lives. This was the topic of my 2009 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season. I have published the collections of poetry from each of the four poetry readings, 2007 through 2010, in a book entitled Paths I Have Walked, which you can purchase on my website. Also visit the writing section of my website to read more poetry and see more art and photos.
Just a pattern in the rock, or a fossil?
We visited Fossils Cliff in Collier Township, the limestone layers in the valley the ideal for finding impressions of archaic living beings between the layers. Sometimes the patterns were clearly just a pattern of the layers settling against each other, but other patterns clearly looked organic. This, to me, looks like a spine and perhaps even ribs. It’s about 12″ long and on the underside of an outcrop, impossible to take away.
I came home with a pocket full of smaller possibilities.
Now there’s a place I’d like to be on a 97 degree day—under a limestone outcropping in the woods looking for fossils! I’ve meant to go back, I think it might be time.
A busy damselfly pauses on a leaf, her shadow clear in the bright mid-day sun. She looks right at me and seems just as curious of me as I am of her.
I’m not as informed about damselflies as I could be and can’t really identify this one beyond a few guesses. I found it as I was wading in Robinson Run in Collier Township, Pennsylvania.
May generations continue to discover the mysteries and lessons of a walk in the woods.
My great-niece and nephew from our escapade in the woods last year. See the rest of the photos at A Day in the Woods.
What wildflowers are blooming in in the woods and fields lat spring through mid-summer? In my region, the greater Ohio Valley and a good bit of the northeastern US, we’ve transitioned from a lot of gentle greens with touches of white and yellow to brilliant yellows, oranges and pinks.
I’m documenting walks along local trails to capture the flora you’d see along the trails as you walked. I’m familiar enough with the trails near me to know what blooms when, since it’s been one of my projects for years, even before my digital camera. I’ve got loads of shots on film, but they aren’t in sequence as these are, though I’m catching up in scanning those.
I’ve created several slideshows of local woodland wildflowers which you can find on my regular website, which is where things went before WordPress came up with this wonderful software for blogging. If you hold your mouse over the image you’ll see the common common flower name at the top of each image.
This project is intended to one day become an online and perhaps print reference for the wildflowers of the Lower Chartiers Watershed, so I’ll be keeping them organized by trail. Wildflowers are amazingly predictable, and anyone else would be able to walk the trail around the same time I did in another year and see these wildflowers in about this sequence. So far I’ve visited the Panhandle Trail area, but I’ll also be visiting Kane’s Woods in Scott Township, Wingfield Pines in Upper St. Clair, to name a few.
These images are provided for familiarity rather than strict scientific identification; I am not a scientist, and my goal is first to take good photographs, then to give people a general appreciation of the beauty of their local wildflowers. The names are accurate, but I’ll keep to the most common name to make it easier for you to find these in guidebooks and pursue more information. Just enjoy looking at them.
You can see more flora, fauna and much else on my website under Photography.
Ahead of me on the Panhandle Trail just after the Oakdale crossing it suddenly looked as if the gravel was moving on its own. I was hot and a little tired but as I slowed I realized it wasn’t the gravel at all but a little family of killdeer out for a walk, two adults and three little ones.
Killdeer are related to sandpipers, so picture the long thin legs, narrow horizontal bodies and long beaks. You’ve no doubt heard a bird call a high-pitched “kill-deer! kill-deer!” just about anywhere but especially near water, even along the rivers in the city.
They nest in gravel, usually along streams, because their food source, insects are plentiful at the water’s edge. However, they will adapt to any gravel if a food source is near, and I’ve even seen them nesting in gravel between the rails of the railroad track. Their coloring, grey and tan with dark brown stripes around the neck and eyes, blends them in with the gravel, a perfect camouflage.
Until they start to move. Anyone seeing moving bits of gravel move around should at least look a little closer, and you may see the little ones, just a puff of soft feathers atop long skinny legs, marked just like their parents in miniature and just as loud as their parents but just saying the second syllable of their name only.
As soon as I stopped my bicycle and pulled out my camera, the little ones turned left and away from me, bibbling away in the opposite direction toward home, while their parents each did the “broken wing trick”—slowly hobbling along dragging one outspread wing as if they were injured, trying to lead me away from their babies and their nest.
Mind you, this family had just been dodging bicycles, but moving objects don’t really frighten them, only big ones that stop and look at them.
As soon as the babies were safely near their little crossover point, their parents joined them, making loud, sharp warning sounds.
And from here, it’s easy to anthropomorphize, especially when there are parent birds and baby birds involved. Even if they aren’t thinking and saying what humans would in this case, some things are universal, and the little drama probably went on like this…
All was well until one little guy decided he wasn’t quite ready to go home yet, and turned around and ran off, his little legs moving so fast he appeared to be hovering an inch or so above the ground.
Dad wasn’t happy. Apparently he had decided this was one day the kids should listen to him. But where had he gone? Perfect camouflage all around, the little one had disappeared.
He spotted the little guy and began trying to gently guide him back toward the crossover, which was quite a distance away. The little one would have none of it.
Then he tried to show the little guy how to cross the ditch, a much shorter route. Even a sibling, who had already crossed over, came to the other side of the barrier, calling to the little one (but probably yelling “chicken!”, as siblings will do…do birds call each other “chicken”?).
“Not me!” the little one said, probably a good decision since climbing or hopping over a 12-inch concrete barrier would be quite a feat for something the size of two cotton balls running around on toothpicks.
Then he realized he was all alone, and stopped.
Suddenly Dad was there, flying back and forth and landing to lead the little one to the other end of the barrier, standing on the other side and making, instead of the usual sharp warning sound, a soft, comforting chirring sound.
He finally led the little bit all the way down to the other end of the concrete barrier and convinced him to cross through the weedy strip where the concrete barrier ended, and they all made a ruckus when they got together again on the other side.
Then they blended into the pile of gravel on the other side of the barrier. Hope Dad had a good Father’s Day.
Something about the heat and sun today reminds me this moment…
You can best see the constellations
by lying on your back and dreaming
and in due time the sky is filled with
cavorting gods and goddesses,
love, death, politics, art
all in the air above you;
yet concentration on one
will cause them all to lose their magic.
So I, facing the surprise berry patch,
focusing to find one berry, and then another
while the clean June sun spilled over my head
warming the smell of berries and leaves and dirt
and small wild plants brushed the soles of my bare feet,
became at the same time a small person
faced with a raspberry clump taller than me,
surprised to find something
so joyfully abundant
and free for the taking
where last week there had only been leaves
along this path,
and, while watching the clouds
forgetting the berries
in both ages
my hands found berry after berry
and my heart found dreams.
Photo and poem © B.E. Kazmarski, all rights reserved