For my spouse’s birthday this year, I arranged a clam digging and oyster gathering trip for her. I know it’s not a typical birthday gift. But, she’s not typical. In fact, once she found out that we were going, it’s all she talked about. I had to let her know so that she could pick out the type of clam digging fork most suitable for her. I’d suspected that once she got a taste of clam digging she’d be hooked. I definitely wasn’t wrong about that. As for me, Midwestern girl that I am, clam digging was never anywhere near my list of things to try. The Atlantic Ocean is awe inspiring and I love to be near it, just not in it, even if only up to my knees. I enjoy seafood, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as the foods I grew up on like meat and potatoes.
We headed out late in the afternoon with my friend, Bob the shell fisherman. According to Bob, we’d spend a few minutes looking for mussels, a couple of hours digging for clams and then gather oysters at low tide in the early evening. When we arrived at the clam flats, Bob eyed my sneakers and asked if that’s what I was planning on wearing. I assumed that they’d be fine. They were old, and I didn’t mind getting them wet. Besides, I had on the thickest pair of wool socks that I own. Did I mention that I really don’t like to be cold? We were going to be putting our feet in the Atlantic in early April. I don’t care how warm the winter was, the water is still cold. Bob pulled a pair of knee high rubber boots out of the back of his car and suggested that I wear them instead. That was a good and bad idea.
We started out with the mussel gathering. I really enjoyed sitting on a big rock in the sun poking around for mussels. It was a bit like gardening. I could settle into the task because it was easy and outside in the fresh air. Speaking of fresh air, it didn’t last long. After the mussel gathering we went to the clam flats. Bob had chosen this particular day, April 6, for our trip because it was the first full moon of spring, also known as the Pink Moon. A full moon means a lower tide and easier oystering. The clam flats spread out far and wide at low tide, a giant stinky mucky landscape. I took a deep breath trying not to breathe through my nose and did my best to follow Bob and my happy spouse out onto the flats. Remember, I’m a Midwestern girl; my nose is not accustomed to the smell of low tide.
A bit of advice, never wear boots four times your size in cement like muck. Three steps into it, my boots refused to budge as the momentum of my body propelled me forward. I found myself face down in the mud and hadn’t even dug a single clam. My spouse looked crestfallen. She came back to help me to my feet and brush the mud from the camera hanging around my neck. At that moment, I realized how much this trip meant to her. She was like a little kid getting to play outside without a care in the world. She’d even taken the whole day off for us to spend together in the morning before the trip. I worried that she would call it quits if she thought I was miserable. I decided right then and there that I would simply be in this moment with her and enjoy it for what it was, time together to play.
She helped me make my way to a spot where I wouldn’t sink quite so much. Bob gave me some pointers on what to do and I dug in. After awhile, my spouse asked me how things were going. I glanced into my bucket of clams pleased with my work. I noticed however, that the water looked muddier than it should have. I pulled one of my clams out and discovered that it was really two empty shells cemented together with mud. Thirteen of the fifteen clams in my bucket were “mud” clams. We laughed as I threw those out and cleaned off the remaining two. Two clams are better than none. Bob said that I needed to dig deeper. I had a different idea. I removed my stinky wet clamming gloves and took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of my back pack. While they clammed until their hearts were content I ate my sandwich, tried not to breathe through my nose and enjoyed every second of being out in the sun watching my spouse have in her words “one of the best birthdays ever.” The steamers, chowder and oysters on the half shell that we ate the next day were pretty damn good too.
Goldie Hawn once asked, “Why not just live in the moment, especially if it has a good beat?” Once I let go of all the negative thoughts, I found my groove and danced to it. It was a blast and I’d do it again. Well, sort of. I’ll go clamming anytime my spouse wants to. I just might turn my bucket upside down, take a seat, eat a PB&J and enjoy chatting with her while she plays in the mud.