A brilliant Indian summer sun splashes through the living room’s south-facing windows. I have just dipped my brush to start painting the trim when the Bearded One stomps up the deck steps and then sticks his head through the Magic Mesh screen door.
“Oh my love my darling,” he says, clearly aware that I am in the middle of something. Am I in trouble? I have heard these words before as a precursor to some kind of conflict. But, no, he is happy. Exceedingly so. He says, “I would never interrupt and ask you to come see something if it really wasn’t worth it.”
This is true. And what is my hurry? I feel my age today and have the sore hip to prove it. Summer is stretching out past its prime, and every moment and discovery is a gift of gold. It’s what we do around here. “I’m coming,” I say.
“Bring the camera.” He’s knows I’ll send him back for it.
I wipe the paint from the brush, wrap it in a plastic bag, and head out very slowly. “Where are we going?” I ask, limping after him.
“You’ll see,” he says and actually twinkles. He is giddy. We are going on a date.
I hear the water running at the base of the cedar tree on the southwest corner of the house. We’re watering all the cedars.
They lose some greenery every year, but this year the flagging seems particularly heavy, this being Day 76 of a record-smashing dry stretch, now the driest in Seattle history. Wildfires rage across the mountains in Eastern Washington, and we have a burn ban in effect here.
The seeming smokiness across our backyard is road dust. The grass is Desert Tan, the color I’m painting our living room walls.
We trudge up the hill, taking our cautious baby steps, and I get a whiff of the meat bird pen. Just a whiff. Twenty-nine Cornish fryers. They’re six weeks old now, just two weeks more to live. We process them on October 20. I’m glad their last days are sunny.
The Bearded One opens the gate for me, and we enter the upper pasture, also known as the barnyard. The hens, except for Leah, ignore him as he walks toward the back corner. “Over here,” he says.
“The burn pile?” I follow at a coy distance.
On the ground is his upturned baseball cap, with 7 or 8 eggs he has discovered scattered close in around the back side of the tarp-covered burn pile, which is awaiting the return of rain before he lights it. We’re both grinning and a bit dumbfounded, but he’s not done yet.
He lifts the blue tarp with a small, respectful flourish, and then directs my attention way back in the burn pile to a hollow at the base of the mass of sticks and brush.
I have to gasp. Piled up, spreading out a foot in diameter and half-buried, it’s a nest overflowing with a mound of white, tan, and green eggs.
We are both enchanted. When we speak we whisper. It’s so secret, so private, so beautiful.
The Bearded One takes pictures. None of the hens shows particular interest in the nest, and we wonder how old the eggs are. Eggs can last a month if kept cool.
We are averaging around 6 eggs per day from our 10 layers. There have been a couple of completely unexpected no-egg days these past couple of weeks, and the general egg count has been down, which is why we’ve started leaving a light on in the coop until 9pm. It’s been pretty cool both days and nights. The eggs all look pristine. They look good.
The test is to gently drop the egg in a glass of water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh. If it floats, it’s old. Eggshell is porous. Hens leave a coating of “bloom” on them to keep bacteria out, which is why washing an egg reduces its shelf life because air gets in. Over time, enough air and bacteria get in anyway, washed or not, and the egg goes bad. It floats.
I crouch down and gather the eggs, 22 of them. Just 2 are cracked.
It’s a magical discovery and a wonderful date. The Bearded One’s gray ponytail glints in the sun. I tell him he’s a good egg — he still sinks.