I pass through the ruffly green petticoats of Moran State Park at the foot of Mt. Constitution, and through the tiny hamlet of Olga, Washington, looking forward to deliciousness. Turning the corner to Buck Bay, a long, wide shoreline spreads out before me, as I drive over a bridge across the stream coming off the mountain into the bay where three Great Blue Herons stand like sentinels along the line where the seaweed meets the sand.
I've known Toni Knudson since I moved to Orcas six years ago, lived and worked just down the road. Since then, I moved to another world on San Juan Island, coming back to this dream island whenever I can. She is a no-nonsense business woman with a passion for friends and community. She greets me with the mischievous smile and intense blue eyes, ready to tell me about the latest goings on at the shellfish farm.
The Shuck Shack was an old storage shed full of ropes and old crabpots until recently, and I've watched as she's transformed it into a clean, well-lighted place for oysters, neatly set out in labeled bins in a bin flushed with salt water. Refrigerated display cases hold frozen-at-sea salmon that her husband Mark, catches, along with clams, mussels, and spot prawns in season.
Today, Tara is helping me out, who, in a black dress and braid is a most stylish oysterwoman. This island is like that, where practical farmers know a shell-covered aprons and muck boots play against the latest thrift store find. You never know who might walk up the path or where you'll have to go.
"These are from Eld Inlet near Shelton," she says. "They're smaller kumamotos - briny. They're good!"
I choose a baker's dozen of various kinds, including three from Buck Bay. Toni is now bringing in oysters from other farms to create a platter that rivals any oyster bar on the West Coast. She lays them out with a bottle of Tabasco and lime wedges on a rustic picnic table, an umbrella shading us from the July sun.
I've hauled 3 of my favorite oyster wines along with: Lopez Island Vineyard 7 Winery Madeleine Angevine, Cooper Mountain and Adelsheim Pinot Gris, all produced without chemicals in the vineyard.
Both grapes and oysters, done right, can help heal water.
One oyster can filter between 25 and 50 gallons of water per day.
Multiply that by tens of thousands, millions, even billions of oysters - as in the Billion Oyster Project now ongoing in New York City - and water has a chance to be healed from past and continuing crimes of industry.
Not sure I'd eat those first oysters in New Yrok Harbor, but time will tell. And here, oysters filter the clean, cold fresh water that runs off Mt. Constitution, for the sweetest oysters I've tasted.
Grapes on the other hand, have been the bad guy in the past (and present). Most often, they are a monoculture, one crop depleting soil of nutrients and ecosystems of biodiversity.
But some in the industry are shifting, creating standards of growing wine, production and packaging, etc. that help avoid runoff of chemical fertilizers and herbicides that damage rivers and therefore salmon habitat. (You can also find out more about some of these methods such as Salmon-Safe, organics, biodynamics and others in my book, The Green Vine.)
But oysters and grapes can both be part of the solution if we let our tastebuds - and our common sense - be our guides.