Even with Covid-19 seeping across the planet, the sun still rises here on Dewees. And let me tell you, that fat star cresting the Atlantic horizon is truly something to behold. Nearly every morning we watch peach and pomegranate nectar leak across the sky and wonder how Mother Nature manages to top herself again and again.
But this morning we don’t contemplate the sky’s beauty from our bed.
Instead, we gather our clamming gear in the dark, knowing just what to do because Judy the real estate naturalist and her husband, Reggie, showed us a while back how it works. The key is to get to Two Pipes, the best clamming spot, about two hours after low tide.
Clamming is ideal for a nonhunter like myself, seeing as how bivalves don’t run very fast and I don’t have to wear hunter orange, draw blood, or handle guts. The only real challenge is not to get sucked into the pluff mud or lose my shoes in the process.
Some people use a special rake with a built-in basket, such as the nice one Chris got from his sister for Christmas. But most folks on Dewees prefer a scratcher. As for me, I find it irresistible to just squat on my haunches and feel around for prey with my bare hands.
Now why should such a thing feel so satisfying? Am I tapping into my inner Neanderthal? Or just reverting to my toddler self? (Don’t worry, Mom, I won’t go out to play and then come home with no clothes on.)
In the warmer months pluff mud is known for its, ahem, distinctive odor. It is, after all, nothing but decomposing spartina grass and critters: crabs, oysters, shrimp, bugs, what have you. Maybe that’s one of the advantages of a long-handled implement. Your nose is kept at a safe distance from the putrefaction.
But I can’t smell much now. It’s too cold. With one hand on my rake for stability, I plunge the other into the shallow water and watch it turn the color of spent coffee grounds. While I’m feeling around, it occurs to me that, one, I look not unlike my one-year-old grandson playing in the mud; and, two, that all this rotting matter is what makes life possible.
Death allows life. Now there’s a heavy thought before my second cup of English Breakfast.
I feel a rounded shell the size of my fist and pull it out, the mud sucking around my hand like a vacuum. I lob it toward the basket Chris has set on the island between us.
“Another one?” Chris asks. He’s been raking the mud for a while with no results.
“You’ve really got to pay close attention. As soon as you feel something hard, dig in,” I say. Now that I’ve been clamming for fifteen minutes, I feel like I can speak with authority on the matter.
Chris gives me the no-duh look. “That’s what I’m doing, but all I’m getting are empty oyster shells.”
“Then do like me and use your hands.” I hold them up and let the slime ooze down my fingers.
“I’d rather not,” he says as he wrestles his feet from the quickmud and moves to another spot.
I stay with my little gold mine and ponder while I dig. I can see why not everyone wants to go around sticking their hands where the sun don’t shine. Especially now, when nearly every surface, not to mention human hand, seems suspect. What silent killer lurks here, you wonder.
Sure, hands can transmit viruses, but what about mud? And where do these things come from anyway? Can a virus originate in mud? There are, after all, more species of organisms in the soil than there are aboveground. Maybe that’s where every living thing has ever begun.
“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” says the Bible. Without dead things to make dirt for living things, where would we be?
Chris corners a patch of clams and tosses them into the basket one by one. “That oughta do it,” he says. As we head back to our golf cart, I think about the chowder we’ll have for lunch, feeling grateful that, although there’s nothing any of us can do to stop the Big Conveyor Belt of Life, playing in the pluff mud can sure slow it down, if only for a moment.
But next time I’ll wear gloves.