- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — A famed oak tree that stood on the Eastern Shore for more than four centuries is helping to raise money to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay — more than three years after the Wye Oak fell.

A group of Baltimore woodworkers have acquired scraps from Wye Oak and are making Chesapeake-style oyster knives from the wood.

The group plans to make 1,000 commemorative knives and sell each for $200 or more to raise money for Bay cleanup efforts, including oyster restoration.

“This is an opportunity to take advantage of the great tree’s falling and turn it into something good for the Chesapeake Bay,” woodworker Dale German told the Baltimore Sun.

Wye Oak grew for about 450 years along the old Choptank Trail north of Easton. At one point, it was America’s largest white oak, soaring 10 stories in a state park named after it, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The tree was stabilized by cables before finally succumbing to a lightning strike in 2002.

Wood from the tree was tagged immediately for special projects.

The state took some of it to fashion a desk for the governor’s office. Other sections were donated to local churches for crosses, set aside for artisans who wanted to carve sculptures, and given to Talbot County for the carving of an official seal for the courthouse.

Mr. German had wondered what would become of the oak.

“My surprise, when it fell, was quickly followed by a woodworker’s natural curiosity about what might become of the wood from this miraculous giant,” he said.

Mr. German talked to old buddy and former neighbor Paul Bartlett, 53, a head chef at the Phillips chain of seafood restaurants.

Mr. Bartlett had been bemoaning the lack of Chesapeake-style oyster knives since the Carvel Hall cutlery company of Crisfield folded in 2000.

During the decades when oysters were a mainstay of Maryland’s economy, these narrow-bladed instruments with teardrop-shaped wooden handles had been ubiquitous in family kitchens.

But as overharvesting, disease and pollution decimated Chesapeake oyster populations, the knives became more difficult to find.

Mr. German and Mr. Bartlett decided to take unwanted chunks of the Wye Oak offered for free by the state and use them as a selling point to bring back a symbolic artifact of the region’s culinary history.

To design the knives properly, they called on another friend, George Hastings, 50, a state transportation engineer who has won two national oyster-shucking championships.

In Mr. German’s woodworking shop, Mr. Hastings picked up a finished knife and demonstrated how to stab the skinny blade between the front edges of oyster shells, using what he called the Chesapeake technique.

In states such as Louisiana and Texas, Mr. Hastings said, thicker knives are used to pry open the oyster’s hinge at the rear.

“This is all a part of the history and culture of the Chesapeake Bay, which the great Wye Oak oversaw and was part of,” Mr. Hastings said.

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