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Sunflowers, Goldfinches, and Other Realms

Updated: Sep 6


Goldfinch and sunflower on late summer day
Photo by Katharine Donovan Kane

I captured a goldfinch munching on our sunflowers the other day. I was so happy that it didn’t fly away before I could take its beautiful portrait. I was seeing them all day. They made me smile, drew my attention, and didn’t seem overly afraid of me. My camera and I liked having them around. I was intrigued about these birds so I decided to look at a resource book called Animal Speak by Ted Andrews for some goldfinch inspiration.


Andrews writes, “the presence of goldfinches usually indicates an awakening to the activities of those beings that are normally relegated to the realm of fiction.” My eyebrows rose as I read that the “beings” he was referring to were “fairies and elves.” He also mentioned that goldfinches like living on the edges of the woods and their presence help us understand that “nature spirits are around us at all time.” I was a little surprised to learn about the fairies and elves since I only think of them as inhabiting Ireland. Surely, though, there are nature spirits all around me here in Northeast U.S.


Most days I practice a type of contemplative photography where I begin my day with an intention to “see” beyond the boundaries of my mental activity to an expanded view of the world. During walks with my camera I pay attention to what’s happening in nature, including the sky and the occasional Earth vibration I feel under my feet. For me this practice of seeing is the same as paying attention to other realms. As I adjust the camera’s settings and click, the photo sometimes surprises me with an ability to pick up more activity in the frame than I originally focused on.


Contemplative photography is a good way to practice seeing an expanded vision of the nature spirits around us. In the case of the goldfinch it taught me about living on the edges…certainly edges are a kind of threshold open to the possibility of new activity awakening.


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