If you grow up on Cape Cod, as I did, then clamming is just something you do. Depending on the season, we have almost everything available here: cherrystones, little necks, and quahogs—which are all the same clam, just different sizes. Mussels, oysters, scallops, razor clams, and my favorite, the steamer clam. And the best part is that you can just grab your stuff at low tide and go out and get them.
A few years ago, I went to the Department of Natural Resources to get my clamming license. I had never had a clamming license; I’m a native and we’re exempt. Actually, we’re not, but we should be. In any event, I figured my luck was running out and I would probably get caught sooner or later, so I decided to spend the $20.
When I went up to the counter, I discovered that a woman named Debbie whom I’d gone to high school with was working there. Aha, a connection. This was a good omen.
“Hi Cliff,” she said. “Haven’t seen you in a million years. How can I help you?”
“I’m here to get a clamming license.”
“No problem. Same information as last year?”
“Uh, I didn’t have one last year.”
“Have you ever had a clamming license.”
“You mean you’ve never been clamming?”
“Uh, I didn’t say that, I’ve just never had a license.”
“Well, then … how did …? Never mind, I just don’t want to know.”
I wish the Lovely Louise had Debbie’s attitude.
What I used to do was to head out in Barnstable Harbor, dig my clams, and them paddle my kayak back to the landing area. If there was no Natural Resources Officer there, I’d just load up my truck and head home. If there was one, I would simply paddle past him, head into the marsh and pull up next to the woods around the corner. I’d drop off my clams and rakes, paddle back and I’m clean. Then I’d get in my truck, drive around through the woods to where I’d dropped off my clams, load up, and head home. No license needed.
When I was a kid, my grandparents had a guesthouse in Bass River on the ocean. There was a jetty out front and it would get covered in mussels. About once a week, my grandmother would have me go out and rip the mussels off the rocks and get rid of them because they were a nuisance. If you want mussels today, they cost about $3 a pound. Go figure.
Years ago, while my ex-wife and I were having dinner with another couple, the waitress overheard us talking about clamming. She said that she’d tried clamming but could never find any clams. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Ohio,” she replied. Time for some fun.
“When you got to the clamming area, did you just walk up to the clams?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I just shook my head sadly. “You can’t do that. When the sand is wet and you walk on it, the clams can feel the vibration of your feet. If they sense you, they'll dig deep, and it's almost impossible to find them. You have to stop about 50 feet from the clams, get down on your hands and knees, and sneak up on them carefully so they can’t feel your vibrations. Give it a try and you should be able to get your limit.”
She’s taking notes and my ex-wife and friends are looking at me like I’m crazy.
To this day, I smile every time I think about this young girl from Ohio trying to explain to the other clammers why she’s trying to “sneak up on them.”