This Thanksgiving, I began buying live, wild scallops from a local Greenport bayman, Joe Angevine. He arrives at my dock in Widow’s Hole on Mondays at noon. He’s been scratching the bay bottom all morning and brings me 1000 beautiful, delicate animals, still clucking in their shells. I transfer them from his totes to purses which I hang along the edge of my dock, handling them as gently as farm eggs. At dawn on Tuesdays, I load my van with a ton of oysters – that’s about 6000, then I count out Joe’s scallops, bed them in smaller coolers on top of the big marine coolers full of oysters, and drive into Manahatta.
Oysters can refrigerate for a week or two. Scallops, on the other hand, only last for a day. Both sets of animals are almost two years old. If not harvested by May, every scallop will die of old age just before its second birthday - a very interesting and beautiful creature. I try to get the one year scallop bugs that I find in my oyster cages to thrive in the creek but they rarely do. They prefer to be nestled in beds of seaweed – eel grass drives them wild and they will procreate copiously if they find such a spot. Sadly, very little of it thrives in the Peconic Bay anymore.
Anyway, the live, wild scallops have been a rare local treat this year in the bistros of New York. Each week Joe brings me more. He’s happy to do it – I pay him a premium to the local market and he doesn’t have to shuck them, which is what happens as soon as the burlap sacks of scallops are placed (no bayman throws them) on the culling room floor.
Joe first arrived Monday, November 21st at noon. The following week at noon on the 28th, after watching Joe dock for the second time, I had an epiphany and decided I must write Witold.
Witold Rybczynski is a professor of architecture at U Penn and an author of many popular books about houses, urban and suburban life, and life in general. Twenty years ago he wrote an interesting book entitled Waiting for the Weekend. I was not an oyster farmer then, rather working in the corporate world, and the book leapt into my hands and I was out the door, reading as I walked along Union Square.
Obviously, the book is about the weekend, but, Witold first had to deal with the concept of a week before zooming in on that delicious icing on the cake, so to speak. I enjoyed the book and often bought more of Pan Rybczynski’s titles because it was such an engaging read. However, his discourse about why we have seven days in a week, I found a little unfulfilling. I never knew why exactly, but, something along the lines that the explanation was a little too easy, not as rigorous as I had come to expect from the Professor.
Rybczynski argued that the reason we have 7 days in a week is that there are seven heavenly bodies, excluding the stars and comets, that are visible to the naked eye. And indeed, in Latin, the days of the week are named for them. But suppose that 7 days existed in and of itself, and the heavenly bodies were simply chosen to differentiate them. For 7 surely preceded the weekend. God made the world in 7. The Vikings substituted some of their gods, but kept 7. It’s a lucky number, everyone knows that. I think an astounding percentage of people in the world believe 7 is their own personal lucky number. What’s the big deal about 7? Why choose that number to segment the longer unit of time, the month? Rybczynski noted that the Egyptians, a riverine culture, had three ten day weeks in their month. Suppose the Romans, a coastal empire that sailed goods all over the seas, decided on 7 days and then had to pull some names out of the clear blue sky.
I emailed Witold, for like almost everyone, he has a website with a Contact me and he’s peering out through his node, his ip address, his mailbox all day for something intriguing to float by, something carried in by the tide.
His reply came instantly and showed what fascinating creatures we humans are, what noble works, what masters, however inept, of our domain.
Witold wrote, and I am quoting verbatim and en toto, “So interesting about the tides – I had no idea. BTW, how do I go about ordering oysters?”
From my return address, he could tell I was somehow in the oyster business and his glands secreted to him that he may get a nice treat out of this correspondence. Indeed, we quickly hammered out a fair trade: two books for three dozen oysters. Obviously, he was slightly ahead, but he was the world famous Professor and Writer and I was just a humble oyster poor boy. I threw in a French oyster knife to make his experience complete.
My mind numbing revelation quickly slipped through his facile brain. This insight into civilization, trade, human thinking, time itself was shelved for the next meal.
For days before writing Witold I had marveled at this eureka into human evolution, the awakening of the mind, the ordering of the flow of the universe.
And it was all because Joe Angivine wanted my premium for his scallops and did not want to shuck them as he had done his entire 60 years of existence out on the East End of Long Island.
You see, Joe’s boat is bigger than mine and the entrance to Widow’s Hole is relatively shallow. So the first Monday, arriving at exactly noon and exactly low tide, he had to tilt his big 225 horse Mercury and putt in slowly, lest his propeller strike the cobbles and sand at the shallow bar of the creek. The next week, exactly at noon again on the second Monday, I was waiting on my dock for Joe’s arrival. He called me that he was heading in and asked how was the entrance. I glanced at the bay cresting the breakwater, waves and backwash colliding into each other like they only do at high tide.
Seven days, I suddenly realized, is the amount of time between high and low tide.
I had to count out Joe’s scallops into lots of 100 and pay him. Distracted by my unproven thesis, I twice lost count and, embarrassed, had to start over in front of Joe and his mate. Once the scallops were stowed, I quickly returned inside and searched my desk for the ever-present tide chart. Every bayman has a half dozen of them: tacked by the door, crammed in a corner of the his boat cabin – his Rhode Island outhouse – or on his desk if he has a desk. Picking any day and traversing to the seventh day past it, I could see my theory proven: seven days, to the hour, is the time between high tide and low tide on any spot on the planet. Almost clockwork.
There is indeed something heavenly about the number 7.
It divides the new moon from the half and the half from the full. It is a full exhale of the earth, a karmic ohm to the moon, a cosmic pulse that touches us, while bathing the earth, in our quest to the next weekend, the next rest from whatever our toils have been. It’s the span between installments of the Sunday New York Times for god’s sake!
Most days I awake before sunrise. Like any bayman, when I look at the water, I instantly note the tide. Witold is awake on his node. We exchange greetings about the smallness of the world and point each other to interesting things to read. I sense he’s moved on about why there are seven days in a week, but I’ll send him some oysters and champagn anyway.