40 Birds of Lent: Final Count

Laurel1By Laurel Dykstra

While the word Lent comes from Middle English, quadragesima, the Latin word for the season means fortieth referring to the fortieth day before Easter. And while this resonates with a host of biblical wilderness forties—the 40 days of the flood, the Hebrew’s 40 year sojourn in the desert, Moses’ 40 days on Sinai, Elijah’s 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness—the actual number of days doesn’t quite add up, so different traditions have different metrics, (don’t count Sundays, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday) in order to get to 40. I love the biblical associations but the 40 Birds of Lent involved some cheating to make the numbers come out right.

“Confession,” my mother used to say, “is good for the soul,” usually in mock seriousness when I was suspected of some misdeed. In this final installment of the 40 Birds of Lent all, or at least most, of the cheating is confessed.

Laurel2I confess:

  • I saw my fortieth bird, a Stellar’s Jay, on about day thirty.
  • I saw each bird species mentioned during Lent but the photos of the Raven, the Mallards, the Goshawk and the Wood Duck were taken in January.
  • The photos of the Bushtit, the Herons, the House Sparrows, Kingfisher, Cormorant and Surf Scoter, were taken in previous years.
  • I did not pray every day.
  • The days when prayer was probably most needed—in courtrooms, and hospital rooms, on marches, at lock-downs—were the days it was the hardest to stop and pay attention.
  • On the days when I complained that I saw nothing, that there were no birds out there I saw at least nine different species. Nine species, in the city, in ten minutes. And I thought I had seen nothing.

Laurel3So has this Lenten practice, the (almost) daily setting aside time to be present and attentive in creation, prepared me for Holy Week? For Good Friday? For Easter? The simple answer is no. Of course not.

The trouble with Christians is that we live in a weekly relationship with the impossible. Every Sunday is a little Easter, every year we celebrate Holy Week. And because we know how the story ends there is always an element of play-acting Good Friday, even when some of us are living in the midst of it. We do not enter fully into the devastation of betrayal, of violent arrest and disappearance, the beloved killed by the state, a broken movement, a god that died. The truth of Good Friday is despair, outrage, hopelessness. Blood-proof that the power of empire and its machines of death are absolute, destroying the best and most beautiful. Easter is the perhaps more shattering realization that death does not have the last word. To approach Good Friday with Easter up our sleeve is to cheat both.

Laurel4So, praying with the birds. To be only present with senses widened–not anticipating. To be close tiny fast heartbeats, rustling feathers, merciless talons, sunlight through wings? It is as good and adequate preparation for the impossible as any.

For those who are keeping track, this year’s 40+ Birds of Lent (at the time of editing) were:

        1. Bald Eagle
        2. Anna’s Hummingbird
        3. European Starling
        4. Black-capped chickadee
        5. House Finch
        6. Song sparrow
        7. Dark-eyed Junco
        8. Bushtit
        9. Raven
        10. Wren (probably Winter)
        11. Northwestern Crow
        12. Rock Dove
        13. Northern Goshawk
        14. Great Blue Heron
        15. Mallard
        16. Golden-crowned Sparrow
        17. House Sparrow
        18. Downy Woodpecker
        19. Canada Goose
        20. Barrow’s Goldeneye
        21. Surf Scoter
        22. Double Crested Cormorant
        23. Glaucous-winged gull
        24. Hooded merganser
        25. Banded Kingfisher
        26. Black Oystercatcher
        27. Wood Duck
        28. American Robin
        29. Towhee
        30. Flicker
        31. American Widgeon
        32. Pigeon Guillemont
        33. Eared Grebe
        34. Horned Grebe
        35. Murrlet (probably Marbled)
        36. Common Merganser
        37. Harlequin Duck
        38. Common Goldeneye
        39. Varied Thrush
        40. Bufflehead
        41. Stellar’s Jay
        42. Cooper’s Hawk
        43. Townsend’s Solitaire

        Laurel5Mammals receiving an honorable mention are: raccoon, coyote, harbor seal, California sea lion, river otter.

        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.

2 thoughts on “40 Birds of Lent: Final Count

  1. Henriette Thompson

    Thank you for sharing “40 Birds of Lent” and the practice of paying attention, Laurel. My walk through Lent has been enriched for it.

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