Sunday, January 8, 2012
A Nest Full of Joy
Today was a beautiful , warm sunny January day. The whole winter has been warmer than usual, but I still count every sunny day as a gift. After walking several miles with friends, I met Joe at the woodpile and we loaded up the truck and drove it home to unload in our shed. Then we split up to do chores. He fed the steers while I gathered eggs.
The hens were still running around outside, enjoying the opportunity to scratch unfrozen ground, when I climbed the steps to the house. The hens are all Red Sex-Links. We bought them because they are prolific layers and their eggs are all a warm brown, but today I found an egg that was almost white. As I held that pale egg in the palm of my hand I was transported back to the first year we had chickens.
It was Scott’s idea to get them. He asked for a flock shortly after his grandma died. She had always had chickens and he enjoyed helping her grind corn for them and gather eggs. So we built a chicken house and he purchased his first flock of biddies. He loved taking care of his feathered friends and gathering what Joe calls “henfruit.” One day, Scott came running to the house. He had found a whitish egg in the nest, along with the brown ones and wanted to know what had caused it. I couldn’t answer him, but I am ashamed to admit that I immediately saw an opportunity for a great practical joke. The next day, before he came home from the farm where he often spent afternoons with his dad, I snuck a pure white store-bought egg into the nest.
As soon as Scott gathered eggs, he ran to the house to show me the white shelled wonder. Again, he asked me how it was possible for one of his hens to lay such a pale egg. “And this one is even whiter than yesterday, Mom,” he said. “Hmm,” I pondered. “Maybe there is something in the feed.”
The next day, I snuck two white eggs in the nests and the following day, I put in three. Each day we discussed possible reasons for the faded out eggs. I offered the explanation that maybe the growing day-length might have something to do with it, or maybe the hens knew Easter was next Sunday and were laying eggs that were easier for us to dye.
The following day, I shook some Rit dye into three cups of vinegar, and then when they were dry, placed the red, green and blue eggs in the nests. When I tell the story of his excitement, Scott claims that he knew all along what was going on and that he was just playing along with me, but I still cling to the idea that I fooled him.
There are so many wonderful memories connected to the henhouse: of the boys helping Burley build it, of Scott selling his first dozen eggs, of countless conversations held in the kitchen as we washed eggs together. In the last one hundred years, Americans have become more mobile. We travel to far away places for vacations, we move to pursue careers, we move to larger houses and better neighborhoods. When I married my husband, I knew that I would be bucking that trend. I was marrying a man, but I was also marrying a farm. I was worried about planting my feet so firmly in one place, but I have discovered something about myself. Like the hens, I am a nester. I can no longer imagine a roving life. I like living in a place where every hill, every field, every building connects my past to my present. Where the simple act of gathering eggs becomes so much more than a simple chore.