4/7 – 4/8
I’ve waited months for a daylight tide low enough to dig for the infamous Washington Geoduck or Panoepa Generosa. Geoduck, sometimes spelled gweduck, goeduck, or goiduck and prounouced, “gooey duck” is the poor transcription of g’wideq, the Nisqually word for “dig deep.” And by digging deep, the Nisqually tribe meant well over 4-feet down.
Geoduck is a clam, a really big clam. In fact, it’s the world’s largest burrowing clam averaging around 2.5 lbs but capable of growing to a record 8lbs. Contrary to Seattle folklore and tee-shirt characterizations, there is nothing duck-like or gooey about this clam.
The clam is native to Washington and British Columbia and was a staple to first peoples. The clam is not a popular “fresh catch” feature in local restaurants. This is mainly due to Asian export demands where the clam fetches over $150 per pound.
Overseas demands have led to unsustainable foraging, poaching, failure to follow Department of Health regulations in regards to consumer safety, and the depletion of natural shoreline through the practice of Geoduck aquaculture. Exporting contaminated clams to Japan, where the clam is served raw in sashimi-style, raises serious global health concerns. The Geoduck is as controversial as it is delicious.
Geoduck deliciousness remains only a rumor to me. I regularly eat the Geoduck’s stunt double, the Horse clam or Tresus Capax. The horse clam is great, but it’s not the trophy-hunt thrill I’m looking for when dreaming of Geoduck success. Many diggers confuse the two clams and leave the beach feeling successful with a catch of horse clams, not Geoducks. Ignorance is bliss. I too left the beach one winter’s night delighted with my Geoduck only to learn, after close examination, that my Geoduck was actually a horse clam. Horse clams, like Geoducks, are huge and cannot retract their siphones all the way into the shell. But horse clams, unlike Geoducks can retract their entire mantels, or behinds in the shell. The Geoduck is so huge that it hangs out on both ends. There is some slight differences in shell shape and striations, but the big difference is in the tucking or un-tucking of the behind.
So what’s the difference in taste and quality of the two clams? I have no idea, because I failed yet again to capture one on Easter’s low tide. But it’s not for a lack of real effort and grit.
Garret and I spotted the siphon protruding from a silver-dollar sized hole in the sand. We knew by the size of the hole and shape of the siphon that we were not dealing with a horse clam. This was truly a Washington State trophy.
We dug a child-sized swimming pool to retrieve the Geoduck. Noticing other diggers using big, bottomless metal garbage cans to keep the whole from collapsing, we realized a little too late how unprepared we were for the fight. But we fought anyway.
My arms were buried well beyond the elbow. My face hovered dangerously near the muddy substrate, and my hands held fast to the behemoth neck of the dinosaur lurking below. The tide was coming in. I knew that calm was mine to lose.
Garret mucked buckets of mud sliding from the sides of our swimming pool. It was all he could do to keep up. I held on to the clam for dear life, trying to wriggle its football-sized shell free.
The excitement was too much for Jasper. Intent on helping out, he leapt into the hole to dig. But his 90lbs of romping black lab-ness caused a total cave in on all sides. I was buried up to the neck, my chin resting in the mud. It was me now, and not the Geoduck that needed unstuck before the tide washed in.
Garret knew that I was his to lose. Unsticking a mother buried in the sand is an interesting proposition. The thought of leaving me crossed his mind. We had argued and fought the entire dig, nothing serious, mostly me crabbing at his sloth-worthiness and lack of shovel finesse. I might have left me too, but he didn’t. I gave him one hand and he pulled. The other hand still held the neck of the clam below.
“Pull,” I yelled.
“Give me your other hand.”
“I can’t. We’ll lose him.”
“Give it up, Mom. You’re gonna drown.”
“I can’t.” My voice cracked.
“Oh my God, are you crying.”
“Just shut up and pull.”
Jasper licked my forehead. Garret reefed on my arm. I wiggled the clam a few more times before letting go. It took some doing, but Garret got me out of the hole. I sat on the surface, watching the tide gush into our swimming pool and wash over the legs of my hip waders. The clam was free, free to live out his life of at least 168 years, provided that some other crazed woman didn't get a hold of his neck.
“You’re a total dumbass, Mom.”
“No. You just give up too easy.”
“Really? I could have left your butt in the mud. You could have drowned. You take this whole shit way too serious.”
“Might be right, but don’t ever call me a dumbass again.”
“Sorry. You just frustrate the hell out of me.” He offered his hand, “Need help up?”
He pulled me to my feet with much less effort required to pull me from the hole. “You’ll get ‘em next time,” he said and patted my shoulder.
I sniffed, leaned into him, and wiped my nose and eyes on a dry patch of his sleeve. He gave me a playful shove. “You’re gross.”
“I know.” We walked toward the truck, both of us feeling a defeated. The day had not been a total loss. We had dug 40 butter clams and cockles, and we did have seven fine horse clams. But we fixated on the one that got away.
“Who needs a stupid Geoduck anyway?” I said, trying to sound convincing. But I knew who needed a stupid Geoduck. I did.