Monday, January 14, 2013

Update on Stolen Eggs

     We were cleaning up debris along the west edge of the barn and there it was.
     One of the stolen eggs lay in a pile of dry leaves.  It was soiled and had scratches on its surface, but otherwise appeared intact.
     It made me think of something precious, like an engagement ring, flung in a decisive moment onto the dirt while harsh words pass between two people, words which might tear, bit by bit, at the fabric of the couple's connection until it is rent for good.  The egg, like such a ring, had been forsaken.
     I looked around and soon found bits of eggshell from the other stolen eggs, although I can't vouch that, even if I'd made a painstaking effort with Krazy Glue, I could have reconstructed all three other eggs from that clutch.  Maybe one had been carried off.
     I brought the unbroken egg into the house.  It seemed rather light, but there were no obvious peck-holes or surface cracks.
     If you want to find out whether a stray egg is good to eat or not, put it in a glass of water.  If it sinks, it's fresh.  If it almost sinks, it's not as fresh, but still good to eat.  If it floats, well, unless you're willing to take a big chance--which means you ought to be starving--you'd better throw it on the compost pile. 
     Storey's Guide to Chickens says that an unwashed egg will stay fresh for four months in tropical temperatures.  The eggs in the grocery story refrigerator are usually months old.
     The lost-and-found egg floated.  It may have been a little hollow, owing to micro-cracks in the shell  through which the watery components might have been evaporating  I could imagine a wild creature tapping and scratching at the shell to get inside, causing such tiny fissures.
     "Let's open it!" said Eli, my son, sitting at the kitchen table with the egg in his palm, ready to crack it.
     "No!  Not in the house!" I said, holding up my hand like a traffic guard.  "In fact, not even within a mile of the house."
     Then, Eli told a story from his childhood, about an egg he'd found outside and opened.  It must have been fifteen years ago, when we kept free-roaming chickens--until a hungry fox's blitzkrieg made me swear off chickens for the next decade.
     In those days, the hens laid eggs all over the place:  in tree branches, on the tractor seat, on top of the mulch pile, on the roof of the barn, in the rafters.  One time, my sons were swinging under a huge Live Oak waiting for me to pull cookies out of the oven, and it started raining chicks.  At their feet fell eight hatchlings, who stumbled as they tried to hold themselves up on their new, yellow feet, and whose arrival seemed to presage good things.
     "Mom!  Mom!  It's raining chicks!" they called.  I left the cookies, turning off the oven, and ran outside.  The fluff-ball chicks were wobbling around like seasick passengers on a reeling ship .  We gathered them in a box and nursed them with mash, keeping them safe for weeks, until they wouldn't be harmed by the big hens.
     The stray egg Eli had found back then was no prize.  He hadn't told me about it at the time--it being one of many secrets boys must keep from their mothers for life to be fun.  There were dried bits of yolk inside, he reported now, and a stench that was too much, even for a grubby, tree-climbing, mud-skimming ten-year-old boy.
     I took the egg we'd discovered today to the garden and buried it under a bushel of decomposing manure.
     There were no tracks, anywhere, to identify the marauder.
     But it had to be a raccoon, right?  A hungry raccoon, who took the stash, egg by egg, in its furry, long-nailed, humanoid paws to the back of the barn, and stuffed its gullet on the contents of the first three, sucking them down like a drunk until it fell into a stupor in the shade and slept for, who knows, three days?  Long enough to forget about the last one.
     And that last egg, the one betraying the thief, tells me that I need to tighten the screws on the fence gate, and bury some wooden posts along the edges of the chicken coop, because there's always a chance that someone's looking for a free lunch, scheming to parlay trust into profit, stealing good eggs.

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