Reub's journey

16 May 2010


The goldfinches have been here en masse for weeks, filling themselves at the bird feeder,

spilling seed husks everywhere,

and gathering in the oak tree to socialize and sing their glorious, happy, busy little tunes. This is a picture of them doing just that. How they manage to hide so well among the thin spring foliage I'm not quite sure, but they are masters at it. I don't see a single one in my disappointing picture, but I bet there were two dozen of them in there at the time.

An ornithologist once told me that goldfinches are the latest nesters of any bird in the northwest, preferring to eat and play and sing for weeks before getting down to the serious business of establishing households. They are like the procrastinating fun-loving middle school students that I see on a daily basis. Maybe that's why I like them so well.


by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

— from Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver


  1. We keep a thistle feeder just outside the dining room window so we can watch the Goldfinches.They're like little lights flitting around the porch. I'm glad to hear they are so fun loving.

  2. We have lost all our goldfinches...I think I saw only one or two this summer. They are not at the thistle feeders and were gone all winter. Very concerned as we used to have a dozen or so. My neighbors also commented on their disappearance.

  3. I do love goldfinches too. They nest late because their primary food source, seeds, is in abundance later. I read that's why seed eaters nest later than insect eaters.

    I have purple cone flowers outside my window, when the go to seed they are covered with goldfinches.

  4. Beautiful!

    I read somewhere recently that somehow they've determined that finches dream about singing. How they figured this out is beyond me, but it resonates. I bet they do sing through their finchy dreams.

    Thanks for another dip into the mind of Mary Oliver. Wow.

  5. Here's a link.

    2000? I guess it isn't that recent a news story.

  6. Sue, they look like they're having SO much fun.

    Tabor last year we didn't have as many as now; I don't know why it fluctuates.

    Rebecca, that makes perfect sense. They sure do celebrate their free time, though.

    Oh Reya I love this! Practicing in their sleep! Dreams that are melodies.

  7. What wonderful shots of the trees! So much intertwining life up there. Like cities in the sky. Beautiful chaos.

    I know so very little about birds, but they are lovely creatures (when not nesting in the eaves of my home office).

    We have birds around us that must be the most spirited gossips of the avian world. Always saying something, sun up, to sundown.

    What do the make of us? Earth bound giants, always looking up.

  8. Land of (I always, to my own irritation, read this wrong) it is great to come home from a long afternoon's work and read your comment, which cheered me up. The chaotic branches of the oak tree are also amazing to me. My picture is kind of lousy, not in focus because it was a breezy day, but I still imagine I can see the birds in it when I enlarge it. I love birds and wish I knew more about them, instead of just anthropomorphizing them all of the time.


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