Clams what am, you say. Delicious, succulent razor clams fresh from bountiful beach sands are the greatest boon to mankind since sliced bread, you say. Well, maybe so, but I remain extremely skeptical - and for good reasons that I will explain later in this confessional.
To clarify an important point, we certainly like clams, fried or in steamy, thick chowder. But no matter how many times we've tried, as a family, to dig a respectable number of decent-size clams on favorable low tides, we have been spectacularly unsuccessful. As in complete flops.
I recall one memorable clam-digging expedition down in Oregon years ago, either near Gearhart or farther south around Seaside. The best tides that day were late, almost at dusk, and a lot of people were out there along the surf line with lanterns, for goodness sake, digging up a storm. It was the first time we'd ever witnessed clam digging by lantern light, and it was quite a spectacular show. From a distance the shining lanterns looked like a swarm of fireflies glittering on the beach.
We felt like rank outsiders, though. For one thing we didn't have a proper lantern and we sure lacked the necessary skills and experience for efficient digging. So we stumbled around in the near darkness that evening, got very wet and chilled, and managed to capture only a miserable few small clams. I mean few and I mean small.
Would you believe the largest ones we dug that trip were no more than 2 inches long, and some even smaller. But we followed the rules and kept every clam we dug, no matter what size.
Imagine trying to clean tiny clams like that with an old pair of slippery scissors in the kitchen sink of our rental house, trying to come up with enough clam meat for a decent pot of chowder. Not very likely.
Since then we've seen lantern diggers here on our beaches, and they are fun to watch. But sadly, the beckoning clamming beaches of the Long Beach Peninsula have treated us poorly. Every time we read an Observer item about an upcoming clam season, we think back to the dismal digging success we've had locally in seasons past, and thus remain discouraged.
It is somewhat disheartening to watch the local expert diggers, with their gunnysacks or large onion sacks tied around their waists, the sacks dragging on the sand, heavy with clams. They make it look so easy, too, tromping around poking the wet sand with their shovel handles, or moving into the shallows, digging nice fat clams like crazy.
How anyone manages to spot the clam "shows" and find the elusive critters in shallow rippling surf has always been a deep mystery to me. And of course that's where the big razor clams lurk. We've tried both shovels and the so-called clam gun tubes, and both have been equally ineffective. For us, practice doesn't seem to make perfect.
While I'm complaining, there's one more thing about digging clams that rankles a little. Even though we pay property taxes locally, and sales tax for local purchases when staying at our Seaview beach house, our primary place of residence is in Portland. So state regulations say we have to buy an out-of-state non-resident clam license if we want to go clam digging here. The cost is nominal, but it's enough to offend my Scottish heritage - especially since our success ratio is so low.
One more confession, and this one amounts to bald-faced heresy here in clam country. Recently we clipped a clam chowder recipe, probably from a magazine. It sounded delicious so we whipped up a batch, using a can - that's right, a can - of chopped clams instead of the real McCoy!
Glenn Gillespie retired from Pacific Power & Light Co., and writes about local issues for the Chinook Observer from his homes in Seaview and Portland.