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Consider your Oyster

About 3 years ago, Claudia Vestal gave me a copy of MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating, dog-eared at “Consider the Oyster”. I had left the city, my (non) job in the arts, and was working on a horse farm shoveling manure for $18 a day (seriously) – as well as taking an aquaculture class in Barnstable once a week. I wouldn’t shut up about oysters, and as she prepped veggies and fresh bread for the epic Raclette dinner that followed – Claudia pronounced without lifting her eyes from the cutting board something like: “You loved the mud and sand when you were little- you always came in covered in dirt, after looking for this or that in the woods” – she said it almost as an epitaph, but full of love. Later, while we played bridge (more like they played while I fell asleep with a glass of port in my hand, happy as a clam*), I thought – she’s right. I love mud, oysters love mud, I love oysters. This might work out. I took the book home with my accompanying hangover, and didn’t touch it for over a year. I think I was scared to read it – anyone who John Updike calls “the poet of the appetites” is bound to drop some heavy truths.

It was a scorching day on Rexhame Beach when I finally pet that dog-ear and cracked Consider the Oyster. Two things struck me about the power of her thoughts on our bivalve friends. One was her laden description of an oyster’s life, what its experience would be if it were emotionally qualified. The other was the stew – damn. Even though I’d actually never had it at the time and it was topping 90 on the beach – her words made me long for different eras and drawing rooms, for lives I haven’t and can never live – her writing about oyster stew created nostalgia for something I’d never even tasted.

When I tell people about my job, the question I get most often from oysterphiles to seafood-haters is – but why do you love oysters?

It comes down to the ocean and nostalgia for me, plain and simple –

So many of us spend much of our lives ruminating on the ocean in our own ways – we want to understand it, we want to commune with it, we want it to be on our side. Anyone who has seen a good sunrise or set is working through the truth that it is greater and more powerful than us.  How do we get comfortable with its grandness, all that it has given and taken in its time? We sail it, we dive it, harvest it, paint it – but we can’t hold it or have it – until we consider the oyster.

So I’m considering them.

For my part, I love them because every bag is 100 opportunities for me to hold the whole ocean in my hand – those lazy childhood mornings in the tide-pools at Saquish, hoping to see seals – the midnight rumble across the Powder Point bridge with meter sticks and waders to watch horseshoe crabs spawn under a full moon with my sister – the New Year’s dunk that forgives all my sins and gives me a legitimate excuse to drink hot whiskey and wear sweatpants all day (new sins).

Oysters let me hold what I know of the ocean in my hand, crack it open and be with it – simply, deliciously, and nostalgically. So that’s how I consider my oyster.

And we’ve sold a few of them in our day so there’s got to be some stories out there – how do you consider yours?

* we sell those by the way – and they’re tasty!


★ Hannah Grady runs the whirling gyre that is Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop.  She arrived on this island of misfit toys only recently, so please welcome her warmly and follow her on twitter:@grady_train ★