The Mast-Head: A Clamming Truth

There is a familiar clunk as the tines of the rake strike the first clam

One of the puzzles about clamming is how slowly it goes at the start. It happens almost every time: No matter when or where I go, after I step into the water and drop my rake I find nothing for several long minutes. Then, there is a familiar clunk as the tines of the rake strike the first clam, and then another, and it is on. This may reflect some kind of truth about nature and humankind, but I’m not sure what that may be.

On Monday, my friend Jameson Ellis stopped by the office so we could go to the harbor to dig clams. He and his wife, Jill, were planning an election-watching party the following night and wanted to make a red and a white chowder. To a fault, I am always up for any excuse to leave the office on a spectacular fall day, and off we went in my truck.

That the truck was running that morning was in itself a bit of good fortune. Its battery had given up the week before, and I had just picked up a replacement at Bridgehampton Kmart when it opened at 8 a.m. Low tide was around 9:30, so I rushed to the Napa Auto Parts store for a new pair of lug connectors, then back to the office parking lot to install everything, check the morning email, and get ready to go.

Nobody was around when we got where we were going, and a beautiful scrim of orange and red leaves ringed the harbor. Up a creek tucked away from the northwest wind, we waded in our wetsuits. True to pattern, as we began I worried that we might have previously clammed the location out, or that the tide was wrong, or that the bottom had shifted. Then, whunk. A clam. And another and another. 

At the end of the morning, as my floating basket neared full, and I worried that it might tip and I would lose an hour’s digging, I wondered how I could have thought it so hopeless at the beginning.

I took a dozen cherrystones home; Jameson dragged the rest off to Sag Harbor in a five-gallon bucket. Destination: Election Day dinner.