The egg (and the value of sometimes doing nothing)

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At our family's little summer cottage at Finnäset in the middle of Dalarna (sometimes thought of as Sweden's "heartland"), we share three lakefront common areas with neighbors who are also landlocked. In one of these areas, two docks have been built and each has a fine view northward toward the setting summertime sun (though you have to stay up late to see it set). On one of these docks, two summers ago, we placed a rickety old table and some chairs. The table we tied to the dock so that it wouldn't blow away in the fall windstorms.

On this table there was now a bird's nest, about two feet in diameter, perfectly centered on the table. In this bird's nest was a single egg. It was just a little larger than an ordinary chicken's egg but colored for camouflage: Dominant background of dark brown with splotches of dark green, lighter brown and a deep yellow. I didn't think the egg was pretty; I thought it was "handsome."

Nest and egg were there on the table when we arrived on June 18. We thought they had been put there by some kids. We saw no mama bird (or papa either). It was rainy and cold the first week but we still went down to the dock nearly every day to think about swimming. The egg was there. Once our 5-year-old son Oliver asked when it would hatch and where its mama was. My wife, Maria, told Oliver that maybe the mama went away or died.

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The egg came to represent a chore that we would need to do but not "today." We expected that the egg was already rotten inside. I wondered if I could throw it far away into the lake without it breaking and dripping sulfurous rotten egg goo down my arm. After disposal of nest and egg, Maria planned to wash down the table and chairs so that they would be ours again and free from bird germs.

Friends of ours visited from Stockholm with their two girls, aged 6 and 9. The girls went down to the dock with their father. He picked up the egg and shook it a bit and then tried to spin it on the table to do the "cooked or raw?" test. If the egg wobbled, it was raw. If it spun it was "cooked." The egg spun. But he placed it back in the nest.

One week passed, then another, then a third. We didn't throw away the egg. We didn't use the table either. The weather turned warm and we were blessed with a sequence of glorious partly cloudy, mostly sunny days. I biked along the country roads nearby. The Dalarna countryside is lovely, or ljuv in Swedish. Fields in green and yellow intermixed with wooded lots; barns and houses nearly all painted in the same dusky red.

On July 13, I went down to the dock to swim. The nest looked different. When I got closer I saw that the egg was broken. When I got closer still I saw a little chick surrounded by shards of the egg. All these many weeks there was a chick after all living and growing inside the egg.

But it certainly looked bedraggled. The day was hot and the chick looked thirsty. The chick could die that very afternoon! - alone, motherless, mouth gaping in hunger and thirst. I couldn't stand the idea. I sprang into action with the same fervor I've seen others show for beached whales. Something had to be done. I ran back up the long steep hill to our cottage to get water and food - maybe an assortment of food since I had no idea what kind of bird this was or what it would eat.

Maria's parents were visiting us and Maria's father, Olle, offered the wisdom of a retired farmer who has seen the life and death of nature. "Mama is probably nearby. Let her take care of her chick. Let nature run its course." Okay, I knew he was right. I went back down to the dock with no water or food. Sure enough, there was the mama bird - a sea gull - sitting on the nest. As I swam nearby, she dive-bombed me several times and I decided to swim at another beach in the future.

Now mama and baby are gone. I have no idea whether the chick survived. If I had finished my chore, the egg would now be somewhere in the lake. The egg would have moved from my list of "to dos" to my list of "dones." I wouldn't have known better. I'm glad it didn't happen that way. I will be on the look out for other things not to do.

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