The Oyster Garden

Did you know that oysters clean the water they live in?

This morning I woke up with a visual fragment of a dream. It was a tide pool brimming with oysters that had been opened and exposed to the sunlight. They were covered over with water so still protected from drying out and dying or being eaten by predatory birds. They glistened like the pearls oysters are known to produce. The crusty mollusks often seen clinging to docks, the cultivated freshwater oysters grown for their earthy gems and a plate of oysters on the half-shell, are, in fact, one and the same. It was a strange and wildly beautiful image.

Seeing the oysters there laying open to the light of day on the hard rocky surface of the tide pool reminded me of some artwork I’d seen once drawn by a patient who had just brought some trapped and hidden feelings to the surface through psychotherapy. The patient (it was a female, as I remember) had been suffering from severe depression. After years of work she was finally able to release some memories that had long been repressed.

The artwork involved an impressionistic image of light trapped in circular clusters within a solid shoreline rock formation. At the end of her journey she painted the light emanating from the rock surface. With nothing trapped inside. This indicated that the trapped energy reached the surface and released its potential back to the individual.

This unknown woman’s experience probably resonated with me then because I knew I needed to do the same. I studied Jungian psychology briefly in graduate school as part of Pacifica Graduate Institute’s MA/PhD track in world mythology. This is probably where I encountered the seaside image and story that informs my own dream symbols.

I’ve never been particularly fond of eating oysters but these looked luscious and strangely vulnerable lying out there in the open. The feeling that accompanied the visual was almost sexual mixed with gratitude to the natural world for its incredible bounty. There was a sense of freedom and joy. So it’s no wonder that associated memory came to mind given my recent “intuitive healing.”

The phrase “the oyster garden” swam up to the surface of waking consciousness along with the image too. Interesting. Is there such a thing? So I decided to investigate. Lo and behold, oyster gardening is actually a thing! It turns out that oysters (bivalve mollusks) actually clean the water they live in of excess nitrogen. The Chesapeake Bay, which has been a major producer of edible oysters in the U.S.A. has a program to encourage residents to garden oysters to replenish the bay and clean the water. Virginia and Texas also engage in oyster gardening. Who knew?

So maybe there are more layers of meaning to be mined from the dream image and phrase. It would seem that the humble oyster is full of nutrition. This creature also cleans aquatic environments, produces beautiful gems and even offers symbolic confirmation of healing. Maybe I need to go eat an oyster or two.

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