Day 60 - Thursday, May 30 - Milepost 5603 - Birdcount 255 - Clam Gulch, Alaska

(BF's Journal). Shari’s determination to dig clams is not to be delayed. We rise early and I dress warmly, remembering the chilly evening when we put out the fire at 11 PM (with the sun still bright and high in the sky) and seeing, this morning, the Pathfinder with its ice layer on the windshield. I put on a shirt, turtleneck, jean jacket, birding jacket and raincoat, long underwear, jeans, plus two pairs of socks and my knee high rubber boots. We hike down the steep path leading to the open beach and then notice how far the ocean has receded compared to last night. Others have started before us - a good sign, because now we can ask someone what to do. We immediately learn we cannot repeat last night’s technique of gingerly sticking our spade in the sand, digging a few inches and expecting the clam to jump into our pail. This is going to be tough and dirty work.

I start by taking off my extra layers of clothing, getting down to my turtleneck, and put on a pair of thin long yellow gloves, the kind used for dish washing. Finding a dimple in the sand, I quickly dig a hole and after trying two or three holes I get my first clam. Shari is so excited she immediately wants to take a picture of me holding the razor clam, probably because she isn’t sure if this is beginner’s luck and I may not get any more. But more follow. After trial and error, a number of broken clam shells and a lot of dry holes, I finally develop a successful routine. The little dimples are the start: most are dime-sized pocks in the ripples of wet sand, some have water or bubbles oozing from them and once or twice we actually saw part of the clam. I usually go for the bigger dimples, thinking they mean bigger clams. Since we don’t have a specially designed clam shovel, I use the camp shovel Missy gave me for a present - the one that converts into a dozen tools including a hammer, saw and even a compass. It’s strong and sturdy so it works well. With one knee in the wet and muddy sand, I quickly shovel five inches of sand from the dimple. Then I dig deeper using my gloved hands, scooping out the sand as fast as I can. Water and sand caves in from the sides of my hole, but I keep digging and then get down on both knees and dig some more, piling the diggings beside my knees. Somewhere between ten inches and elbow depth I can feel the clam shell’s upended point. Sometimes the object turns out to be a stone or a chunk of coal, but most times its the clam fighting to get away from me. As soon as I can get a finger-and-thumb grip I try to pull the clam out, but it fights to stay down. Slowly I pull it out, being careful not to break the shell, and its big digger muscle still protrudes as we judge the size of our catch. Toward the end of our work I am successful at getting a clam from each hole and three times I get two clams from the same hole. But I have to work fast since a razor clam can dig itself straight down at the rate of 9"/min. After a couple hours I dug 61 clams, and Shari rinsed the sand off and threw them in the bucket and helped me find new dimples. I am exhausted, my clothes are a mess of mud, but I’m not cold even though you can still see my breath.

(SF's Journal). I wake at 5:45 AM. Of course it is very bright outside and I have to look at the clock next to my bed to remind me it is still early. My usual course of action is to look, think oh, good, it is way too early, roll over and fall back to sleep. This morning the first thought into my head is CLAMS! After that I can not fall back to sleep since today is a good negative tide at 8:30 AM. So I get out from under the warm covers and dress for clamming. At 7:30 I again march down the beach with bucket, gloves, shovel and determination. This time there are about 15 groups of two to three people each bending over and "digging". I immediately walk to a group that looks like they know what they are doing and they show me what a "dimple" looks like and how to dig. I call to Bert and we set to dig a "dimple". He digs and I offer advise especially when we come up empty again. "Dig faster, dig with your hands, get down on yours knees, dig deeper" are all phrases I use repeatedly. Finally success. His hands come up out of the hole with a clam. Oh what joy! We did it! I try to do it but I can not dig fast enough to get the little buggers. So Bert digs, I carry the pail and wash the sand from the clam and offer encouragement because I can tell it is hard work. After two or so hours of digging I think it is time to make tracks back to the beach before we get cut off by the returning tide. We make our way back to what we think is the shore since we can not see it through the heavy mist. We dig our way along and see others through the fog so we know we are on the right track.

We carry our booty up the hill and I line them up on the picnic table. We had dug 61 clams (the limit is 60 per person per day). The next step is cleaning. After talking to a number of people asking my "dumb" questions I find out that you put them in boiling water just a few seconds until they open up. Then immediately put them in cold water so they do not cook. So that is what I did. Then I took the shells off and washed them again. Now I have to clean the insides. I study the pamphlet that a lady gave me and get stuck at what parts I keep and what I through away. So with scissors in one hand and a clam in the other, I walk to the campsite next door where four people are cleaning their catch of the day. They show me how to cut the neck, the foot, and remove the innards. Our men from Maine by now had butchered theirs so I was happy I had read and asked questions before I cleaned them. I go back and an hour later that task is done. I put them in the refrigerator and we decide to drive to Kenai, birding and viewing the sights along the way. On the way back we again stop at Fred Meyer in Soldotna and pick up some lettuce, margarine and beer. It was going to be clam feet for supper, which were first dusted in flour and cornmeal and fried quickly three minutes in margarine and olive oil. Oh, that was tasty, especially since we caught it, cleaned it, cooked it and ate it. The rest, necks and body, will go into the freezer in packets of 20 each for chowder.

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