As you’ve probably guessed by the name of this column, I love the outdoors. I love seeing new places, doing new things, getting lots of fresh air and sunshine and meeting new people. There are so many new experiences out there that we have no idea about, and how better to learn than to talk to people about their world? Luckily, we have Ginger, our golden retriever. She is the perfect ice-breaker.
My wife Terry and I have escaped the Canadian prairie winter to enjoy some outdoor time on the West Coast of British Columbia. It is so refreshing to take long walks along the shore with Ginger. We explore trails and observe seals and sea lions. Eagles soar overhead and watch us from trees. Inevitably we meet other dog owners and let the dogs run. One of Ginger’s favorites is Rose, a chocolate lab that loves to play. The two run and jump and growl like they’re real tough. It gives us time to get to know Dave, Rose’s owner. We chat about hunting and fishing, and where the best seafood is found.
“Do you like oysters?” Dave asks me.
At one time I hated oysters, but I’ve acquired a taste for them gradually over several years of having one … per year … fried, at Christmas time. Maybe my tastes have changed, maybe my taste-buds are getting dull, or possibly with old age I’m less opinionated … yeah, right. Now when we visit the coast, I have several feeds of oysters, and even pay for them in restaurants.
“You can pick them just down the beach from here,” says Dave. “Drive down the highway, turn right at the hardware store and park at the end, at low tide. You can get a license online.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
As soon as we’re back at the cabin, I’m on the computer researching the rules of where, when, and how to pick them. Apparently you need a really low tide, and the area has to be open to shellfish harvesting. Anywhere near rivers is out of bounds due to contamination, as is near industrial outflows. Also there is the Red Tide to consider. This is a toxin that comes from an algae bloom. With all this to take in, I was busily cross-referencing several websites and Google Earth. Finally I had it organized and off we went with pail in hand to harvest a bounty of fresh seafood. Oh, how fun it will be. Think of the money we’ll save by picking oysters ourselves!
We drive down to the aforementioned location and unload to the salty breeze of the Pacific. It really is incredible scenery, and we sit a moment to enjoy the waves lapping at the shore, gulls coasting overhead, and the mountains in the background. I wheel across the parking lot to access the beach.
It seems Mother Nature has neglected to follow accessibility code, and all wheelchair-friendly routes are blocked by immense logs. Even if I miraculously get past, the beach is covered in boulders. Hmm … Murphy scores one big point.
“How about the dog and I go get ’em,” says Terry.
“OK,” says I, licking my chops, thinking about the feast we’ll have.
I lean back my chair to enjoy the scenery in style. I love the tilt/recline feature of this chair. Terry and Ginger disappear down the shore. The waves are gently splashing on the rocks, eagles soaring overhead looking for the next meal. A sea lion barks in the distance. There is something magical about being at the ocean …
“Nothing, not one oyster!” — My daydreaming is interrupted.
I look at the shore. The tide is only halfway out. Apparently waiting until the tide is all the way out wasn’t merely a suggestion. We revamp the program. Back at the computer we re-examine the plethora of websites that you must know inside and out in order to safely and legally harvest an oyster. Away we go with new enthusiasm and full coffee cups, back out to hit low tide.
We drive farther up the coast to another supposed hot spot noted on the map, and head down a secluded road that ends at the ocean. We unload from the van, surveying the area.
“Can we pick here?” asks Terry.
“Yep,” I reply, recalling website number 15 that showed open areas.
“Are they safe, any red tide?”
“Safe,” I say, trying to recall that page.
We wheel onto the beach, and sure enough there they are, live oysters!
“Which ones do we take?”
“Bigger than 2 inches guarantees that they’re not a protected species.” I’m getting good at regurgitating newfound knowledge. We take enough for a modest feed.
When sampling new-to-my-body food, I’m very careful not to be a glutton — I’m sure every wheelchair-user would agree. Later at the cabin we steam them in a frying pan with a little water, then bathe them in garlic butter once they are open.
“Here ya go, enjoy …” says Terry, sarcastic tone barely detectable.
“You gonna try them?” I reply.
“One,” says she, grabbing the smallest one gingerly.
“OK, it’s good,” she begrudgingly admits.
“Want another?” I grin.
“I was there once,” I say. “In 10 years or so you’ll love them.”
They were absolutely delicious! A rich but not overpowering seafood flavor, not unlike scallops. They are much better fresh like this than store-bought. It was fun to experience researching, finding, harvesting and cooking a local specialty.
Questions Worth Asking
1. Were they good? Yes. Although oysters are an acquired taste for some, these were not overpowering, just very pleasant.
2. Were they easy to find? Well … sort of. You need to know where to find them, and to search at the lowest tides. A tide chart is a must.
3. Did you save any money? (Place laugh track here). Oysters cost about $6 per pint at the store. I figure that if we add up the license cost, fuel cost, allow $15 per hour labor cost for research and beachcombing, and divide it amongst the six oysters harvested, we paid about $43 per ounce.