I moved to Western Washington State at the beginning of 2006. I’d gone from nighttime temperatures of 20 below in Montana to 34 degrees and raining in Washington. Hard to say which was colder. I lived at first in a town called Port Townsend, on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. It was a lovely town retaining the character of a 19th century port town. It was a beautiful and strange place.I lived with my girlfriend in a community called Cape George just outside Port Townsend. Our home was a double-wide trailer painted pink overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Protection Island. We faced West, and ultimately grew weary of dazzling sunsets.
Sometime in February of that year, “Liz” and I got into a fight. Instead of engaging in a screaming match in our pink double-wide trailer, I decided instead to go for a drive and blow off steam. I wound up at a state park called Fort Flagler, a former artillery installment on Marrowstone Island.
I parked the car and walked down to the beach. The bay was a morose blue and meringued by chop. It was cold and windy, and my long hair was blowing around; I was having difficulty keeping it tied back. The tide was going out and I could see pock marks in the sand. Now, I’d never dug for clams before, but I was convinced that these divots were signs of clam.
My lack of experience translated to a lack of knowledge. I assumed I would need to sneak up on the clam I chose to dig. I was very stealthy tip-toeing across the sand towards my quarry. Once situated above it, I dropped to my knees and thrust my hands deep in the sand like a diver, and began digging. I hadn’t dug very far when the clam shot me straight in the face with a bullet of water. I was knocked backwards from the impact, and upon regaining my composure, assumed that I had lost the edge on this clam. See, I was working under the impression that these clams could dig forever down at high rates of speed. I was salty.
But I was not deterred. I chose another target, and after pushing my hair out of my face, resumed stalk mode. The soggy sand was frigid as I dug, but I was not dissuaded from my goal. I was prepared for the briny assault and dodged the screaming stream of water artfully, never failing in the rhythm of the dig. Finally, I hit payshell. With one hand holding the clam laterally against the sand (at least I knew they couldn’t dig sideways), I would dig with the other, pausing only to push my hair out of my face with my numb and sandy free hand. When the hand on the clam became too numb to bear, I would exchange their assignments, which created some confused digging arrangements but was successful nonetheless. Vindicated, victorious, I stood and held the clam at arms length against the background of the dark blue bay.
That’s when I noticed a large glob of blood peel off my right hand and tumble to the supersaturated sand, disappearing almost instantly. And another. A casualty! My pinkie was bleeding profusely — I had been bit by a clam. I put my hand in the pocket of my sweatshirt and pressed the wound against myself to quell the bleeding and started back to my car. The clam, which had sealed its fate with its outrageous crime against me, was in my other hand, a prisoner in the name of research.
Upon returning to the parking lot, I noticed a woman parked nearby me. She was loading her little ones into the back of a crew-cab pickup. Seeing an obvious opportunity, I came up behind her. “Excuse me. Do you know what kind of clam this is?”
She turned and froze for a moment as a look of horror spread across her face. Her jaw gaped like a moribund salmon. Without saying a word, she jumped in her truck and peeled out of the parking lot, fishtailing a little. What a strange place, I thought to myself. I got into my car, and after finding a bandage in the glove box, caught a glance of myself in the rear-view mirror. My face was painted with blood.
Do you know what kind of clam this is?