Meow Writing Fest Becomes Book; Cats Respond With Purrs and Trills

Budster Tries Out Some Glam

Budster Tries Out Some Glam

This purring guy is Bud, a presence in the book. Lanky, cranky, and imposing, Bud’s taken over as feline editor and he’s had a heavy paw in the writing. Mostly, he wants readers to know he’s a big fella, in fine fettle, near bobcat size, and mighty handsome.

My husband photoshopped the background. As a computer latecomer, I am just now venturing into photoshop – see next picture!

This confetti shake of a story has drifted together, becoming a memoir of our life with cats over forty years, surprising me. I can only hope the particles landed with symmetry. It was sort of like building a quilt, or a collage. I wrote from the ‘inside-out’, tinkering details into the interior. The work flow was nonlinear; the time sequencing, dicey. I slapped out a ‘big picture’ framework first. The components surfaced any time but especially mornings: ideas, memories; when humor bobbed up, I might wake up laughing. Not that I didn’t have to just sit down and do, and work really hard. That’s always part of any writing process.

For awhile I didn’t think I could write a book, because of a twenty plus year chronic illness that messes with concentration and causes fatigue, among other neural mishaps. I just decided to jump in and be stubborn about it.

The tentative title is, Meow, Y’all! Our Home in the Forest with Chattering Cats and Clamoring Critters. The book is part story and part study.

Along with Bud, our other recent kitties:

Little Buddy, Bright-Eyed Boy

Little Buddy, Bright-Eyed Boy

Little Buddy, a trilling virtuoso, is now 18 and a half. His eyes gleam! He enjoys sleeping and chowing down big time, and moves at astonishing speed – especially in the direction of another cat’s food dish. He’s featured in this post about black cats, a condensed section of the book:   http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/black-cats-in-sun-and-shade-a-painters-eye-view/

I did the green around Little Buddy myself. Lots of work and I’m far from having mastered the technique; precision work is difficult with impaired fine finger coordination. But it was fun to feel like I was almost painting again! In fact, I went back in and redid the cat photo at the end of this post:   http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/cat-inspected-art/

Our Sweetie, Anna

Our Sweetie, Anna

Sweet little former feral, Anna, who snoozes across the header of this blog, has recently gone to the Rainbow Bridge. When we met she was all like ” don’t y’all come near me” but later became all “don’t you dare move, I’m settled here for a spell with you, length to be determined by myself”. To her, every evening meant snuggle time. She had the same pale green eye color as her kitten, Bud.

Anna's Iridescence January 27th, 2014, Alabama

Anna’s Iridescence January 27th, 2014, Alabama

A few weeks after we lost her, I took this picture of ‘cloud iridescence’ on January 27th, the night before the snow/ice storm here. It’s a natural, but infrequent, phenomenon. Refraction of sunlight by water droplets or ice crystals in the upper atmosphere causes the effect. Sometimes I think the sky performs in honor of the transitions of our beloved ones. So I’m naming this sky event, Anna’s Iridescence.

Madame Curious, Feral Classic Tabby with Reddish Markings

Madame Curious, Feral Classic Tabby with Reddish Markings

Madame Curious, talkative feral about town. We’re keeping her fed, and we made her a cold weather shelter. We’ve tried to coax her into the house but she’s having none of that! We hope we can bring her inside one day. She was TNRed and ear-tipped by former residents of my late Mom’s neighborhood, a few years back.

I can promise a deeply skewed, some might say flawed, work, in perhaps unexpected ways, LOL. I like to break the rules and have fun with language, otherwise, why bother? I kept the outmoded lavish writing quirks of some earlier decades when writing about those years. For more recent times, I employed the sparser style of today. I evolved to include more of the cadence, structure, and expressions of humans actually talking, not just in dialogue, but as the narrator. The book’s mood ranges from light and conversational to completely goofy to seriously scholarly, to feeling sad about history, and life events. Cats, too, have their own ways of being lighthearted, or studious, or gloomy. There are blissful, giddy moments, and somber moments as we look back. This is the way real life is – humans, and animals, having moods and phases.

Along with the cats I observe the wildlife we’ve seen since first moving to the forest; I track the changes in area fauna to the present, the declines and imbalances. There’s a more elaborate description of the book at this link:     http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/announcing-my-cat-book-meowyall-a-feline-centric-memoir/

This has been a long time project, partly because I’ve learned, from the cats, to scan things carefully. Tons of careful research went into this book. When on my own book turf, I’m being more forthright about my opinions than I usually am online. I’m hoping everyone will be cool with that.

I mean to get the book out and available this year, one way or another. I do still have to complete footnotes and photos. Likely it will be formally copyrighted before I post this.

I’m still waking up every morning with a few items to slip in, leftovers from the busy night brain. But I call myself, done with the book. Really. (LOL)

I want to take a moment to wholeheartedly thank all those who have viewed, followed, liked and/or commented on this blog. I really appreciate your support, and I am so sorry I have not been able to come to all of your blogs to say thanks and make comments in return. That’s been entirely due to my health, which hasn’t exactly been going gangbusters for the last few months. I will try to do better in the future, and will slowly try to get around and do some commenting. I get very little active time a day now. Clicking ‘like’ is something I can usually do, but composing comments and posts often demands more mental energy than I have these days. However, I hope to do more of all these things this year. I greatly appreciate comments, although for awhile I may be slow to post and reply to them.

Note: Ads are sometimes placed on this blog by WordPress to recoup their costs in providing me with a free blog, which certainly seems fair to me. I don’t make any income from these. I’ve seen some misunderstanding around the web about blog ads and income and am only stating this for clarification.

Though it’s unlikely there will ever be profits from my book, I can promise that in case of profits, a portion will go toward the well-being of my own cats, as well as towards causes beneficial to animals.

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Autumn, Creekside

Festive reflecting creek

Festive reflecting creek

Another few steps, another moment

Another few steps, another moment

The creek stages a gala, magical event, come autumn. It’s all done with light and water. Unlike illusionists using ‘smoke and mirrors’, the creek works with only natural props, and at “Presto!” reveals only vistas of solidly real beauty. Creek patter and flowing movements are not misdirection; they attract our attention at its keenest. It’s scheduled from whenever the leaves really start to turn, until . . .

I'm partial to intensely bright colors

I’m partial to intensely bright colors

I’m out in the woods using a camera to try to catch the creek at some of its ‘tricks’. I’m not a photographer, though, I’m a frustrated painter. I was always trying to play catch-up with nature, but nature was always light years ahead of me; well, duh.

The water grabs the light and bounces hues around, reflecting and cross-reflecting.

That large leaf is from a Broad Leaf Magnolia

That large leaf is from a Broad Leaf Magnolia

Presenting mixed media collages of light, ripples, leaves attached and detached, water, sky, trees, swirls, waves, eddies, reflections, with a heavy reference to traditional landscape. The light changes moment by moment, creating new sights. I have to go snap snap snap with the camera to keep up. Getting this close, I like to fell in the creek last year!

Floating mat of leaves - it looks still, but will slowly wash on

Floating mat of leaves – it looks still, but will slowly wash on

The camera and the creek are doing this. I’ll only take credit for composing the shots and choosing the scenes. I don’t use photoshop to enhance hues, but the camera may have brightened or subdued some colors compared to what the human eye would see.

The following are from a later time of day with twilight coming on. Slanting rays and darker tones but still, the color blends appeal to me.

Well lit, but dusk is on the way

Well lit, but dusk is on the way

The light changes every few seconds

The light changes every few seconds

Slight adjustment in the light, night edging towards us

Slight adjustment in the light, night edging towards us

Busy currents

Busy currents

I absolutely love this creek, and I’m far from alone. Chances are most everyone knows, remembers, and treasures a natural waterway. All are worth saving. We humans depend on water! Please support your local environmental groups any way you can. Here’s my essay, “Tributary” telling more about this creek, and all creeks, rivers, oceans. http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/tributary-becoming-green-warriors-of-the-red-earth-country/

Leaves making ready to participate in the fall festival.

The forest

The forest

The forest floor

Leaves and pine straw

Leaves and pine straw

Green is leaving very slowly this year!

Green is leaving very slowly this year!

The Beauty Berries partied like rocks stars too, but they’re about to rest up for the winter.

American Beauty Berries

American Beauty Berries

Here’s a link to last year’s fall photos with a different camera: http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/autumn-at-the-creek-within-the-forest-4/

After being outside, it’s a pleasure to walk into the house, because we have kitties. Here’s a link to the post detailing the book I’m writing about our cats: http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/announcing-my-cat-book-meowyall-a-feline-centric-memoir/ As soon as I can, I’m going to get back to posting about the kitties! Bud, pictured below, is waiting.

Bud the kitty

Bud the kitty

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Purple October, Green Halloween (?)

A wild growing patch of American Beauty Berries

A wild growing patch of American Beauty Berries

They like the sunlight

They like the sunlight

Green is all I’ve got in the way of leaves, so here ’tis! It’s now looking more weathered and antique than you see in the pictures, but the autumn colors are in no particular hurry in Alabama. I can’t really say “It’s fall, y’all!” Not yet. The Beauty Berries began fruiting in September, after blooming in the summer. To see what the flower froth looks like, click here and scroll way down the page: http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/wild-summer-creeks-and-creatures/

A bumper crop!

A bumper crop!

Although I usually prefer my purples a tad bluer, I’ll take this! I love all things purple, purple passion, purple prose, iris, and violets. I have the skewed color sense (or mental aberration, LOL) attributed to the Impressionists by art critics, violettomania. The sharpest color change out there so far: redviolets, autumn’s version of spring violets.

A refreshing degree of disorder

A refreshing degree of disorder

The Beauty Berry bush can be trimmed and pruned as a cultivar, but I prefer my enormous, tangled thicket and its spawn of startling purple berries bursting from spots far from the patch. In so many places we’re seeing them now, they weren’t there last year! Wee woo hoo! Wildly random growth creeping towards us. Scary berries for October. I’m happy!

Critter cover

Critter cover

This photo hints of shaded spaces beyond the mass of leaves and fruit. I imagine paths within twisting and twining, like a labyrinth. What happens there? Who walks and flits and buzzes? Some uncharted critter we have no name for? I can see that birds and insects eat some of the berries, I can hear surrounding crickets.  I’d like to somehow enter the underbrush, and explore the life behind the vines and berry clumps. No doubt I’d find redbugs galore and a few leftover ticks.

Yellow leaves are coming our way

Yellow leaves are coming our way

To my knowledge there is no term for the peculiar fixation I have on the color green. I’m going to call it verte-igo. Then I can sing “That old green magic has me in it’s spell . . . in a spin, lovin’ the spin I’m in . . . ” (1)  We’ve had green Halloweens, since we never know just what point in the color continuum the foliage will be at, on October’s last day. This preternatural cold spell we’re having – brrrr -  will help stop chlorophyll production. I’ll jump on the autumn yellow, red, and orange fall bandwagon, whenever. There will be more photos, another post. After that color feast, I’ll pine for green all winter long.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The American Beautyberry is for visual enjoyment only. There is conflicting online information about possible toxicity of Beautyberries, which is enough for me to say, DO NOT EAT them. This is my opinion. I  recommend NOT consuming any wild growing plants.

References:

(1) “That Old Black Magic”, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, first recorded and released by Glenn Miller, 1942.

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Cat-Inspected Art

If you’ve ever locked gazes even momentarily with a cat, you know the inspection is deep and thorough.

Trees of Edge Forest,  mixed media, collage

Trees of Edge Forest, mixed media, collage

Drawings I produced in the 1980s and 90s were done around, next to, and among the household cats, in tight proximity. There will be more about that in my upcoming cat book, described at  http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/announcing-my-cat-book-meowyall-a-feline-centric-memoir/.

These were highly experimental works. Materials are inks, color pencils, graphite, and regular drawing pencils. Sometimes I felt a work in progress needed colors or textures that just hadn’t happened in the drawing process. I had made some drawings for the purpose of having a wide range of effects on hand. I’d hunt for what I needed, cut out sections, and collage the parts together.

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape, detail, mixed media

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape, detail, mixed media

Rather than subjects of drawings, the cats were usually just fellow onlookers and scanners – cat scanners – when I took off on a pictorial walkabout through weird landscapes.  The pictures are all based on natural forms and effects, just reconfigured, out of order. For an essay on color in nature, click  http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/black-cats-in-sun-and-shade-a-painters-eye-view/

Understory Birds, mixed media, grackle-inspired

Understory Birds, mixed media, grackle-inspired

Understory Birds, detail, mixed media

Understory Birds, detail, mixed media

The Common Grackle is a real bird, with a coloration that has always fascinated me. I wrote an article called “The Uncommon Grackle” that was published in 1987. I’ll post it on this blog eventually.

I used to think of all my drawings as peripheral visions.

Ink Sprite, mixed media, collage

Ink Sprite, mixed media, collage

When I first drew this it was part of a series of good-hearted, happy little woods spritey personifications rising from the ink. Those are the only kind I draw. For a title I wanted to play on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, so I called them “Little Witches”.  They’re good little metaphors.

Forest Dance, detail, mixed media

Forest Dance, detail, mixed media

Forest Dance, detail, mixed media

Forest Dance, detail, mixed media

This time the cat joined in!

The Budster

The Budster

Near as I can tell, these drawings passed muster with the cats of the 80s, but did they pass this big fella’s inspection? He’s very particular, and makes a formidable critic. I think he approves, but we’ll never know for sure!

 

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Wild Summer: Creeks and Creatures

The creek ripples and reflects in May

The creek ripples and reflects in May

Even the easiest path to the stream is over rugged, uneven ground. The forest floor is covered with heaps of fallen leaves and detritus, making it difficult to know where the best footing is.

A Blue Dasher Dragonfly takes a break in the big leaves

A Blue Dasher Dragonfly takes a break in the big leaves

The Blue Dasher cuts a dashing figure up there

The Blue Dasher cuts a dashing figure up there

The Blue Dasher is also called the Blue Pirate. They hang out here all summer in twos and threes at times. They glide around, perching often. I flushed one out of the undergrowth today, just by walking beside its hiding place. There was a sudden buzz and clatter and a sensation of dragonfly-sized movement zooming right by me. When in motion, dragonflies zip around fast, like peripheral visions. When they light on a branch, they will sit still while I slowly approach with a camera, rather than fly away instantly. Maybe we are becoming pals, of sorts.

Some choppy currents flowing by the opposite bank

Some choppy currents flowing by the opposite bank

Sky, trees, and water are seen dazzling together, thanks to the sun

Sky, trees, and water are seen dazzling together, thanks to the sun

We walk along reddish banks to the places where the currents mix up the light into the kind of scenes that the Impressionists captured in paint. For photos from April 2013 and a creek-inspired water essay, click here: http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/tributary-becoming-green-warriors-of-the-red-earth-country/

The Black-Winged Damselfly aka Ebony Jewelwing

The Black-Winged Damselfly aka Ebony Jewelwing

The Damselfly flexes her wings

The Damselfly flexes her wings

This bug stayed around most of July; I only saw one at a time. I just love the metallic teal green color. The body always looked all bright green to me., but the camera sees things differently. There are quite a few photos that show the purple sheen at the end of the abdomen. It may be the way the camera’s color sensitivity balance is set, or it may just be part of nature’s hue complexity. I only ever saw the white-spotted ones, which according to the nature guides, are female, and more subdued in color, but they always look neon-bright to me. For more discussion about natural world color, see this link: http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/black-cats-in-sun-and-shade-a-painters-eye-view/

Opening and closing the wings is a communication between males and females, signaling location.

Orange Bluet Dragonfly

Orange Bluet Damselfly

Familiar Bluet Dragonfly on plastic

Familiar Bluet Damselfly on plastic

These damselflies are called bluets and as you’d imagine, they are mostly blue in color. We see them often. The blue one went and lit on some plastic, the contrary little bug! Not a natural setting, but those were the only sightings I had this year, so here it is. The yellow-orange one did a bit better, choosing the wood-grained board. The color surprised me. For awhile I couldn’t identify it, but its patterning looked so much like the blue damsels I see so often, that I finally typed in “Orange Bluet” and Voila! I’m much more familiar with the commonplace Familiar Bluet.

Late afternoon light

Late afternoon light

A tributary, creek beauty in miniature

A tributary, creek beauty in miniature

The sun's brilliance translated into blues, greens, golds, and shadows . . .

The sun’s brilliance translated into blues, greens, golds, and shadows . . .

I haven’t actually been down to the creek much for awhile. I miss that! There’s a carpet of poison ivy on all paths, ticks are bouncing in all directions, and snake appearances are a good bet.

It's a Rat Snake, it really, really is . . .

It’s a Rat Snake, it really, really is . . .

Does that snake see me?

Does that snake see me?

In fact, this one was in the road; it stopped me in my tracks. I know! Crazy, huh, going to grab the camera and heading back out there, but in my defense, LOL, I used the zoom lens to get the pictures. Rat snakes are beneficial and they are usually willing to pose for a few snapshots; after that, they are always allowed to continue about their business of rodent control.

Snakes just love places like this!

Snakes just love places like this!

Toad!

Toad!

I do like the toads much better! This place used to be hopping with them, but now we rarely see one.

American Beauty Berries in bloom

American Beauty Berries in bloom

The American Beauty Berry flowers have now fallen away, and the berries are starting out small, and yellow-green.

Surrounded by chlorophyll

Surrounded by chlorophyll

Coming, not so soon, autumn. Leaves fall as late as November, down my way. Nevertheless, in August the light changes here. The bright areas become more golden, and details are more defined; the dark areas become deeper. It brings on something we call “that awful autumn feeling” – a profound and unspecified longing. We shouldn’t complain – we might could have two, even three more months of warm weather. But that doesn’t change the calendar, or the fact that all that golden light is going to one day smack us in the face, gathered, intensified, and thrown back at us by the harvest moon. Neither can we change the tilt and whirl of the planet, which changes the light and brings winter, eventually. It’s a good thing actually, that we can’t! But I’m not so fond of winter. The summer has been oddly cool, though. The week that Siberia was hitting 90F, we were only in the high 80′s! We’ll have good dense foliage for awhile yet, we’ll stay leafy, green, buggy, and warm.  We seem to live in Viridian, Alabama, most of the year.

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Black Cats in Sun and Shade: A Painter’s Eye View

My Little Buddy, who goes by several names

My Little Buddy, who goes by several names

or, The Natural Black Cat

Over the years we’ve had fourteen domestic felines; five of those have been black cats. They’re glorious, purrsome, and chirpsome; they make me call out “Hey, sweetness”! They’re major snugglers, and adept communicators; I’ve had deep rapport with black kitties. My imagination always sings when I see a black furry creature lounging in the house, busy making sheen from sunlight. Often reported to be some of the most affectionate cats, they walk up with eyes bright and loving, do head-bumps, and always work a takeover of human hearts. My own ‘house panthers’ have been thoughtful muses, taking up lap vantage points at the drawing table and the computer. I adore black cats! I’m tellin’ black cat stories here because this fur color so often gets a bum rap; the black kitties are lovely cats like any other, and make wonderful companions. My Cat Book will hopefully be completed soon, dancing with cats of all hues. http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/announcing-my-cat-book-meowyall-a-feline-centric-memoir/  Meanwhile, I’m tapping out a beat in words, holding a soiree in honor of the cats who are often named “Midnight” or “Eclipse” or “Shadow”; cats who are always dressed for an evening of music. They are ready, instantly elegant, and waiting, while I reach for my ‘little black dress’.

Above you see my late Mom’s “beautiful black fox-faced cat”, as she described him. She’d also say, “He’s a honey.” She “officially” named him “Good Old Boy”, against my advice, LOL. But he is his own cat, and never networks. Adventurous cat rascal that he is, on occasion I’ve called him “Stinkpot”, and now, in my house, he mostly goes by “Little Buddy”. You also see him in my Gravatar and on my “About” page above. He was a found kitten, a rescue, and his front legs have an unusual formation, but that’s another story for later. Even nearing eighteen years old he’s still one of the most arboreal little cat guys I’ve ever known. He always climbed anything in the room he could get his paws on, and was lifted down carefully several times a day. He sleeps a bit more now.

In awe of achromatic kitty beauty and the ways it fascinates, we sought out our first black feline; the rest walked into our life from the street or the roadside. Black cats placed up for adoption aren’t adopted at the same rate as felines of other colors, according to many reports from shelters. Persistent myths about luck plague them; I’ve seen that myself while standing in the adoption room at a local pet store; “I’m not having a black cat,” I heard someone say. Superstitions about luck and fate aren’t relevant to animals so I’m not even going to talk about them here. There is nothing the least bit scary about black cats, any other cats, or black animals. Another reason cited often is that in shelters, their faces are harder to see, their personalities obscured in dark features. They’re harder to photograph for ‘available pet’ networking; a prospective adopter might anticipate difficulty taking home pictures of them.

As a painter I study light, dark, and color and the way they all fit together in nature. The color of animals is a visual phenomenon, so it is through color theory facts that I advocate a sensible approach towards understanding the bounty of visual effects we enjoy on this earth.

Black cats are natural creatures, with natural world coloration. Black fur is completely wholesome, and may even afford cats who are living outdoors, some camouflage in the partial or low lighting of dawn, dusk, and night. The part of electromagnetic radiation from the sun that humans can see is composed of all colors. Painters take the blacks and the darker hues, the whites and the brighter hues, the ranges of gray between shadow and light, and fuse them with the visible spectrum. Dark hues intensify the colors around them just by being there. Black cats really do go with everything, as advocates list among the many reasons to adopt them! Painters work that rainbow and all its degrees. We play up and down the gray scale and sound a flourish at either end! All permutations are counterpoint to each other, weaving contrasts together. This isn’t just the painter’s eye view, this isn’t just true of the world of visual art, it’s true of the way humans see brightness, shadows, hues, and forms out there in the physical world. Sunlight just behaves that way. Color in nature is compound and our vision and perception are both attuned to respond to its intricacies. All shades, tints, and colors are needed in living and painting. All colors work together to make daily experience; combinations of dark, light, and color reveal the landscape out there in full. If we humans were to startle every time murky color or shadow crosses into our view, we’d be one jumpy bunch of folks! We’d be like long-tailed cats in rooms full of rockers.

Animals of all colors stroll through this landscape of contrasts, living, moving accents who rouse and delight our attention and senses.

When something is visually black, that means, roughly speaking, it has absorbed all the rays of light without reflecting any. However, in nature, there is usually no absolute white or black or even completely solid hues. Reflected wavelengths are mixed with spectral adjacents. On a black kitty, we may see silvery highlights playing on their fur; we may see bluish effects. Shadows are often recognized by painters as having color. Natural dark has its own shades and intensities and when painting towards a natural effect, an artist may mix colors into black paint that is straight out of the tube, or build dark areas with glazes. When using black ink in drawings, I used to layer over it with pencil marks of both neutral and bright color.

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape; detail of mixed media

Catlike Image Appears in Landscape; detail of mixed media

When light encounters any object, all photons are transferred to other energies; objects of each color emit new photons of that same color’s wavelength in the original light.  If white is seen, all colors of visible light have been converted to new photons, same frequencies. A black kitty’s coat has absorbed most of the visual rainbow, converting it to heat and leaving black as the hue we see. Kitty blinks at you and purrs. Pet and scritch your black, fuzzy feline, feel the vibrant warmth; in strong sun, you’ll see light glittering on the lush fur surface. Dusky black kitties are not only snugglebugs, they’re an intrinsic fact of nature like nightfall and daybreak. More expanded explanations will be coming in my book.

In my region during summer, daytime dark resides in tree trunks, shaded leafy alcoves and creek depths, and on iridescent blackbirds gathering on fields. Nighttime dark carries fragrance, katydid clacking, frog chirps, whip-poor-will calls. The black cats, along with all the cats, are usually seen reclining in the house’s sunny spots year-round, but now and then seek partial shade. In other regions and seasons, dark also has its own splendors, there for anyone to find who looks. Nearing the earth’s poles, dark enhances the auroras.

I’m unable to paint now, so I take pictures. I’m no photographer, far from it. However, even using non-professional, highly amateur photo techniques, anyone can take striking pictures of black kitties with the digital cameras of today. Black cat pictures remind me of old film noir with its strong contrasts of light and dark. I’m calling this photographic record of my Little Buddy, Black Cat Noir. Imagine a few sax riffs, here.

If you have access to the equipment of professional photographers, you can really go full throttle, setting up lights and taking exceptional pictures of your black cat(s). Many Internet sources describe these processes and how to take great pictures of dark cats, as well as cats of all colors. These experts are adept at getting enough illumination on the faces of cats , and other animals, of darker colors. Meanwhile, here are some of my more amateur pictures. Hey, I like any picture that has one or more of my cats in it!

I no longer use flash.

1. You can make the beautiful cat eyes the focus of the picture. Even with little or no definition of facial features, such photos are usually stunning. Black cats most often have gold eyes, as Little Buddy does. Some have deep emerald green eyes, and a very few have  blue eyes. On the left, he’s radiant in sunlight plus the ambient artificial light. There’s a little too much light on him in this picture on the right, washing out his glossy black. Although these pictures show the face fairly well, pictures that show off the eyes of black cats are really effective when you see just hints of the feline faces surrounding the glow of the eyes.

Impending food alert, all cats are wide-eyed

Impending food alert, all cats are wide-eyed

Contemplating

Contemplating

2. You can use silhouette, employing the sinuous shape of cats, without ideal lighting. Here’s two silhouette pictures: a frizzy-edged picture from summer, like my Gravatar photos, and one from a winter evening.

Ever watchful kitty

Ever watchful kitty

Hangin' out, being part of the catmosphere

Hangin’ out, being part of the catmosphere

3. Strong sun plus ambient room light makes silvery highlights on fur. Sunlight roars at this latitude. We’re pretty close to the sun in the southeastern US. I have good illumination for photos, even indoors. Notice bluish effects. Those black cats  named “Shadow” combine many degrees of shadow.

The Sheen King relaxes

The Sheen King relaxes

4. Setting off other colors…Little Buddy electrifies the surrounding colors as they in turn enhance him. He rocks the spectrum!

IMG_0181

5. In this old photo taken back when I did use flash, he’s pert and slinky.

Little Buddy when younger

Little Buddy when younger

That ferocious sun begins to set; cicadas begin to scree. The grayed scenery of evening fades into the deep, convoluted black-greens of night. Eventually we hear the last fiddle vibrate down; the music quiets. We continue talking awhile, watching fireflies light; and then the guests go home. Inside, the cats stir from sleep: black, tabby, and brown tuxie; present in spirit, another tabby of Mom’s we have been looking for since the tornado of 4.27.11. http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/tornado-on-the-ground-tuscaloosa-april-27-2011-3/ It’s time for stories, reflection, purring, and snuggling. If you have loved and been loved by a black cat, now is a good time to tell it – to friends, to people on the Internet! Help build a new and positive black feline mystique to override the myths that are old and harmful! I hadn’t planned on writing about this online before my book is published, but I came to feel this information is needed now. Cat lovers who are ready to adopt again, consider adopting a black one. You’ll get lots of kitty love, the fun of taking inventive photos, and you’ll see natural vistas in your own home that no photograph or painting can ever truly capture: the astonishing glory of black cats sitting in sunshine, or the soft depths seen when furry black cats stretch out in shade.

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Dr. Photon for reading this article and advising in ways that helped to keep the physics real! Any science errors are my own.

Note: Sorry I cannot seem to fix the incorrect alignment of text with the photos in the first two rows.

August 17th is Black Cat Appreciation Day. This holiday to celebrate black cats was created by Wayne Morris.

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Tributary: Becoming Green Warriors of the Red Earth Country

Pictures from early spring; after the leafing, before the snakes. This essay was published in a literary journal last summer. The story begins after the photos.

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Summer air here can be felt, almost fingered, it’s so succulent with moisture. At high temperatures, it’s chokingly humid, but in more moderate weather, it’s velvet and invasive against the skin. In Alabama at the southernmost end of the Appalachians, everyone wades the water/ air mix many evenings during the warm seasons. This state has an abundance of water resources; some popular forms of water contact are boating, fishing, water skiing, and swimming. When I was in college swimmers went to old strip pits or ‘swimming holes’ on streams; the romantically inclined went ‘creekbanking’ with picnic lunch and beer. My own tastes run mostly lower profile. I have a lifelong history of plunging and sampling my way through the pleasures of lakeshore and seashore sitting, walking beside streams with my mother and lifting colorful stones out of the water, viewing swamps from moving autos, and following creeks to guide me through forests with no trails. After college, my husband and I lived with a view of water out the window, on a houseboat. I tried swimming in a slough off the Black Warrior River. One day he pointed to two traveling lines of splash on the surface where I had just been floating. “Snakes,” he said. I stopped swimming!

After moving back to town we often drove out to the places near water. I’ve watched the cobalt blue radiance of cave walls receding downwards under huge spring waters; I’ve walked with a group up the middle of a large shallow creek instead of alongside. In quiet, pooled places, I learned how to send stones rippling across the water surface by throwing with spin. An everyday haze obscures these enjoyments like protective colorations hide toads, and they have to be noticed instantaneously and often privately. Huge fun for us, they didn’t always make for sparkling party conversation. But by keeping the visual and tactile senses tuned, you can lead a life of sudden amphibious incidents, making smaller but intensely meaningful splashes.

The old southern phrase ‘bourbon and branch water’ reflects back to the original freshness of watersheds in America. In my lifetime, both state and region have always been in need of economic growth, and sometimes its bountiful waters haven’t always had the attention I feel they should. That said, this can be true anywhere. We’re now seeing it in the news every day.

In the eighties we moved into the country and I began recording riparian lore: I now live in a dense forest, among the oaks, pines, maples, sweetgums, poplars and dogwoods that help keep the moisture content in the air high; an Appalachian jungle. About a hundred and fifty yards away is a branch that’s five or six feet wide. Creekside is actually the place I prefer to be, my water of choice. In late spring and early summer heat, after walking through the yellow-green razzle-dazzle of the plushly leafed woods, and on through the brush of a now empty, scraped down lakebed, we arrive at the rapids area.

Small sensualities are here for the sampling. Reddish and charcoal colored, the rocks underpin the froth, water at its most frivolous, scattering light into glitter. The orange-red, mud-laden torrents from the early spring rains have gushed off, so we can easily step across now, stone by stone. Flanked by a steep bluff, we look across at the march of the scrub pines on the lakebed shore, with a garnish of yellow wildflowers near the edge. Upstream, we glance towards darkening shades, as the sun-gleam of the rapids fades into stiller, reflective areas, a muted frieze of shadows and leaves. Here the branch twists and frets against its sandstone trough; downstream it deepens and pools into a swimming hole with fish, and then quiets and scrapes along in a mud and pebble bed in the shallows. It empties into a winding lake, probably man-made, that narrows back to stream. Farther on, it goes into a longer, wider body of water that eventually reaches a major river. Upstream, the map shows its origin in a lake fed by two other creeks that also issue from lakes. In all, it is the recipient of run-off from three thousand acres of watershed. Known for biodiversity, the area has a bounty of flora and fauna. Feasting senses now, I would later think about the coursing of streams and their connecting points, about why the word ‘branch’, taken from the structural joinery of trees, means ‘creek’, and about the fixed amount of water on earth.

Visitors who come out to the house always want to go down to the branch. Some of my fondest memories with visiting friends happened alongside the water. From my selected sitting area of the creek we view the presentation of incidents from the stories of many passers-by. There’s the constant flux of the rapids water itself, pattering loudly and with voice-like effects, and the volcanic blue jots of damsel flies. A spotted sandpiper has pranced the edges to our chorus of “Look, look, look”. There are quick glows through the brush – glimpses of the Yellow-Breasted Chat in the daytime; eyes of small animals towards evening. Tracks of deer, raccoons, and foxes appear periodically in side mud, the creek’s ledger of the previous night’s visitors. Driftwood arrives; bushes go upend after heavy rains, and fossilized calamites ferns keep popping up among the lichens and fallen mountain laurel petals. Poles gnawed by beavers appear, although these animals themselves are never seen. For a quick cool-off on a day when summer air is shimmering and heavy as quilts, I take a playful notion and go into the water. Nothing beats reclining in the shallow rapids, being slicked and soaked by cross-eddying water fingers, smelling fresh stream and moss reek. Back on the sand, seeing bubbling places, it’s easy to imagine varieties of monsters under the water’s surface. This is water you can get close to and be intimate with. (1) We had the best visits and celebrations beside the water.

Up a smaller tributary, in deeper woods, it’s a different scenario. The change in the forest has come about by the time we approach this spot, leaf configurations shifting slyly around us. Here there are broadleaf wild magnolias skirting the stream, with their tropically sized foliage, and thicker expanses of ferns. The oaks and pines are gigantic in this less accessible area, with trunks a foot-and-a-half to two-feet in diameter. Our destination at first appears black amidst the irregular spaces of candlelight green. To reach this cozy nook we have to descend the sharp drop of the banks, bracing against the twisted trees that grasp the edges. The brook is about half the width of the branch it flows into. Directly ahead several boulders have intruded into and blocked the streambed, pinching the water into two falls, one ferocious and roaring unseen through a subsurface crack, and another arcing the other direction, a visible spray.

We have come the last few times wondering how long this rare cranny of a streamspot, and the surrounding forest, will remain as they are now. It is the late 80’s and a ‘sea changing’ new industry has arrived in the area. We not only want to slake our senses by taking in images, we are seeking comfort, strength, purpose and recharged spirits; and as a bonus, we’ll take metaphor and story. We stand on the islands of mud and sand, rivulets of all descriptions flowing at our feet. The water is pooled and murky in one place, mounding with cross-hatched ripples over pebbles another, rapids in miniature yet another. Dark boulders are furred with avocado and chartreuse mosses; the water is slithering and silver over their flat tops. Upstream the dazzle pales off like twilight. Holly hangs low over the creek cut. At our feet a rock engulfed by moss sprouts the first yellowish tendrils of an unknown vine. We see one perfect raccoon track and one black-winged damselfly. Not much of the sky is visible overhead through the meeting of prodigious ovate leaf variations. The peculiar humidity sizzles on our skin. The scenes here are more somber and contemplative than those at the barn dance of the main branch. We soak and steep our psyches in the waters and woods, until we’re sated. Civilization feels farther away, but we dwell on the threats to this remoteness that have begun to surface. Going back, we head into the graying scallops of forest.

All of these less splashy scenes occur in local ways. Without tremendous visibility, these types of water sports are sometimes as unintentionally plainspoken as the deeper toned places under the still water’s surface, as unknown as the day roosts of giant night-going moths in the adjacent forest. Notation is by those who prefer frogs, turtles, crayfish, and mental color-gathering along small water to the boating and swimming activities of big water. But as awareness grows there are more out there watching, besides the little wildling animals. I recall springside from the past, the words, ‘if I had this I would never let it get away from me’, rural accents joining those from the cities. It’s easy to imagine many other spots along these branches, many others savoring such moments unobtrusively. Creeks repeat themselves, inspiring and gathering infinite other unsung scenes and stories. A friend’s great blue heron sighting downstream mixes in with my recalled pleasures. Water, always on the move, “stops by” at our personal locations, having already been to many singular locales along the way. It brings a feast for the senses and refreshment for the spirit to each person; from this, intentions form.

Freshwater tributary systems have been intruded upon. Washing on, like the individual moments, pollutants also travel the waterways. The sequences of the natural world are blatant in these cases – what goes in upstream gets downstream, what happens to one part of water, essentially, eventually, happens to all. Water we see today travels to the Gulf, flows into the ocean.

Summer, peak water sport time, is going pell mell. The first cicada ‘screes’ sound, a few frogs chirp from the distant trees. The woods are an immense rooted salad seasoned with noisy buzzing bits. Away from the branches, sitting in the house with cats, evening steaminess stirs a reverie of remembrance and worry. I’ve had a long walk for many years along many waters. Past creeks I’ve known gleam like party crepe strands in the mind, celebratory, crackling as August suns. They attach like tributaries to the present translucent spray, green-black currents, and skeins of moss. Raining in my head, treasured images, like the frog hatch of hundreds at another streamside twenty years past. Along with them, the flotsam and jetsam from the wreck of humankind’s contact with nature, flows in: the first casual mention of the word “pollution”, heard thirty years ago from other children; excessive siltation; medical wastes on beaches; the former frog-yelling chorale after rains of five years ago lapping against many years of drought and decline in amphibian populations, distinctive voices from a puddle outside the window, gone; veteran fishermen talking about the deformities they see in their catches; sewage odors in former swimming places; fish kills; a crystal clear stream devoid of life due to altered pH from industrial run-off. Floating in on this effluence of information come facts that stir actions. My sweet mental creeks swell and spill over the banks, turning from molten silver during twilights to the red mud color of erosion run-off seen after spring gullywashers. Moments spent deep in forests turn to motives. Somewhere in this soup are my intimate creekside perceptions with their festival airs, like the stubborn greenness of plants in the branch, or seaweed in the ocean. The bitter experience of environmental devastation mixes with those joyous brookside times we’ve all had, times that revealed why we need to tune our psyches to our natural surroundings and work to preserve them. Soon all up and down the branches, private fights about water are bubbling up and running together as everyone jumps in, trying to save personal slivers of stream and woods. After years of writing letters about distant rainforests and rivers, I am now faced with the defense of my own forest and water spots.

Two decades have gone by since that old defense, those past maneuvers. In some ways we won, protecting some lands and giving much offense to industrialists; in others, we lost and there were sad changes to our forest forever. Now, in 2012, I frequently learn of new citizens’ groups protecting Alabama’s natural resources, and a growing number of members of the International Waterkeepers’ Alliance devote themselves to our waterways. The larger stream has its own Creekkeeper, and its own advocacy group. Their efforts go to preserving both water quality and the scenic beauty for all to enjoy. Here upstream, our water will make it down to that creek, one day. At meetings about Alabama water keeping after the Gulf oil deluge of 2010, the speeches are rousing and the sentiments are fierce. “…These are our waters,” says John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper. “They belong to all of you. Everyone in the United States has a right to eat a clean fish from these waters”. Real-life stories and poetry about creeks are being recorded; volunteers have helped clear debris out of them after the 2011 tornado.

I became fascinated with wilderness at the age of eight. In the foothills of the Appalachians of Virginia and Alabama, my attachment to nature was ripened and burnished. But my anecdotes are raindrops in a downpour, and these stories are far from done. The cool frenzy of rapids against the skin, the plunk-gulp sound of the unseen wild escapee that scurries into the water as we approach; small sensualities and quiet moments, flowing together, make a flood of resolve.

(1) Note: Recently there is new knowledge of a hazard, a rare but deadly amoeba that has occasionally been contracted in warm Southeastern US waters, calling for a new sense of caution about jumping into creeks and lakes and rivers, the way I used to do. The links below are the source of information about the rare, but fatal amoeba infection of the brain in southeastern waters:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/brain-eating-amoeba-kills-3-this-summer-including-9-year-old-boy/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/15/us-amoeba-death-idUSTRE77E5ZN20110815

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