Clamming in late winter

First clams of the year.

The late winter sun glows warmly on the back bay in the late afternoon. My feet are still numbed by the cold March bay, and I stay in too long, lulled by the sun massaging my shoulders.

I stumble a tiny bit–I blame the numb feet, but age may play a role. No matter, time to drag my rake back to shore, warm my feet, empty my pockets of the critters I collected before I stumbled.

I see a small fish scramble at the very edge of the bay, trapped between beach and my numb feet. I hold still long enough for it to figure it out, then step back on the flat.

I put my clams in a basket possibly older than me, a basket I hope is still used someday by the newest child in our clan. Not my decision, but it’s hers if she wants it.

Clamming is not technically difficult, but clammers older than me can collect a lot more than I do with half the work. Reading the flats gets easier with the passing years, even if I don’t see quite as well as I did when I started.

When the tine of the rake hits a live clam, you can feel it. The rake rings in your hand. That doesn’t happen with rocks, or even empty shells. I do not know what the clam feels, but I know it feels something.

Some of the shells bear the streak of my rake–pulling them from the mud is an act of violence. Now and again I find one that has healed from a prior rake, maybe mine, maybe not.

Kale and rosemary both love North Cape May–plant some, you will not regret it.

Back home I have a few leaves of kale from the garden waiting for me; the kale survived a tough winter, and is all the sweeter for it. I have a few sprigs cut from the sprawling rosemary bush that threatens to take over the driveway. The rosemary was started by “special” kids who run a greenhouse at the local high school.

I heat some olive oil, add some onions, then some celery and kale, toss on some butter–each ingredient has its own, untold story. I only know the story of the clams, the kale, and the rosemary.

I drop the clams a few at a time into the boiling water, saying a prayer for each, or maybe just praying for myself. Slaughtering any animal, even a clam, leaves me confused.

Foraging in late winter,feasting on organisms that survived the days of bitter cold and little sun, seems unfair. And it is.

But I do it anyway.