We never had goldfinches in the neighborhood until Shelby came to town. My neighbor two houses up is an amazing gardener. Forget about green thumbs; make it all ten digits. She also has a passion for Labs and since I’ve known her I’ve also come to know Chutney (brown), Smudge (black) and now Madison (yellow).
And Shelby is a birder. The windows outside her family room are continually aflutter with wrens, chicakdees, jays, all coming to have a nosh at the feeders. A hawk has even paid a visit or two evincing the reality of the food chain: Shelby once looked over just in time to see a great WHOOMPH! of swooping and feathers. And one less birdy at the feeder.
The goldfinches are my favorites. Tiny taxi-yellow flashes of delight they dart throughout the neighborhood like rushed cabbies trying to get their passengers to JFK. Wherever I am in the neighborhood, when I glimpse one of these bits of sunshine with wings I send her a silent thank you.
I love the color of them because it’s the same saturated color that zinnias are known for — that submerged-in-a-paint-can intensity — orange, red, pink so hot it flashes, and of course yellow. Each week in spring, while they were blooming, Mrs. Lyle, my fourth grade teacher, brought in a vase of zinnnias from her garden. I was mesmerized by their intensity. Sometimes I pretended I didn’t understand something just so I could go to her desk and get up close and personal with the zinnias.
I get up close and personal with zinnias each year now. Their colors, so deep you could fall in, still make me hum with delight. But in the past few years, something has been eating them. I would come out into the garden and see petals nibbled away to tiny nubs. Some mornings all that remained was the dullish little cushion of center that had anchored the brilliance. What was eating my zinnias? The rabbits? This violation gave me one more reason to hate those voracious wonton creatures. But what I couldn’t understand was how they did it? How hadn’t they bent the stems? Where were their footprints? At least their hygiene had improved — they were dropping their droppings elsewhere.
And then one morning while I was having breakfast a flash of yellow at the window caught my eye. It darted between the flower stems. And then landed, bouncing gently before it tucking into its breakfast. I watched the goldfinch, its yellow wings perfectly contrasting the deep red zinnia that was quickly being whittled to stubs. Before I finished my eggs, that red zinnia was toast.
How annoyed could I get? S. had given me the gift of goldfinches. Feeding them was a proper thank you. I plant extras now, and then wait for the zinnias to open, knowing that as soon as they do, the goldfinches and I will be breakfasting together once again.