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Friday Feature: A Flash of Gold In a Fading Green

On Tuesday, as I walked back along the drive to the house after shutting the gate, I found myself wondering where the siskins were. The west side of our drive is bounded by a grassy wildflower-filled verge, and the ditch’s bank is lined with wild sunflowers — going to seed a bit early this year, with more dried brown centers than fresh petals visible. The siskins, tiny trapeze artists, love to perch on the drying stalks and burrow for as many seeds as they can hold. They have been noticeably absent this year, and so I wondered.

As if on cue, just as the thought was completing itself in my head, I heard the bird’s unmistakable call, clear and sharp, bell and whistle at once. I moved onto the verge, searching the crowded stalks, to no avail, the sound was coming from below the rise of the embankment, just out of my line of sight, and I did not want to startle it by moving in closer.

But what was visible, a yard or so to the left of the sound, was something else: a bird I didn’t recognize, a flash of gold in a fading green. Its colors were far to intense, and mostly too even, to be a siskin, but it did not look like any of our usual golden-fronted birds. I spent part of that evening rooting through images of likely possibilities, and finally concluded that it was a lesser goldfinch. It’s a bird we’ve never seen here before; we tend to get the so-called American goldfinch, in all its many permutations, but neither of us can recall a lesser goldfinch ever visiting before. It’s a bird known to migrate through this area in the summer, but with the chill night temperatures we’re already getting, I would have expected it to be long gone.

And perhaps it is now. Over the last two afternoons, I’ve returned to the embankment on the drive’s west side, hoping to spot it again and perhaps even catch a clearer picture, one not darkened by the shadow of drying petals on sides. If it is here, it keeps itself well hidden, and we suspect that it made a one-day detour on what is perhaps for it a new migratory path, one dictated by changes in weather and climate and season.

And, as always when we see an unknown, previously-unseen member of its feathered kind, we look at each other, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Spirit bird.”

Today’s featured qualifies as both spirit bird and golden being, a tiny creature coaxed from yellow Zuni rock to catch the light on its luminous wings. From its description in the Other Artists:  Fetishes gallery here on the site:

Spirit birds fly on wings of light. It’s true of this tiny version, not an eagle but a spirit bird of a more ordinary sort, yet with extraordinary color and texture. Hand-carved by Delvin Leekya (Zuni Pueblo), this wingéd being emerges from Zuni rock, the Pueblo’s nickname for a particular variant of yellow travertine. It’s crafted in “vintage style,” meaning that the likeness flows from basic lines, without a great deal of accent detail. Its eyes are the tiniest of inlaid turquoise cabochons; its tailfeathers inlaid with geometric bands of turquoise, jet, pink-lip mother-of-pearl shell, lapis lazuli, and white-lip mother-of-pearl shell at the ends. Its wings are light itself: pink-lip mother-of-pearl in the front, colorfully whorled abalone at the ends, and a bold bisecting band of black jet. Fetish stands 3-3/4″ long by 1-3/8″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate).

Zuni rock (yellow travertine); turquoise; abalone shell; pink-lip mother-of-pearl shell;
white-lip mother-of-pearl shell; lapis lazuli; jet

$135 + shipping, handling, and insurance

The last two days, the siskins have been highly visible; highly voluble and active, too. They are industrious creatures; stalks that the human world mistakenly dismisses as dead are still great sources of food to them, and they let nothing go to waste. And in truth, their color is perhaps closer to the tiny spirit bird that is today’s featured work than our visitor of three days ago: a pale, earthy yellow with small bands of white and black on their wings.

But I still think the power of this piece is meant to align with our momentary visitor, our small bright yellow and black spirit bird. They are, after all, messengers in their way, even if the message is not one that’s always easy to understand — or, perhaps more accurately, one that we humans, collectively, simply prefer to pretend not to understand. In truth, we know what must be done, and we need to to work.

And occasionally, a flash of gold in a fading green is there to remind us.

~ Aji








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