By Laurel Dykstra
Lente in Middle English means springtime, which means a kind of lovely irony is built into Lent, at least where I live on Coast Salish Territory. The church’s season of fasting and austerity falls during nesting season so while we smear our heads with ashes and forswear chocolate, facebook, and alcohol, our feathered friends are setting up housekeeping and getting it on. The bird songs of spring are about defending territory and announcing sexual availability.
As a child I was particularly taken with English literature’s archetypal (and often classist and racist) figure of the wild child: boys, they were almost always boys, like Jack and Phillip of Enid Blyton’s adventure series and Dickon of the Secret Garden, who were so trusted by the wild creatures that the birds didn’t hide their nests from them. As an adult, my urban naturalist practice especially in the courtyard of my housing co-op, has shown me that many birds are not very secretive about theirnests at all. Knowing where the birds hide their nests turns out not to be such an accomplishment. At a certain point in spring everywhere I look birds are silhouetted against the sky with nesting materials in their beaks. If I follow closely I can even see the change in construction materials change as the different layers of the nest are assembled: big sticks, small sticks, grass, then moss.
This is the fourth year of my Lenten observation practice and Lent is a season that moves –so while this year Lent is early with snowfall and bare trees prominent in the past weeks, I am starting to see some nest builders now.
Bushtits have just begun to weave this sock-like nest from moss and human hair.
Crows are staking out territory and flying twigs to balconies and power fixtures.
Chickadees are checking out the nesting box, while Starlings occupy exhaust vents and House Sparrows colonize the window frames.
Gulls shape a depression into the stones on gravel rooftops.
At the Westridge Marine Terminal at the end of the pipeline route Kinder Morgan removed an eagles’ nest and have installed a large metal deterrent to prevent them from returning.
The 40 Birds of Lent documents Laurel Dykstra’s Lenten practice of daily prayer outdoors noticing birds in the lower Fraser watershed. Laurel is the gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.