Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 12: The Big Dig


Success by the numbers: 3-hour drive, 10-minutes donning gear, 5-minute walk to the surf, 20-minute dig, 15-clam limit, 1-full hour of cleaning, 2-glasses of Riesling at the Quinault Beach Resort. Sweet!

No one taught me to clean razor clams. The skill is more birthright knowledge on my matrilineal side. Hours of watching Mom and Aunt Barb, armed with paring knifes, full of gossip, and standing over heaping sinks of bivalves reinforced the normalcy of such expectation. In my childhood, the razor clam and my Grandma Crawford held the family together. I spent almost every low-tide of my primary years digging razor clams and frolicking fourteen-cousin-deep on the beaches of the Oregon coast.

The razor clam, or Siliqua Patula, is my comfort food. It’s what I crave when I stray too far from my roots. I recall a miserable morning in Army boot camp. I climbed from a shelter after a night of sleeping on frozen ground to join platoon mates around a burn barrel. My heart felt like it might literally split in two from homesickness. I wasn’t alone. Whenever the girls of Alpha-11 felt like that, we talked about boys, gossiped about each other, bitched about drill sergeants or the weather, told dirty jokes, or described the foods we missed from back home. Girls from the south talked about White Castle hamburgers. A Louisiana girl was always going on about jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. East coast girls bragged about crab cakes, and I tried to explain the Pacific Coast Razor clam.

No one understood my passionate dissertation on the razor clam. And while I do love the taste, it’s the memories triggered that are truly delicious. Granny Crawford drove her Winnebago out on the beach and parked just above low-tide. Aunties, Uncles, Grandpa, and my folks delivered sacks of clams for her to process as cousins waited for a turn to cycle-in and take a seat at her table. We sipped hot cocoa, nibbled fried eggs, and gorged on razors dredged in seasoned flour and fried in butter. Heaven.

My little brother and I were too young to dig, but we followed impatient sportsman around the beach, the guys who dig like crazy but never deep enough. We swirled hands in man-made tide pools of abandoned digs and scavenged for the smooth feel of elongated shells working to the surface. Mom was always surprised at what we managed to catch without tools.

I’m not sure how traditions fade away, but my family stopped digging together. Perhaps it was the rush of the 80s. Maybe there was a feud, or maybe Granny grew tired of frying all those clams. But we stopped before I was big enough to run a clam shovel.

I had used Granny’s clam gun once or twice. The clam gun is four-inch section of steel tube (now commonly made with PVC pipe) sealed on one end, with handles, and a suction hole. The idea is to find a donut-shaped dimple in the sand. This is where the clam popped its neck up to feed on plankton and minute plant life. The tube needs to sink about two to four feet without crushing the clam below. Once the tube is in the sand, the suction hole is covered. The gun is lifted, drawing a core of sand from the hole. The clam is often in the core, but sometimes a second lift or a bare hand is needed to search the hole. Clams range from 3 to 6 inches long. I’ve seen longer, and I’ve definitely seen smaller. The law states that a digger must keep the first fifteen found, even if the first fifteen includes a wee little baby or one crushed beyond recognition.

I bought my own clam gun this year. Mom teases me about clamming with a gun instead of a shovel. She says I clam like an old lady. But I pulled up 15 medium to large clams and grazed the shell of just one with my old-lady ways. I thought about my Grandma as I plunged the gun into the sand. I could almost see her hands in my own. I pictured her jewelry encrusted fingers. Each finger boasted a clustered diamond ring, or a 1-inch opal, a 20-carat amethyst surrounded by marquise diamonds, and glitzy diamond solitaires set in platinum. My hands are wide and youthful, like a chubby little boy’s hands. I sport one lone ring and the recent emergence of a few sun spots (I don’t call them age spots). I ponder the idea of adding a few rings, just to be more like my Granny C. But I know I need to save that money for more gear for this killing spree.


  1. Girls from the South reminisced about White Castle?

    I hate to quibble, since if that's your recollection it is what it is, but White Castle as a burger chain is midwestern, and has never been any further south than Tennessee/Kentucky. The southern tiny-burger chain is Krystal, which i sure enough do reminisce about bigtime.

  2. Good to know! I don't recall hearing Krystal, but its certainly possible that I morphed the two over time. It was over 25 years ago. And then there is that whole idea of "South." As an 18 year old girl from Oregon, anyone with a twang fell into that classification. But thanks for clearing it up for me. I should have done a little more homework. :)