...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

28 March, 2012

harvesting clams

Clamming is hard work for folks.

You head out with some white spackle buckets, 
a plastic snow sled or a small boat, 
wearing big tall boots that go to your knees. 

You carry a heavy hand rake that looks like this:

You walk in the mud as far as you can go.

...and you bend over, for hours, no matter 
if the sun is hot or the wind is freezing,

while you turn over the mud and look for clams.

As the tide goes further out or in,
you travel with it.

If there are two low tides when it's light out,
you just might return the same day for another harvest.

(I figure a lot of Ibuprophen gets ingested
by clammers in these parts.)

When the tide comes back in,
or when you've had enough,
you take your clams back to shore,
often leaving your boat at anchor on the mud, or in the water.
It'll float on high tide,
sit in low tide,
and be there when you come back the next day.
When you go out to do it all over again.

Then you drive to the dealer, 
and hope for a good price.
A price which, after you pay for the gas 
to get to and from your grounds,
will adequately compensate you 
for your hours bent over in all weather, raking.

Any cracked or broken clams,
no matter how alive they still are,
will not be part of your sale.
But you can bring those home and make chowder.
Or fry them, or make clam cakes.
Maybe until you never want to eat another clam again.

*   *   *

Clamming is easy for gulls.
You gather on the flats, and look for the spurts
that clams make in the mud.

You poke around with your beak, and haul one
to the surface.

Then, you take wing.

One might think it would be hard to make a meal
of a live clam, one who has his shell locked shut
and will not willingly give up his innards for a gull's dinner.

If you are a gull, you have all this covered.

You put the clam in  your beak, and you
glide over above the nearest rock.

Then, you slow, bank, hover, and let go. 

You might have to do it more than once,
but sooner or later that clam
breaks, and your dinner is yours.
No chowder, no truck, no haggling, no clamcakes.

Just pure, sweet clam meat
there for a poke, a soar, and a drop or two.

Tell me, who has the better life??


  1. A wonderful post, especially for someone who has never been clamming, especially for a living. As I read this, Mike, I thought about what a wonderful children's book it would make.

    1. Thanks, Penny! Robert McCloskey's "One Morning in Maine" had a clam digger in it, didn't it? I'll have to go through my archives and see if I can find it. Seeing clammers always makes my back hurt in sympathy...;o)

  2. really enjoyed this post. learned a lot about the entire process. :)

    1. Glad to enlighten you, Theresa. I sure have learned lots from your blog! Happy to return the favor. ;o)

  3. Wonderful post, Mike, redolent of Maine's salt and tang. I've always admired the clammer's backbreaking work with tools that haven't changed, in spite of the modern world we live in. And I applaud your patience and persistence with the seagull, it's a splendid series!

  4. Dear Mike, I learned so much from your posting. I've never walked along the Atlantic or the Pacific coast and so never seen clamming. And I didn't know about those birds. They do seem to have a freedom we don't enjoy. Now also I need to get Robert McCloskey's book and read about Maine. Thanks for mentioning it in your response to Penny. Peace.

  5. I have never been clamming but have always wanted to do it. It looks like hard work, but oh - the rewards!

  6. Yes, being a clammer would be a hard way to earn a living, but if you just went for one day for your own dinner, oh, what a reward!