Friday, February 05, 2010

Which came first?

Made an omelet last evening. Four eggs cracked into a bowl. Chopped crisp bacon. Tomatoes and chives from the porch. Grated cheese.

Those eggs! Jumbo. Perfect shells, eggshell white. Golden yolks. Twelve ovoids nestled in their styrofoam box. All the way from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Forget for the moment the miracle of refrigerated transportation that connects those thousands of caged layers in Pennsylvania to our little island a thousand miles away. Try to put out of your mind the chickens that laid the eggs -- plop, plop, one a day, like clockwork, day in day out, chickens that spend their short lives turning chicken feed (containing, no doubt, spent chickens) into delicious globes of nutrients. Forget the factory in Gettysburg and focus on the internal production line, devised by nature and fine tuned by human ingenuity.

Begin with that pinhead-sized dot of white we see attached to the yolk, the germ cell that contains the hen's DNA, one of the several thousand germ cells she is born with in her single ovary. The germ starts growing the yolk, the ball of nutrients that would feed the embryonic chick if there were one. The rest of the egg comes along once the ovary releases the yolk into the oviduct. Down it goes, gathering layers along the way, a biological assembly line -- white, membranes, water, shell, cuticle and color. Plop!

Forget all that if you can -- the external and internal assembly lines. Think instead of Julia Child cracking an egg into a white enamel bowl. Meringue. Mayonnaise. Custard. Smooth sauces. Flavor, substance and nutrition to breads, soups, pastas and cakes. Omelets. Or, what the heck. A fried egg sandwich. A hard boiled egg in a lunch box.

No wonder so many ancient thinkers in so many cultures imagined the cosmos as an egg. A construction of concentric shells. That a clucking, flapping, dirt-pecking chicken could come out of a package that begins as an undifferentiated blob was a fertile metaphor for existence itself.

So bon appetit! You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And as you are wolfing it down, meditate on the mystery of why there is anything at all.