Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Random on the Half Shell

It may be a personal best.

I've had men approach me in some of the oddest places - a stoplight on Monument Avenue at midnight, the Ladies' Room at Lemaire, the third row of D.A.R. Constitution Hall - but never when I was surrounded by water.

It was like this: I was visiting the 'rents on the Northern Neck.

When my Dad and I headed down to the dock, we noticed that the tide was exceptionally low.

So low that the shell bar that extends from their beach was completely exposed.

It's a crescent of shell-covered sand created years ago by the castoffs of an oyster facility on the very long wharf that used to jut out from that place.

Most of the time you can't see it, except at low tide when parts of it are exposed.

Today, a full half a mile of it was sticking out of the crystalline blue water, something I'd never seen in all the years of visiting there.

It was irresistible, so when my Dad I headed up to the house, I decided to walk out on it.

It was a truly unique feeling to be on this sliver of "land" surrounded by gently lapping waves.

When I reached the end, I paused to look around, admiring the new vantage point of my parents' house, the point of land and the duck blind which was now amazingly close by.

Next thing I know, a guy in full waders is loping through the water toward me.

He must have been out there all along and I just hadn't noticed him.

We'll just chalk that up to nature's beauty distracting me. That and the bright midday sun.

So, yes, perched on a foot-wide piece of exposed beach in the middle of the Rappahannock River, I met a semi-retired judge, former Marine (Desert Storm), water fowl lodge owner and former Richmonder (Freeman High School, Hampden-Sydney, UVA Law).

I was thrilled to get an impromptu local seafood industry lesson.

He showed me Black Butt oysters (enormous) and an oyster half eaten by a cow-nosed ray (major crunch action).

I heard about the wooden wharf (which explained the remaining pylons) and how it had a shucking shack with brick fireplaces (that explained the occasional bricks in the river) in it to keep the shuckers warm.

Oyster boats brought their catches to the wharf, they were shucked and then steam boats coming up the river stopped to buy them and take them to Baltimore.

I had had no idea about any of this history.

He was out in the river doing his favorite thing: gathering oysters, which he apparently sells to local restaurants.

"Ever been to the Lancaster Tavern?" he asked once we'd shared our life stories.

Of course I had, many times with my parents.

"I'm the one who supplies them for Oyster Tuesdays," he said with not a little pride.

He said that he found gathering the mollusks to be zen-like, a real change from his other occupations.

"How do you like your oysters?" he asked, presuming correctly.

Any way I can get them, I answered honestly.

Pointing to his bushel basket under a nearby dock on the shore, he instructed me to go pick out a couple dozen for myself.

You don't have to offer me hour-old oysters twice.

Once our extended chat ended, he told me what a pleasure it had been to meet and talk to me.

I felt exactly the same.

Walking back across the shell bar towards his basket, I found an old medicine (or maybe spice?) bottle embedded in the sand.

This day keeps getting better.

And so it was that, for the first time in my life, I not only shucked oysters (and I wasn't half bad, either) but enjoyed them literally fresh out of the river.

With a dash of hot sauce, my amazed parents and just a little appreciation for the random places men choose to talk to me.

I couldn't have been more satisfied if I'd found a pearl.


  1. this makes me happy - your life has improved to a point of near perfection.

    You have time and the life experience that allows you to appreciate every minute.

    AND you have this wonderful time with your living, healthy (ish) parents.

    AND, now you have more room for joy in your life - you've worked hard to make that room - you deserve every crumb of joy.