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Monday, May 1, 2017

A study on a bowl of eggs

"Wash every bowl, every dish, as if you are bathing the baby Buddha--breathing in, feeling joy, breathing out, smiling. Every minute can be a holy, sacred minute. Where do you seek the spiritual? You seek the spiritual in every ordinary thing that you do every day. Sweeping the floor, watering the vegetables, and washing the dishes becomes hold and sacred if mindfulness is there. With mindfulness and concentration, everything becomes spiritual."

Thích Nhất Hạnh

On this May Day of 2017, this quote strikes me to my very core so I share with you, gentle readers.  

My other meditation today has been the gift of fresh eggs from my sister Sarah, who received these from her friend Diane, who raises chickens at her home in the Bad Lands south of Medora.  Evidently, Diane has trouble keeping up with the abundance of eggs her chickens produce.  In gratitude, I brought these home and placed them in a lovely turquoise bowl made by my friend, the potter, Mary Huether.

When I was a girl growing up on the Slope County farm, we had chickens, and the care and feeding of these were delegated to the Crook children. One year, my Aunt Junette and I drove over to Hettinger to meet the train and pick up the year's chicks.  The cacophony in the car on the ride home was memorable.  We put these chicks in cardboard boxes, under warming lamps, and placed these noisey holding crates on the second floor of the farmhouse, on the landing on the top of the stairs between my brothers' bedroom and mine.  How we got any sleep is beyond me.  

The chicken house was about forty feet from the farmhouse.  In the morning, we would open the chicken house door so that they could scratch about in the small fenced-in yard around their house, and in the evening we would gather the still warm eggs and shut the door so as to keep the varmints from eating our chickens.  This meant that no matter how many meetings or basketball games we had going in town, someone had to get home by dark and get that door shut.  Sometimes when we knew we would be home late, we would shut the chickens in early.  

Learning to gather the eggs out from under the sitting hens was a challenge as getting one's hand pecked wasn't much fun.  Off the chicken would fly clucking and fussing so much you would have thought we'd have stabbed it.  My aunt taught me how in deep winter the yolks would start to fade and if one introduced some green feed in with the regular chicken feed and scraps, the yolks would return to a luscious bright yellow.   The first time I attempted to make a pie crust without the benefit of the oversight of someone more knowledgeable, I had to give up and just feed the entire mess to the chickens. Fortunately, with practice, I've improved on my pie dough skills and we love to eat chicken pot pie here at Red Oak House.

For a few years, I carefully gathered and washed the eggs, and sold them to town folks.  This was my first paying job.  

We had a notoriously cranky rooster who would chase after us with his heel spurs pointing straight at us, and we all learned to never go out the farmhouse door without a rake in hand to fend him off.  This rooster found himself on top of the list of chickens to be butchered.  Now, if you've never butchered chickens, you really haven't worked hard.  I'll never forget watching my father and brothers catch the chicken, take it over to the chopping block, where they would wack the head off with the axe, blood would spurt everywhere, and, it is true, the chicken would continue to "run around", just like the old saw.   Meanwhile, in the house, my mother and aunt would be waiting with huge scalding tubs of water.  They would quickly dip the now still chicken into the water, and a horrible stench would permeate the air.  All of us on the crew would proceed to pluck each chicken, remove the entrails, and cut the carcass up.  This went on all day long.  In spite of the smells and blood and hard work, the fresh chicken we would fry up for supper was delicious and we would give thanks for the abundance, finding the spiritual in the smallest thing, as described in the quote above.  

Once we were teenagers, punishment for breaking curfew would be cleaning out the chicken coop.  My mother was ingenious in this respect.

It is true that savoring homegrown eggs and chicken spoils you forever for the sad substitute purchased at the urban grocery store.  Today I've pulled out a number of my favorite egg recipes and this week I will be ever so grateful to be eating farm fresh eggs.  

And that is my study on a bowl of eggs.  

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