The Goldfinch And The Thistle

I carefully hook the bungee onto the top of the fence then stretch it out and hook it on the gate to keep it open.  The thistles are tall here and I’ve thought of cutting them down.

But I know the donkeys like to eat them, so instead I let them grow and be careful not to get pricked when I open the gate.

It’s only in the past few weeks that I noticed the Goldfinches.

They come two or three at a time.    They perch in the grid of the fence, or on the thistle itself.  They flit and fly, bright suns against a background of marsh greens and purples and blue sky.

They were there again as Jon and I sat under the apple tree this afternoon.

That’s when I got the idea to take my iPhone and still among the thistles to try and get a video of the birds.  I’ve heard it takes twenty minutes for animals to come back to a place once a person invades it.  And that person has to be quiet and still, to basically become a part of the landscape, for the animals to trust it’s safe again.

Much to her horror, I left Fate in the backyard and went into the pasture alone, closing the gate behind me.

I plunked myself down in front of the row of Thistles.   I had my iPhone ready so when the Goldfinches came I’d make as little movement as possible.

Almost immediately, a swallowtail butterfly landed on the thistle a few feet away.  I watched as the tall plant rocked with the wind, the butterfly stretching and closing her wings as if to keep her balance.

The Goldfinches didn’t wait 20 minutes but showed up five minutes later.  There were two of them and I held up my iPhone to take a video.  I saw them eat thistle seeds while at the same time, inadvertently shaking other seeds free.

The birds left as I was taking the video, but I stayed.

I thought the goldfinches might come back, but it was the thistle seeds themselves that caught my attention.

They moved as quickly as the wind, glowing as they sailed in the sunlight.   They got caught on stands of grass or the thistle bud next to them.  I watched them fill a plate-sized spider’s web knowing it would soon be useless to the spider.

How could I possibly be still with so much going on around me?

It was like being at a tennis match, my head swiveling back and forth not wanting to miss a thing.  Bees hummed around me their legs yellow with pollen. Three small white butterflies stopped by on their way to someplace else.

Then the brown butterfly with the big white splotch on the wing landed on a thistle flower a foot away from me.  I shooed flies from the backs of my arms and watched small bees, the kind that stings me behind my knees, explore the orange case on my iPhone.

For ten minutes I videoed a thistle seed stuck in its pod, the wind pulling and tugging at it.  I expected that at any moment it would break free and fly off.  But it hung on, or the pod hung on to it,

I’m not sure which.

When I stopped the video, I pulled the seed from the pod,  held it up over my head, and let it go.  It floated up, over the fence and disappeared high in the blue sky.

The goldfinches brought me to the thistle patch in the pasture, then left.

I have them to thank for giving me forty-five minutes of enchantment that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. If they stayed I might only have focused on them and soon left having gotten what I came for.

But because I decided to wait for them to come back, and they didn’t, I saw so much more.

I get to see all this, I thought as a small yellow butterfly circled my head then flew off to join another headed south. All this life and death is happening just outside the farmhouse.

Different from, but as good as a movie or a book, and all I have to do is sit and see.

Silver-Spotted Skipper

4 thoughts on “The Goldfinch And The Thistle

  1. Not only do the goldfinch love the thistle seed, they also use the “fluff” from the seed for nest building. Goldfinch are one of the late nesting birds, I love them and their song.

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