The Oat and the Oyster

Nicoletta Fiorucci Foundation


11th October 2022

Time: 11am, height of tide: 1.82m

Said the Oat to the Oyster:

Fresh water is flooding in from the North Sea at Whitstable, 

mingling with the waters of the Thames estuary 

and submerging row upon row of oyster beds.  

Among the millions upon millions of oysters, there you are, 

nestled in a bag with your siblings.  

Already you are alert, anticipating the flood. 

Before the lull of low tide,

before the swirling eddies, 

before the shock of cold salty water rushed in, 

your primordial instinct stirred and there started a rhythm.  

More than a punctuated beat,

yours is a strum, 

like fingers sweeping across harp strings, 

in the microscopic cilia at the fringes of your very cells.  

Slender, hair-like structures that extend from the surface of your cells, they pulsate rhythmically to a score regulated by an internal clock in resonance with the cosmos.  

11.30 am 2.51m

Here in a field of grey-brown limey soil that runs down to the head of the river I stand stubbornly among a sparse rabble of my straggling sister oats, barley and wilting pea plants.  Months now since harvest, the ground is covered in a rough stubble of short spiky straw. But just where the field dips southwards into a damp hollow, the crop ripened quickly in this year’s hot summer and a smattering of seeds dropped early, escaping the combine harvester. Now, as the rains have finally returned, I sense you in my own anticipation of the water stirring at my roots.

12pm 3.36m

Do you wonder at this lively swarm of watery molecules, 

cooler and saltier as it swirls below you, 

slow and murky at the surface?

I was a late offering, a rebel, a seed squashed into the soil by the wheels of the combine – germinating in the searing heat of July and shooting upwards in lanky bursts. 
My predecessors, planted in the spring, grew slowly through the cooler months, gaining strength as they waited with unhurried confidence for the days to lengthen, for the sun to overrule the moon.  

12.30pm 4.02m

Country waters flow into the estuary, 

They have journeyed over 200 miles, 

gathering dirt and stories as they trickled and washed through the west country, 

before the shock of the bullish and bustling city riverway, 

where – perhaps for the first time they experienced the unnerving throb of the tide 

gesturing them back to where they came from. 

But they pushed on until they found you 

and collided head on with their brackish and salty cousin, the North Sea. 

1pm 4.68m

My time is short.  The chemicals from the recent harvest are soaking away now into the soil, penetrating easily through layers of limestone until they reach the watercourse below.  My panicles  – grown too quickly and too small in the warmth of August – are waterlogged from the recent rains, changed from a hopeful gold to a dull brown.  In any case, by purchasing the seed from which I was reproduced, the farmer has entered into a contract which illegitimises my very existence.  Farm-saved seed cannot be used for commercial purposes and my out-of-season appearance means I grew from untreated seed.  Seed that no-one paid for, seed that is uncontrolled.  In the spring, whatever remains of me will be ploughed back into the soil. The run off from the fields mingles with spring water from the tributaries as the river picks up pace. 

1.30pm 5.37m

As the waters muddle their way out of the estuary,
they lap up the long shallow beaches of Whitstable and the Isle of Sheppey.
With salt in the soil and seeping into the marshes,
the river tells its stories to land and the plants here call out to you. 
Thrift and sea purslane, rock samphire and sour fig, sea beet, sea oats –
like you, they all have salt running through their veins, they anticipate the tide. 

2pm 5.88m

Said the Oyster to the Oat:

You are wrong. The river is not a carrier of stories, 

rather it is the story itself. 

There is no start and end to its flow.  

That stirring at your roots is me shivering into the estuary

And it is the moon moving the oceans

And it is your sisters and brothers whispering through the mycelium

2.48pm 6.53m

Each day you replicate the rhythms of your ancestors,
the molecular pulsing of enzymes,
the drubbing beat of carbon being metabolised
resounds through your circadian pathway.
Through iterative cycles, you forge a memory that spans generations, 

In your cadences you have re-membered territories
you have found resonance and reciprocity. 
Your rhythmic expression trembles the water of the river and
the water becomes your memory too.