Yesterday I was looking at the local Telephone book…The PLAID Book…Which is put out by a local publishing company. It is crammed with all kinds of minutia. There are green pages, which is local government, Blue pages, which is Federal Government and the Base, and of course the white pages and yellow pages and red pages (emergency). But way in the back is the fun pages. Among the kids pages and the jokes there are the local tide tables. I had not read a tide table in years, and I used to have several of them in various places…the glove box of my truck, in my tackle box, in the kitchen junk drawer, and beside my chair. I would read these every week, so I would know when the best days for fishing were, and at what time. And also when the best clam tides were.
I remember when I was really young and first came to Whidbey Island; we lived in town which was really small in 1954. The Seaplane Base was right there within walking distance, and the Best clam beds were right below Officer’s Country. We would have to walk down a very steep muddy trail, down the bluff and then walk about ¼ mile out onto the clam beds. We had to time this just right. Walking out when the tide was going out, and then digging like crazy, and getting our limit before the tide started back in.
Dad and Phyllis and I always went. That way we could have three limits. Carting the burlap bags full of clams the ¼ mile back up the cliff to the car was the worst part. The fun part was digging through the mud for the clams. We would find all sizes from the baby steamer size to the giant Gooey Ducks. We would throw the gooey ducks back because they were so tough. (obscene looking too.) But the steamers were kept to eat that night.
Once we got the clams home, Dad would cover them in water in the back yard in this big old tub, then pour cornmeal into the water and let them cycle it through their systems to get all the sand out of their stomachs. Then Mom would steam the little ones and we would dip them in garlic butter and eat them with bread and Cole slaw. YUMMY!! The bigger ones we would boil until they popped open, and then Mom would grind them up and freeze them in batches and use them to make clam fritters, and clam chowder. Man I loved those fritters!!
We always watched the tide tables for the Minus tides. The best tides were in Late May/June and Late Dec/Jan. They would start at a -1.3 and work up to a -2.4 which was a really really low tide. Yesterday I looked to see just how low the tides were and saw that there were some -3.4 tides!! I do not remember them getting that low when I was little. Clam digging is not nearly as good anymore, because of all the pollution in the water and all of the “red tide” which is the common name for paralytic shellfish poisoning. It will kill you if you eat seafood that has eaten the plant while in bloom.
It is so sad to see the clam beds all lying wasted, with the empty shells washing up on the shore. It is even sadder to know that generations of kids will grow up and never know the joy of getting up at midnight on a very cold December evening and carrying the Coleman Lantern down the muddy cliff behind your father while he leads you once again onto the abundant clam beds that had been harvested for centuries by first the Indians and then the white man. These kids won’t ever know the feeling of having frozen fingers and toes and watching their breath leave their mouths while their hands shake as they held the lantern while their father filled the burlap bag full of those little steamer clams we knew we would be eating for dinner the very next night. Damn! And all I have in the cupboard is a can of Snow’s Clam Chowder. Nah!! Just won’t do! I may have to start reading those tide tables again.