Thursday, January 1, 2009

Industrialism and clams

15 degrees Fahrenheit today--a bit too nippy to clam. The water temperature is down to 39 degrees--the clams are, well, clammed up now, waiting like the rest of us for this nonsense to pass.

Nothing new to write about on this first day of this new year. Clams eat, they grow. My rake resonates against one. I reach into the chill and scoop it up.

Never heard one say "Drat!"

Clamming by hand has a cost. I stir up the bottom with my rake, enough that fish will snoop in the area I just disturbed.

I occasionally impale critters not meant for the dinner table--I managed to spear two young horseshoe crabs on a bad afternoon clamming (though a worse day for them).

But I at least knew for a moment the creatures I wounded. Knowing didn't make the agony of the broken horseshoe crabs any less painful, though they at least got a prayer as they sank to their deaths.

We got ourselves tossed out of the Garden a few thousand years ago--clamming is about as close to the Garden as I'm going to get.

I do nothing to deserve the clams, they just are.
I barely need to work to get them, they're abundant at my feet.

I'm just close enough to wilderness to wonder what we lost when we decided to stay home and plant wheat 10,000 years ago.

I work over an area a bit over 500 square yards, and figure about 5000 clams live there. I'll take about 10% of them this year, and next year 5000 clams will still be there, barring any ecological disaster.

Can't think of a better definition of grace than that.

Undeserved love, but given anyway.

Rare clammers still make a living raking by hand. They know the critters like you know the sun.

Most clammers today dredge. Water is shot over the clam bed, creating a cloud of slurry, and the dislodged clams are dredged up to daylight.

The clammers will tell you they are oxygenating the water, feeding the fish, and at any rate, are not doing any permanent harm. Still, in a day when a clammer may take over 10 bushels (an old word), he's not going to know one from the other.

The environmentalists will tell you that the bottom of the seas are being scarred, and maybe they're right.

The few of us who can afford to live along the bay will complain about the early morning hours of the clammers, and eventually dredging in shallow waters is banned, and a few more clammers are out of business.

I know every clam I eat. I know where it lived. They don't travel horizontally much, maybe a foot or two in a couple of years.

If ever I get sick from a clam, I can tell the DEP where it came from, withing a few dozen yards. (Not that I would ever tell them--I don't sell my clams.)

Beyond the careless destruction of habitat, the sin of the industrial clammer is not knowing the critters he sells. Since most of us are industrial eaters, not knowing where our critters came from, I can hardly blame the clammer. He's just making a living.

I can hardly blame the engineer who designs the hydraulic dredger, nor the driller at Exxon who mines oil for his boat, nor the construction woman who paved the ramp where the clammer launched his boat this morning.

No need to blame anyone or everyone, we are all complicit since we left the Garden. Grace does not dictate the market values, and we all have at least one person to feed, to shelter, to clothe.

You're not going to find grace at Whole Foods--you'll find fancy foods at high prices, and a few of the slaughtered beings there may have lived a slightly fancier life than their brethren at Perdue. But you still do not know them.

You pay for the privilege of a fancier form of industry, but you had to earn your dollars somehow. For most of us, earning cash requires participating in an industry.

To know grace you need to see the life drain from the creature you are eating.

Make a resolution to eat something you slaughtered, or at least grew.
Religion has fallen out of favor, and our industrial coccoons shield us from grace.

Grace is never easy, nor cheap.
But it is possible.

Photo of clammers by N. Stope at
Photo of early Perdue farm via the Perdue website


Charlie Roy said...

A great post. I've been wrestling with the desire to move a little out of the city and have a small farm. Usually the feeling passes as I recognize my own lack of knowledge in the area. I can trade the wheat but i'm not sure I can grow it. This post has stirred that feeling again in a strong way.

doyle said...

Thanks for the words.

If you want, I can send you a handful of wheat berries--find a tiny patch of ground, or even just a flower pot.

They will grow.
They can't help themselves.

Kate Tabor said...

The seed catalogs are on the table. We've given up on the raspberries and are making plans to tug them out and raise two more beds. We are hoping to grow enough food to be able to share and store. It will be a HUGE peach year if we are good parents to the tree.
Last Bastille Day I wrote about my farm in the city:

Too bad the city won't let me keep chickens.

I love seed catalogs!

doyle said...

I just finished ordering from Pine Tree, my favorite seed place. Was even thinking about blogging it, but it's such an intensely personal confluence of senses (imagining sun-soaked melons along the side of the house, smelling the moon flowers of past commingling with visions of a summer not yet here).

I don't grow a whole lot, don't have much land, so I do a lot of editing when I seed shop.

And now to go read about your farm in the city on this gray chilly day.

John Spencer said...

I love this post. It's real poetic and yet not too flowery. Great connection to the garden and to a broken world.

doyle said...


Thanks for the words--it is a broken world, but a wonderful one.

I've been following your blog for quite a bit, so it's a special pleasure to hear from you.