Sunday, February 20, 2011

Happy as a clam

Yesterday a blowout tide rolled back the waters, farther back than I've seen. We got a mess of clams, including the one above, and we enjoyed them.

I must have looked like a madman, feet clad in sandals and smiling at no one as I leaned into the winter breeze to rake the flats, clam after clam after clam. I was happy. I have a hypothesis as to why.

Look at the edge of the quahog shell--each tooth glistening in tonight's setting sun, each with a complementary notch on the other shell. A cherry stone can clam up tightly for days when need be.

This particular clam looks about 15 years old or so, and may easily have lived another 15 years. I have no idea if it was happy, but I do know this much--every thing about the clam's existence helped it live as long as it did, where it did.

It evaded minnows the 1 or 2 weeks it spent swimming as a larva. Its tough shell protected it from whelk and starfish, horseshoe crabs and gulls. It survived the icy cold winter waters and the warm wash of summer. It ate, it grew, it reproduced, and last night it died.

Our crocuses are near bursting now--in a few weeks, bees will visit their open flowers, and will leave covered with bright yellow pollen. Everything about the crocus has a use. Look at the picture. The spears are now blunt from poking through the frozen ground, still protected by sheaths at their bases; the whole plant leans towards the sun, catching photons.

Descent with modification does not require a master plan. Each tooth on the clam, each petal on a crocus has a cost. Order requires energy. Every organism seems to be designed exactly for its niche--we assume, reasonably, that every part (if organisms truly have parts) has a purpose.

And if so, what is ours? Without delving into the metaphysical and the mystical, just look at your hands, your arms, your eyes, your nose. We have been been around a long, long time, far longer than computers, far longer than the written word, far longer than spoken language that we believe defines us.

We twist ourselves into our own universes, contorting to squeeze ourselves into schedules guided by clocks and not stars, by words and not smells, by imagined fears and not the predators that used to hunt us in the night.

When I am on the flats, a stiff wind sending whiffs of death and salt from the exposed flats, my fingers wrapped around my rake, waiting for the telling vibration of metal against living shell, I am alive as alive can be, everything aligned for the hunt, anticipating the feast that waits.

I sliced my finger pretty good yesterday, and rinsed it in the muddy waters--brilliant crimson drops splashed on the beach like small carnations, feeding critters too small to see. My hands were numb from the cold, and I knew I'd feel it later. None of the fear I'd have felt indoors, where wounds seem foreign.

My hypothesis? The more we use our bodies, our minds, our senses, our being for being, the happier we are.  Just a hypothesis, true, but what have been your happiest moments?

Photos taken today.
It may just be that I am, in fact, bats.


nashworld said...

“We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch it—we are going back from whence we came.”  

~President John F. Kennedy

(and in my opinion, when we are lucky enough to have our calories largely and sustainably derived from it: bliss.)

Sue VanHattum said...

Happiest? When I first became a mama.

Happy? Weeding the garden today. Until recently my son hasn't had chores. I was trying to let him choose his chores. That didn't work, and we've shifted. He's got some small chores now (which will increase over time), and the weeding is to pay back for a very expensive broken window. He earned $5 today.

He complained, but I sure had fun out there, and I hope that eventually rubs off on him.

Tracy Rosen said...

Michael you have a knack for pointing out the bleeding (pun intended) obvious. I can get so riled up about things that I forget to just plain be.

Happiest moment(s) lately? Many to do with Jack, from when he was first placed into my arms to when I manage to feed him pain-free :)

I was planning on posting a little story by Thich Nhat Hanh on my blog, wanting to type it out. It reminds me a bit of what you say here. So I'm going to do it right now.

doyle said...

Dear nashworld,


(Because I missed the trip to Philly, I never got a chance to discuss your last post. It's coming--and it will get there before the typed letter ever does.)

Dear Sue,

Raising children is amazingly and wonderfully complex and involves so much of us--that beats clamming.

Weeding is something I love doing just for the doing. I love the way my eyes get attuned to specific patterns as I "hunt" weeds.

Your son might enjoy the weeding later, he might hate it, no telling. But I bet he'll be glad once that window is paid off.

Dear Tracy,

Thank goodness babies are cute--they take just about every ounce of energy mama has, and then some.

Enjoy the path as Jack gets older. You've probably heard this often (and at the wrong times), but as long as some days seem, children get older in a blink.