Today's Reading

IN OUR FIRST WEEK of owning chickens, four years ago, Helen stopped by to see the quaintness of the operation with her own eyes. I show the coop to any visitor who expresses interest in the chickens. Helen is an exception. She is my friend and thus shows an interest in my life. She does not otherwise care about the chickens.

Her visit took place in the brief interval before the grime of chickens had been established. The paint was fresh, the mice had not yet located the stockpile of various grains, and our garden had begun to sprout fairy greens and delicate purple stems of a plant whose identity I never confirmed.

Helen's questions were predictable, but my limited knowledge of chickens did not include the predictable questions or the answers to them.

"Do the chickens know their names?" she had asked. The chickens have never answered to a particular name but answer to any upbeat tone, names included, hoping for whatever treat may accompany the sound.

"Do the chickens like to be pet?" She took a step back to indicate the question was not a request. "Are they upset when you take away their eggs?"

I didn't know the answers to any of these questions.

"Has a chicken ever laid an egg in your hand?" she asked.

"No," I said. And still, a chicken has never laid an egg in my hand.

I had not yet collected the eggs from early morning. Two brown eggs lay in a bowl of spun straw, one fair like milk tea, the other dark and a bit orange. At the time I did not know which chickens laid which eggs.

"Here." I placed the fair egg, which was also the smaller of the two, in Helen's palm. Her fingers did not soften to the shape.

"What should I do?" she asked.

"Cook it, eat it," I said.

"I mean now. What should I do now?" She did not hold the egg, but allowed the egg to rest on her flat hand, was only tolerating the egg for, I suppose, my benefit. The egg was not especially clean. The cleaner an egg looks, the more likely a visitor will accept the egg with grace and hold it in a manner befitting an egg, a force equal but opposite to the weight of the egg applied by a cupped hand, creating perfect balance and suspension in midair.

"Is it cooked?" she asked. "It's warm." She had seen me retrieve the egg from the straw, the straw worried down and out and up at the sides in the precise counter-shape of a nesting chicken, a bed of straw so primitive as to predate fire, and yet she wondered out loud.

"It's fresh," I said. "It's warm because it's fresh."

"Has an egg ever hatched in your hand?"



EVERYONE WONDERS if an egg, warm from a chicken, will hatch into a chick. The warmth of the egg prompts the retrieval of this otherwise remote idea. Among other triumphs of our generation, we have nearly extinguished the idea of an egg as a source of life. The confusion does not arise from the fact that people are no longer eating eggs or even that people are no longer cooking eggs. On the contrary, eggs are being eaten at a furious rate, and while the most adventurous preparations of eggs are crafted at the hands of professionals, in home kitchens the world over eggs are being prepared in more adventurous forms than ever before. The problem is not that eggs are bad for us or that eggs will make us fat. Rather, eggs are not as bad for us as we thought they were and eggs will not make us fatter than we already are. The problem is that people do not see the connection between an egg placed in their hand, fresh from a chicken, and the egg bought in the store. An egg that derives its warmth from existence inside the body of a chicken is far too fantastic to proceed as usual. If a fresh egg is placed straight into a carton versus an open palm, the confusion over what to do with an egg ceases to exist.


...

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Today's Reading

IN OUR FIRST WEEK of owning chickens, four years ago, Helen stopped by to see the quaintness of the operation with her own eyes. I show the coop to any visitor who expresses interest in the chickens. Helen is an exception. She is my friend and thus shows an interest in my life. She does not otherwise care about the chickens.

Her visit took place in the brief interval before the grime of chickens had been established. The paint was fresh, the mice had not yet located the stockpile of various grains, and our garden had begun to sprout fairy greens and delicate purple stems of a plant whose identity I never confirmed.

Helen's questions were predictable, but my limited knowledge of chickens did not include the predictable questions or the answers to them.

"Do the chickens know their names?" she had asked. The chickens have never answered to a particular name but answer to any upbeat tone, names included, hoping for whatever treat may accompany the sound.

"Do the chickens like to be pet?" She took a step back to indicate the question was not a request. "Are they upset when you take away their eggs?"

I didn't know the answers to any of these questions.

"Has a chicken ever laid an egg in your hand?" she asked.

"No," I said. And still, a chicken has never laid an egg in my hand.

I had not yet collected the eggs from early morning. Two brown eggs lay in a bowl of spun straw, one fair like milk tea, the other dark and a bit orange. At the time I did not know which chickens laid which eggs.

"Here." I placed the fair egg, which was also the smaller of the two, in Helen's palm. Her fingers did not soften to the shape.

"What should I do?" she asked.

"Cook it, eat it," I said.

"I mean now. What should I do now?" She did not hold the egg, but allowed the egg to rest on her flat hand, was only tolerating the egg for, I suppose, my benefit. The egg was not especially clean. The cleaner an egg looks, the more likely a visitor will accept the egg with grace and hold it in a manner befitting an egg, a force equal but opposite to the weight of the egg applied by a cupped hand, creating perfect balance and suspension in midair.

"Is it cooked?" she asked. "It's warm." She had seen me retrieve the egg from the straw, the straw worried down and out and up at the sides in the precise counter-shape of a nesting chicken, a bed of straw so primitive as to predate fire, and yet she wondered out loud.

"It's fresh," I said. "It's warm because it's fresh."

"Has an egg ever hatched in your hand?"



EVERYONE WONDERS if an egg, warm from a chicken, will hatch into a chick. The warmth of the egg prompts the retrieval of this otherwise remote idea. Among other triumphs of our generation, we have nearly extinguished the idea of an egg as a source of life. The confusion does not arise from the fact that people are no longer eating eggs or even that people are no longer cooking eggs. On the contrary, eggs are being eaten at a furious rate, and while the most adventurous preparations of eggs are crafted at the hands of professionals, in home kitchens the world over eggs are being prepared in more adventurous forms than ever before. The problem is not that eggs are bad for us or that eggs will make us fat. Rather, eggs are not as bad for us as we thought they were and eggs will not make us fatter than we already are. The problem is that people do not see the connection between an egg placed in their hand, fresh from a chicken, and the egg bought in the store. An egg that derives its warmth from existence inside the body of a chicken is far too fantastic to proceed as usual. If a fresh egg is placed straight into a carton versus an open palm, the confusion over what to do with an egg ceases to exist.


...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...