Happy Equinox, everyone. I have been told that this is the day in which we are magically able to balance the unbalanceable – eggs, specifically. I’ve never been able to, myself. And I’ve tried, believe me. It is also the day when the cosmic and equal forces of light and dark – our inward and outward natures – supposedly come into perfect balance. We see and we are seen, we know and we are known, we give and we are given to. On this day we honor the hidden pulse of life under the shrinking snow, and check for signs of its emergence – knowing that it requires the decay of crystal and glitter. The death of snow. The death of ice. The language of cold, written on the landscape, must loosen, drip, rot, and sink into the ground. Even in the face of life, some things must still pass away.
I had a conversation with my mother yesterday about my beloved sister-in-law, nearly bursting at the seams with twins, who is now two centimeters dilated and 60% effaced. New life is on its way. Later that day, I listened to a message left on my machine in error – a woman named Betty was leaving a message for another woman named Ann that a member of her NA group – a young man named Lamar – had died, two days before his twentieth birthday. I have no idea who these people were, but I sorrowed for them all the same. Lost lambs. We are all lost lambs. The womb that protects us in our early days doesn’t last. And the world is sometimes cruel.
I’m sitting here now at my computer with an egg on my desk. I can’t balance it. I’ve tried. Still, I don’t want to put it back in the fridge. Eggs, besides being delicious, are such noble little things. Fragile and delicate, yet strong in certain situations. In some ways so like the human heart, with a whole world hidden inside – able to withstand incredible pressure when it comes from all around, able to maintain its integrity under incredible global force – and yet, it’s the casual, side-long blow that breaks us. Try and crush me in your fist and I will withstand you. Flick me with your fingernail, and I crack.
An egg is fragile, yes, but an egg is brave. I remember once, when I was a little kid, we went on a field trip to a working, old-timey farm. I have a permanent injury from that day, actually – a wrist that clicks – from an unfortunate incident involving a cow who apparently did not want its head scratched. And I got a bruise on my butt from an ill-tempered goat. But what I remember most was the egg barn. A man handed me an egg, still warm from its incubator, and told me to hold it up to a candle. I had seen eggs before, but I had never held one that was so warm. And what’s more, it was shivering.
“Why is it shivering?” I asked.
“Look and see,” the man said.
I held the egg to the candle, and I nearly dropped it in shock. There, inside the quiet curve of the shell, a tiny chick was moving around. The work of becoming, the work of transformation, was undertaken in utter solitude. By a creature so small it could fit in my hand. As far as the chick knew, it it was the only creature in the Universe. There is no one else.
“Can it breathe?” I asked, aghast.
“Yes,” he said.
“Is it scared?” I felt the beginnings of tears prick at my eyes, but I blinked hard to keep them at bay. The last thing I needed was for my classmates to see me cry. I’d never hear the end of it.
“It doesn’t know how to be scared. It doesn’t know anything. All it knows is how to eat and how to grow. It only knows how to be itself, how to become itself. Eventually, it will peck its way out. Or it will die in there. No one can say for sure.”
I stared at him, open mouthed. He shrugged.
“It happens,” he said.
It was pretty much the moment when I knew I would never be a farmer.
But really, my job now is closer to that egg farmer than I would have believed at the time. I had no idea then that I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea what I wanted to be at all, really. I had a vague notion that I would be a nun, and another vague notion that I would be a scientist, and another vague notion that I would be a pirate. I am none of those things (except when I am all of those things).
In truth, what I do is this: I create a nest around the egg of an idea. I keep it warm. I watch as it forms. I hope for the best. I hold it up to a candle and make sure it’s still squirming around in there. I listen for the scritch of its nails against its membraneous world. I pray for the first sounds of pecking.
And I pray that it doesn’t die.
I have a really hard time talking about my books while I’m working on them. People ask me what I’m working on and I change the subject. My normally gregarious, effusive self becomes tight-lipped and taciturn. I fold my hands and tilt my gaze to the ground. I didn’t know why for a long time. But I think I know now. I’m making a nest of words and whispers and kind thoughts. I’m keeping it warm, cocooned and safe from the world. I’m letting it transmogrify from primordial goo into something else – something with legs and eyes and a keen head. Something with feathers and wings and a very sharp beak. Something that will cuddle close for only a moment, and then fly away. How do you explain that to someone? How to you talk about something that is only just now transforming? I still don’t know to do it. Maybe I never will. And maybe that’s okay.
Happy Equinox, everyone. Happy light and dark. Happy life and death. Happy hellos and happy goodbyes. Happy fiddleheads and happy crocuses. Happy seed-buying. Happy puddle-splashing. Happy last sleds and last skis and last snowballs. Happy hidden, new life – in shell, in womb, and waiting underground. Farewell to the world of ice and crystal and snow. And welcome Green.
Green, and green, and green, and green.