I usually keep the Christmas tree up until the 6th of December, but it had to come down early this year, so we could begin construction of the bay window seat. I miss the meditative twinkle of blue and white lights. Blue and white lights are a new tradition. I switched from the multi-colored flicker a few years ago after we moved next door to the Seabeck Jews. My neighbors celebrate the season with us, so I modified the tree and cut our sugar cookies into six-point stars sprinkled with blue and white snowflakes. My boys get the best of both worlds, eight nights and 12 days.
Nothing really happens around here after Christmas, but we are nicer to each other. There is a recognizable closeness that feels different than other times of the year. The recluse boys open bedroom doors and are lured to the sofa by the aroma of microwave popcorn. We share blankets, talk more, and watch movies together. I pray for a windstorm to knock a branch on a power line so we can play board games by candlelight. Power outages are common in Seabeck. My neighbors own generators. I swear never to buy one, at least not while my boys live at home.
My boys are nearly grown. The oldest works in Alaska, my middle son is on a date tonight, and my youngest hopped a ferry to spend the weekend with his dad. I found myself kiddless and a little more than lonely on this night of Epiphany. But the tide was out and the moon was bright, and that only means one thing to this killer, clam digging.
I loaded Jasper, a shovel, and a bucket up in the truck to make way for East Indianola Beach. I’m having trouble finding public clam and oyster dig sites not closed by marine bio toxins or pollution. East Indianola is not a prolific clam beach, but it is clean.
There is an old Northwest folk song written in 1874 called, Acres of Clams. Whenever I hear that song, I think of Puget Sound. We have acres of shoreline chocked full of delectable things to eat. There are mussels, oysters, manila clams, native little neck clams, butter clams, eastern soft shell clams, horse clams, Geoduck clams, cockles, a plethora of snails, and several varieties of seaweed. But for some reason, acres of edibles are no longer fit for human consumption. I never realized how significant the problem was until I went wild.
Another issue I wasn’t aware of was how much public shoreline is inaccessible by foot. Waterfront real estate development and the lack of easement to public beaches block the way of pedestrians. More than half of the fertile clam and oyster beaches are accessible by boat only. The beaches open to foot traffic are often well picked and ultimately closed for conservation purposes. So we have a sustainable food source, a healthy and inexpensive protein, available to folks affluent enough to own a seaworthy boat. It’s cheap food for the picking by those who need it least – what a bummer.
It’s tough to dig at night. My headlamp works well, but not well enough to find the tiny siphon marks left by clams in the rocky shore. I dug random holes searching for dinner. The target was the native little neck, similar to the manila, and often served as steamer clams. I found a couple handfuls, enough for a good meal, before it started to rain. My jeans were wet past the knees, and I sliced a knuckle on broken shell fragments while digging in the rocky substrate. It was time to call it quits for the night.
I have to coach myself to leave the beach. I remind myself of tide and time, but textures catch my eye. I followed the sidewinding of a thumbnail-sized crab just to see where he might go. I contemplated the edibility of rubbery, maroon seaweed and the stuff that looks like baby greens flittering in the pull and draw of the tide. A briny breeze whipped my ponytails, and salt chaffed my checks and chin. I breathed in the surf and felt electrified.
The beach makes me young and rowdy again. I wanted to hit the town, drink some beers, and jam out with my clam out. (I read that last line on a t-shirt. Sorry). But by the time I climbed the rocks and three flights of wooden stairs and sat in the warm truck, I was ready for home.
The house is quiet now. Jasper sleeps on the sofa while a fire glows in the woodstove. I’m waiting for that middle kid to make it home from his date. He’ll walk in, huff vapors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and yeast. He’ll ask what’s cooking and take a seat on the sofa to wait with me on the oven timer. We’ll talk about his night, about his girlfriend, and maybe about college. Who knows? When the timer sounds, I’ll pull two king cakes from the oven, one to sample hot on this night of Epiphany and one to decorate for my neighbors.