Eggs

By: everylittlething

 

As soon as the unsold Christmas items are off the supermarket shelves, the chocolate eggs appear for Easter. Theologically, I can see a link – but I suspect that God has very little to do with this commercial venture. I’m not pretending that I don’t get excited when I give and receive Easter eggs. They are still a treat for this wean of an adult. Some parents carefully hide small eggs in their gardens so that their offspring can have the fun of finding them. Weather permitting. Traditionally, children would go around their communities asking for eggs – but not chocolate ones. Hens’ eggs were a treat, especially as the church decreed that they shouldn’t be eaten during Lent. Hens didn’t appreciate that their eggs weren’t needed so they kept on laying, and people were pleased to share their stored eggs with anyone who asked for them at Easter.

We always buy free range hens’ eggs from the butcher around the corner. We consider them to be of really good value. Recently we have been given a generous number of eggs by a friend who has a smallholding. A princely gift. Holding each one in my hand, while washing it, I consider the chicken and the egg conundrum. The answer is beyond me. Some are able to use scientific knowledge and skill to fertilize eggs but we cannot answer the chicken/egg question. A hen’s egg is pleasing to hold- it is as if one is taking in some small part of its magic. What powerful magic.

During my time as an infant teacher I had lots of fun teaching the little ones simple songs and rhymes. The simpler they were, the better to remember. Irene Pawsey’s short poem for children, “An Egg For Easter”, is one such :

“I want an egg for Easter,
A browny egg for Easter;
I want an egg for Easter,
So I’ll tell my browny hen.
I’ll take her corn and water,
And show her what I’ve brought her,
And she’ll lay my egg for Easter,
Inside her little pen.”

This ditty is an early lesson for children. Feed and water your hen and you will have your reward.

Even now, after several decades of cooking and baking with eggs, I still feel privileged when I crack open an egg with a double yolk. Or should that be two yolks? The puzzle reminds me of my studies in child development – should one refer to “the twins” or NEVER mention the word “twin” to those two people conceived at the same time?

When the sperm has fertilized the egg, there is the wonderful circle of life in evidence. But which came first?

As children, my brother and I were interested in birds’ eggs but it was really considered a boy’s hobby. Sexism was rife in the good old days. Michael was given someone’s collection of birds’ eggs, carefully preserved in sawdust-filled “Snowcem” tins. This, like a grown-up friend’s butterfly collection, is frowned upon now and I fully understand the thinking behind such condemnation. I have to say, though, that such collections were part and parcel of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and they passed on an awareness and respect for the natural world.

The Willett and Hall “Pocket Book of Common British Birds” has descriptions of the eggs produced by each bird. This book is now considered outdated and many identification guides which are published today, omit the eggs completely – as if the birds give birth to live young. Well I, for one, am not going to steal eggs, I am just interested. Edith Holden captures my imagination with her observations of Nature and her ability to conjure up a vibrant tableau with what is very simple vocabulary, always surprises me:

“April 29th. Gathered some Wild Geranium and Wild Hyacinth. Saw a lovely little Hedge-sparrow’s nest in a Whin-bush with four eggs in it. The Gorse was in full bloom and made a glowing contrast with the blue eggs in the mossy nest. ”

In our house we have many books. We have some very beautiful books which require care but one of my favourites is a tiny tan-coloured book measuring nine cms. by fourteen and a half cms.. I have the dust cover in pieces. “The Observer’s Book Of Birds’ Eggs “. In it you are able to find details of the eggs of just about every bird to breed in Britain – and a sensible list of dont’s :

* don’t handle the eggs or disarrange the nest

* don’t spend more than a minute at the nest

* don’t disturb the natural cover

* don’t leave a track for others to follow

* don’t visit a nest more than once in twenty four hours

and

* never try to hunt for the nests of rare birds.

There are many casualties in the springtime. Birds like the magpie will make a meal of other birds’ eggs. We don’t have magpies here in Caithness but there is plenty of marauding going on along the sea cliffs. The herring gull is one such marauder. Guillemots, shags and cormorants should know the danger of leaving their eggs unprotected. And everyone knows what little killers the baby cuckoos are. They push all of the chicks and unhatched eggs out of their foster-parents’ home so that the fat little cuckoo creature gets the undivided attention of the dunnocks or reed warblers. These are the birds chosen as host by the female cuckoo. Sometimes meadow pipits may be chosen. Whichever bird is chosen to foster the cuckoo’s egg and, later, the chick, the cuckoo’s egg will match that bird’s own egg. Cuckoos have small eggs for their size so that the victims do not realise there is a new egg in the nest. Not only that, but the female cuckoo will remove an egg from the nest and eat it before laying her own egg there.

Eggs are not, exclusively, birds’. You and I are here to prove that. We tend to refer to the human egg as ovum (being Latin for egg) but, whatever label we give to it, these tiny, tiny eggs, once fertilised, give our kaleidoscope world its saints and sinners. Little thought is given to the how and why when a new baby is born, but those first moments of a child’s life normally produce a sense, in the mother, of having been the bearer of a new order. There has been nothing like this before – this little person is exactly what the world has been needing. Here is the answer to all the questions ever asked.

Offering less potential for world peace is the little tadpole developing from the frog spawn which is floating about in jellied masses in ponds and streams around now. Tiny black dots in the jelly turn into tadpoles after a couple of weeks and then, after about three months, they develop into baby frogs. Few of the tadpoles get that far, however, as many are eaten whilst in the pond. We had a pond in our cottage garden in Lincolnshire and each Spring there would be something of a competition to be the first person to spot the frog spawn. The female frog is capable of laying up to three thousand eggs. Not SO bad then that the infant mortality rate is high. Cutting the grass was always a problem once the little perishers had left the water.

Eggs and Springtime. Easter in Spring. Eggs and Easter. In Scandinavian countries, branches of flowering trees may be brought indoors in advance of Easter so that the little flower buds will open out for Easter Day. My granny used to do that – we have no Scandinavian roots as far as I am aware – except for the “Vikings-got-everywhere” thing. Eggs would be hung on these branches – sometimes hens’ eggs but often today they will be chocolate eggs.

As a child, it was very exciting and special to be given the opportunity to collect hens’ eggs and I don’t remember ever breaking one. Perhaps that is because I didn’t do it very often. It was equally thrilling to find a nest with the greenish-blue speckled eggs of a blackbird. We knew the parent bird would come back if we returned promptly so we didn’t linger, but the image stayed with us and we wondered if the blackbirds singing in the lane the next season had been growing inside those little turquoise gems. We expected to keep them and their own family as neighbours. Eggs and expectations seem to go together so well. This poem points to the new beginning within the egg and the hope which accompanies it :

 

EGGS AND EXPECTATIONS (Janet Mackintosh Cayley)

Beginning with rarity
Whose advent is the starting point
Of the others’ maturity,
This genesis gives form to the infant dawn
When a new nucleus
Becomes the source of initiation,
Giving rise to the opening chapter
At the outset of the original voyage.

The commencement of this rudimentary journey
Is marked by a single bud
Which, after its nativity,
Emerges from its spheroidal
To await infancy.
A suckling.
Ripening. Mellowing.
Contemporaneously instituting curiosities.

 

Suppose the world was originally an egg and the Supreme Being cracked it open to reveal the yolk – life itself and all that is needed to sustain it, and the white – to cushion us when we fall. Now imagine that we are fast using up our yolk – not difficult when we take note of what is happening to this planet. How close can the world come to consuming all of its yolk? What amount of albumen will then be required to bolster us? Where will we find it?

Troubling questions with some frightening answers – and worse – no answers at all. But the human race strives to survive. Fear and uncertainty may set in, yet, as the land warms and the daylight is extended each springtime, we eat our Easter eggs; we roll our hard-boiled eggs down steep hills or, as in America, across the President’s lawn; we make little nests for the Easter hare to fill with eggs and we remember that, two thousand years ago, a few friends of a nobody found that a boulder (symbolised by the egg), which had stoppered his tomb, had been rolled away. He was on their side of the tomb.

 

RUSSIAN EASTER CAROL

Easter eggs! Easter eggs!
Give to him that begs!
For Christ the Lord is arisen.

To the poor, open door,
something give from your store!
For Christ the Lord is arisen.

Those who hoard, can’t afford –
moth and rust their reward!
For Christ the Lord is arisen.

Those who love freely give –
long and well may they live!
For Christ the Lord is arisen.

Eastertide, like a bride,
comes, and won’t be denied.
For Christ the Lord is arisen.

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