Clams, clams and more clams

Tomorrow my family is coming over from the mainland (or as we like to call it, America) to celebrate both my Dad’s and my Step Dad’s birthdays.

When I asked Dad what he wanted for his birthday I pretty much knew what he would say.


So today I have to dig holes in the beach. The tide is too high right now, I hope low tide will coincide with my other plans.

This is deja vu all over again. Here’s what happened last year, when the celebration was at Dad’s house.

While my hand dangles beneath the slowly warming spray of my morning shower, I look out the window and see the beach. Low tide. Uh oh, I was supposed to dig clams for Dad’s birthday dinner before going to work.

Dad always covets a bucket of steamed clams and they say the best gift is giving of your self. There is no better way for me to do that than to slog around knee deep in muck so as to present him with his favorite seafood.

I kick myself for not remembering this selfless chore before Tom left for work. He’d promised to help. Tom’s good at digging clams. He’s proud, inordinately proud I think, of having scoped out the best spots on the beach and of his ability to get a huge number in mere minutes.

I dither. Surely the two of us could make short work of the job tonight before we leave for the weekend get together. Calculating travel time and which ferry we must catch, I admit that the tide doesn’t coincide with our plans. I have no choice; I must dig clams now or disappoint.

I pull on a pair of shorts, locate a shovel and a bucket that isn’t coated with toxic looking growth and head for the beach, phone bouncing against thigh. Perhaps the office will call with news of some crisis, an excuse to escape before I get in too deep.
It’s a still morning, soft gray clouds and glassy water. The gulls call in a pleasant, satiated way, like old friends chatting after a good breakfast.

Tom claims the best little neck clams are found high on our beach. I scout around for a likely place. It’s been roughly a year since I dug. I whined about it then too.

When I want seafood I go for mussels, preferring to pluck creatures off rocks or floating docks rather than gouge holes in habitat. I’m unsure what havoc I might wreak by burying crabs and barnacles under mounds of misplaced sand.

That’s the way I like to frame my clamming reluctance. It’s much more acceptable than my real protests, which go something like: ”Ow, my fingers are raw … Aw, I broke a nail …” It’s a childhood trauma thing. Dad, the clam lover, hauled me to the beach in every kind of weather. Clamming to me means sodden sleeves; boots full of saltwater and humps of sand trapped under the arches of my feet. The phrase “dig clams” makes my toes go numb, my nose run and my fingers tingle painfully from phantom frostbite. But I have to buck up and do this. Carrying the guilt of an unfulfilled promise is every bit as uncomfortable as ragged cuticles.

I scrape away some of the larger rocks and plunge my shovel into the sand. It doesn’t go far before it meets another rock. Prying up a couple of inches of glop, sure enough, I uncover two nice little clams. They land in the bucket with a hollow thunk. I look into the plastic cavern. My two well-caught clams don’t cover even half of one corner of the bottom of that vast white expanse.

Damn. This is going to take a while.

My back hurts.

There’s sand under my fingernails.

Those annoying tendrils of hair have escaped the elastic band and trail in my eyes. I can’t wipe them away because my hands are covered in muddy, silty sand that smells of a high clam poop content. A longer strand catches in my mouth. I try to spit it out and it pastes itself across my lip and up my cheek. I work my mouth this way and that and shake my head. More strands come loose. I try to push them away with my elbow.


It’s all down hill from here. I abandon my shovel and wash my hands in the shallows, dry them on my shorts. Now my shorts and the toes of my shoes are wet, but with mostly clean hands I tie my hair up tighter and return to digging.

If only I’d made Tom do this. He’d have a full bucket by now.

He’s thinks he’s so smart. I could do as well if I’d spent an entire year studying where to dig.

Why didn’t I pay more attention to learning the good spots on the beach?

I hate it when he’s right.

I feel slightly less a schmuck when I remember that not too long ago I got home just in time to stop him from dumping a handful of chopped ceanothus foliage in the spaghetti sauce. Despite my careful repetition he never has figured out which bush is the rosemary.

Hmm, I think, maybe those silly little plant name stakes I saw at the nursery the other day weren’t such a bad idea, they might save us all from poisoning. Hey … I don’t really have time to stop at the nursery … but maybe Dad would like plant stakes instead of clams.

I shake off the demons of distraction and an hour later struggle up the stairs, panting and full of virtue, my sloshing bucket heavy as Christ’s cross, shower off the slime and head to the office.

Late that afternoon, having planned so excellently that we’ve squeezed in every task, and timed every errand perfectly, we manage to catch the ferry with several minutes to spare. As the engines race to thrust the heavy boat away from the dock on a frothy surge I sigh, settle back in my seat, let go of the stress of the preparations … and see in my mind’s eye that lovely bucket of clams … reposing right where I left them … on the back porch.


I gnash my teeth for a few minutes then pick up my phone and dial. One thing to be thankful for: at least I didn’t lock the bucket in the kitchen where no one could get at it. I shudder. Returning home from vacation is hard at the best of times. Knowing there were bad clams to greet me I’d just want to keep on driving away from the house for about a year.

Candace cheerfully agrees to clam rescue duty. At least on that score I feel much better. She and Bob will have a couple of good meals and no clams will have given their lives in vain. I don’t feel so great about having to go through the baggage laden decision about the Father’s Day present all over again.

Should I go for the plant stakes after all? They may be cheesy, but they last. Or, should I buy clams at the grocery store? I was supposedly bringing the main course of steamed clams for everybody. An impressive gesture, but gone in an afternoon.

As clam meat, which is sold by weight, comes wrapped in rocks, with this latest gaffe I’ve earned myself the opportunity to spare no expense and be the best daughter ever. Forgetfulness, the gift that lets you give of yourself and then shell out the clams.



This year there are no worries about leaving the clams behind, but I still have a way to turn this into an adventure. Dad reads this blog occasionally, and he knows I’m concerned that our native little neck clams are being shoved out of their habitat by the invasive purple varnish clam.

Guess what kind of clams he’s going to be feasting on tomorrow?

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