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A pile of lobsters for dinner?

It was the least the crew deserved after a week of drainer tides. So Will hosted a crew dinner at his place on Thursday night. He and Berg pulled up a pile of “lobbies” from their traps last week. The result? A feast of steamed meats that the crew literally devoured standing up.

We’re not the only ones flush with the luxury meat, as this great article in NY Mag can attest (and we know a lot of guys that consider Old Bay their “secret”). But it sure was nice to see Berg’s biggest catch, a 2 1/2 pounder get lumped into the feast.

Maggie and Eva contributed with a few sides, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli (which were also devoured within minutes of being plated), while Michelle whipped up a nice guacamole for the crew. My contribution? Brats for the grill, of course.

2010 seed crew

The girls and I had lots to celebrate that night. We’d officially shut down one of our upwellers (the dreaded 20s) earlier in the week and can probably count on getting the rest of the seed wrapped up by the end of the month. It’s a far cry from last year’s late August wrap up but one we’re all a little sad to see coming. Just when we’ve gotten the dance down to a science (lift the silo, tip forward, steady the tote, spray the hose here, watch your feet, don’t lose the wingnut…) it already seems to be ending. Hopefully, for those who make it back next year, the routine won’t escape us over the winter.

This week also marked Dave’s first hand-picking tide. We stayed with Maggie on Sunday night so we could arrive at the water for our 5 a.m. start time Monday morning. Dave kept up with the crew, as did Skip’s daughter Samantha, and all in all, we picked a somewhat hefty number of crates. I did hear about some tight hamstrings later in the week but I think Dave was surprised at how enjoyable the work was. Plus, he got to see one of the week’s most beautiful sunrises…one of my personal favorite perks of the job.

I’ve been hearing it for weeks. We’re in the midst of the best season Island Creek has ever seen. High temps, crystal clear days, very little wind = perfect conditions for both the crew and the seed. The bay is packed with life, as evidenced by the schools of herring dancing across the top of the water near the docks every day. Terns flit around our heads while we grade and eels are swimming in our upwellers. We haven’t had much rain which means there’s not a lot of fresh water entering the Bay but the seed is still finding plenty of food. Last year at this time (the absolute worst season in Island Creek history), we were still a month and a half away from shutting down the upweller. On Friday, Skip hinted that we might be getting out of ours in a week or two. What a difference a year makes.

The temperatures are causing our seed to explode at a much faster rate. And faster growing seed requires a lot of extra hands. This year, Maggie, Eva, and Michelle have jumped on the seed crew, making my job as seed manager much, much easier. We’ve been grading every day for the past three weeks and have the routine — and stimulating conversation — down to a science. (Eva and I actually startled ourselves on the first day of grading when we realized we’d both forgotten how to tip a silo and what word we used for “subs.” Luckily, we got our wits about us quickly.)

Grading essentials: totes, silos, buckets, graders

Skip’s playing with a few other products this year, like clams and scallops. The clams are a nice touch – they’ve been hanging out in our upwellers so Michelle and I graded some a few weeks back. Such a difference from oysters! They’re smooth and mostly pearly white so they slide through the grader like beads. So clean! So easy to work with! No, we’re not turning into a clam farm. But I wouldn’t complain if we did…

But who am I kidding? I’m an oyster girl. The seed is sharp and fickle and fragile. They’re our babies. My crew mates are mastering their ability to identify which seed came what hatchery. We make a stellar team. Plus, being able to hang out with them for hours at a time makes the tedious, painful parts of the job (including toe injuries and a million tiny finger cuts) all worthwhile.

bonded by seed

Other than the new faces on the seed crew, characters around the docks are all the same. Gustav, the resident cormorant, has been guzzling down whole, live eels while we grade. And just like last year, we spend the day dancing around DBMS students, teachers, and rowers.

Meanwhile, out on the float… actually, I have no idea what’s happening on the float. I’m never out there these days (usually because I’m racing back up to the shop to work on Festival details). I hear it’s tough times out there, though. We’ve dried up the lease, clearing it of almost all of this year’s oysters after a busy winter. The guys are still pulling up crates but our cull and count has slowed to a crawl as the crew picks out the very best of what we have left. This coming week will give us a better idea of what’s in store – we have a week of huge tides and plenty of time to examine our upcoming crop. Everyone is hoping that in a few weeks, we can start dipping into all that seed we planted last summer.

As for me, my time is split between the docks and the shop. I’m spending my “farm” time on the seed and when we’re done grading or washing and the crew heads out to the float, I make my way up to the office to work on Festival details. Tickets went on sale last week! (Got yours yet?? If not, get on it.) It’s a lot of back and forth and early mornings but so far, I think I’m doing an ok job keeping my eye on both. The seed gets my attention during the day while the Festival takes over my life at night. Yes, it’s a ton of work but nothing I would give up or trade considering I get to use both sides of my brain and watch these two projects unfold in all the right ways.

What I haven’t got is a lot of time for anything else. Chris has taken over most of the farm tours, raw bars, and marketing work I put in place this winter. Occasionally, he and the other suits make their way to the dock to play with the seed. (I kid. This was me about 6 weeks ago.)

Suits on seed

But that’s the beauty of seasonal work. We’re at the midpoint of summer and my mind and body can feel it. Weekends are for resting. Or blogging. Or just enjoying a long, lazy day of air conditioning. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be giddy to get back to work, back on the tide, and right back to tending seed.

Erin on Twitter

July 2010