Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 13: The Big Dig - part II


The Sea is an angry woman placated by soft winds, floods of sunshine, and baths drenched in moon glow. These elements were absent from her life today. She churned sand and silt and sent blackened waves to the shore. And she burped blats of olive bubbles in oily heaves along the tideline.

Stubborn to recede, she held high into the afternoon, not hitting her low until dark settled in. Anxious clam diggers descended hours early despite the tidal response. Like a flock of seagulls clad in raingear, diggers moved up and down the beach, pecking at her surface but coming up empty-handed. I watched out the bay window from my position in front of the fireplace.  Tucked high and dry and free from the elements, I held a bird’s eye view of the action from my third-floor room at Quinault Resort.

I whiled away the morning leafing through the recipes of Jennifer Hahn’s, Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine.  I contemplated Razor Clam Risotto. But I know myself too well. There is only one way I’ll ever cook these clams – dredged in seasoned flour and fried in butter, just like Granny C used to do. I can’t imagine them any other way. Last night I was appalled to see razor clam chowder on a pub menu. Why would anyone use the tender razor for chowder? It’s shocking and surely a sin in my family. Washington chowder clams are horse clams, little necks, or those lewd looking Northwest Geoducks with their 3-foot, phallic-looking siphons.

I’ve dug one Geoduck in my life, and it was quite by accident. My oldest son and I were playing in the sand at Carkeek Park in Seattle when he was six. He wanted a whole deep enough to hide in, so we dug with bright plastic shovels until I hit what I thought was an old rope. The rope retracted ,and Nick and I dug like crazy. About an hour and 4-feet later, we pulled up a Nerf football-sized shell sporting the filthiest looking appendage imaginable.  We studied the creature before placing it back into the whole and refilling with sand. I wasn’t licensed to dig, so back it went. But all these years, I’ve wondered how to clean and cook such a beast. The Geoduck is on my hit list.

Watching and waiting got the best of me, and I geared up a couple hours early. Low tide was predicted at 1745 hours. I joined the flock of diggers pecking the shore and following the recess. The temperature was milder than yesterday, around 48 degrees. But soggy skies and wind chill made time hunting for donut shapes in the sand gloomy.  I popped my head up from time to time to check out the action of other diggers. Mesh clam bags fell empty against hip-wader thighs.

After about an hour, I saw my first sand donut. I sank the gun over the impression and pulled out a teeny razor. His shell measured just over an inch. I’m not one for eating babies, but the law is the law, so I slid the critter into my bag. I pecked around for another 30-minute interval. The flock of diggers grew uncommonly sociable in the absence of clams. “Any luck?” asked a grey beard in passing. “Miserable dig,” said the woman toting a pug wrapped in pink neoprene.

I kept out of the waves, digging in my old-lady ways, until a tipster reported clams showing in the surf. I ventured in, keeping an eye on the rolling blackness. I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for and doubted the round berm of sand surrounding a dimple held shape in the push and draw of the surf. A squirt of sea water caught my attention. I scanned the waves looking for show. My equilibrium was off, and I staggered with the movement of the waves. Meniere’s disease has claimed the balance I had as a kid, but I was finding my sea legs. I spaced my legs shoulder width apart, bent my knees, and relaxed my thighs. The trick is to lean with the force instead of fighting.

I waded through shallow water and watched a dark wave move in. It wasn’t a big wave, but it was more powerful than expected. I leaned with the push and stood fast, but the draw pulled my feet out from under me. I felt my red gardening Crocks wash from both feet. I held myself stiff-armed in the push-up position, as water swooshed down the front of my chest-high waders. I thought about my iPhone tucked in the left side of my bra and pushed myself to my knees. Like an idiot, I failed to bring Jasper, my black lab, on the dig this time. He is trained to pull me to my feet when I have these episodes. But he waited in the truck, kept away from his insatiable need to roll in the carcass of rotting sea lion.

It took a while, but I got to my feet. The sea stripped off my mesh bag, reclaiming her baby razor, my lone catch. My phone was wet. I pulled off the cover, stuck it in my hat, and prayed. Another black wave crashed in, and I retreated. The wave receded, leaving a gooey green slime and a pair of polished red Crocks on the shore. The sea kept my catch, but she was too fashionable to hold on to my old gardening clogs.

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