Guardians of the Eggs
It’s a chill winter morning in Anchorage as I wrap myself in a floor-length, pink fuzzy robe, and slip my bare feet into my husband’s oversized Xtra Tuffs.
Trudging through a thick, white blanket, I break trail toward the chicken run. I admire the frost-coated white birch trees, still dressed up from a fancy ball, showing off their diamond-encrusted branches as they shimmer in the late morning sun. In a few hours their Cinderella gowns will have melted. I can’t help but feel underdressed in my bathrobe.
The chickens hear me coming. From the warmth of their coop, I hear soft chatter during their late morning shuffle. They remind me that winter is here, impatiently clucking, yearning for the days when they wake up to green again. They impatiently scold each other for hogging the decidedly favorite nest box.
I open an exterior coop latch, tug open the small circular door, and see a cluster of three eggs in a perfectly round nest of birch leaves. The eggs are snug together, resting in an indented bowl where a fluffy, fat chicken must have just been sitting.
Last spring, I watched the tiny tree branch buds come to life, bursting into brilliant-green leaves, then quickly change to yellow. I watched them take turns floating to the ground.
Inside the coop, hens sitting on once emerald birch leaves, it’s not bitter cold. The birch leaves are guardians of the eggs, protecting them from frost, keeping them warm. I touch those leaves now cradling the eggs – they’re warm. Residual heat from a hen who just left the nesting box.
I smile, thinking of the day I raked those leaves. It was a chore, scraping them up, fighting angry fall wasps as I forced the leaves into a heaping pile. On my hands and knees, sweating, stuffing them into giant black trash bags, it was just one more item on my to-do list. I wasn’t reflecting on how these leaves were in a transitional stage or how I was preparing them to serve a greater purpose in their afterlife. My attention was on new blisters. I was relieved when I was done and had safely tucked the bags away, to stay dry and ready for winter months when the coop needed clean bedding.
I wrap my chilled fingers tight around one of the oval, light brown eggs carefully nestled in those crisp, brown birch tree leaves. The egg is still hot, close to the temperature of a chicken body. Holding an egg that fresh always makes me grateful. All of the daily, monthly, annual chores lead up to that moment where I hold a warm egg in my palm.
Leaves in my yard aren’t destined to a landfill once their short season is over. They belong to the chickens, then to the compost, then to the garden beds. I delicately place the eggs in my fuzzy robe pocket.
Back inside, I crack an egg into a cast iron skillet. The yolk is as brilliant as an Alaska summer day, and as I cook my breakfast, I daydream about tender, baby birch leaves sprouting from the tips of branches.