Oysters on the Edge of the World
My occupation is oyster farming. I grow beautiful edible stories. They are true works of art that nourish the body and soul.
At the age of four, my parents purchased a barren lot of land on the North side of Dauphin Island. In my Father's spare time, he built our house by hand. He was a part time commercial fisherman and used car salesmen. I spent the weekends of my youth playing in the murky waters of the the Gulf of Mexico, where the Island resides. I marveled at the beauty of the sea and was awestruck by all the resources it could provide. Mullet fish for frying, coquina clams for pasta dishes, driftwood for crafting shelter from the sun and warmth from bonfires at night, and of course, oysters. My dad taught me how to fish and reap the rewards of the sea.
We had dogs growing up. One loved the water more than I did. His name was Rusty. He was a purebred, Black Snouted, Golden Junkyard Dog. We would play from sun up to sun down and at the end of the day, he would refuse to come inside and dig a hole where he would lay until one of us carried him inside. Back then, I would have to watch where I threw sticks in the water for him to fetch. For if care was not taken, he would bound into the sea and cut his paws on the razor sharp bills of the shells comprising the oyster reefs. Before long, I no longer had to worry about where we could play, as the oysters all but disappeared. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I imagine I even found relief in there absence. They were more of an inanimate nuisance to me than a living creature that would later become my livelihood. That thinking changed when my father decided to poke around at the Auburn University shellfish laboratory one day. He met Scott Rikard. Scott introduced us all to oyster gardening. Oyster gardening was a program to help restore the reefs. The hatchery gave the participant a metal basket and juvenile oysters, set on old shells, to take care of for a year.
My Dad enrolled us in the gardening program and we volunteered my neighbors pier to hold the small cages. The cages contained shells with tiny oyster spat attached to the shells. For a year, we nurtured them and watched them grow. Upon their maturity, they were returned to Auburn, where they then deposited them on the remaining reefs in the hopes to aid in the reefs’ revival. I began to pay attention to the oyster more. I would pick up ancient oyster shells and admire their beauty. If they were broken, I would try to imagine how they broke, what they would have looked like while alive. I didn’t know it, but, I was creating stories about the life of the creature, which now, only a shell of its former self remained. Since the age of 14, more than half my life ago, I have been handling cultured oysters off and on. I asked Scott every summer for a job at the hatchery from 16 years old until, at the age of 22, he let me join his team. For a summer, I helped spawn millions of oysters. It was hard work. I felt I was not good at the academic aspect of the job. I did feel however, that I could run an oyster farm.
I pursued a degree in Aquaculture, at Auburn University, after switching majors from Agricultural Business and Economics. My first “farm class” in that major really threw me for a loop. All the other students looked, sounded, and talked like farmers. They had cowboy boots, hats, and all. A classmate turned and asked with a thick southern drawl, "What kind of farm does your daddy run?". I was in flip flops and shorts. My dad was a used car salesmen and former fisherman. I failed the class and quickly changed majors. I landed on Aquaculture upon my mother's reminder of the volunteer work I had done on the pier mentioned above. A few years later, at 25, I obtained my degree. I applied to several places and never heard back from a single one, before and after completing my degree. With no other option, I focused on my oysters and found my way back to the sea. Just into my first year of marriage, and shortly before graduating college, I began farming oysters commercially. I built my farm in my spare time my last year at Auburn University with the help of my family. After graduating, I spent my time taking care of my infant daughter and running the farm simultaneously, while my wife worked. After a time, we had enough money saved that my wife could quit work. She now nurtures, teaches, and raises both my daughter, and my son. This is something she wanted to do her whole life. I now run a renowned and successful oyster farm.
Every oyster has its own tale to tell. It is a tale of survival and hardships. A tale of Hurricanes, predators both human and animal, and the mercy of the sea. The oyster is a reflection of our own stories. Eating an oyster is like catching a glimpse of the farmers soul and experiencing the human condition through the senses of sight, touch, and taste. And if lucky, through the sound of the farmers lips himself.
- Tyler S. Myers
It is a harvest day today. I woke up at 4:25AM. It is a warm balmy (67F and foggy) subtropical winter day. I awoke from a good night's sleep, with oysters on my mind. My dealer and processor sent the order size to me last evening. It is bigger than normal for Thursday harvest. I make a big pot of coffee. The bubbles and crackling pops of the percolator captivate me. Time dissipates and it is only steam and percolation cutting the silence in the house. Upon much anticipation, I fix my drink and turn the lights on in my office. I sit down at my desk and turn on Vivaldi’s La Follia. I check my email. Then I check the weather forecast, which I trust about as much as leaving a stone crab alone in a cage full of my oysters.
To do list:
-Bring web cam to farm
-Pick up burlap bags from the Bayou
-Pick up harvest tags from Marine Resource
-Bring leftover pizza
-Set up webcam
-Sort and divide those 3 bags of seed oysters
-Choose 2 cages to harvest from
-Meet Bon Secour truck for delivery
Fast foreword to this evening. What a wonderful harvest. Days like today make me feel like a true human. It was challenging but everything went mostly according to plan. Oysters looked fantastic.
Rain, rain, please come on a day we aren’t harvesting-
It is Sunday afternoon. Another Thunderstorm looms off to the West. It will arrive early in the morning. I have the honor of making a judgement call on harvesting in the thick of the storm tomorrow. I grapple with the thought of “Can we make the order work on another day?” possibly losing a sale. The air is thick and the clouds are low. Some years it seems the weather has in its mind to keep our oysters a rarity. I break open a bottle of recently purchased De Luna Blueberry wine. It’s dry deliciousness brings me back to earlier today. I had the opportunity to “stop and smell the blueberry flowers” on a neighbors magnificent bush. Time seemingly became endless and silent while I cradled a pink bonnet shaped flower on the tip of my finger. I think it was fate foreshadowing my afternoon glass of wine. Each sip is a reminder of the infinite moments spent lost observing the ephemeral. I know no matter what, those oysters, harvested in the wind and angry seas tomorrow, will have a story worth consuming. I often daydream of the patron who consumes the contents of such a shell. I think everyone knows, at least on a subconscious level, that a hero's journey lies within the shell on their plate. Does their palate know? Will the oyster whisper it's tale before its essence is absorbed? Its tale of raging wind, drops of cool rain, and its abduction from the peace of a briny abyss? I like to think the answer is yes. Do the oysters sense the disturbance to come? Will the blueberry blossom remain strong through the storm or lose its grip to the downpour? Perhaps I personify my oysters too much. Perhaps this is why my oysters are sought out. Wishing the beauty of fleeting chaos on the half shell, to touch your soul.
Bon appetit my friends.
With a wall of black before me, I clench the steering wheel and step on the gas. Time is running out. It is 7AM on a harvest day. Before me is the force of Mother nature. A selective screen, daring me to trickle through. She can twist a tree to failure. Uproot its tethers and drag it for miles across alien lands. Can I stand up to tribulations before me? An examination of my primal core. Intimidating. Attractive. High stakes with hair of sea snakes. The storm arrived at 12AM last night. I woke to thunder and the familiar flashes of blue between the rumbles and rain patters. I was up for two hours. After much tossing and turning, I drifted to a land of vivid realities more real than real. It was a dream of my son losing his teeth. Oddly, on the drive down to the farm, my daughter asked how old she would be when she loses her teeth. Into the jaws of the beast I drove. The East wind thrust the sea spay off the jetties onto my windshield. Based off what I could gather, from a glance at the radar, I had about an hours window to complete the harvest. Just enough time. I throw on my gear in a hurry and trudge through the muddy, marshy earth, just before the edge of the farm. The water is crisp. I take a moment to gather the strength to cross into the brine. The murky chop hides all the monsters below from view. What is down there? A stingray ready to let me know I don’t belong? A shark blown in with the surge, curious to taste my flesh? The razor sharp bill of a stray oyster cleaving the cells of my callused feet? I march on. Two cages. All I need are two cages with mature oysters to fill my order. I tug and peer into the bag. “THESE” I think to myself. The misty winds blur my vision. Tugging, pulling, back bent and shoulders tensed, I make it to shore. This is the easy part. The bags are pulled from there cages and loaded onto a wheeled cart. The mud slips its way between my toes. For a moment it feels like all my ancestors have their arms on my shoulder. Pushing me to providence. Appreciative of the hardships and crosses I bear. With swollen forearms, warm breath, and sweaty brow I am relieved. Safety at last. I furiously count and bag. Selecting only the most beautiful shells to send to the lips of adoring oyster fans. The winds die down. The rain lifts. Its as if I have won the battle and she knows. Perhaps she will remember and come back stronger. For know, victory is mine, and I share with you a true treasure stolen from the grips of Mother Nature.
Glassed Off- 10/21/19
It finally feels like October.
Cool. Clear. Crisp water.
An empty Island and an end to Summer.
Metallic emerald steel reflections, concealing a brand new crop.
A Day of Subtropic Historics 10/29/19 By T.S. Myers
- I found a tooth.
A cursed tooth on a hill. I was hunched over looking for trouble in the maritime mist of July. Twas lying on a sacred old subtropic shore jungle path. A rain had uncovered it the night before. There it was right before me. I knew, me, it would find. No idea, it would be a tooth. No idea. my fortune would later be unkind. A native. Knocked out in a tussle or a sacrifice of paganamony? I do not know. But on an impulsive whim, I took it with me. Rode round to the mainland showing it the bright light, out from the oak shade. Brother, not kin, but close to my heart, convinced me of my wrongful disturbance. Sleepless night, I endured, for days nearing weeks. Then, I brought the cursed fang back to its hill by the sea. That soul may it rest and leave my fortune without test.