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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Try a new sport — egg rolling!

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Long time in dye solutions

The wild April weather continues. Hope you haven’t put up your coats and gloves yet! The Easter Bunny will be wearing woolies this year during the overnight egg delivery. Rest assured each and every egg has been sanitized.

The coronavirus continues to make headlines as it plows through the global population. Over 30 companies are working on Covid-19 vaccines. The vaccine process has been accelerated since the Covid-19 genetic sequence and viral protein codes can be determined much faster.  Vaccine development normally takes 10 to 15 years. Lengthier clinical trials must be done to catch all side effects. Anti-malarial drugs can damage the retina and heart. Check what happened when thalidomide was not rigorously tested before being presented to the public in the 1950’s.

Don’t blame the animals involved in epic epidemics (bats, chimps, birds, rodents). They also have their share of infectious organisms. All us warm-blooded animals have warm, culture media circulating through our bodies. What helped the contagious agents jump from the furry and feathered creatures into we sleeker bipedal humans? Karin Brulliard, writer for The Washington Post, writes that global wildlife trade, deforestation, urbanization and intense agricultural farming practices have aided the transfer of pathogens to people which, in a matter of hours, are transported around the world via jet. People still get very sick or die from West Nile Virus identified in East Africa in 1937 which crossed into the US in 1999 and tick-borne diseases (16 and counting) that are increasing throughout the warming world. Keep in mind most tick and mosquito bites are harmless and irritating, but if you are one of the unlucky…….

Epidemiologists look for hot spots with three things in common: lots of people, diverse wildlife communities and fast changing environments. Carving holes or removing forested areas in the US cuts the number of predators that eat mice carrying ticks which harbor Lyme or other tick diseases. No vaccine. Clearing Malaysian rainforests displaced fruit bats which found new homes in modern pig farms where mango and other fruit trees still grew. Pigs became infected with Nipah virus which soon leapt into humans. Killing outbreaks still go on in south Asia. No vaccine.

The upshot is to keep ecosystems intact and not destroy them. This will require cultural shifts in many countries. Our world now contains nearly 8 billion humans who are 99.9% identical in their genetic makeup. One novel pathogen could wipe most of us all away.

Why not hedge your bets and redesign or extend your little ecosystems (yards) to be friendlier to wildlife? Set aside areas for native plants and animals. Restore the balance of nature. Keep the trees. Reduce the area you mow which lowers fossil fuel use. Look at how many springtime trees and plants are now in bloom!

No time to enjoy nature, judging from the plethora of large, zero-turn type mowers roaring around the area. People seem to have an abundance of money but are blind to nature’s vitality, importance and beauty.

Think of the Easter bunny. The cottontail needs native grasses, flowers and trees for places where it can hide itself as well as Easter eggs. My son’s 12-year-old ‘sight-impaired but still loves to run and chase’ Labrador recently had his way with a baby bunny. It obviously needed more cover (taller bunch grasses, small native trees, a blackberry bush or two) within the well-manicured yard. Risky business being an Easter bunny in many neighborhoods.

My family celebrates Easter with Easter baskets loaded with candy and Peeps, chocolate bunnies and hot cross buns, if we can find them. Easter meal may take on a picnic atmosphere with potato salad, steamed asparagus, cooked ham and a coconut bunny cake.

Hard-boiled eggs, dyed the night before (along with the counter and dipping cups), become the centerpiece until time for the Easter Egg hunt. They are hidden, indoors or out, for anyone to find and claim. Their final destiny is to be eaten, turn into devils or become egg salad.

The egg symbolizes fertility and the circle of life. Watch a little bird peck its way out of an egg. Truly miraculous. Even today people give decorated eggs as gifts. The eggs are carefully covered in delicate patterns drawn with wax or wrapped twine and dipped in vegetable dyes. Purple cabbage—blue, red onion skins—red, yellow onion skins—orange, and beets—pink.

In Germany the egg contents were blown out through small holes, egg shells decorated and hung on trees during the week of Easter, similar to Christmas trees. In Egypt, boiled and dyed eggs are lined up and used as bowling pins. Egg tapping is done in eastern Europe. Each person holds a cooked dyed egg. Eggs are “tapped” together. The one that cracks loses….and probably eaten.

In the United Kingdom, just before Easter, eggs wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give them a mottled golden color were rolled down grassy hillsides. For hundreds of years ‘pace-egging’ contests took place in many areas. Unbroken eggs were then eaten on Easter Sunday. An old legend is if the eggs were cracked, the shells should be carefully crushed lest fairies find the broken shells and use them as boats.

The Easter Egg Roll at the White House began in 1814. Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, started the egg rolling. She had children bring decorated eggs to roll and play games Easter Monday or Good Friday on White House grounds. Long-handled spoons were used to propel the eggs along. The White House Egg Roll continued and by the 1870’s it had become very popular.

After an energetic egg rolling event in 1876, which somewhat tore up the lawn, Congress passed a bill forbidding egg-rolling. The White House South Lawn was not a children’s playground. In 1878, a group of children, including President Rutherford Hayes own kids, came to the White House gate and asked if they could roll eggs. President Hayes told the guards to let them enter. The egg-rolling custom was soon reinstated. In 1939 so many people were coming the number of guests had to be curtailed. In 1981, beginning with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Pat, signed wooden eggs were given to each child under the age of 12 as they exited South Lawn gates.

The First Lady is in charge of the annual tradition. Unfortunately, this year the White House egg-rolling has been cancelled due to Covid-19. Not the first time. In 1918-1920 it was stopped because of Spanish flu, in 1943-1945 due to WWII, 1946-1947 for food conservation and 1948-1952 when the White House was renovated.

Do not despair. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, considers the Easter Bunny an essential worker and thus, exempt from the shelter-in-place requirements! There should be plenty of eggs this year for everyone!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at