David Lauderdale

Oyster season cracks open a childlike joy

As life in the Lowcountry rolls into October, the world is our oyster.

Isn't it a pity that the throngs of July vacationers don't get to sip the golden nectar of October?

Not really.

This is our time. It's our time to feel a breeze on our face that's not wringing wet with humidity. It's our time to watch men in oyster bateaux bobbing silently against distant waves of marsh grass.

The bonfires of oyster roasts will soon season our lives like the salt in our rivers.

At the Bluffton Oyster Co. at the end of Wharf Street, the ladies have been shucking for a good month already. They've got plenty of oysters to sell, but it's still hot, the mud's soft and the sand gnats are brutal in the marsh. The pickers aren't out in full force yet, says owner Larry Toomer, but a cold snap will soon turn that tide.

Larry's a third-generation waterman. I spoke with him Wednesday evening while he was riding the waves in his shrimp trawler, Daddy's Girls. He was poised to catch mountains of shrimp when they came rushing out of Calibogue Sound on ebb tide. It's a sign of our times that he was lonely out there. Not long ago, 40 trawlers would have been jockeying for position on a 9-foot September tide.

As for the oysters, this will be the second full season with half his leased beds in the May River shut down because of pollution. It'll put a strain on the beds in the other half, he said, because they'll be worked harder.

But we must rejoice that there are still plenty of oysters to pick, and that Lowcountry oysters remain the world's finest. And we should be thankful that some family-owned seafood businesses have survived another year in a crusty industry that has been sinking like a rusted anchor.

The least we can do is ask for wild-caught seafood, as local as it can get, at restaurants and retailers.

Something about oyster season brings out the spirit of the child within us. It was once captured in words and plastered across the top of the front page of The Island Packet. It was in September 1979, and Garry Moore, the radio and television star who retired to Hilton Head Island, submitted one of the memorable quotations that used to stream across the top of the front page.

His words blared the good news that all does not have to be so deadly serious in the Lowcountry, especially when oysters are ready to pick:

September is a month that ends in R,

And so are the months that follow it.

So if you have been holding an oyster in your mouth all summer,

It's OK now to swallow it.

-- Garry Moore

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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