The birds are busy in the backyard. They’re awake at dawn, debating the latest household design fashions and hipster watering holes. Possibly a few duels among the cardinals. The doves are sighing in frustration because they prefer to sleep in. The wren is just permanently enraged. But he sounds lovely — as long as you don’t read too much into it.
Which came first…
The object of all this uproar is, of course, the egg. It is time for regeneration. Nests of new life in satiny shells — white, blue, green, pink, yellow, speckled, mottled, striped and solid. No doubt our urge to paint chicken eggs for the mid-spring holidays is inspired by the wondrous works of art in every nest. And it’s also not surprising that humans have come to focus on eggs as the symbol of renewal. In stories across time and around the world, the egg betokens spring, creation, new life.
A box without hinges, key or lid; yet golden treasure inside is hid.
Yes, indeed, eggs are new life. But perhaps more importantly to our pragmatic ancestors, eggs show up in abundance at a time of year when there are few other ready sources of food. And eggs are wonderfully nutritious. One egg has only 75 calories; but it contains 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and only 1.6 grams of saturated fat, plus iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. Egg yolks are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids help slow age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Further, choline from eggs may enhance brain development and memory. And best of all, eggs fill you up. Eat a bowl of cereal with toast, and you’re peckish before lunch. Eat a two-egg breakfast burrito, and you don’t get hungry until the end of the day.
Natural Dye for Eggs
I’ve always wanted to try natural dyes on Easter eggs, but it just doesn’t offer creative expression to the rest of the family. This year, I finally decided to just do it. I got two dozen cheap white eggs and a pile of stuff out of the fridge and spice cabinet and made a mess!
None of these turned out as I was expecting, but all of them are prettier than I had hoped. The biggest surprise was the red onion skins — by far the dominant dye material in that pot — turning the eggs a rich olive green. It might even be grass green in bright sunlight. The taupe is almost a lavender — but derived from leek greens. The slate came closest to the color I expected, and it doesn’t scratch off as easily as I had thought. Perhaps that’s the black beans.
Olive dye red onion skins palm-full black beans small scoop turmeric 1/2 cup cranberry juice 1/2 cup cider vinegar enough warm water to fill up the pot Rusty dye yellow onion skins two heaping scoops turmeric few old lemons & the skin of an orange palm-full yellow mustard seed 1/2 cup cider vinegar enough warm water to fill up the pot Slate dye red cabbage, about 3/4 of a head couple handfuls black beans 1/2 cup cider vinegar enough warm water to fill up the pot Taupe dye green portions of 3 leeks 5 green tea bags couple old limes 1/2 cup cider vinegar enough warm water to fill up the pot
For all of these, I put the dye materials in the pot then added the cider. Then I put six uncooked eggs in each pot and covered the whole mess with water. I brought all the pots to a boil and let them boil for five minutes to thoroughly cook the eggs. I don’t plan on eating these because I have a feeling they’d taste horrible, but I wanted them cooked all the same.
After boiling, I put them on simmer and ignored them for about four hours. You can go longer. I’ve seen recipes that recommend putting them in the fridge overnight. But they looked good enough for me at four hours, and honestly I’d sort of had it with the smell at that point. (If you can do this with windows open, it will be more enjoyable.) The colors are fairly durable, resistant to scratching with moderate care in handling them. They are mottled and a bit patchy, but that lends to their charm. All in all, I think it was a success.
I was going to write a bit about the beautiful art of pysanky, but I found this and decided I couldn’t top it. Pysanky: Ukrainian Easter Egg
But here’s a story based on a Ukrainian folktale on the origins of pysanky and hares and spring.
The Goddess of the Dawn Light, Eostre, was walking the woods one fine spring morning. Shy woodland blooms nodded at her feet and birches unfurled their leaves at her passing. The sun warmed the earth and a soft southern breeze trailed in her wake. The air around her smelled of hyacinth and apple blossom and rain on dry earth. Wherever she smiled, petals opened like stars over pillowy tufts of dark moss.
Suddenly, the song of the wood thrush pierced the morning air. Eostre stopped to listen to the haunting melody. Its sadness drew a tear down her cheek and a sigh from her throat. The bird, seeing her there beneath him, flew down to her.
“Oh my mistress,” he cried. “Oh lady! Woe has befallen me,” he said.
“But what is it, little brother?” she replied.
“My darling, my wife, she was tossed from our home by the night wind. Her wings and back broken, her beautiful eyes darkened. Oh, that I could die with her!” he wailed.
“But, little brother, if you are gone, who will sing?” she asked.
“I can sing no more if my darling is gone,” he replied.
“Where is your wife?” the lady asked.
The thrush fluttered down to the base of an oak where the broken body of his wife lay upon a bed of moss. Eostre kneeled down and cradled the small creature in her palm. There was a faint heartbeat; the thrush’s wife was not yet gone.
Eostre smoothed the tangled feathers and breathed upon the bird. At this the thrush-wife awoke in agitation.
“Still, still, little sister,” cooed Eostre as she laid the small body back into the mosses. And the thrush-wife calmed, but her breath was harsh with pain.
“Oh, my lady!” exclaimed the thrush when he saw his wife awakened. “Oh, my darling!” he cried and took off into the morning air, singing in happiness. But his wife could not join him in flight. She watched as he sang out in triumph, knowing that his song would soon fail.
“I am still broken,” she whispered to Eostre. And the goddess nodded. The delicate wing bones would not mend even under her ministrations.
“Yes, little sister, you are still broken. I fear you will not fly again,” said the goddess.
“But how am I to get food? Or water? How am I to flee sharp tooth and claw?” The thrush-wife’s panicked agitation drew her husband’s notice, and he flew down to her side.
“What are we to do?” he asked. “For I can not leave her so.”
The goddess considered their plight.
“It is true I can not make your wings to fly again,” she began, “but your legs are still strong.”
“What of that!” spluttered the thrush. “She can hardly walk from hungry jaws, and our nest is far above us.”
Eostre frowned and the bird became silent again.
“Yes, she will not fly. But,” she continued, “I will do what I can to give you both a new life.”
So saying, she thought hard on the small creatures. Strong legs and earth-bound lives, she mused, fleet-footed, cloaked from predator eyes. And the two small brown bodies began to stretch. Skinny legs became muscled and strong. Wings folded in and grew padded paws. Feathers changed to fur and beaks changed to sharp teeth. Ears elongated and tails dwindled.
She did not change their color; they remained warm brown bodies with mottled white breasts. And she did not change their round eyes, so quick to see and to perceive. But when Eostre was done, two hares lay at her feet.
The wife looked down at her body and stretched her powerful legs and smiled. The husband leapt into the air and cried out in happiness. They both danced around the goddess, thanking her for the transformation. And then, as hares will in spring, they hastened off to make a new home in the briars.
Eostre smiled and walked on.
Some months later Eostre chanced to be back in that same wood, and she came to the place where she had turned thrushes into hares. And there they still lived.
They came out to her and they, all three, danced about in the light of the setting moon. But when the dawn was painting the leaves golden and pink, they tired of the dance and sat together.
Suddenly the husband shook himself and declared, “But my lady, we never thanked you properly for giving us the gift of new life. We would like to give you a gift in return.”
Eostre shook her head. “There is no need.”
“Of course,” said the wife in her gentle way. “But we should like to in any case.”
Eostre smiled and inclined her head. The husband bounded into the briars and then returned more slowly, carrying a smooth blue egg.
“But what is this?” exclaimed the goddess.
“It is our thank you gift,” replied the couple with some uncertainty.
“But where did you get it?” she asked.
“It is ours,” answered the wife. Seeing perplexity in Eostre’s eyes, the hare went on, “When you changed me, I was about to lay. The eggs inside did not change. This is one.”
The goddess blinked in surprise. “But then how do you bear children?”
“Oh, the same as any hare,” replied the husband with a chuckle.
“This is my last clutch, my lady,” said the wife. “Take it in memory of us.”
Eostre gazed down at the miraculous egg. Its satiny shell glowed like turquoise in the morning light. It was perfect, a bit of cool sky resting in her warm palm. A symbol of hope and renewal and new life. And Eostre had an idea.
She bent down and explained her wishes to the couple and they agreed readily.
“It should happen when the light of day overtakes the dark of night,” the goddess said, and they nodded in assent.
Suddenly, all about them, there were eggs of all the colors of the rainbow, all patterns, all sizes. All beautiful!
The hares set about gathering them together and carrying them back to the briar den. But the goddess picked up the blue egg. “This one I shall keep,” she said with a smile.
And from that day to this, a hare rouses himself on Eostre’s day and follows the goddess through the pale morning, leaving eggs, symbols of new life, for all who are clever enough to find them.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021