Over past 3 years, I have developed a relationship with the goldfinch.
Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the goldfinch has developed relationship with me.
Many of you know that I am an avid bicyclist and, even though I don’t get out as much as I used to, or I would like, I still really enjoy getting out on the road for a long ride or onto the single tracks to rip it up on my mountain bike anytime that I can. (In fact, yesterday, I had a great day riding about 90 miles to Old Mission Lighthouse in the northern part of Michigan and will write about that later.) I think it is also important to state that in recent years, I have developed new and probably much merited fears about riding on the roads. It is really dangerous out there! Maybe I am more aware of my family responsibilities and my own mortality. In any event, I do think about it every time I get on my bike. But, I feel like the benefits outweigh the risks, so I pedal on.
About three summers ago, I was teaching at a string camp in Anne Arundel County near Annapolis, MD. While there, I was getting out on my bike every day when I wasn’t in rehearsal. Boy, were the roads dangerous there! Cars would fly by me and not give an inch. I really worried about my safety. Sometime during the week, I noticed that a goldfinch was following me on my ride. I started realizing that it would stay with me for miles. I can’t quite describe it but to say that I felt a sense of safety and peace when it was with me. I would say that I noticed it on three of my rides that week and always smiled when he was with me.
Later that summer, my family was vacationing in Western Pennsylvania at a small state park called Prince Gallitzin. It is one of my favorite places in the world: a small lake, rolling hills, forests, trails, camping, farms that go on forever, and quaint small towns. I try to ride every day when we are there. The hills are a great workout. Sometimes too great! Anyway, guess who shows up? Goldfinches. Again, they are hanging with me for miles on my rides. Again, I just have this sense of safety and peace when they are with me. Later that summer, we headed to Indian lake, near Somerset, PA to hang out with my sister-in-law and her family. Sure enough, more goldfinches. And in Somerset, they were even more prominent during my rides, hanging with me for 10, 15, even 20 miles.
When I returned home to North Carolina, I decided to drop a note to my old friend, Joe Liles. Joe is immersed in Native American culture and I thought that I would ask him about the goldfinch and if there was any Native American lore about this phenomenon. He told me that he wasn’t aware of anything specific, but that Native Americans do feel that The Great Spirit can be found in nature and that animals can be a conduit to ancestors and to God. Interesting. I don’t have any conclusions here. I just find it all to be interesting. I am a pretty spiritual guy. I am a Christian. (If you read my blog at all, I hope that you had already figured that out.) I am really intrigued by the book “Heaven is Real” and the concept of intercession by our relatives. I don’t know. I just find it interesting and palpable. I have read a couple of similar books and love the thought of a heaven where we are young, whole, happy, and together with those that love us. I have bought in to the concept. I have really wondered if these goldfinches were at least a representation of a deceased relative just hanging with me, assuring me that everything is ok, or maybe literally keeping me safe. Maybe they were a sign from God, reminding me of his grace and protection. Again, no sermon here. I am just reporting the facts.
This summer I am teaching at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. I love my gig here. I have time to ride my bike almost every day. Guess what? The goldfinches are back. I have been joined on my bike rides several times by these guys. This summer, they are more like fly-bys. They don’t hang with me for miles. Instead they fly right in front of me. Almost like they WANT me to see that they are there. And, every time, I get this incredible sense of the presence of God. It is a feeling that tells me I am not riding alone (on my ride that day and through life).
A few days ago, my wife and kids were leaving to go to Pittsburgh for a couple of days. I was a little concerned about them. It is a long drive and the family was going to be apart for a while. We said our goodbyes and they headed out. As they got out onto the road, a goldfinch did a fly-by on them! She had my son text me and let me know that he was headed my way. The bird flew right in front of the car. He wanted to make sure she saw him. Crazy.
I have shared this story with lots of folks. As I said, I don’t really have any concrete explanations. All I know is how it makes me feel. These finch encounters make me feel safe and not so alone in the universe. They give me a sense of peace. I think we all need more peace in our lives. I know that I need more. Peace can certainly be well beyond our understanding. I feel like this is that peace. I don’t really understand the peace that I receive when I know I am not riding alone. I just accept it for what it is worth. I enjoy it and savor it.
And, now every time I get on my bike, I wonder if I am going to encounter my old friends, the goldfinches. Or maybe they are some other old friends. Regardless, it makes getting on my bike an adventure!