Living Madly: Goldfinches
By Emilie-Noelle Provost
Late summer has always been a relief. By this time of year, I’m sick of hot, muggy weather. I’m tired of air conditioning, and of eating salad for dinner because it’s too hot to use the stove. I long for cool breezes and early sunsets. I look forward to the first brisk morning when I’ll actually need a sweater.
Sometime in late August or early September, I can feel a change in the air. The flowers in our garden have mostly gone to seed. The nights become cooler. The sounds of the crickets chirping outside our screen porch grows louder. The tree frogs make themselves known. They’ve been there all along, but somehow, suddenly they are a presence, their delicate peeps and trills join together to form a seemingly endless chorus that stretches from tree, to tree, to tree.
We turn off our air conditioner at night and open the windows. I rarely sleep as well as I do in the later summer and early fall, snuggled beneath our comforter with fresh, cold air filling the room.
The goldfinches are a sure sign that fall is on the way. I almost always hear the birds before I see them. Their high-pitched tweets and peeps carry across the house as they perch in rows along the powerlines above our garden. One by one, they land on the dying cosmos and echinacea blooms, their tiny feet gripping the flowers’ stems as the plants sway in the wind. Sometimes the finches will stay for up to thirty minutes, pecking at the dry seeds, their yellow plumage a cheerful complement to the garden’s late season greens and browns.
I’ve seen as many as six goldfinches in our garden at once. They chirp to one another quietly as they move from flower to flower, occasionally retreating back to the powerline to rest. As long as the seeds last, they come several times a day. Sometimes they’re already in the garden when we wake up in the morning. If Rob spots the tiny birds and I’m nearby, he’ll motion for me to come to the window to see them, always careful not to make any noises that might scare them away.
In the late summer, getting things done begins to feel possible again, like someone has taken their finger off of the pause button. The stagnant days of July and early August give way to the bustle of back-to-school shoppers and the optimism that new beginnings always seem to bring. Even those of us who have been out of school for years can feel the excitement in the air. As the days get shorter and the temperatures cooler, the urge to start new projects—and finish old ones—becomes hard to resist.
Summer seemed to fly by in a flash this year. In some ways, it almost feels like it never really got started. When the weather wasn’t so hot and humid that you could barely move, it was raining, and raining. Days passed when we barely left the house except to mow the lawn, which never seemed to stop growing.
The long hot days of summer are great for some people. But for me, mid-August through the end of October is the best time of year. The lines at the ice cream stands are shorter. Fresh, local produce is inexpensive and available everywhere. I can drink hot tea at my desk again in the afternoon, and for a little longer at least, I’ll be able to wake up to the songs of goldfinches in the garden.
Emilie-Noelle Provost is the author of The River Is Everywhere, which was released on March 14, 2023, and The Blue Bottle, a middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Learn more about Emilie and her work at emilienoelleprovost.com.