New feature: The Clam Blog (“bivalve-chasing nirvana”)

All’s Clam on the Western Front
By Scott McGeath

I recently read that among Wall Street types, how the stock market performs in the first week of January is looked upon as a reliable predictor for the rest of the year. If that infallible logic were to be applied to our clamming season, then 2013 promises to be a very good year indeed.

1-Scott and Dave with clams

The author and his brother, a few years ago.

Actually, fall/winter of 2012 wasn’t anything to sneeze at either — I only had two digs where I came home with a catch under the limit (which I attributed to stormy conditions). But the excellent weather we enjoyed during the January 10-12 digs, not to mention the New Year’s Eve digs, has elevated clamming to a whole new level of bivalve-chasing nirvana.

In particular, on Friday, January 12, we were treated to the equivalent of a perfect storm for clamming (on second thought, that’s confusing — let’s call it a “perfect calm”): low tides, mild weather, and … drum roll, please … daylight. The low tide of 6:14 meant diggers could actually hit the beaches before the sun even went down (although that didn’t stop me from bringing a flashlight, just in case).

Of those three “perfect calm” elements, I recently gained an appreciation for one back in December during the New Year’s Eve eve dig. You’ve heard of “ah-ha” moments? Well, this was more like a “no-duh” moment — a total forehead-slapper.

As with last week’s dig, the weather had been absolutely stunning. But what really got my attention was how quickly I was able to catch my limit compared to previous stormy-weather outings. Then it hit me: Tide matters. An extra-low tide means diggers get all sorts of new real estate to work with. Add to that the calm seas we’ve been having, with no surge pushing the water up the beach, and it was a recipe for success — as long as the clams were there.

And I am pleased to report they were. On Friday, it took at most 10 minutes before I’d stumbled upon a bed of clams. (By the way, I didn’t just make up that “bed” reference. Turns out, that’s the official name for a group of clams. Gee, thanks, Internet!)

Unlike previous outings, when I’d typically get a few small clams, a few large ones, and a bunch in between — your basic clam sampler — I just found small and medium-small ones. And, no, the shows had all been pretty decent-sized — no indication at all of how small the clams would be. I tried to look on the bright side and remember that the small ones are quicker to clean (in fact, that night I’d almost finished cleaning all 15 in the space of time it took Prog Daddy to play one of his “epic” songs on KOSW 91.3 FM’s “The Secret World of Progressive Rock”).

The good news is they were crazy-easy to find. It took a mere 45 minutes to walk to the beach, dig my limit, and walk back home. Saturday, the operation was possibly even quicker (even though it was dark by the time I hit the beach).

In some ways, Saturday’s dig was even better than Friday’s. For one thing, I found a lot of decent medium-size clams. For another, though digging in daylight is usually preferable, the conditions were so pleasant — no wind or clouds, the stars and Milky Way shining overhead at the start of a new moon — that you couldn’t help but be in awe of the beauty of the moment.

Over my shoulder, Orion the Hunter looked on as I swiftly bagged my limit. And as I walked back toward the access road, laden with clams and waiting for feeling to return to my seawater-numbed hand, it occurred to me that it was somehow appropriate for that particular constellation to be in attendance.

After all, maybe those three stars lined up diagonally on Orion’s middle aren’t part of a belt at all — maybe they’re his clam gun*.

* My Nana always made a point of clarifying for me that a clam gun is the name of the shovel one uses to dig clams, not one of those gun-like aluminum tubes. Chances are, popular usage will soon make that a thing of the past (if it hasn’t already), but as a public service and to honor Nana’s crusade, I feel compelled to remind folks of that original designation.

Nana knows clam guns.

Nana knows clam guns.

About Tom Scanlon

Tom Scanlon started his journalism career as a sports stringer with the Pittsburgh Press (RIP) and Post-Gazette, then moved on to the Seattle Times, Mesa Tribune etc. He is the author of plays including "The Superhumans" and novels including "Ocean Shores Tourist Killer," "Atlantis City," and, now, "The Immaculate Jagoffs of Pittsburgh."
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