Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 107: A Dog and His Oysters


Gathering oysters is easy. All you need is an agreeable tide, a bountiful site, a bucket and a good pair of work gloves. Shucking is the hard part, but I’m getting better. Part of this success is in the learning of which oysters to pick up and which ones to leave. Oysters often grow in clumps, cemented together by their magical calcium glue.

Clumped oysters are much harder to open than singles. I look for independent shells about three to five inches long. An oyster must be at least two and a half inches long to be legal, and I’ve seen shells as big as a foot long. In the oyster world, bigger is not better. Huge oysters taste strong, are full of green goo, and hard to eat, almost gag-worthy. Small ones are mild and sweet, containing only a small portion of goo.

I also search for barnacle free specimens. Barnacle incrusted shells are sharp and awkward to handle. Grip is everything in the shucking process. I grow queasy with the thought of a shell slipping free, allowing the rusty shucking blade to sink into the palm of my hand. This is a common accident amongst newbies on the oyster beach, especially for those opting for makeshift tools. Nothing ruins a beach day like a screwdriver through the palm.

Shells that seem single are seldom independent of piggy backers. A careful scrutiny reveals tiny lumps tucked within the rigid folds of a host oyster shell. These lumps are seeds or baby oysters, and if left undamaged, will grow to be something delicious. This is why shucking on the beach is important. Leaving the piggy backers ensures future abundance.

It was a perfect day for the beach. Snow caps of the Olympic Mountains melted into blue skies littered with stretches of cloud fluff. Douglas fir tops swayed in a gentle wind and hugged the shoreline, creating a blackish-green fringe along the steel-gray canal. I walked out on the oyster-laden spit. It was impossible to take a step without treading on the millions of shells packed several feet deep constructing the nature-made jetty. I picked a nice spot near the water, sat on a small white bucket and shucked. I didn’t need to move about the beach to scavenge. Hundreds of limits waited within arms-reach around the circumference of my bucket.
I shucked the first oyster into a plastic pint container and tossed the shell into the surf. Game on. Jasper ran into the waves to retrieve. He didn’t find the one particular shell I tossed, but he found something better. He pulled up a heavy rock plastered with four vertical oysters. I’d never seen him do anything like this. He held tight to his prize, lugging it from the water and dropping it at my feet.
The rock was heavy, close to 10lbs. You can see it in his mouth in the above photo. I shucked the four oysters off the rock but didn’t throw the shells. I worried Jasper would cut his mouth by carrying them or his feet by running in the surf.

Jasper went back into the water anyway. I watched him study the oysters beneath the surface before dunking in his head and pulling up a mouthful. He did this over and over again, retrieving several clumps for me to shuck. Even though I prefer singles to clumps, I processed his gifts, so not to offend.

Jim had come to the beach too. He doesn’t eat oysters, but I wanted his company, and I needed his hands and his limit allowance. Another eighteen oysters makes the trip out to my secret spot worthwhile. He was a good sport but complained a little bit, “This is an awful lot of work for these slimy things.” There's no middle ground when it comes to oysters. People either love them or refuse to put them in their mouths. I joked around with Jim, giving him my grandpa's old line, "Eat em up. They'll put lead in your pencil." I never knew what that meant as a kid. But the promise of a leaded pencil was not enough to entice Jim to even try a bite.

Together Jim and I shucked 36 oysters, mostly from the clumps delivered by Jasper. One limit will be eaten fresh and the other will be frozen for a future oyster stew. Jim will have Johnsonville Brats on those nights, or maybe a turkey burger. I don’t mind preparing separate meals on oyster nights. Jim’s oyster abstinence leaves more for me and the boys.

Jasper’s new trick amazed me. After the first bit of praise, he was back in the water to work, to help in a way I never thought possible. It wasn’t a fluke, or at least I don’t think so. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Now I just need to teach him how to select barnacle-free singles of a particular size. I wonder what else is possible…

Monday, March 26, 2012

Day 106: Another Day, another Limit of Clams


This week ended on a high note, another 40 butter clams purging on the deck and a couple more horse clams weighing well over a pound each. The 2-day take yielded 80 butter clams, and 9 horse clams. The butters’ total weight equaled 19 lbs. A local grocery store has in-shell clams on sale at $2.99 per pound. It was a decent amount of labor for a little less than $60 of food, but I’m happy with the accomplishment.

Digging the 80 butter clams was the easy part, much easier than diggin the horse clams. Both efforts left my hands raw from feeling around in the substrate of course sand, rocks, and broken shell.  I even pulled up a few bits of rusted iron rebar. I know I need to wear gloves, but there is something addictive about the skin-to-muck exposure. I’m like that in the garden too. And now that spring is here, I won’t have clean fingernails until fall. It’s not actually dirt and grit left behind. It’s more of a stain, kind of like a mechanic’s hands.

Last night I slipped over into the neighbor’s back yard and snuck into their hot tub. I do this once in a while. I know it’s kind of naughty, but that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. I was thinking the chlorine and hot water would help the manicure. The soak eased sore muscles in my lower back and shoulders, and soothed the burn of triceps and biceps. Or maybe it was the wine. I stayed in until my fingers pruned, but the gunk under the nails didn’t budge. I know dirty fingernails are not all that attractive, but I see it as a small consequence for getting close to the earth and my food.  

The boys and I ate a few of the huge horse clams for dinner. After cleaning and dicing the clams up, I mixed them into a smoked paprika cornmeal batter and made waffles. I’d never heard of such a thing, but the experiment was a huge success. And the kitchen was left grease and mess free. I’m always trying to new find ways to eat horse clams. They are too big and too tough to simply steam or fry. Last time I dug them, I made amazing clam burgers with sweet potato, egg, and oats as patty binders. But I didn’t have the energy or the sweet potatoes to embark on anything that complex. The waffles were simple and delicious with just a drizzle of sweet cream butter.

I’ve never seen Horse clams for sale in the grocery stores. Folks just don’t know what to do with them or how to clean them. A similar but bigger clam, the infamous Geoduck may be found on display at Pike’s Place Market, but mostly for spectacle. There’s something about the phallic 18 inches of stretched out neck that pleases a crowd almost as much as the flying fish seafood stand where salesmen in orange, rubber chest waders heave 10lb Chinook salmon over the crowd to be wrapped and rang up by cashiers.

My horse clams created somewhat of a spectacle from their buckets on the deck last night, at least for me anyway. I couldn’t get the boys or Jim off the sofa to “check out the shlong on this guy,” but I giggled like a thirteen-year-old. Some things never grow old, kind of like my emotional maturity. Stretched out clam necks are never not funny to me.

There is a good clam tide again this morning, but I have plenty for now. Plus my back is killing me today. Jasper’s getting good at digging, but I really wish I could teach him to refill the holes. It’s tough enough to dig, especially four feet down for horse clams. Refilling is the law. I do it, but I’d love a lackey to handle such tasks.

Lazy Monday morning finds Jasper and I lounging in front of the bay window, absorbing the rare Northwest sunshine. I’ve finished my second cup of coffee, and I’m still in my bathrobe.  The house could use a cleaning. Flower beds need weeding. The greenhouse needs planting. And the laundry isn’t going to do itself. But I hear the sea calling. She promises oysters today and makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 105: Sunshine, Low tide, and Jasper.


There have only been a few precious moments in adult life where I can remember the blissful perfection of just being. Yesterday was one of those days. Of course it’s possible I’ve been in that state many times but failed to recognize and appreciate the worry-free zone, the feeling like you are in the right place at the right time with all the stars and planets aligned in your favor, the universe pulling for you, with the wind at your back, and the sun shining warmly on your face. That was my yesterday.

I had some help, help in the recognition of my fine life. Jasper and I sat in the olive-tinted muck of low tide at Hood Canal. Sitting isn’t the typical clam stance, but the clams were plentiful and so close to the surface that I plopped in a puddle of mud and dug with a garden trowel. Chest waders provided for such luxury. Our heads were down when I heard a voice. The voice rang rich with the vibrato of several decades. I knew before looking up that the words belonged to a well-postured man in his seventies or eighties.

“Good afternoon, young lady. Having any luck?”

I gave the standard sportsman answer, even though I was having an amazing dig. “We’re catching a few.”

“And what exactly are you digging?” The steel-haired gentlemen leaned toward me as he spoke from his dry position on rocky substrate.

“Butter clams. Would you like to have a look?”

“Is your pup friendly?”

I gave a reassuring nod but gathered Jasper’s leash just in case. Jasper is friendly, but often too much so. I didn’t want to see muddy paw prints on the gentleman’s creased Chinos.

I’d planned to get up from my seated position and meet him halfway, but my butt was stuck in the mud. I wiggled back and forth gingerly, trying to avoid any embarrassing suction sounds while releasing the ample rounds. I made it to my knees but stopped to admire the gumption of cognac leather loafers moving through the skim of beach scum. The loafers were the expensive kind, supple, maybe handmade, and adorned with fancy tassels. The gentleman continued to march on, sacrificing his lovely footwear for conversation and the satisfaction of curiosity tamed.

His interest in my task and the ruining of good loafers humbled me. I held out a bucket brimming with over thirty clams, almost the daily limit of forty or ten pounds, whichever comes first.

“Well, I’d say you have more than a few.”

“Yes, it’s a very good day to be a clam digger.”

“How do you know where to dig?”

“Actually, I’m just learning that for myself. I do a lot of blind digging, but then I noticed these tiny holes close together in the sand.” I pointed to a patch of pencil-pokes. “If you scrape away the top 4 to 6 inches, you can feel around and find them.” I demonstrated on a fresh patch of holes and pulled up two squirting specimens just smallar than billiard balls. He stepped back a little.

“And what will you do with all of these? They look too big for steamer clams?”

“Oh no, they taste great steamed, and not tough at all. I soak them overnight in sea water to purge the sand from the edible portions. Then I toss them shell and all in a shallow pan with butter and garlic. I pour two glasses of Riesling, one for me and one over the clams before steaming.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“Nothing tastes better than fresh clams.”

“You look as though you are as happy as clam in your puddle of mud.”

I felt my cheeks heat up. I was suddenly aware of how funny I must look. “It’s not a glamorous sport, but my dog and I have a good time.”

“I saw you smiling from the parking lot.”

“Really? I didn’t realize…”

“Yes, you’re beaming, absolutly radiating.” His eyes flooded with watery blue. “You must really love life.”

I blushed and looked away. “Hmm. I think you’re right. At least for the moment, I'm loving life.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day: 96: “When in Doubt, Throw it Out,” and other Advice from Mushroom Folk


On Day 17, way back in December, I joined the mycological society of Kitsap County. The goal was to crush fungi-phobia thru shroom identification and socialization with folks who eat wild mushrooms and live to tell about it. I attended my first meeting of the Kitsap County Mycological Society on the evening of the annual Survivor’s potluck.

I meant to attend monthly meetings in January and February, but Fungi-Folk Phobia kept me at bay. I’ve been reading the newsletters, purchasing suggested field guides, and forgiving the winter rain for a promise of summer morels. But I struggled to take the next step, the leap into fellowship. I’m not shy, or at least no one who knows me would use that adjective to describe me, but I am agoraphobic. I don’t fear open spaces like some agoraphobes, but I have a hard time leaving the house if I know I’m going somewhere with a lot of people I don’t know. Concerts, public transportation, and the mall at Christmastime are mostly impossible. I haven’t always been like this, but I have always considered myself socially awkward. I don’t fit in all circles, but then again who does?

I wasn’t sure what fungi-folk would be like. I knew I wasn’t dealing with yacht club or country club cultures. Annual dues for open membership were only $30. How exclusive could it be? Honestly, I pictured a group of eccentric weirdoes, nice weirdoes, like the kind you meet at renaissance faires, but still weird or at least weirder than me.

The potluck was held at the L.O.O.F. hall, or Loyal Order of Odd Fellows. LOOF was a fraternal organization popular in the 50s & 60s, kind of like the Masons, I think. I don’t know anyone who belongs to L.O.O.F. or what the organization does as a mission, but the fraternal location and dimly lit parking lot wasn’t helping erase clandestine images of bearded men in velvet capes and hearty women with bread-dough breasts rising from the tops of peasant blouses.

Jim and Jasper joined me. Their company alleviated most of the anxiety. When we walked in, I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. Disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting characters out of my normal realm, but relieved at the instant comfort felt as a table of old ladies chirped salutations and admired my potluck contribution, gingerbread topped with mushroom-shaped meringues in a Pacific octopus baking dish.  

The potluck was great, very mushroomy, not like familiar Methodist potlucks with marshmallowed, green Jell-O and pineapple ham. I went back for seconds and thirds. I learned that I don’t eat enough mushrooms, and I don’t eat enough potatoes, but I really don’t eat enough potatoes infused with mushrooms. There were cheesy potatoes with chanterelles, scalloped potatoes with porcini, mashed potatoes with shiitakes, and truffle vermouth gravy to pour over everything except dessert. Amazing. It couldn’t have been easier to stick to an industrial-meat free diet.

I can’t wait for the next potluck. Agoraphobia won’t stand a chance. I’m very food-motivated. The offerings were unusual, exotic even, but for the most part the attendees seemed familiar. Two full tables of seniors could pose as stunt doubles for elders of my childhood church.

There was a sprinkling of biker-types, a handful of aging hippies, and a young family with a son afraid of my dog. The majority was Caucasian, with the exception of an older Native American man, a middle-aged black woman, and a Japanese grandma who filled my cup with fir-needle tea.

Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, served as guest speaker. His presentation offered a peek into the secret world and work of commercial foragers, those who scavenge wild mushrooms for sales to restaurants and fine grocery stores. The demand for wild mushrooms is high, so is the price, and so is the competition amongst foragers, private and commercial.

The sustainability of commercial harvest is questionable. Not enough is known about spore regrowth. I read that cutting the mushroom stalk is preferable to pulling. Cutting promotes regrowth in the same location, where pulling causes site damage. This seemed to be a disputed fact between the guest speaker and a couple of the society members. Members recommended cutting as well as leaving a percent of a wild patch unpicked to insure future mushrooms. Commercial pickers leave nothing behind. Every cap and stem has a price tag. Cutting versus pulling and percent picking versus clean picking are sustainability topics in need of more research.

Most wild mushrooms are too difficult to cultivate. I’m still waiting for the first crop of oyster mushrooms I started 3 years ago by drilling hundreds of holes in logs and filling the holes with spore-inoculated, wooden pegs. I read about mushroom growing in Mother Earth News and ordered my pegs from a suggested website. I thought for sure I’d found a way to have my own backyard mushrooms. But after chatting with several mushroom people at the potluck, I’ll probably wait forever. But as a new member of a mycological society, I’ll only have to wait until late spring for the first of many scheduled forays.

As an adult, I am new to potlucks. I never know what to bring. I think of the dish as a representation of self, or at least of cooking ability. I know I don't want green Jell-O salad or ham to represent me. I'm a decent cook, but nothing stunning. I figured the success of my gingerbread would help guide future participation. I laughed when I a saw only 4 squares of cake were missing, but all the meringue mushrooms were picked clean. So much for site conservation....

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 93: Clamzilla, a Tasty Little Secret


 I know I'm selfish. I know I am supposed to share. I know that other mothers save the very best morsels of food for their children or for their husbands. I am not that mother. I kept the news of Clamzilla a secret. I waited until the boys shuffled off to school on Monday morning before digging him out from his hiding place in the bucket beneath smaller specimens.

Cleaning clams doesn’t really bug me. I like it better after the razor clams have expired. This is usually handled with a flood of fresh water from the tap and about an hour of waiting time. But the salt water in the bucket and the cool garage kept my clams alive overnight. I knew I wouldn’t want to clean clams after driving home from the beach on Sunday, so it was important to keep them alive until I was ready to tend to the killing. Fresh clams are not only better to eat, but safer.

I chopped off the tip of Clamzilla’s siphon and his neck retracted. I slid the blade up through the digger and splayed open the shell. He twitched. I removed the worm-like float and a small amount of waste product before slipping the knife through both siphon tubes to filet the neck flat. I don’t know at what point the clam actually dies, but the thing moves a lot through the whole cleaning process. I’m guessing the slice through the digger handles it, but I’m not sure. Clams have no central nervous system, no major gut cavity, and no blood. I know it is still killing, but the process pales in comparison to gutting a steelhead, and I know it is nothing like butchering a mammal. Still, I wouldn’t call the ordeal pleasant.

I usually clean the clams and let them rest in the refrigerator overnight or at least for a few hours before cooking. Time restores appetite by separating the killing me from the eating me. But not Monday morning, it was breakfast time, and I intended to eat Clamzilla.

Unshelled and cleaned, Clamzilla weighed a whopping 5 ounces, which is nearly 2 servings of protein. As a meal, he equaled 1.5 grams of fat, 5 carbohydrates, and 21 grams of protein. I decided to keep breakfast as clean as possible, no breading on the clam and no butter in the pan. I slid the meat into a dry skillet. After a few seconds, the heat caused release of clam juice, known fondly in the culinary world as the nectar. I dropped in an organic egg and poached both to perfection.

Guilt free, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to my gastronomical reward.  Fabulous. As I enjoyed my breakfast, I must admit that sharing with the boys never crossed my mind.  All sane moms must savor a few private indulgences.

Day 92: Solo on a Sunday

With daylight savings and the act of springing forward, my intended 830am clam dig was really more of a 7am gig. Nobody likes early mornings in my household, especially not on weekends. It takes a lot to wake me up. I set an alarm 20 minutes before I want to wake and then another for 10 minutes later and then a third for the actual time. The first two alarms are good practice and intended to help ease me out of deep sleep. I’ve tried the whole snooze option on my iPhone, but I’m seldom functional enough to hit the correct buttons.

But I don’t need an alarm on clam tides. It’s an odd phenomenon. I set my alarm as a backup anyway, but I am wide awake and dressed before the alarm sounds. And that is what happened on Sunday.

Saturday night the weatherman reported an 80% chance of precipitation for Sunday morning. None of the kids seemed enthusiastic about clamming in the rain. I let them sleep and slipped out of the rented condo alone and fired up the truck. I had listened to the rain pelt the wood decking outside my bedroom window all night, so I was surprised to see a spot of light breaking through a weepy cloud cover. I moved toward the light and drove the truck on the beach, parked, and sipped my coffee while enjoying the sunrise. I watched a few trucks, a couple of station wagons, and a rickety motor home amble down the potholed access route. Mine was one of the first rigs on the beach, an early bird.
Besides uncluttered space to watch the sun rise, being the early bird isn’t really an advantage in the actual digging of clams. One has to wait for the tide to recede enough and expose the clam beds. The lowest water mark wasn’t scheduled until 9:30am, and it only promised to be a -.5 tide. That’s not bad, but a -1.0 or lower is preferable for razor clams. I haven’t learned all the rules behind tides and tidal edibles. It seems to depend on what and where, (what I want to eat and where that species lives). With the exception of squid jigging, which requires a high tide, lower is generally better.
I sipped my coffee and watched hip-wader clad men and women congregate to the shoreline. Next to me a pack of little girls burst from a mini-van. I counted four, none over the age of ten. A baby-faced man passed out buckets, while a young mother adjusted knit caps on each blond head.  I swallowed the last bit of coffee and slid into an insulated, camouflage jumpsuit paired with polka-dot rubber boots.  I know camouflage and polka-dots clash. I also know I look ridiculous in my killing getup. The puffy insulation adds a good thirty pounds to my already ample frame. Such thoughts of vanity are silly, but I am a woman first, and a killer second. I could stand to be more stylish, for sure. However, there is something to be said for ending each adventure by unzipping out of the sand and slime of low tide, leaving me dry, warm, and clean in cozy sweatshirt and yoga pants.
I followed the little girls to the beach. They wasted no time. “Daddy, Daddy,” said a small voice. “I found one.” Daddy sunk a clam gun made of 4" PVC pipe over a dimple, brought up a core of sand, and plunged in for second dig. The little girls kicked at the sand cores to reveal the hidden clam. The smallest of the sisters found the prize and danced around holding a clam overhead. I wanted to edge closer, snap a picture, or just absorb some of her joy, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a creeper. There seems to be an unspoken rule about beach territory. It’s rude to approach a group of diggers and move in on their findings. The beach is vast, and one needs to find one’s own bed of dimples. I kept my distance but enjoyed the little girls’ excitement after Daddy brought up clam after clam.
The clams were not showing in an obvious way. There were no sand donuts or keyholes, just dime-sized depressions barely visible to my eyes. I wanted to borrow one of those kids to use as a spotter. Maybe it is because the little girls were lower to the ground, or maybe it is because their eyesight is fresh and new.

The four sisters kept their daddy busy with little yips and chirps, “I found another one,” and “Dig Daddy, Dig,” and “Hurry, Daddy. He’s getting away.” I thought about my own lazy sons asleep in the condo and missed the excitement of their little boyhoods.
Daddy and the girls dug five limits, over 75 clams, before I had 10 in my bucket. Once their limits were full, the girls turned to help their mother. By my twelfth clam, the family had maxed out on the daily take, and headed back in the minivan.
I edged closer to the surf. I’m shy after getting hit and rolled by a wave in December. Surprisingly, my phone survived the roll. Well, almost. The phone works. I can text, make calls, surf the internet, and play Scrabble. But the exterior speakers no longer function. If I don’t feel the vibrations, I miss calls and messages, and I can’t listen to music or audiobooks without headphones.
Not wanting to take another dip, I moved back and forth with the tide, following it out and hustling toward the dunes on the return. It was on one of these rotations that three spurts of water in a triangular formation shot up a foot in front of me. I sunk the gun over the first spurt and brought up Clamzilla, the biggest razor clam I have ever seen. The tide was on the return so I hadn’t the time to marvel at his greatness. I sunk the gun back down in the sand and retrieved Clamzilla’s smaller but still impressive pals. I had reached my limit.

I walked back to the truck holding on to the giant clam. The largest of razors reach 6 inches in length, but this one was bigger, nearly 7 inches long and over three wide. The rest of the clams in my bucket were small to average compared to Clamzilla. I snapped his picture, peeled off my coveralls, and drove back to the condo thinking of all the ways to eat him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 91: Clam Tide Equals Family Fun Time


I hadn’t checked the Washington Fish and Wildlife website for nearly a month. I opened it on Friday to learn of a recreational razor clam dig on Saturday and Sunday. Razor clam digs are rare. Digs are dependent on tides and subject to conservation efforts and toxin safety measures. I try not to miss a dig if I can help it.

I enjoy being mildly irritating to my surly teenager, Garret. So I busted through his door first.

“Clam tide! Family time!”

 He pulled his nose from a book. “And what’s your point?”

 “Beach weekend! Pack your stuff.”

 “I won’t be going.”

 “Yeah, you will.”

 “No, I won’t.”

 “Why not?”

 “Date with Anna.”

 I had only met Anna in a one-sided interview lasting all of 60 seconds. I talked. She shrugged. That was it. “Bring her with.” I bluffed and he called me on it.


“Yeah, sure. Why not?”

 Why not? Because no mother in her right mind would allow her 17-year-old daughter to take off to the beach with horn-dog boyfriend and never-met­-before boyfriend’s family. I knew the answer would be, “no.” I was wrong. Perhaps I’m too strict with my own children, or not. We hit the road Friday night for a rented condo in Ocean Shores.

Anna is one of those ginger-girls. She’s a tall red-head, broody, with just enough black eyeliner and piercings to hint a dark side without camouflaging porcelain skin and striking natural beauty. She’s a force to reckon with. A mother of sons would be wise to remain vigilant in the company of such power.

I held Anna in the rear-view mirror, glancing from time to time on the two-hour drive to Ocean Shores. I kept her in sight to gage the amount of affection passing between her and my son and to learn more about her through her expressions. She held her face in a gentle frown most of the ride, taking smile breaks at the banter between Garret in the back seat and Jaden riding shotgun. Brothers are humorous creatures, especially when competing for the attention of a pretty girl. She rolled her eyes, batted her lashes, shrugged her shoulders, nodded her head, chewed her bottom lip, and smiled but never laughed. Curious. After two-hours in the car, I learned nothing about her.

 The condo was smaller than hoped for and offered no beach view. It was the only rental available in Ocean Shores, a last-minute cancellation to accommodate my last-minute plans. Hotels in the area were filled with weekend beach warriors blood-thirsty for the taste of clams. I felt lucky to score what I did, even though the place lacked the desirable hot tub, sauna and pool. I typically try to make mini-vacations out of my killing adventures as a way to compensate for the patience and support the boys show me. I worried the kids would be bored. I worried about entertaining a teenage girl. She looked a little high maintenance, and I hoped she would not turn out to be a royal pain-in-the-ass.

I suggested a round or two of cards but was shut down. As it turned out, no entertaining on my part was wanted. Garret and Anna buried noses behind books. He read about dragons and she read about vampires. You got to adore nerd love. Jade plucked his guitar until his nerves settled and then broke into a complex steam of consciousness delivered through his fingertips. That kid is a one-man show. I don’t remember being so self-contained or so boring as a teenager. I would have begged for the truck keys to hit the town and find a little trouble.

Girls take a lot longer than boys to get ready in the morning. I figured as much, so we woke a couple of hours before low-tide. Anna’s gentle frown was firmly set now. Her jawline hardened and her eyebrows knitted. I kept a distance. Obviously, mornings weren’t her thing.

The sun was coming up as we hit the beach. I welcomed the calm break in weather, but the rainy evening adversely affected the razor clam show. Show is the formation a razor clam makes in the sand and required to dig razors. Unlike bay clams, random digging for razors is fruitless. A razor clam, 6 to 36 inches below the surface, may leave a clue for the digger in the shape of a donut, a dime-sized dimple, or a keyhole. Razors live solo. One show means one clam. Bay clams often live in clusters. Digging for one bay clam may yield a clutch of a dozen or more. But razors are my lobster of the clam world and worth the added effort, fuel costs, and overnight accommodation expenses.

After an hour and a half, none of us had dug our individual limits of fifteen clams. The kids were cold. Garret was starting to bitch, and Jade turned his clam gun into a perch, opting to sit and shiver over digging and staying warm.

I dug seven clams, none of great size and one crushed all to hell. Garret had one clam cut in half by his clam gun. Anna had two, one medium­­­­­-sized and one no bigger than a paperclip. She wanted to put the baby clam back in the hole, but regulations require each digger keep the first fifteen clams, no matter how small and no matter how mutilated. I’m not sure why, but replanted clams fail to thrive. Jaden dug one clam but held seven in his bucket. Evidently, a gentleman digger took pity on the sloth-worthy teen and dumped his catch in Jaden’s bucket. Charity clams are good eating, almost as good as charity squid.

Digging clams, whether on the bay or ocean beach, is a messy sport. We were coated with sand and a funky smelling, olive scum. The truck took a beating and so did the condo.
After hot showers, breakfast, a load of laundry, and naps, noses found books and fingers found strings. Intervention was in order. It was time to teach the kids what beach-town fun was all about. I grew up hanging at the beach and knew just the place to get their attention, the go-cart race track. Go-cart racing is timeless. I loved them as a teen of the eighties, racing with friends in Long Beach and Ocean Shores. I knew modern teens, even these nerds, could not resist the thrill of sliding around corners, flying balls-out through the straits, absorbing vibrations of asphalt, and huffing oil-rich exhaust of a two-stroke engine.

The boys seemed to think playing Mario Cart adequately prepared one for go-cart racing. Silly fools. Pre-race shit-talking was thick. I warned them of my experience. They laughed it off.

“Whatever, Mom,” said Garret. “Fifty years of driving like an old granny gives you a real advantage. Prepare to get smoked.” Jaden laughed and Anna smiled.

I wonder how much they yucked-it-up staring at the back of my head lap after lap. Memory is a muscle, and I flexed around the turns, remembering the exact pressure of break and gas pedal combined to create drift and cut off other drivers attempting to pass. I was uncatchable. After the victory lap, a million excuses ensued. I enjoyed the creativity behind each one. I treated the losers to a bumper car bout and watched from the sidelines as pure joy washed across their faces.

Anna even laughed as they smashed into each other. I admired her persistent and aggressive attempts to slam Garret's car. Her determination was a sure sign of affection. She reminded me of an ornery little girl I once knew.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 90: Eating Weeds


I don’t have to go far to find dandelions. Moss and dandelions are responsible for the green hue of my front lawn. I have friends that spend a good deal of time and money ridding their front lawns of both moss and weeds, but I’ve decided to embrace nature. Fescue is overrated. 

I’ve even convinced my meticulous neighbor to drop her economy-sized buckets of Moss-Out and the weed killer, Preen, and just let it all go. She still poisons the heck out of her backyard, but our shared drinking well in the front is now much safer. Now, if I can convince her cat and dog to not use my front yard as a litter box, I might be able to harvest dandelions just beyond the stoop.

But for now, Jasper and I are left to forage the woods and back field of my property for something to eat. The greens are small this time of year, and darker than I remembered. We crunched over the last bits of snow forming an icy crust over sandy soil. Spots of green protruded through the muddy white, signaling us to the edible dandelion or the poisonous Digitalis purpurea, more commonly known as foxglove.

My flowerbeds are full of wild foxgloves carefully dug and transplanted from the woods. The deer won’t eat them, and so it made sense to fill the barren flowerbeds with something deer proof and beautiful. Tubes of lavender, white, and deep purple blossoms cluster like grapes on a long green spike. Foliage ranges from yellow to dark green to a sage grey. I’ve always been a fan of foxgloves. Foxgloves remind me of childhood, slipping ten blossoms on my fingertips and chasing my little brother through the forest with my witch-fingers. Elegant foxglove blossoms were the artificial fingernails of my youth.

I learned the term “Digitalis,” in my early twenties, and only after I learned that the heart medication, Digital, had poisoned my Grandma Crawford. On her last few days alive, I researched and learned my first lesson on pharmaceutical adaptations of wild plant matter. In nature, the foxglove has medicinal properties to regulate heartbeat. In nature, the foxglove also causes nausea with overconsumption. Nausea purges the system, identifies allergic reactions, and prevents accidental overdose and fatal poisoning. But nausea is not a side-effect consumers are willing to deal with in a daily heart medication. Therefore, the nausea-causing agent is extracted from the antiarrhythmic agents and other heart-beneficial components. The end result is a barf-free and highly marketable pharmaceutical. But here’s the problem: void of the elements that caused nausea, there is no longer a built in safety-mechanism that prevents accidental overdose, allergic reaction, or the longevity build-up of persistent toxins.  Before Grandma or her doctor recognized the Digitalis poisoning, it was too little too late. Her her liver, kidneys, and other vitals shut down. There’s no coming back from foxglove’s death grip.

I’m amazed at where my mind wanders when I’m in the woods. Thoughts of my grandmother and her untimely death blurred my vision, making the tedious dandelion picking all that more difficult. The naturalist in me curses the bastardization of God-given cures. I have to wonder, what-if. What if my Grandma had seen a naturopath?  What if that naturopath found a way to use foxgloves in the whole form? It is possible, all though not probable, that my grandma would still be alive today. After all, my Grandma Wettlaufer is still going strong at age 92.

It would be easy for me to hate science with musings like these, but the realist inside of me is oddly thankful for the conveniences and possibilities science affords. I live on a couple of prescription meds – one to keep me vertical and the other to prevent prostrating migraine attacks. I’m always searching for natural alternatives, but for now, these meds are my tools for successful being. It’s hard to criticize when I find myself outdoors with my dog, pain free and mobile, picking a basketful of wild greens for supper.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 89: Catching the Sun


The sun made a rare appearance in chilly Seabeck today. From my spot on the recliner, I pulled back the comforter and soaked in a few rays streaming through the skylight. Housebound for nearly two weeks with pneumonia, it didn’t take much to lure me outside. I bundled up the best that I could and slogged my vitamin D deficient body down the gravel drive way to the mailbox. Jasper tugged on his leash, urging me to pick up the pace.

Jasper stopped every now and again, tilted his head toward the tree line and inhaled with growling snuffles. I joined in, huffing perfumed air of evergreen, cedar, sword fern, and the earthy duff of fir needles and decomposing maple leaves beneath my feet. Fresh air and sunshine were healing tonics. I past the quarter-mile marked by the mailbox, hung a right, and continued down the winding asphalt.

Knees and ankles stopped clicking. Hips loosened, and I realized that for the first time in several days, I was breathing through my nose. Paradise.

My eyes seldom left the roadside path and ditch, partly because chronic vertigo kept me focused on footing, but mostly because my inner-scrounge never gives it a rest. I am always looking for something of extreme value in ditches. I’ve never found anything amazing, but I often see several species of mushrooms. It’s early for shroom-hunting. Plus it’s a poor idea to eat ones growing alongside a road or other areas of potential pollutants. But the hunt helped the miles go by. Mostly, my eyes fixed on the metallic blue and silver of Bushe beer cans. I’ve never drank Bushe beer, but it seems popular, at least among litter-bugs of Seabeck.

Everything is green in Seabeck, all year long. The ditches were clogged with thick grasses and weeds. I eyed a few clumps of dandelions and remembered several recipes for sautéed greens, tea, and even dandelion wine. I’ve never eaten dandelion, but I promised myself to get out into the back yard tomorrow and gather a few. The winter dandelions are not as large as ones found in the summertime and there are no blossoms for wine, but it’s comforting to know that I could eat weeds all year long if I wanted too.