The chickens are laying eggs again, which seems a fine way to head into the new year. We’re aware there are ways to keep them laying without pause, but prefer to follow the natural course of things as they keep our larder well-stocked the rest of the year and ask for little but kitchen scraps in return. In fact, I should make it a New Year’s resolution to be half as productive as these birds.
No one is a bigger proponent of this natural hiatus than our younger daughter, whose after-school task it is to collect the eggs. This morning when I informed her that the laying boxes were once again populating, the look on her face was a shade less than joyful.
Our chicken flock census has dropped to its lowest since we got our first chicks. This is due to attrition and shifting priorities. I think we keep them because it’s easier than getting rid of them, and also, there’s nothing like an egg from a chicken that’s been eating bugs and greenery. Even this time of year, when the green is gone and the bugs are all tucked away in the dirt or behind our siding, a home-laid egg still manifests a heartiness you won’t find for cheap.
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Folks sometimes want to argue about whether or not fresh farm eggs are any better for you than a watery store-bought, and my point is at that point you have missed the point. Leave nutrition to nutritionists, talking points to politicians, agendas to radio talk show hosts, and instead just go ahead and fry up a pair — maybe beneath a light dusting of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt — and listen to your tummy. In issues of flavor, it’s rarely helpful to out-think yourself. In less bucky tones, lemme just say above all I am grateful for these eggs, especially since they appear like magic daily, a remaining miracle you cannot download from the cloud.
I think right about now the younger daughter would request I tone down the miraculous rhapsodizing and focus a little more on how this morning I assigned her the duty of cleaning the nesting boxes, and how before the snow flew this fall she was allowed to clean the entire coop, and how it is she has to make that daily after-school trudge with the egg basket. But the true miracle of chickens is I want her to hit this world knowing how to run a pitchfork, how to do work that leaves you needing a shower, and even to understand that the shavings she lines the boxes with come from her grandfather the logger and lumber maker, and that the aroma of pine represents the intersection of honest work and nature.
I am getting melodramatic, but so be it. This world is uncertain, shifty and sometimes deadly. The child slouching toward the coop has no idea how helplessly underqualified parents feel, and that sometimes the best we can hope to accomplish is to teach our children where breakfast comes from and how the world is full of unexpected excrement and yet we stay the course and do our chores and hope for the best, and pray come morning the sun rises to find the yolk lying yellow and lovely in the pan.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.