The clamming rake looked like a murder weapon, and from a clam’s point of view that’s exactly what it was. The rake leaned against the clam basket, a container constructed out of wire mesh. It appeared that the clammer (that would be me) swung the rake into the sand unearthing the sought after shellfish and plunked them into the basket. Once the clamming adventure ended, the basket was dipped into the ocean to rinse the game. Then they’re shuttled off to the kitchen to start (or more accurately to end) their lives as ingredients. However, these shellfish had nothing to fear, being a catch and release clammer that I was.
At least that’s what I figured out from examining the equipment. What did I know? I’m from Illinois visiting new friends in Massachusetts who although have access to the equipment were not avid clammers. (“I did it once for 15 minutes and quit,” said Marcie.) The only clams I’d seen in the Midwest lined ice mounds in the Jewel butcher shop and I wanted to know how they ended up there. That’s how I found myself enroute to the Ipswich Town Hall for a clamming license. I hoped it was a license like a fishing license where you paid for it and was on your way and not like a driver’s license that required knowledge and skill to obtain.
From the back seat I read a Wikipedia article and watched two YouTube videos explaining the clamming process. If need be I was prepared to answer multiple choice questions and demonstrate my rake swing to be a licensed clammer. However, no one was interested in my experience level. I exchanged $20 for rules, regulations, and a cross cut of a PVC pipe with instructions that if the clam slipped through the plastic ring it’s too small and can’t be harvested.
Within minutes Marcie pulled into a parking lot by a stretch of beach teeming with clams. I couldn’t actually SEE them teeming since all the teeming was executed UNDER the sand instead of on top, but I could feel it in my clamming bones.
Booted and hauling my equipment to the nearest patch of sand I swung my rake downward. The tines pierced the surface about an inch.
“Oh, no,” I thought as the rake glanced off something hard. “I’ve impaled a clam.”
I imagined the rake had speared a shellfish like a toothpick an olive.
“Rocks,” Marcie said, “go farther out.”
As I trudged towards the water, Marcie and Mike perched on a stone wall watching my efforts. Clamming was a lonely venture.
I mentally reviewed my newly attained clam information culled from the Internet. “Locate U shaped holes. Stomp around the holes and look for bubbling. Then dig up clams.”
No problem – a simple four step process,
I walked farther passing hollow clam shells and heaps of snails. Perhaps I should have snailed instead of clammed. A hopeful seagull trailed for a while. Then, after pegging me for a rookie, abandoned the pursuit.
For an hour I located, stomped, looked, and dug. Still no clams.
While scouting yet another clamming spot, I spied a tangle of seaweed. A black shell poked out. Upon closer examination I found a shellfish. Not Wikipedia . . . not YouTube. . . no one told me that clams could be found on TOP of the sand!
I harvested the clam and was as happy as one at high tide.
Finding Marcie and Mike where I left them I proudly displayed my clam.
“Well it IS a shellfish,” said Marcie.
Something in her tone caused me to doubt my success.
“Looks like a clam to me,” Mike said.
Since Mike knew less about clams than I, I suspected they both pretended to believe it was a clam so we could leave. Not wanting to delay them I went along with the hoax. I returned my clamlike creature to a nest of seaweed.
On the way to the car, a pair of authentic clammers worked the beach and THEIR buckets were filled. This was my chance.
“May I approach?” I shouted. He wielded a clamming fork larger than mine and that warranted caution.
He muttered a reluctant yes. I explained my quest to catch a clam, assuring him I wasn’t keeping any. Clearly uninterested in my life, he continued his hunt elsewhere.
His abandoned hole gaped before me. I swung my rake along the side and hauled out a slab of sand revealing a REAL clam.
It squirted a stream of water in my direction falling short of its target.
I returned my find to the hole patting sand over it.
For an hour I had dug too shallow.
I felt like a chowderhead!