Last month, late on Valentine’s Day afternoon, I went out to Chipman’s Cove to see if I could get some oysters. Normally I don’t bother going out so late in the season, since the recreational shellfishing flats are usually pretty well picked over by mid-February. But my son and my daughter were making dinner for us on Sunday and their sole request was to have some Wellfleet oysters, so I decided to try.
Fate seemed to be against me at first. When I went to Town Hall to renew my license, there was no one in the office; one of the staff was on vacation and the other was out with the flu. I was told to try the shellfish constable’s office down at the fish pier, but when I got there, the office was empty and locked. I was about to give up when I saw a shellfish department truck at the end of the pier. I flagged it down and recognized the driver as Johnny, the deputy shellfish constable. I explained my situation, and he said, “Have you got a paper and pen?” I did, and he wrote a short note: “Mr. Finch is a long-time recreational license holder. I am allowing him to fish – February 14, 2018 – Johnny.”
“There you go. Now do me a favor. When you get your license, stick a copy of it in the shellfish department mailbox.“ I assured him I would, thanked him, and once again was grateful I live in a small town.
I drove down to Chipman’s Cove a little after 3. It was a beautiful late afternoon – mild with a soft south-southwest wind. The sun, hidden by clouds all day, reemerged and bathed the flats in a searing light. Surprisingly, I was the only person there. That didn’t seem to bode well, as it suggested that the pickings were slimmer than I thought. I walked north along the edge of the flats, listening to the gyring cries of the gulls, and flushing a flock of Canada geese that were feeding along the lower edge of the marsh.
I walked at a leisurely, unforced pace and focused on the ground in front of me. And when I did, I realized I was finding plenty of oysters, not large, but definitely legal. They were strung along the upper edge of the flats, so that I didn’t have to go out into the muddier areas. My guess was that people had pretty much stopped going out here and that recent westerly blows had carried in a number of the shellfish.
For whatever reason, I gathered about a half-bucket in under an hour, more than I had hoped for. But even better than the harvest itself, I enjoyed the unexpected solitude, the quiet, stunning light show, the glistening expanse of tidal rivulets, the sense of being grounded in a familiar place that provided both physical and emotional nourishment. I came off the flats feeling the first glimmers of a renewal at the end of a dark winter.
I reached my car just as the sun was setting, turned on the radio, and learned that, while I was out on the flats harvesting oysters and bathing in the natural beauty of the landscape, the latest of this broke-back country’s school shootings was taking place at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and adults. I turned it off and headed home to have dinner with people I love and want to keep safe.