DO YOU BELIEVE IN ANGELS?
By Francis Caldwell
If not, perhaps you’ve never needed the services of one.
Of all species of shellfish, the oyster was considered the “feast” fit for kings. Tombs 3000 years old sometimes contained oyster shells, food for the royalty’s afterlife.
If you’re fond of shellfish, you can appreciate the excitement when two of the year’s largest minus tides, a pair of minus fours, occurred in late June, the largest run-outs of the year.
After checking the calendar, I clicked my heels. I was free to go. Usually such low tides conflict with something, or fall during the dark hours.
Here on the North Olympic Peninsula, any low tide below “0” is enough to cause a tingle in my pallet, and send me in search of the clam gun, shovels and hip boots. Despite pollution warnings on many beaches, a few escape and are declared safe by the Fish & Wildlife authorities.
Pacific oysters start life as a tiny seed and float around in salt water until they land on something solid. They prefer rocks, the larger the better, as long as the rocks becomes covered by salt water a couple of times a day.
If the seed misjudges, and lands on a rock that is subject to rolling around in the tide, chances are it will not survive.
If the rock already contains an oyster, so much the better, it may simply attach itself to the existing oyster. The seed cements its self to its new host with a substance like miracle glue.
Oysters feed by cracking open its shell, then straining seawater for whatever food is available. Each oyster is encased in individual, calcium-rich shells growing new growth rings when required. The shells are rough on the outside and hard enough to protect them from almost anything, except humans with metal tools, or heat.
A mature oyster shell may reach six or more inches in width, and eventually be host to a dozen tiny button-sized seeds of its own. For this reason, state law insists oysters be opened on the beach, and the shells, containing seeds, left to suffer their fate.
I decided to go to Hood Canal, stay overnight at our campground at Hoodsport, then drive back to Seal Rock. The tide was low about 9 O’clock, so I took my time fixing a big breakfast. I had driven down Highway 101 late the previous evening and noticed lots of paving equipment parked beside the highway. It didn’t occur to me that the road work would present a problem getting back to Seal Rock.
But it did. Up to 100 vehicles were lined up behind the flagmen. Waits were sometimes more than one half hour. By the time I reached the parking area I noticed a few people were washing up. I took one look at the beach and could see I was very late for the tide.
I took off my shoes and put on rubber sandals, removed my outer shirt, then with a bucket in each hand, hurried down to the beach. It was totally devoid of humans. Inwardly cursing myself for screwing up, I thought I could collect enough oysters for one meal
Forty feet from the edge of the tide I noticed unopened oysters. A few more steps, then it happened!
I fell, pitching forward. With my hands full, I didn’t even have time to throw out my arms to break the fall. My chin and forehead struck a big rock, dazing me. When I regained my bearings and tried to get up, I discovered I’d fallen across a big rock, the size of a washtub. My feet were on one side of this big rock and my head and shoulders were on the other. Blood poured down my chin and neck.
The incoming tide was boiling in, and was only forty feet away. I rolled and tried to turn, desperate to find a position that would help me get up. I couldn’t even gather my knees beneath me because of the big rock.
How long I laid there, struggling in my oyster encrusted tomb I don’t know. What would happen once the tide reached me?
Then I noticed a red kayak moving slowly along the shore. My yell for help didn’t carry over the slapping sound of nearby waves.
“Please, Lord. Help me,” I muttered.
Suddenly, the person in the kayak turned a looked directly at me. Then I saw her reach for a cell phone, and speak into it. She then pointed the kayak directly towards me, beached it and came to help.
I must have looked terrible. My face and chest were covered with blood.
“I called 911. Brinnon Fire & Rescue took the call. They’re on their way.”
Never have I heard more comforting words.
“At first, I thought you were a seal,” the lady kayaker said. A man appeared. Between them, they got me to my feet. I was dizzy but they hung onto me and slowly started for shore. Then I heard the sirens, and knew professional help was on its way.
The Fire Chief, with a heavy bag of equipment, was the first to arrive. Then two female volunteers, wearing the Brinnon patch on their shoulders, began cleaning me up. Unknown to me, struggling amongst oyster-encrusted rocks, had resulted in damage to my hands, legs, knees, elbows a forearms.
While sitting on the stairs being tended to, I looked for the red kayak, but it had disappeared. I don’t know the lady’s name, but if she reads this, thank you for possibly saving my life.
After checking my vitals, the Chief wanted me to go to the Port Townsend Hospital, but I was feeling much better and after drinking a bottle of water, told him I was okay to drive home. He called my wife and set up a schedule for me to call halfway home, at Discovery Bay, to assure both parties I was okay.
The accident happened over a week ago and I’m still hurting, with muscle spasms, and have problems sleeping. My chest must have struck the rock so hard my whole frame was shaken.
I was foolish to go onto the beach alone.