Saturday, January 5, 2013

Clams, grace, and industrialism

Low tide came early today. The water temperature is down to 40 degrees--the clams are, well, clammed up now, waiting like the rest of us for this winter nonsense to pass.

Clams eat, they grow. I like to eat them, but I also like the idea of them. I like the way they fit in my palm, I like being on the flats where they live. I like the way 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.

Undeserved love, but given anyway. Can't think of a better definition of grace than that.

Rare clammers still make a living raking by hand. They know the critters like a child knows 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.

I compromise--I damage the bottom, true, but I wrestle every clam I eat with my rake, with my fingers. I never wear gloves, which may be more a testament to my stupidity than anything else, and I've spilled a bit of blood back into the bay.

But it seems more right that way, as I nestle my fingers under another snug clam from the bay to my basket.

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. But I won't ever get sick from a clam I know, usually in my gullet before the next low tide.

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 cocoons shield us from grace.

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

Yes, the annual beginning of the year clams and grace post.
All photos by us, CC and all that.


Lee said...

Do clams bite? wondering because of the "blood back into the bay" comment.
No clams here but lots of chickens and eggs. Mine come from a house down the road (the "hard" road, not the dirt road). $2/doz and my choice of white or brown (or both). The white really aren't white...some are "eggshell" (hee hee), some are a pale pink, or pale tan. I love that the sizes vary from egg-shaped, to cylindrical to round. The brown ones are more uniform in shape, though the sizes range from small to very very large. Occasionally there is a double-yolk which is kind of neat. The best part is that I see the chickens whenever I drive past their house. Free ranging around the yard, or roosting up in the trees. Once in a while they are across the road and that worries me because of the traffic. People should know that eggs don't come out of the chicken with the expiration date stamped on them.

Lee said...

Forgot to ask what you do with the shells.

doyle said...

Dear Lee,

The bleeding usually happens during the cold months. My hands are mostly numb, and I fail to feel whatever shell or piece of glass is slicing through me, then notice the bright splashes of red against a winter beach. Very pretty, actually.

I once saw a clam with a death grip on a horseshoe crab leg. Both were unfortunate, and both were, I think, doomed. The clam was being a clam, the horseshoe crab a horseshoe crab.

That local economies still thrive, that folks still know where their food comes from, warms me up. I teach biology (as you know), but for all the emphasis on biochem these days, most of my lambs still have no idea where food comes from.


Ah, the shells--many end up in my garden, some end up in school (teachers ask for them), some I toss back into the bay, but most end up around an old maple tree in my back yard. If I ever wend up with too many, I'll just toss more in the bay, but I really like they way they look.

Remember when we were young, and wondered about the idiosyncrasies of the few "crazy" folk in our neck of the woods? I gone done became one of them. I daresay you may have, too.

And this is good.

gfrblxt said...

Grace is a gift, unasked for and undeserved when given. But reading posts like yours - that's what knowing grace feels like. Thanks.

Malcolm said...

Hi Dr. Doyle,
I am always interested in your posts and find comfort in the 80% that resonate the awe of nature (the other 20% of your state/country politics evade me). I wish we could spend our life teaching science by planting seeds and raising chickens and goats...and then have a fantastic BBQ at the end of the year.

I am curious...are you a a church going man...or is your passion (as mine is) strictly one of 'Holy Crap, this is neat and you should learn this 'cause its neat'?


doyle said...

Dear gfrblxt.

Thanks for the warm words.

Dear Malcolm,

Well, I am a man, and I have (in streaks) gone to "church"--raised Irish Catholic, kids raised as Methodists, and I've sat occasionally in Friends' unprogrammed meetings of worship. Not sure any of that qualifies me as "church going".

I do appreciate community and shared awe, but also shy away from spectacle often confused with awe. If folks would let the mystery be, I could be a tad more tolerant of organized religion. (One reason Quaker meeting is so powerful is because no one leads--sometimes no one speaks at all.)

In these parts anyway, organized religion may a child's last ties to the rhythms of nature.