Romancing the Oyster

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Having coffee on the porch this morning reminded me of why visitors spend hundreds of dollars a night to wrap themselves in the beauty of Beaufort county’s creeks, marshes and beaches. First there was the rainbow, arching over the Beaufort River during a sun shower. Then an osprey flew past with a fish clutched in its talons, torpedo style. So forgive me if I’m feeling a little romantic about this little slice of paradise.

I’m blaming it on an aphrodisiac that literally surrounds us – the oyster. Friday I had the chance to help some DNR scientists build castles for these sexy creatures. Yes, you read that right. Not just a home for oysters, or a habitat, but castles. And where better than one of the most scenic spots in all of Beaufort: the marsh abutting the Pigeon Point public boat landing.


It turns out the wave energy at that particular bend of the Beaufort River, and the substrate under the water, demands the VIP treatment. I’ve done other oyster habitat builds for SCORE and Friends of Hunting Island, where volunteers form a human chain and deposit bags of discarded oyster shells into shallow areas to refurbish depleted oyster beds or build new ones. But that works best in muddy, somewhat protected areas. The spot at Pigeon Point needs something heavier, less likely to roll and break apart in the wakes of passing snowbirds.

So the scientists at the Department of Natural Resources and the National Estuarine Research Reserve waived their magic wand and came up with the idea of building castles for oysters in the ACE basin. Here’s a picture of a jon boat full of them. Think cinder blocks but with fancy crenellated tops that stack together like Lego.


Castle building is not for the lily-livered. Only die-hard, hopeless oyster romantics can heft the heavy castles from trailer to jon boat and finally to pluff-mud and sandy river shore.


The skies parted, the humidity lifted and a light breeze seemed to bless the quest. Only one in 1.145 million oyster “spat” (pea-sized, cross fertilized larva — according to Naturalist Todd Ballantine) survive the starfish, oystercatchers and drum fish that prey on them. But one adult oyster can live ten years and yield billions of babies. And if that doesn’t warrant a palatial nursery I don’t know what does.

This is a long-term love story. There are plenty of ways to help keep it going strong. If you missed Friday’s build at the Pigeon Point Landing there are two more chances this week: at 1pm Tuesday and again at 2pm on Wednesday — both at Pigeon Point Landing. The DNR provides oyster-castle-building gloves and plenty of cold water – all you have to bring are your own rose-colored glasses.

If it’s candles and wine you want, then come hear an ACE basin expert – Dean Harrigal – give a GreenDrinks talk at Saltus on Bay Street tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 6pm and stay for a romantic dinner.

Oysters and Movies

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There I was in the Cancun Mexico airport, hungry, with three hours to kill before flying home after a soul-nourishing Christmas vacation in Tulum. There’s nothing like a loud, fluorescently blinding, over air-conditioned airport terminal to kill the vacation vibe. I felt even sorrier for all the other travelers having to return to a miserable January in Minnesota and Wisconsin (their Packers and Vikings-wear gave them away, along with their sunburns.)

And then I spotted the Bubba Gump Seafood Restaurant near gate C18. It was an attitude check, however commercial, that I was lucky to be returning to a place so lovely it stars in movies like Forrest Gump. I confess it was my first time dining at the chain where you order your food by flipping a license plate sign on your table to signal waiters: “Run Forrest Run.” The friendly, mandatory, “How y’all doing?” was giggle inducing, coming from a young woman with an accent from much farther South. And then it happened. I looked up and saw a faux-country-framed photograph of my good friend, Marlena Smalls, on the front porch of a house on Lady’s Island. It was a publicity still depicting the moment before “Bubba’s mother” passes out.

She still looks the same, almost twenty years later, and so does the house. In fact it’s the location for this Saturday’s Beaufort International Film Festival’s fundraising oyster roast. For the price of two burgers at the Cancun Airport’s Bubba Gump restaurant, you can eat fresh Lowcountry oysters “on location” of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films.

There haven’t been many movies made in Beaufort since then, which is something the festival’s director is trying to fix. Ron Tucker has managed to get every filmmaker whose work is an official selection of the festival to actually come to Beaufort for the screenings. It makes for an incredible Q&A session after each movie, and more importantly, it exposes the most promising new filmmakers to everything that is beautiful about Beaufort. With any luck, and with better incentives from the state, they’ll end up filming future masterpieces here again.

Who knows, maybe one of them will direct my latest screenplay. It’s a romantic comedy called “The Wedding Photographer” and takes place in Beaufort. I won’t give the plot away (you’ll have to come to the screenwriter’s roundtable on Feb 16th to hear actors stage an excerpt) but you’ll get a taste if you come to the oyster roast fundraiser. The band playing as we all shuck oysters and eat chili is a local favorite, Kirk Dempsey and his Side Street Walkers. Guess who I’ve written into the final scene of my screenplay?  So come on out and maybe you’ll be able to say you saw them play, at Bubba’s Momma’s house, before they made it big on the silver screen.   

That's Kirk Dempsey behind me, singing out on his farm earlier this year, he's incredible!