On Plenty and Waste

by Mike Petrik

All around, rows of blue eyes waver from between shell-lids.  They live scattered among the spent shells of their mollusk cohort, and they are sluggish—these blue-eyed scallops—in the January water that is warm enough and briny enough to stay liquid.

When I propel myself down with long spearfishing fins and the sea sucks its way into my snorkel, I taste the cold and the sweet of their meroplankton children and the suspended children of all the other denizens of the Salt Pond.  It is low tide and I don’t need to go much deeper than fifteen feet to gather them.  When I spot one while catching my breath at the surface, I know I am likely to find a few more as I track my way along the bottom.

A spider crab, tasting with the tips of its hinged-stilt legs, gathers mud and sea moss to its craggy, churning mouthparts.  If I saw another I would take them home and try to eat them too.  Deviled spider crab, maybe. Stuffing it with itself, and with hot sauce, breadcrumbs, butter; then badgering Bethany to try it.

What I do bring home is a sack full of scallops.  The last time I went out for them, there were a half-dozen homely, brown, seemingly sightless crabs tucked inside the shells when I cut out the abductors for food and the blue-eyed frills for bait. I dumped the crabs in the garden with the shells to be tilled into the soil in the spring, but figured I could find a way to eat them the next time.  That night I found that they were George Washington’s favorite, and that dinner party hosts often sought to impress him with a pint of these pea crabs swimming in his oyster stew.

This trip I find one lone pea crab in the company of a juvenile red hake seeking the same shell-shelter. And, in a few scallops, dozens of little dog-tick-sized crabs that look like the invasive Asian shore crabs I’d been frying up and pushing on everyone who came to see us on Block Island over the summer. The scallops with those crabs are discolored and don’t hold their shells tight against my shucking knife.  There seems to be nothing commensal about this relationship, or even benign, as with the pea crabs.

The dome carapace and half-formed legs of that single pea crab, sheltered in a scallop I gathered that New Years Day, are frozen rigor-stiff now—covered in hoar frost, left in the freezer in a neatly-labeled zip-lock, in a house we left months ago.


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