Mussel Farming for Christmas

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kyle driving the boat

Quickly, because the French onion soup is almost done and a game of Ticket to Ride is about to commence, Cameron, Kyle and I started our Christmas morning with a trip out to the mussel farm.  When you work on a farm as small as Kyle does the mussels won’t  wait and there just might not be anyone else to harvest them.  So Cameron and I, the selfless martyrs we are, volunteered to help him in order to speed things up.  But to be quite honest, I didn’t mind working on Christmas at all.  The mussel farm is such a quintessential Northwestern place, filled with broken sea shells, seaweed encrusted ropes, rusting boat hulls, and most importantly the bay lapping at everything.  We got there, suited up in waterproof clothing, and headed out onto the bay in the boat.  The work we did was honest, moving mussel baskets from the water to the boat.  But the experience was so much more than simple.  For me the bay is such an important place, a place filled with memories, real and false.

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on the scow

The bay is a place of nostalgia.  We have been near it ever since I can remember, having grown up with a marina manager for a father.  Walking the docks at low tide, swimming off the sail boat, kayaking out to the log booms, searching the barnacle-y beaches for flotsam and jetsam.  The smell of the mud flats, simultaneously fresh and rotting, is one that makes most people turn up their noses but I inhale it with vigor.  Looking out over the bay from the windows of Tugboat Annies on every kind of day imaginable: windy, calm, rainy, sunny, misty, perfect.  It’s a place I consider home in so many ways, a place I long for when I am away, and a place my heart always leaps to see.

But it is also a place of dreams, a place of inexplicable fears and worries.  I have recurring dreams where I am walking on docks that cannot hold my weight or are too tippy and I fall off into the water.  As I am swimming I fight the fear of the murkiness as hard as I can.  You never know what is in the bay, your visibility is only ten feet or so.  Just last night I had a dream that Kyle was dragged into the bay by one of the mussel baskets and I could do nothing.  I dived and dived but could see nothing and was terrified the entire time.

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looking at the scow from the boat

When I woke this morning I was torn between my nightmare version of the bay and the reality that I love.  But once I was there all the falsities faded away.  Even though the boards and beams of the raft where the mussels hang aren’t very wide and on all sides thick green water waits I still felt sturdy and safe.  That’s because in real life you are in control, you can choose to step or not to step, and no dreamlike necessity is propelling you down unsteady docks.  I felt like I was reaffirming who I am, where I come from, and what I love.  It felt like bliss to have salt water on my skin and briny air whipping through my hair.

On this Christmas day I am so thankful for my family and where we have chosen to make our home.  I believe, very firmly that where you grow up and create roots shapes you in subtle but intrinsic ways.  As I look out over the sound I know that some people might not see it as the most stunning place, or the best smelling, but I know that if you can learn to love it with all its quirks and urchins’ spines then you might just find you are looking out over one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."