The egg is in the nest with one other. It looks normal, perhaps a bit darker and duller, and then I touch it. It’s soft like a water balloon. There is no shell whatsoever, but the membrane is as tough as support hose.
When I show the Bearded One, he doesn’t want to touch it. He thinks it must be a practical joke — someone has sneaked onto the farmlet and up the hill into the aviary and planted this in the nest box. That this is his only explanation gives insight into the absolute craziness of the day.
It started on the Bearded One’s morning walk when he and Ruby encountered a neighbor who had seen a cougar in his yard. The cougar was long and gaunt and had leapt maybe 30 feet into a tree.
The Bearded One told everyone he saw on his way home, including our closest neighbor with three small children (Hansel, Gretel and Batman). Cougars are scary. There have been many west coast attacks. So he made a COUGAR NEARBY sign and I sent the information to the local newspaper which published a picture of the Bearded One’s sign on their site along with information about cougar precautions. So the day was bizarre from the get-go.
Now it’s finally dusk and I carefully put the egg into a protective Tupperware in the fridge and head upstairs to research. They’re called rubber eggs and they aren’t a joke, they really happen and are caused by low calcium diets, stress, or natural occasional weirdness. One hen I read about has a rubber egg every week. The farmer writes that she hard-boils them and they’re just fine. This has never happened here before. And our hens’ feed has added calcium. So, perhaps, I think, one of our hens saw the cougar and was stressed. Something.
The next day I take the rubber egg with me to Port Townsend to show my friends. It’s an hour and half drive, and I spot tons of deer. I drive past the road called THE EGG AND I, named after the book by Betty MacDonald, who reluctantly lived on a chicken farm up that road back in the late 1920s. The book is where the Ma & Pa Kettle movies came from. I bet Betty saw a lot of rubber eggs.
My friends in Port Townsend are amazed. They both agree to hold it. The man likens it to a breast implant and my woman friend wants to know when he has ever handled a breast implant.
I bring it home with me in its little Tupperware and it sits in the fridge patiently waiting for its next showing which will be at the family party we are hosting here on Sunday. The membrane is getting a bit looser, I notice, a tiny bit saggy.
And then there are ten people in my kitchen. Everyone has commented on the cougar alert sign and how we live so close to the wild. The Bearded One tells about the neighbor who offered to send her husband over with his rifle the next time it was spied. She said they’ve got a cougar skin up on their wall from a cat that stalked her husband as he was deer hunting.
I am waiting for just the right moment to share my rubber egg.
The conversation shifts to the meat birds, how in some ways they seem to have all the wild chicken bred out of them. They are awkward and easily confused, the Bearded One says. He has called them beanbags.
So what does “domesticated” really mean? The question is asked and my sister says domesticated animals are dependent upon us. Like Golden Retrievers, says the Bearded One. Ruby couldn’t survive in the wild. We humans have bred her to be a pet. Most all the wolf has been bred out. Everyone ponders this. “Humans have bred these Cornish Rock broilers for their meat,” I say, “and these layers for their eggs and companionship.” It’s been a nice surprise to us how much personality the layers have.
Eggs. Here’s my chance to show-and-tell my rubber egg, but instead I’m possessed by another story, the story of how you can tell a domesticated chicken. The Bearded One and I were in the hot tub one evening, I say, when we heard all kinds of ruckus up in the meat bird pen. I worried that it was a predator. The Bearded One cocked his head and listened carefully. “No,” he said, “they’re saying, ‘We’re out of toilet paper!'”
Everyone laughs and I don’t tell the rubber egg story until the very end of the party. Half of the guests don’t want to touch it. Two look downright queasy.
The next morning, as the Bearded One heads out on his walk, I say, “If you see Hansel and Gretel, send them here to see the rubber egg.”
He grins. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that,” he says. “We want those children to grow up normal.”