The day old gouldian baby finches turn their faces up to me as I open the wood nest box: their black and glowing pearly, alien mouths plead for food noiselessly. Rotating back and forth like sunflower heads moving their face toward the sun, their mouths wide. Moving much faster of course. Like some robotic face in a sci-fi movie or like the spirits of the underworld cocking their head to and fro. Against their pink newborn and featherless, bare skin, this glowing and demanding mouth moment is unearthly. My skin crawls.
I turn to their mother, a pastel green and rose and gold beauty. Like a spring bouquet with purple petals, maiden’s hair, and goldenrod. I can’t but help ask: Are these your naked, wild children?
A genetic mutation, these prehistoric mouths, like little moons, radiant so the parents can find and feed them in the dark. Survival. Ornate survival at that. And, truly brilliant in its newness. Only hours emerged from their shells. Life so recent and so vulnerable. And so goddamn shocking. Ugly Duckling has nothing on these creatures.
I’m new to taking care of finches. An elderly neighbor asked us to take them in. Their dwelling, the size of an armoire, stands in our living room by the window. My own child and I watch that same gorgeous mother and her partner, these new parents fly from nest to water fountain to seed and back, making their own rotation throughout the cage. They were busy creating their nest from the broom pieces, leek leaves, hair and more official nest building materials we offered them. They are now busy feeding their babies with the finch food, millet, and assortment of fruit and veg we provide. Nesting and feeding. It’s a lot of work. And, it’s constant. How long can they carry on like this? How long will they?
Like the earth spinning on its axis. Like the moon circling the earth, and the earth circling the sun. I get dizzy watching these beings in their cage, making the rounds.
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky. Hafiz
My own motherly rotations are unsurprisingly similar. Bed to kitchen to couch to laundry to garden and to and to and to. I ask the gouldian mama, “does our spinning contribute to the great motion in the cosmos?” Ojala, right? May it be so. I want to feel it. I need to.
Mama finch’s other job, we confirm when we read up on the subject, is to protect. She does this with a ferocity that surprises me. She comes barreling out of the nest with an agenda, attacking any other finch, but for her partner. She’s ready for a fight. She knows her job. And, she’s doing it. Now a mature mother of two lives, only 1 day out of the shell. She’s got this. Or, she believes she does. And, that’s the point right? That’s what it takes.
And, they’re lucky they’ve got her. We read that gouldian finches have poor reputations as parents. Often abandoning their young, neglecting the eggs, or pitching newborns out of the nest even. Gruesome. Or just the dominant narrative? We’re here to see.
These are parenting matters. And, don’t I know it. Wild children that need to be fed and protected. Constant. Consuming. Our axis for the circles we make, ever revolving. And the narratives, rotating too, around us. And, in us. What it takes to be a mother.
My own wild child glows too. A “golden baby,” I called my little one moments after birthing. Life so precious, recent, vulnerable is how I remember those first days. The need to lean in and check that he was still breathing. To carry him close to my heart so I could feel his life. Hours, days old.
Now no longer the newborn with mouth wide and searching for food, but there’s still a pleading and demanding in his survival. Something I admired then in him and now even. There’s an aliveness that I remember with my child.
But, only when I am present / when I can. Surely sometimes I find his persistence so challenging I imagine abandoning my nest too. I feel you, mama finch. Does my kind have a reputation for such doings? Certainly.
And yet my child’s wild and tenacious life force calls me back. Awakens in me my own wildness.
This spiritual discipline of mothering and awakening in the mundane circles of my day. I am awake, sadly, for only brief moments of aliveness anymore.
We live in the Pacific Northwest of the Americas. On an island. Our home is submerged in douglas firs and hemlocks and madronas. Situated on the south of the island and centered between the east and west coasts, our dwelling is like our feathered friends’, with windows that give us the most light, facing southerly. A beach house in the forest on an island. It’s a good place to live. The snow covered Cascades to the east, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the West, and Seattle below us. Snohomish, Skagit native land. This place is abundant. Green. Gold, now in the late autumn.
It’s our new home. Our last, which we sailed here on, we called SV Moonshine. But that’s another story. Landing on Tierra Firma here, we decided to stay.
And, I came here to provide. This is my nest for my babies. Oliverdog is my first. My golden, glowing Robinbird is my last perhaps. My nesting materials include items brought up from Los Angeles as well as more local pieces provided here on this island.
Today is a rainy mid-November day. Sun may pop out, and we will sing, “please shine down on me.” But, we will most likely stay indoors today with our birds. Fling open the window shades and have our fill of the surrounding evergreens from the comfort of our home with the fire going. Warm hearth.
Today, those finch mouths are speaking. They’ve developed vocal chords it would seem. Just a few days old. We pull out our chairs and watch them. We don’t have a tv, so they are our entertainment. Bird bathing, if you must know, is full of quick moves, shakes, and stretches. The finches are also our reminders. Reminding us of the quick passing of time as feathers sprout, eyes open, and wings take flight.
We can’t help ourselves. I watch and observe as I once did, or still do, my own little walking, dancing, flying child.
We will go out of course. Bundle up. Hike under ancient cedars, by glacier erratics, on coastal trails and let the wind, from the south also, brush our hair up and away. School days will be cancelled, the power will go out, and our rhythmic revolutions inside our little beach cabin of a universe will grow taxing. And, yes, when her babies have fledged, and she has a moment of reprieve, I hope to let mama finch out too. Take a wander of my nest, perhaps I’ll say. Not just a cage in a cage, please. The world. It’s the world. Be reminded of your own wild self, freed for now from your duties.
But, mostly, with winter coming quickly, we will stay here. I probably will not have another child, but she will. And, certainly, we will provide and protect our wild children. Regardless.
In those moments, I will remind mama finch, your rotations matter. Like the earth and moon circle, like the sun shines. These glowing beings. Our contribution to the future. The ferocity and tenacity of mothering. The spirit world, head tilting of our pleading and demanding children. The moments of being awake enough to see their brilliance so we may feed them. If all this wild, alive-ness is not life itself, then I certainly don’t know what life is.