Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May Wonders 3: An Exaltation of Siskins

It was one of those enchanted moments.

Sunday I was sitting on the hill over G.’s house, writing about my birthday. She’d loaned me her house, along with her dog.

The morning was lovely, sunny and bright, and the green grass by the vegetable beds was splotched with yellow dandelions.

Even better, a flock of goldfinch, with the brilliantly yellow and black males, began to sit and flit among the dandelions.

Into my mind drifted the memory of a time, years before, when G. had come to my house upstate. It was early autumn, a day or so after her birthday.

She amazed me by spending an entire afternoon alone by the pond at the bottom of the hill, celebrating everything from the butterflies to the leftover birthday cake to the vultures on the power lines, and ultimately writing a poem about them.

The last line was: “It’s this I’m risking it all for.”

And those were exactly the words for how I felt, just after my 49th birthday, launching into my 50th year, sitting on her hill. I’d given her my house; now she’d given me hers.

I wanted to reread the poem, so I went inside to look for Mr. Bluebird, the collection it’s in. In addition to “Monroe,” the poem G. had written by the pond, I rediscovered “Processional,” which G. had thrilled me by writing on the occasion of my birthday in 1999. That was 10 years ago, I realized, when I had just turned 39.

The poem begins its musings as a flock of siskins descends on dandelions going to seed. “Is it, is it, is/it the siskins?” it asks. G. and I had identified these birds together, and they were a first for both of us, when I was visiting her in Taos.

I was sitting on the couch as I read this, and then I glanced out the window at her bird feeder, which over the last few days had been favored by rose-breasted grosbeaks and purple finch. There, if I could believe my eyes, was a new striped bird.

It looked like—it couldn’t be.

Was it, was it, was it a siskin?

The bird sat patiently while I frantically dug out the bird books. It let me fetch the binoculars and check every identifying mark. It let me take pictures.

No doubt: it was a female pine siskin.

I looked through the notes G. had scrawled in the field guides. The last mention was New Mexico, but undoubtedly she’d noticed them here.

This bird was a source of wonder, but only from my perspective, I was sure. The field guide says siskins flock frequently with goldfinches, of which G. has plenty.

I emailed her later. “You’ve seen them before, right?”

“Not to my knowledge,” she replied.

The siskin stuck around all day, and then, as far as I could tell, it was gone.

I couldn’t help but puzzle over the meaning of it all. The siskin’s sudden appearance seemed almost magical, as if something mysterious had been manifested, or somehow evoked.

But why would the gods be sending me a siskin?

Pure coincidence, that was the rational view.

What was most likely, I decided, was that up on the hill I’d been more observant than I realized. I’d registered the dandelions and the goldfinches and perhaps subconsciously heard the siskin’s song. The birds had brought the poems, rather than the other way around.

If so, there had been no conjuring, and what felt so miraculous was simply the visible manifestation of something I already knew. If so, there was joy in that, too.

Somehow, it all came together: dandelions, goldfinches, poems, birthdays, friendship, siskins. Our world, our passing, commingled lives. I can’t really explain it, but for the rest of the weekend I felt something like bliss.

1 comment:

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

What a wonderful essay! And bliss is just what you deserve. My theory is that the siskin appeared where it would be recognized, and where its arrival would bring the proper degree of appreciation and awe. (10 years, eh? sigh...)