One of my favorite things to do while on Cape Cod is to walk Paines Creek Beach during low tide, which happened to be around 5:45 p.m. on this particular day. The beaches along Cape Cod Bay are so dramatically different at high and low tide. High tide rises four to four and half feet at various parts of the bay, with Wellfleet having the largest fluctuation.
Low tide is Mother Nature’s strip tease. The water trickles out beyond the line of sight, slowly uncovering an exciting, textured underwater terrain with mesmerizing swirls of sand and scampering marine life. The landscape reveals marshy grass, contrasting colors, shells, tidal pools, and in certain parts, oyster beds.
I love oysters! Eating them. Admiring their shells. But allow me express how monitored and regulated this industry is. Visitors are not welcomed to touch or take oysters. Hence the post title, “look, but don’t touch.” This day we met Sally, the oyster farmer, who was more than happy to speak with us while multi-tasking. She explained oyster seeds can be purchased in various sizes and like trees, the more mature, the more expensive. Small seeds are places in small mesh bags, then eventually moved to larger screens, and eventually into the cages. Like-sized oysters are kept together as they might overpower the smaller oysters during feeding. You know, survival of the fittest!
Oysters are tidal feeders who consume nutrients and food when the water covers them during high tide. Once an oyster is set in place, it is there for the long haul–unlike clams which can flap their shells and move position. Oyster farmers undertake a very manual, laborious job of checking the oysters to make sure they are not laden with barnacles, nor are the cage legs sunken into the sand. The oysters need water flow in order to “breathe” and feed. so it is important the cages remian elevated. It takes about three years for the smaller seeds to mature into sellable oyster, which she provides to local restaurants–and to her own kitchen, I would hope.
These pictures were taken during some down-time amidst our whirlwind Discover Cape Cod book signings in June. It was a memorable experience chatting up an oyster farmer and being bit on the toe by a crab whose claws popped out of the sand and gave my big toe a pinch. A friendly reminder that we were walking on its turf. You never know what you are going to get at low tide on Cape Cod Bay. But, tread gently and look, but don’t touch.