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clam diggers

image via Oregon’s Adventure Coast

Life according to clam diggers.


Thoughts of childhood should come with warnings.

If it’s one happy, golden moment, after another, it’s not a memory.

It’s a Hallmark Card of childhood.

Real memories include trying time, leaning time, and what to never do again time.

Did you have friends or relatives who owned land and cattle?

If they did, and had an electric fence, you know where this is headed.

An electric fence is just a wire to a little boy. Why not touch it?

Electric fence is a hard target for outside urination, why not pee on it?

Both come with shocking results.

It’s the same with clam diggers.

They know things you don’t and want to show you the tricks on your first time on the mud flats.

My first time with clam diggers started inside a boat my dad made in our garage.

Not a big boat, but still not one you’d build in a basement.

No one thought about a little boat in a big ocean when we launched from the boat ramp in Empire, Oregon.

For non-Oregonians, Empire is not where you’ll find the Empire State Building, though I looked for it the first time in town.

Eventually I figured out that a sky scraper would never sit on a block of one story buildings, though it would make a good photo shop pic.

We launched the boat in Empire and headed straight across Coos Bay to the spit. Launch of this small pram meant carrying it to the water and setting it down.

One dad and his two young sons putted across the flat water.

Up ahead of us an older couple in a faster boat aimed right for the shore.

“Watch this,” dad called.

The older couple hit land fast and snapped straight down in their boat. Their engine popped up in back.

“Is that how we’ll do it,” one son asked?

“No, we’ll go slow and save our lower unit so you don’t have to row back across.”

I didn’t see any oars packed.

We eased up and landed without getting wet, then pulled the boat up in case it drifted off.

From there we unloaded buckets and long bladed shovels.

I carried a bucket.

No one expects to see clams laying in the mud waiting to be picked up. Well, I did.

Dad explained how clams live under the mud with their neck barely showing.

“You have to look real careful to see them. Get down close with your eyes open.”

This is where the electric fence plays a part. The old man grew up country and knew all about fences.

He also knew all about frozen metal and tongues.

“Do you see a clam hole?” he asked. “Get a better look.”

So I did.

That’s when he stepped near the hole and a stream of clam water erupted in my face.

“You did it,” dad said.

No one paid attention to my clammy face because they spotted clam, and they were clam diggers.

“Don’t dig straight down on the hole, or you’ll break them with the shovel blade.”

He dug beside the hole.

“Dig down and chip dirt toward the hole. Shovel the dirt out, chip away, and look at that.”

A clam bigger than my two hands laid in the dirt.

Outside the shell it had a huge neck.

I wiped my face looking at the clam neck. You know what I thought of those clam diggers?

They got a clam to pee in my face. When I said that, they said it wasn’t pee, just water.

I reached in for the clam and put it in my bucket, the clam diggers moved up the beach.

The old couple from the fast landing boat dug ahead of us. They turned back, running toward their boat as it drifted off the beach.

That morning taught lessons for life. From homemade boats that don’t sink, to good seamanship, to landing safety, I felt set with more learning than expected, like outdoor school in the real out of doors.

One lasting lesson? I’ve never used Clam Nectar in a recipe. I laugh when I see bottles in a store.

The first time was enough, even though I know it’s not clam pee.

clam digger

Different clam, same geyser. Image via

About David Gillaspie
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