Chicken Sex, Tunnels, and Lights…Oh My!


Much to my relief, I have learned that I am not the only one, as an adult, who does not understand certain things in this world. Things that perhaps should have been understood as a young child. Things such as chicken sex and tunnels. And by tunnels, I am not speaking metaphorically of anything associated with bird sex of any kind; I mean tunnels, literally. Chicken sex. There are even songs about “the birds and the bees,” but they make it all sound as if we all know what they mean. But some of us don’t.

I'm in my 50s, but a few years ago, Mom finally told me about the birds. We haven’t tackled the bees yet.

I always thought a chicken could lay an egg without a rooster’s doing anything. Got that part right. I thought that the grain hens ate made the egg (think of the grain of sand in the clam making the oyster concept).  Got that part wrong.

But my ignorance went even deeper. I didn’t realize that some of those eggs had chickens in them and some didn’t. I figured they all had little baby chicken embryos that didn’t make it to fruition if the farmer or his hard-working wife plucked the egg from the nest to make omelets. I thought if they weren’t incubated, they didn’t make it. Which is true in and of itself.

But, never did it occur to me that actual fowl sex (not to be confused with foul sex) had to take place between the hen and rooster in order to have a chicken in that egg.  I asked Mom “How does the rooster fertilize the egg?”  Her reply was, simply, “The same way other animals have sex.”

Really, Mom? At this point in life, you can’t get a little more specific? I mean, they are birds, for Pete’s sake! There is not anything hanging down on them that is obvious to me.

Now, a few years ago, I realized that some kind of fertilization might be necessary. After all, why would you need the proverbial rooster in the hen house if there were no possibility of his getting lucky? No self-respecting male of any species would ever agree to putting up with all that cackling with no payoff for himself in the long run. But, you see, I reasoned that the rooster must fertilize the egg after it was laid, as if the outer shell was soft for a short time and then hardened, much like a little cake would do in an Easy Bake Oven. (Young hens do, in fact, sometimes lay eggs that are soft; as the hens age, this changes. But the sex is the same for both, although menopausal hens can take it or leave it.) Farmers everywhere would have embraced my Easy Bake method. A simple “DING” from the hen house would mean all possible fertilization was over, and it was time to gather the eggs.

And chickens don’t have a regular cycle like we homo sapiens. They don’t have to wait 28 days to lay an egg, which is a great thing for those who enjoy Denny’s Quick Two-Egg Breakfast, but not such a great thing for those poor overworked hens. Thank you, Lord, that our eggs are much smaller and we do not serve our young scrambled, fried, boiled, or poached.

Then there are tunnels. What a quandary. I remember driving through the Washburn Tunnel in south Houston to go to my paternal grandfather’s house. It was always quite exciting, and it seemed as if we were racing down into a lit cave with tiled walls where the radio quit working. A friend told me she took full advantage of this tunnel with her children; she told her kids they couldn’t speak while driving through it or the structure could implode from the vibrations of their voices. Pure genius. It gave her a reprieve from their frequent bickering. When her daughter was 21 years old and was driving through the tunnel with a talkative friend; the daughter warned her passenger, “SHHH! You have to be quiet while we’re in the tunnel or it could implode!” To say that her mother got an earful later is, I’m sure, a gross understatement.

I was not warned of any evils of tunnels, but I never knew what a precarious situation I was in. When we approached the tunnel, I saw no water. Not even a drip spilling over the entrance or exit. I never questioned why there was a tunnel, it was just there. And I was thrilled every time we drove through it. Then, the truth came out. I was, in keeping with my other revelations on subjects of ignorance, an adult. Somebody rocked my world by casually mentioning that the tunnel was under water. Wow. All that water and I never could see it. I’ve tried, but to no avail. Maybe I’ll rent a helicopter to make sure they’re not making it up.

But it makes sense. Why would you have a tunnel with no water? Well, for the kids, of course. So they could see who could hold their breath for the entire length of the drive through it.

Now my remaining confusion is in how a tunnel comes to be. Did they sink some pre-fabricated tunnel into the water and then somehow pump the water out?

There are many things I do not understand. Like electricity. So, Ben Franklin was bored one day; he couldn’t come up with any more little sayings that people would later credit to the Bible, so he decided to fly a kite? Or did he tick off Mrs. Franklin one too many times and she told him to go fly a kite? Either way, how did he get the idea to put a key on the end of the string and then, when lightning just happened to strike (what kind of perfect timing was that?), he discovered that something called “electricity” existed.

Now, I don’t care who you are; if you tell some male that you don’t understand electricity, he is going to tell you how it works. I am not convinced men know the answer, but they’ll make something up that sounds somewhat plausible. But nobody has yet explained to me how that lighting strike led to a world with track lighting, cell phones, and, most importantly, blow dryers?

The depth of my ignorance and my appreciation for mystery deepen as I age. I know nothing.

Well, maybe not nothing. I know lipstick covers a multitude of sins. I know how to do the Wobble. I know intelligence does not equal wisdom. I know all the lyrics to The Partridge Family songs. I know God is my faithful friend. I know my son, Cowboy, has made me a more compassionate person. I know my husband, Flash, is actually Superman. I know forgiveness is desperately needed and too rarely given. I know how to bake chicken, drive through a tunnel without holding my breath, and change a light bulb.

I don't pretend to know everything, but I know some things. And that's okay, because I know life will teach me something new tomorrow.