Ian Boyden > Essays > The Oystercatcher and the Pearl Feather

The Oystercatcher and the Pearl Feather

Ian H. Boyden

Crab Quill Press, 2006



The oystercatcher stands silently among coastal stones and meditates on the moon and its gentle pull. The winds blow, sea foam tumbles drunkenly along the edge of the ebbing water, small orbs of chalcedony lie cast upon the sand. In this margin, where earth and water search for correspondence, the bird becomes a black anchor tied to ethereal light. Auroras curtain the constellations of the winter skies; on summer nights, phosphorescence burns in the water at the vigilant oystercatcher's feet. But the ocean's edge, for all its novelty and danger, invites introspection. The oystercatcher turns its eyes inward and sees its own heart, the shape and color of a pearl. For a time, the oystercatcher becomes the oyster. And when the bird turns its gaze back toward the moon, the pull of the moon is now the pull of its own heart.


Some part of that pull resembles hunger. Some part of that pull resembles empathy. Some part of that pull resembles a wedge that keeps one thing from another: cold from hot, night from day, inhalation from exhalation. And somewhere near the center of that wedge is an ineffable point of measure—of light, of gravity, of circumference, of time. Its presence is felt here and there—in the waxing and waning of the moon, the beating heart, the opening and closing of the oyster's shell. For the oystercatcher, that point has become synonymous with the pearl, the moon, every point of nacreous light.


In turn, part of that pull becomes a desire to give something back. But what and to whom? The oystercatcher understands that its small patch of earth mirrors the night sky. It sees constellations among the stones scattered on the shore as well as in the barnacles strewn across the stones. Limpets travel among the rocks like planets, and the Milky Way shimmers in the spindrift. But the moon, the analogue of the bird's heart, remains hidden and swelling in the folds of the oyster. The bird watches the oysters slowly abscond with the light of the moon, which remains veiled in the darkness of their shells. Such greed on the part of the oyster fills the oystercatcher with decisive alarm and gives meaning to its wanderings. The bird begins to gather the pilfered lunar light. The gift—the pearl; the recipient—the moon. So go to the edge of the ocean on nights when the moon is new. If you are lucky, you might see great feathers of pearlescent light rising from the throats through the vermillion bills of the oystercatchers and up into the night sky.