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Poor Will's Almanack: November 20 - 26, 2018

lavender clouds in the fall
Jo Naylor
Flickr Creative Commons

The sun was bright all morning, and then wispy “mare’s tails” cirrus clouds filtered the sunlight and cooled the midday. Late Fall was due, with wind and rain. At about one o’clock, I looked into the back yard and saw one male goldfinch, half-gold, sitting alone on the perch of the finch feeder. The usual sparrows and chickadees were nowhere around.

When I was about to go outside an hour later, I held back because the finch was still sitting at the feeder, and I became curious about his solitary vigil. Was he sick, ostracized, abandoned, lost? Was he the first or the last of a flock? Was he waiting for another finch? What was he feeling?

Gray altostratus clouds slowly obscured the sun. The storm was moving closer. Still, the finch waited. Until, when I checked at 3:45, I saw that there were two half-turned, male goldfinches at the feeder. I looked out at 4:00, and they both were gone.

And I felt relieved for the first finch. Maybe he had been overcome by a crisis of solitude just as cruel weather threatened. Maybe the second finch had come just in time.

I realize now that my interest had less to do with the solitary goldfinch than with my own emotions. In my ignorance of what may be common finch behavior, I made up an existential story to fit my nervousness at the approach of Late Fall. Embarrassed about that, I composed an odd koan to hide my feelings: “What is the meaning of one goldfinch waiting?”

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fourth week of Late Fall and the fourth week of the Starling Murmuration Moon. In the meantime, what IS the meaning of one finch waiting?

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.