A Motley Crew
“Eggs. Let’s see. Erm, I think these are fertilised.”
Julia’s hand hovered uncertainly over the egg holder. About a dozen eggs of varying sizes and hues hunkered there next to the aga. My neighbour arbitrarily picked out five as though pulling numbers out of a lucky dip. I placed them in cardboard box and shrugged.
“We’ll see,” I said, not particularly convinced they’d turn into anything.
Such was the blithe act of fate that separated those five eggs from a future in a frying pan. Yet this wasn’t the only random act in a succession of randomness that conspired to create life. I suppose it all started with the fox.
A brush with death
It was a soupy old day back in late May. My mountain was lost in a brume so cloying the rocks had come out in a cold sweat. I was pottering in the kitchen hut trying to avoid it all when I heard a terrible squawking from the chicken run. The last time I’d heard such a din was when the wildcat called by.
I reached the run to find a sleek, rust-grey fox pinning Priscilla hen to the floor. The coop was swirling with white feathers, and my other two hens were running around, well...like headless chickens, I suppose. Fox looked up. Then she looked down, undecided as to whether to attempt to eat Priscilla before escaping, or not.
Fight, flight, freeze. Priscilla chose the latter. She lay paralysed beneath her executioner, wing to brow, like a platinum victim in a tacky murder story. After some grappling, I wrenched open the wire and clambered into the run. Now it was fox’s turn to panic. Throwing herself repeatedly at the upper rim of the run, Fox somehow found a gap between the wire and the bird netting, and with an agility that awed me, she slid through. The last I saw of her was a bushy tail and her hind legs disappearing into the mist.
Incredibly, Priscilla stood up at this point and waddled over to me. I checked her over, amazed to find her unscathed, no doubt saved by her feathers. By the look of the coop she’d possessed enough to fill a duvet. But the event had etched a deep impression on her chicken mind. She spent the evening standing about looking very thoughtful. Do hens consider things like the fleeting gift of life? Do they have life missions they want to complete? I’m not a hen, so I can’t say anything for sure. All I know is the very next day Priscilla turned broody.
I didn’t want any more chickens, which is why when my neighbours passed by I asked Julia, “Would you like some chicks if she sits on the eggs?”
Julia scratched her ponytail absently. “Hmm. Yes, all right, why not?”
You see, no one was particularly invested here. It was a “whatever” kind of an act. Hence that evening five random eggs were picked from the egg holder like Countdown numbers (I’ll have two from the top and three from the bottom please Carol). I hustled them away to my land. As darkness engulfed the hen coop, I pushed the eggs under Priscilla. Her chicken eyes widened in joy.
Death and life
We usually say life and death because we see ourselves as living before we pop our clogs. But I think it’s the other way round, we have to die before we live. Only when something is lost, can something new be born.
The following week I went away and left my hens with my neighbours. During that time Frida (Priscilla’s mum) died – or rather disappeared into the woods never to be seen again – which is an appropriate ending for my most adventurous chicken. As always when one of the roost departs, there’s an eerie chicken-shaped gap. Hilde hen, bottom of the pack yet ironically the longest survivor, wandered forlornly around my land on my return. Frida her playmate was missing and Priscilla was currently useless as a friend. Despite moving coop twice, my snowy Queen of the Picos was still sitting resolutely on her eggs squawking at all those who dared approach.
Without dear Frida, a bird vacuum opened up. Suddenly there was a lack in our strange community. Something missing. The winds of destiny were swirling, drawing new life into the space...
Three weeks. That’s all it takes. It’s an absurdly short amount of time to turn an omelette candidate into a living, breathing, sentient creature. And when you observe it, it sort of blows your mind. I’m a big egg eater, usually munching two a day, so I’m intimate with these perfectly eco-packaged nutrient bombs; the richness of the yolks, the strange gloopiness of the albumin, soft boiled, hard boiled, over-easy or scrambled, I love an egg. When I hold one of these calcium capsules in my hand it always feels a little magical, a little fairy tale.
Three weeks. 21 days. Priscilla sat calm and happy while Hilde moped in sorrow. I began to pray that something would come out of them just to give Hilde some friends.
The Great Hatch
On the eve of day 21 I peered into the coop, pushing Priscilla off the eggs to see if anything was happening. Nothing. No noise. No crack. I groaned and shut the coop door. I won’t lie, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the Great Hatch. The last time I’d found myself embroiled in this business one poor chick couldn’t break out of the egg, and the late Frida hen had pecked it to death. Such harrowing atrocity wasn’t what I’d expected in a cutesy chick birth. Then again, these eggs could be duds like with my first broody hen. Perhaps nothing would happen? A part of me began to hope so.
But life doesn’t hinge around our gumptionless hopes, or what part of us feels. What manifests as our lives derives from a responsive web of clear intention, willpower, and sheer luck, which we share with many other beings. I wasn’t the only one with a horse in this race, and definitely not the most invested. My intention and willpower were nothing compared to Priscilla’s or indeed the life forces currently awakening inside the eggs.
The next morning I returned. Then I heard it. A distinct tapping sound. I bit my lip. Breaking out of an egg is a slow old process fraught with hazard and difficulty. For your information (should you find yourself in an egg one day) it takes a good 24 hours to hack your way out of an eggshell. So prepare yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.
By evening I saw the top of one of the eggs on the floor of the coop. That meant the hatchling was half in half out...Gulp. Later I returned with bated breath. Gently I pushed Priscilla up. She squawked but didn’t peck. Then I saw it! A golden fluffball hiding beneath her. I could hear more tapping too.
Over the course of the next three days the eggs hatched one by one. Unlike the previous batch, this lot seemed to have read the instruction manual before embarking on their great escape, each one scissoring off the egg top smoothly, then step by step demolishing the rest. By day 23 we had four little chicks tweeting and buzzing round the coop. What a motley crew they were! Every single one was a different colour: gold, yellow, brown, and black. The smallest one looked like a baby penguin.
What this haphazard jumble of fluffballs will turn into, I dread to think. Last time it was Priscilla the brahma after all. But one thing I do know is that life can be very random at times. Each of those chicks is here only thanks to a succession of flukes, and could easily have turned into a tortilla instead. Had the fox not broken into the coop, had Julia’s hand swayed a little to the left or right, had Priscilla not sat so patiently and determinedly in a time of great upheaval, had the shell been too hard or too brittle, had the cockerel fired blanks, had I simply said no, and had no doubt a million other factors that merged and met and twisted into the thread of life not happened, then those chicks wouldn’t exist.
Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly said something along the lines of, “I’d rather have a lucky general than a skilful one.” Whether or not he really said that, I know what he means. Most of us understand that without the oil of good fortune greasing the wheels of our effort, we'd be grinding to an ignominious standstill. So sometimes in times of chaos it can seem our intention or resolution is of little value. What’s the point in trying if it’s all down to luck, after all?
But what is luck exactly? A certain serendipity may be the happy link in a chain of reactions that makes a dream appear, yet in truth it’s more often our foggy intentions, our wishy-washy focus, and our lack of gumption or belief that ruptures the process. Sometimes life does say no. Sometimes it crashes our worlds to force us out of a rut. Sometimes road blocks appear and divert us onto a new path. But just as often life waits and watches. Do we know what we want? Are we willing to go the distance for it? Do we believe in ourselves and value ourselves enough to go for it? Life is sentient and interconnected. In some ways I think life is our Gaian self. It’s the natural field of our existence which merges with that of all the humans and creatures we come into contact with. Other beings are a part of us just as we are a part of them, and whoever holds the most resolute intention makes it happen, no matter how small or feathered they are. Yes, we share our creation spaces, which is why it’s important who exactly we’re sharing them with.
So kudos to Priscilla Queen of the Picos this month, for knowing what she wanted, committing to it, and winning hands down in the reality creation space of our home. Not that she’s the only winner, mind you. Look at those cutesters bringing a ray of chick sunshine into my day!
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.