01 March 2012
I see miracles every day. Every day. I am in touch with the miraculous, hold it in my hands. Oh, I go looking for miracles--you bet I do. Stumble after them in the dark sometimes. Other nights, I shine a flashlight in the nests, reach in and take the eggs I find there. Eggs, the everyday miracles that populate my world. Eggs, amazing containers of possibility and life—breakfast, too.
Maybe I have a low threshold for wonder. Maybe not.
Each evening I gather the dozen or so eggs our hens have laid that day. Our mixed-breed chickens lay eggs in an assortment of colors, sizes and shapes. Some eggs are, well, egg-shaped. But others are pointy, roundish, squat or as near rectangular as an egg can get. Some have thin thin shells, others are almost hammer-hard. Colors range from white to beige, ecru to ochre. I've learned to associate certain eggs with particular hens. Mrs. Lapinski lays long white missiles, thin and pointy at both ends. Now in her dotage, CeeCee lays wrinkled, light brown beauties with what look like vertical stretch marks. One unidentified hen drops gargantuan bombshells. You'd think she'd be easy to spot—find the stiff-legged hen walking about with a look of perpetual stupefaction. Apparently she's in stealth mode.
It takes but a moment for a hen to stand, squeeze her pelvic muscles and allow an egg to gently drop onto a bed of straw. She usually climbs into the nest well in advance of this final production, however. Settles in, sits quietly, bides her time. The process began 18 to 36 hours earlier when her body released an egg cell into her oviduct where it could be fertilized by the rooster. Layers of white formed around the nascent yolk, then a membrane, last of all, the shell. The miracle of life in so humble a casing.
After laying the egg, the hen cackles to announce her success to the world around. The higher her status, the more likely the rooster and other hens will echo and amplify her cry. Me, if I'm within earshot, I'll echo anyone's cackle.
Despite what a rooster might tell you, a hen will lay eggs whether or not he's in the picture. In his absence, her eggs will be infertile. Great for breakfast, but no little chick will ever hatch from them. Most store-bought eggs fall into this category. Commercially-raised hens may go their whole short lives without ever seeing a rooster. Our hens should be so lucky. They lay fertilized eggs; our rooster sees to that. He never tires of sexual activity, goes at it almost every chance he gets. Let him mount a hen, bend his cloacae to hers, spray his misty sperm, and the egg she lays will contain the potential for life.
Take that fertilized egg from the nest, refrigerate it, and nothing more exciting than omelets will happen. Keep it consistently warm in an incubator or under a broody hen—one whose hormones have kicked in, convinced her she wants to be a mother—and in 21 days a chick will hatch from it. It never ceases to amaze me.
You've seen the inside of an egg. There's no chick in there. Only a big blister of yellow pus floating on a clear sea of slimy snot. How such glop and goo can be transformed into a living creature, a wobble-legged chick, wet, blinking, bedraggled, now dry, fuzzy and fluffy, ready to run, scratch and come to mother's call--how such a thing can be boggles my mind. This is the stuff of miracle.
It happens every year about this time out in our coop. Out of nothing, something. From snot and pus, peeping cheeping life. Happens out of sight, deep inside. Transformation and change.
Reminds me of the coming out process.
Reminds me more may be going on inside at any one time—inside me, you, or anyone else—than anyone could ever guess. Even now, today, a miracle may be hatching.