A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.
© Donna Chellis, 2019
Owls Head Sea photographic art by Yorozuya Yohaku
My rake, hod and long boots. That was all I needed. And, of course, a rough idea of when the tide would be out. I was twelve years old, grew up with the ocean in my back yard, and was readying myself to take some of its bounty. That bounty was clams.
July, that is the best time to dig for clams in Maine. There was no homework or school to worry about. Instead, thoughts of how to spend a long, carefree day filled my mind. I hauled on my long boots over my jeans, tucked in my tank top, and called to my mother that I would be down back on the mudflats. As soon as I left the door, the hot July sun hit my already sun-kissed shoulders. I walked round the corner and took the rake and handmade clam hod sitting against the side of our home. That was all I needed.
I shuffled down the back bank, mumbling at the big lanky boots I had to wear. I hated them, but I knew they were a necessity. Clamming is not something that can be done with your everyday shoes, rain-boots, or even your prized L.L. Bean boots. Waders were what was needed. My waders were too big, passed down to me, but they would do.
Before I reached my digging spot, I first had to cross over the rocks and boulders that littered the cove and were covered with seaweed. Why the ocean did not take seaweed out with its tide always annoyed me. It’s slippery to cross and clings to each and every rock. It is green and slimy with long, tangly finger like leaves and one of nature’s uglier tributes to the ocean.
I started my walk across the seaweed-encrusted rocks, trying to be careful, my head pointing directly downward for every haphazard step. I stopped for a moment on a seaweed-decorated rock and reached to pick a bunch of the algae. The most satisfying thing to do, for a coastal kid, is to pop seaweed gas bladders. The bladders are bubbles filled with air on seaweed leaves. I squeezed a few between my fingers, getting the green goo under my fingernails. The little pop of the bladder was heard as I successfully crushed it. A small dribble of seawater ran down my fingers. It was a satisfying sound and feeling.
A few steps after crossing the rocks, I reached the mudflats. I took a few more big steps and started to look for holes on the tidal ocean floor. There were lots of them. Clams dig themselves under the mud. They always leave us clammers a clue, an obvious round hole, so they are easy hunting. I sat the hod down and lifted my rake to begin. The long, steel teeth dug deep, just a little above where the clam had dug its hole. If I placed the teeth too close to the hole, I could end up with a clamshell broken and caved in. No one wants to eat that. Placing the teeth in just the right spot above the hole, the rake glided down through the glorious mud. With a sucking sound, up came the mud and clams, as I leaned my body against the handle. I picked the clams out and measured them against the teeth on my rake to make sure they were legal and placed them in the hod. It was as easy as that.
A half bushel of clams gave me a nice sunburn and a good feed. When my skin burned so much it began to peel, that was icing on the cake for a twelve-year-old. The feeling of stretching my back after having been in a bent position raking was a feeling like no other. Both ache and relief at the same time.
Picking up my rake and hod full of clams, I trudged back up the hill to my house. There, I soaked my clams and gave them to my to mom boil. I then cracked them wide open and dipped them in hot butter. I don’t know who the first person was that was brave enough to open a clam and eat it, but I’m awfully glad they did.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”