Crystal Jordan is dancing on the water.
Left to right, right to left, she moves her feet to a rhythm that became second nature long ago. Left to right, right to left, her worn-out boots do a waltz on the breaking waves. The warm orange glow of an early-spring sunrise slowly spreads across her face, as little beads of sweat begin to break along her brow.
Riding her boat on the mouth of the Patuxent River, just off Solomons Island on the southwest fringes of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Crystal Jordan’s fancy footwork is pushing the pedals of a patent tong. With each tap of her toes, she moves the cumbersome piece of machinery, swinging it over the side of the boat, splashing it into the water below, watching it dive down to the bottom until the line goes slack. With a pivot of her heels, the hydraulic claw digs up a heaping clump of oyster bed, which rises back to the surface and cascades onto the culling board like wet pocket change on a hardwood floor.
Within seconds, she assesses her treasure trove—discarding dead oysters and golf balls, saving old Coca-Cola bottles and medicine jars, finding the occasional arrowhead and shark’s tooth, which she hands to Little Kevin, her right-hand man and 3-and-a-half-year-old son. With a keen eye, she spies the market-size oysters—three inches from hinge to bill—and with a stone-skipping flick of her wrist, throws the little ones back into the bay.