Oyster Cruising in Maine on the Damariscotta River

Eating Oysters Daramiscotta RiverChip was what would happen if the comic Steven Wright had ever decided to turn it down a few notches and to pilot an oyster boat.

 

While the dull and droll boat captain of Damariscotta Maine River Cruises was a curious creature, every person on the tour cared mostly about another organism: the oysters.

 

But Olga, the first mate and oyster shucker, had yet to don the chainmail glove. So the thirty people on board occupied cushioned seats and tried to listen to Chip’s lecture.

 

Oysters are all born male, he explained, turn female after eighteen months, and some turn back to male “to, well, you know.”

 

We studied the Damariscotta River. Black cormorants stood impatiently on rock outcroppings, appearing as ravenous as us.

 

Eating oysters demands two things: the right domain and freshness. Nothing is fresher than tipping back shells at the source, which in Maine is on the Damariscotta River. Revered for having some of the world’s finest, this is where eighty percent of the state’s oysters are harvested.

 

“On Friday nights,” Chip began, changing his tone from languid to above-listless, “the people in the houses across the river get drunk, turn on lights, and have a Morse code party.

 

Morse code jokes aside, I understood very little of Chip’s talk. Perhaps it was the content or maybe the competition: Olga finally plunged her blade into the six types of oysters she had listed on the menu. (Sometimes she serves all nine varieties of oysters from the river.)

 

I began with the Pemaquid, sweet and briny, and then slurped up one from Otter Cove. It had similar qualities and an origin story that involved the same river. I looked over the rails of the boat to watch the oystermen and women at one farm tend to their equipment.

 

“It doesn’t get any fresher,” Chip said. “These oysters never leave the river.”

 

I worked around the plate to the very large Norumbega oysters, which also possessed a briny quality, but were more savory than the first two.

 

Clothespins gripped the edge of my plate, indicating the names of each mollusk. Glidden Point was next, followed by Heron Island.

 

While climate change has devastating effects for our future, one bright spot—as sunny as the peacefulness one may experience just before a fatal car crash—is that Maine’s oyster growing season has been extended, allowing the farmers and Chip and Olga to run their businesses from May until fall each year.

 

Chip yammered on about something else. His voice fluctuated subtly. I’m sure a joke followed, but I was more concerned with the last of my six oysters, which was much more memorable than anything he had to say.

 

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Posted on by Noah Lederman in I Ate What?

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