I step out on the deck with my coffee to have a look at the garden when I notice a strange smear of color on the stainless-steel surface of my grill like an abstract painting. I stare for a moment at the congealed mess of bloody yolk and powder-blue shell fragments—the remains of a fallen robin’s egg. It’s a bit early in the morning for abortion clean up, especially when I’ve just done the dishes. One more thing always seems to be the way of it. Gazing overhead at the red pine with its outstretched bough of clumped needles, I see no sign of the nest. Perhaps the culprit was a ravenous squirrel. Although with as much of my birdseed as she eats, how could she be hungry? Maybe just the wind which doesn’t seem to be blowing very hard at the moment. I call over to my son, always ready for a biology lesson, to have a look. He is sitting on the neighbor’s tire swing with an expression of beatitude on his face because summer vacation has finally arrived. He no longer watches television in the mornings, content since winter ended with simply being outside. He is like me in so many ways, and I hope he can find a career as well where he can work outdoors because I don’t see this aspect of his personality changing.
“What is it?” he asks, beside me now on the deck.
“A bird egg fell out of the tree last night.”
“Is it a robin?”
“I guess so. I’m not sure if any other birds lay blue eggs.”
I can see black dots in places on the eggshell which is lustrous and white on the interior of its curvature like a broken teacup. I notice a bit of translucent bone, part of a skull or beak, and go inside to get a wet paper towel.
The egg goop has already started to dry and doesn’t wipe away as easily as I expected. But with a bit of scrubbing and a second paper towel, the grill is once again clean. Or at least as clean as it was before. I resume my position at the rail of the deck and look at the garden which seems different now, some magic departed like a frightened bunny. The plants have
grown with the heat of the season, filling in the black rectangle of soil that seemed so empty only a few weeks ago. We’ve picked a couple of arugula salads and harvested some sweet, yet undersized, strawberries that are so popular with the sloppy goldfinches. They take one bite and leave the rest to liquify in the dirt for the ants. Plants breathe (this is a fact to remember even if it is not technically true) through their leaves in openings called stomata. Each microscopic pore on the underside of the leaf is composed of two cells that swell open during the day while the plant performs photosynthesis—the process by which carbon dioxide, water and light energy are combined to form glucose and oxygen. Beyond that the system of electron transfer in plants is so complicated that it is almost proof of God. I committed it to memory long ago in a plant physiology class and promptly forgot it five seconds after the completion of my final exam. The word “stomata” fascinated me then as it does now, confused in my mind because of its phonetic similarity to “stigmata”–the wounds of Christ.
Where I’m going with this I don’t know. Only that there is some connection between the garden and the bird shell. Both symbols of fertility perhaps. And Christ who wasn’t fertile at all except for his teachings. The egg is a feminine object, at once perfectly strong and perfectly fragile, a marvel of natural engineering. We have come to expect our eggs free of blood, so much so that we forget their original purpose. It does the appetite little good to think of our runny yolks as chicken placentas. Increasingly, we are becoming like those finicky denizens of Huxley’s Brave New World who have their babies in jars. Conversely, someone recently informed me of a company that will place a mother’s placenta in pill-form for her to swallow after giving birth. That, even for me, is far too much biology and I’m glad to occupy a time when we no longer live in caves and consume our own afterbirth. Yet, it seems almost criminal to me how little is charged for a carton of eggs. What does it say about our mechanized society that something so precious holds so little value?
The common carp (what could be more common than a carp?) lays 300,000 eggs at a time. This spring, I introduced the idea of sex to my son while fishing for muskies on Lake Harriet. The carp were spawning, making such a splashing racket in the shallows you would have thought a wildebeest was drowning. He got very quiet so I didn’t question his level of comprehension. A human female is born with all the eggs she will ever have—300 to 500 thousand. They will die gradually—1,000 a month at the time of her first menstruation—until she has none at all, her uterus by then an empty nest after she has released 500 mature eggs over the course of her life. There’s not much purpose in counting things, but these numbers remind us both of the abundance and finality of life.
In the Book of Mathew, Jesus encounters two fishermen in Galilee and says to them, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It will about take a miracle of Jesus for my son and I to ever catch a muskie, certainly a bigger net would help. In the meantime, the carp are fucking in the bulrushes. Which leads me inevitably to the question of why I dye Easter eggs with my children every year—a tradition that seems to mean far more to me than it should. Again the Book of Wikipedia provides an answer. The egg represents the empty tomb of Jesus from which he was resurrected. The dye his blood, shed at the time of his crucifixion. It is all there in a shattered robin’s egg—two thousand years of organized religion’s acquired madness—and I envy my son at play in the sunshine, unburdened by any reckoning beyond his own joy.