Alive Alive O!
I heard a Musqueam elder say this a few years ago at a Vancouver gathering, but its echoes are much older. Any of the First Peoples who've been living along this western coast since time immemorial know it, and know it well. This is the first day I've lived it.
We've been talking about gathering mussels all week, but the time just wasn't right. For one thing, you need a low tide, and this time of year when daylight is limited, low tides are scarce. In fact, they become increasingly later in the day over the next week, and by December 15, as we move closer to Winter Solstice, low tide occurs in the dark.
Today, I took advantage of a low tide at 9:45am. Perfect. Right after my last weather. I wanted to check out the tide pools and see what I could photograph. Unfortunately, there wasn't too much around.
But the next item on the agenda was collecting mussels. (Any of you who know me will understand that mixing Irish and First Nations expressions is not unusual for me.)
Anyway, we pick our way across a crunchy white beach, composed largely of clam and mussel shells battered by the sea and rocks. Tony carries the pail. By now, he's discovered my rather indelicate large motor skills--add slime to klutz and the simple answer is, let her use both hands!
He points out a few things, like these sweet sea anemones who, like us, are bundled up in the incredibly cold (-2) sunshine.
At last, we reach the mussel beds and hunker down. This is my first mussel-harvesting experience. You have to kind of dig them out and hack them off at their beards, tough hairy threads with which they attach themselves to the rocks--most likely to save them from being carried off by ravens and eagles. It's hard work, though pleasant enough, with no wind and in the sunshine. (Sorry about the knife, Tara, it may never be the same.) With a half bucket of mussels, we head back.
The next thing I have to do is clean them, scrape off any barnacles, and trim their beards. Tony gives me his recipe, and I set about making dinner: a large stock pot, a little olive oil, some chopped red onion and garlic. Meanwhile, I decide to make fettuccine (gluten-free of course) and start boiling up the noodles. Into the stock pot, goes a whack of white wine, and when it starts to boil, in go the mussels.
Here they are about 15 minutes later, all cracked open, steamy, and good.
Once the noodles are cooked, I drain them, throw in some butter and feta cheese, and then pour in the wine broth from the mussels. And then, at last, it's dinner time! The table is set. Alive alive-o!