This is our fourth winter on Cape Cod, and I didn’t like any of the first three. It’s not just that my cold tolerance is decreasing as I age, the snow turns our driveway into a carnival ride, and my husband insists on winter activities centering around the possibility of falling through ice into water. It’s that winter on Cape Cod is isolating. Restaurants are closed. Tourists are gone. Everyone whose driveway is a carnival ride stays home, huddled around the woodstove.
This winter, though, this winter is different. It’s the first week in February, and the ground isn’t frozen. We’ve had exactly one snowstorm, and the foot of snow melted in 48 hours. Temperatures have been in the forties most days, and occasionally in the fifties. The only body of water that has iced over is the puddle on the low spot in our driveway.
Each day that is warmer than normal seems like a gift, a gift that takes us one day closer to our goal of an ice-free winter.
Even if I weren’t an oyster farmer, the prospect of an ice-free winter would make me happy. But the thirty thousand or so oysters we still have in cages out in Barnstable Harbor give an ice-free winter a whole new meaning.
Most oyster farmers take all their stock and equipment in over the winter because ice destroys everything its path. You can leave nice neat rows of cages out in December and come out to heap of twisted wire in March. We took in our seed (oysters we got as pinheads last spring) just around New Year’s, and the 100,000 one-inch oysters will remain safely stowed in a giant refrigerator until, probably, April. But we still had a good number of this year’s crop that didn’t quite make it to three inches, the size at which we can legally sell them. At this very moment, Kevin and I may own more 2 7/8-inch oysters than anyone on the planet.
We’ve been ready to take them in for a couple months now. We’ve planned to put them in big plastic boxes called fish totes, that hold about 800 oysters each, and store them in our basement, which stays cold but doesn’t freeze. It’s not an ideal way to store them, and we would expect a good portion of them to die, so we didn’t want to take them off the water until we had to.
And so we watched the ten-day weather forecast, waiting for temperatures to drop low enough to freeze the water in the harbor. As long as there was no ice, there was no need to bring in the oysters.
All December, there was no ice and no prospect of ice. And again in January. And now it’s the first week in February, and the ten-day forecast shows more of the same. It’s beginning to look like we’re going to have an ice-free winter, which, with luck, our almost-legal oysters will spend not dying in Barnstable Harbor.
So far, so good. We went to check them yesterday, and found them happy and healthy. Some of them even showed signs of growth, in the form of a translucent white ring around the edge of the shell. Growth! In February!
I’m sure a freakishly warm winter will have unfortunate repercussions. A little later in the year, we may have wall-to-wall insects, an unpredictable growing season, or mutant raccoons the size of mastiffs. At this point, though, I’m ready to pay almost any price. One more month, please. One more month.