The Work of Possibility
While some of us celebrate liturgically on a designated Sunday each year, today is the natural Easter: The nests in full production, the new green on the trees and plants, not a single dead leaf anywhere. All is new and fresh clear, and there are eggs tucked into the hay and grass and nests, round and white, blank and perfect. This is where the past engenders a future, each with a quiet invisible Mother brooding over her clutch, investing in each of us. The potential of May.
7 cartons, plus two more eggs
It’s not an even-dozen number.
Chickens can’t count.
Anyway how did we humans arrive at 12 in a dozen,
instead of 10 like most things (counting our fingers),
or worse, at 7 for the days of the week? That’s not even divisible by two.
12 months? 24 hours?
These irrational calibrations of things
survived the reasonable Metric Reformation,
stubborn in our systems as sleep and waking,
and, of course, as Oestrus. 28 days. 40 weeks.
Some things, like the association of May 1st with both the Beltane and Labor Day, seem to make more intuitive sense. If ever there were a day to equate life with labor, it is now.
So May First it is. May Day, Labor Day (everywhere BUT the United States, of course).
And les pondeuses have given us here at le Camparol much to ponder, in how labor is calibrated in sets, this Labor Day.
Perhaps 86 is as good a base-set calibration of labor as any. Maybe it is even a sacred number in Chicken Land.
I was gone less than a full month, but le poulailler got out of control in just that amount of springtime. After a while M. could see the fatal tidal wave mounting and apparently after that, he didn’t even go back inside to look. So when I arrived it was quite a scene inside the henhouse: 3 brooders, a dead guinea fowl, a goodly amount of custom redecorating on the part of the tenants and eggs partout-partout!
The 86 I gathered on the first haul did not count the eggs hidden under the feathered bellies of our three current sitters. There could easily be another three dozen under there, but I am loathe to check. It’s always a painful experience requiring heavy gloves and fortitude on my part, and even more fortitude on the part of the hens.
Broody and pale, they sit in a trance, unseeing, intent on disappearing in shaded nests, the stoic mothers-to-be disguised as inanimate objects, unable to respond as I gather other eggs around them, my arm sometimes passing within pecking distance, but at peril, because, like a crocodile responding mechanically to stimulus, like a trap than has been spring-set, eventually when pressed a brooding hen will attack a threat.
Once it comes within an invisible limit of proximity, she will suddenly rise from her stupor to flog it violently. (I hear the same of some women when gestating but I have never tested it personally.)
Like the crocodile, the chickens are after all only lizards and their instincts are simple triggers: Flog, peck, roost, brood.
Everything is Labor
The lives of all of them, hens and roosters, new chicks and matronly old biddies, are centered on the production and brooding of eggs, many of which are probably not viable in the first place, but especially right now the lives of these three hens are focused on the clutches beneath them.
There is a reason they refer to the making of babies as “labor.” The hens are working hard by not doing anything else, not even for ten minutes at a time. They do not eat or drink but what is allowed in the brief breaks from the nest, and that only on the warmest days when the eggs won’t go cold in their absence too quickly.
Keeping the eggs safe and warm is their entire existence for three weeks during these beautiful spring days. The roosters are keeping vigil for dangers (9 of our chickens were eaten by a mystery predator while I was away, only a pile of feathers left where they were scooped up and carried off, so the threat is real, and it is still out there). The rest of the flock mill about with eyes on each side of their heads, all-seeing as possible, safety in numbers, and also in this season of brooding they actually serve unwittingly as easy-pickings decoy-prey so that the low-lying mothers and their nests full of eggs will never be found.
A few eggs may eventually hatch, and that is the point of the long and expensive investment.
Is the month of May not supremely named? May. Could. Maybe. The dangerous, painful devotion to a mere potential with no certitude whatsoever.
The limits of worth
The business of laying eggs is intensive, investing most of what food is given in the production of the embryos. Roosters barely eat by comparison, but often just stand above a food source pretending to peck at it as if to demonstrate it’s use and announcing that it is there for his hens. (M. calls this the breadwinner-soul of a good rooster.)
Then guarding them for three weeks, raising the young to hunt and peck and one day brood themselves. It takes a village, plus enormous personal effort.
Each egg is very expensive, the effort costing right to the limit of what could be worth it. Much, perhaps, like everything else about life: Right to the limit of worth, if you are so lucky even to remain within that limit.
Because in life there is no way to negotiate the cost, even if it seems to cost more than it is worth. What you might win in returns you have to have, no matter the cost, because what you might win is a future, any chance at all of survival.
Present Tense, Future
Labor Day is not set to May First by accident. May Day by definition celebrates the potential implicit in an egg. Fertile ground which may grow a crop. Eggs that may hatch. It may rain. I may make a soufflé. There may be life in those white orbs for all of us.
And the labor of Labor Day is not past tense. It is not from our labors to rest, but what there is routinely to do, now recognized, surfaced, an accounting and appreciation more exactly what gets done, daily, both as a community and as a single citizen, to mine the potential all around us.
An egg is brimming with this possibility and potent hope. In a way the eggs themselves are laboring hardest of all, becoming in the invisible warmth something miraculous.
What gets done: It is the core mystery, the unstoppable urge, a combination of good fortune and persistent work.
The other eggs which were not so lucky to be adopted into the Fraternity of the Potential I will fry lightly for our hamburgers this afternoon, Spanish-style. And then maybe that soufflé. M. has found a cake recipe that uses 8 eggs, too. And then we will start giving them to friends, with so many more on the way. Well then, let’s get summer started.
Happy May Day.