“Who wants to go on a mussel tour tomorrow?” calls out the always jovial Brian Murphy to the gang around his fire at Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore about an hour from Halifax. “It’s free for you today!”
“I do!” I find myself answering, echoing the eager replies of others. My friends and I take the bait – hook, line and sinker, as they say.
Brian doesn’t entirely explain what it is that’s “free” until we get on the little lobster boat the next day. Once we’re on the water and settled in our chairs, enjoying the view, he says, “You’re working for me today.”
Here’s the deal. A bunch of us – a crew of about a dozen naïve souls – gets Brian’s free “tour” in exchange for an hour of back-breaking labour. Turns out, Brian will be dropping us off on a deserted shoreline at low tide where we’ve been volun-told to pick a couple hundred pounds of mussels, which we will then turn over to Captain Murphy.
Actually, the deal is far more in our favour than I’m letting on. While it is fun to play the role of shanghaied sailor, it’s more accurate to say that Brian is trading us a little work (which turns out to be more laughs than labour) for a scenic tour of the rugged islands along these shores.
There’s a current campaign by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust to raise $7 million to preserve all the islands we can see from his boat and more – 100 in all, totally 7000 acres and over 250 kilometers of shoreline. This is one of the last large group of wild islands in North America.
Some of this shore like Taylor Head and Clam Harbour Beach is already provincial park land. We pass windswept points, wave-smoothed rocky outcrops, untouched beaches and sheltered coves. We spot an osprey, fish clutched in claws, landing at its nest where it will feed its young. An eagle soars high overhead. A seal pops up and looks at us with a curiosity mirroring our own. A couple of kayakers explore the shore.
Brian drops us off in knee-deep water along a rocky shore with a few buckets. We’re all wearing good footwear of some kind to protect our feet from the sharp rocks and shells. Some don swimming goggles. The water is a warm 70 degrees, so wading around is more refreshing than shiver-inducing. Brian retreats in his boat to the middle of the bay while his crew poke among the stones and peek beneath seaweed for these “blueberries of the sea,” as he calls them.
The large ones we find in waist-deep water. The smaller, more palatable are nestled in crevices just above and below the low tide mark. At first, it’s hard to spot them, but as my eye becomes more accustomed to spotting their oval shapes among the jagged rocks, my mussel-plucking speed picks up and my technique improves. With a firm twist, I find I can detach the mussel from its berth, though some refuse to budge at all. I leave them behind to produce more for the next mussel pickers.
By the time the Captain returns for us, I’ve gathered half a basket full, perhaps 20 pounds. Others have done as well. Some have not – they chose to lollygag around on the warm rocks or go for a swim rather than put their backs into the work.
No matter. Brian offers all of us a place at the campfire that night where he’ll steam our catch and regale us with stories – some of them true – of these islands and of the rum runners and pirates and German spies who, he claims, hid themselves and their goods amongst them.
Brian also offers as many of the mussels as they can eat back to their campsite…free! My friends and I choose this option because we already have plans. I’ve purchased two dozen of the Eastern Shore’s finest oysters at Aquaprime Mussel Ranch and four lobsters from Lobster World, both just down the road. We’ll steam these over our own campfire, and after working up such an appetite from the mussel tour, we don’t feel like sharing.
This post was written and provided by Guest Blogger Darcy Rhyno.