I heard the term clam digging for the first time from an orthopedic resident during my intern year. He suggested to me that he and I should go clam digging that weekend. I raised my eyebrows and looked at him incredulously: What was he talking about? And what the hell was clam digging an euphemism for?
It turns out clam digging is a real thing in Washington State, kind of a big and popular thing people do here. During specific months and specific hours of a few days in a year, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife puts out notices that allow Washingtonians to dig for razor clams– hand length brownish yellow bivalves.
After the ortho resident patiently explained to me what clam digging meant, I was intrigued. We were in residency, and we were ready to get far away from the hospital for any excuse, especially one as novel as clam digging. That conversation happened eight years ago. In those years, I have watched youtube videos showing me various techniques in clam digging, introducing to me various digging tools, and even teaching me how to clean the clams after the dig. But the ortho resident and I got to the end of our residencies and neither of us made it to the beach for the razor clams.
A month ago, Michelle, a friend at work, approached me and asked me if I want to join her friends clam digging. That question raised some eyebrows in the lounge, eliciting a few colorful jokes. But I knew exactly what she was referring to. Wait a minute, I thought to myself, does this girl really know what she is talking about? Does she know what I know about clam digging?
It turned out Michelle, a native Washingtonian, comes from a family of enthusiastic clam diggers. Her uncle, according to Michelle, is such a big time clam digger that he owns not one, not two, not three, not four, but five clam guns! And one of them, her uncle’s favorite clam gun, is gold in color! My eyes bulged. Her uncle must be a clam digging god. But no, said Michelle in a serious tone, her parents totally make fun of her uncle for his amature clamming abilities and childish needs for clam guns. A real clam digger uses a shovel. Not just any shovel, a razor clam digging shovel. What what!!
Ok, I have to admit that I got really excited by the prospect of finally getting myself to the beach and digging up some clams. Michelle agreed to supply all the tools: clam guns from her uncle, homemade clam collecting buckets, gloves, and rubber boots. She even offered transportation. Since I had plans for that evening (which I will get to in part 2 of this story), I decided to drive out there alone.
The morning we were setting out for clam digging, my buddy, Tag, texted me and asked if I had any plans. After telling him the clam digging plans, he decided to bring his kids to the beach and join us for some clamming. So the party arrived Grayland Beach in three vehicles by 130pm.
The beach was packed with cars! Hundreds of people, holding various buckets, nets, and various clamming tools, surveyed the beach in low tide. Michelle received instructions from her parents to make a left after driving onto the beach. Why left? Doesn’t that seem arbitrary? Do the clam grow bigger on the left side of the beach? “They had always gone to the left when we go clam digging.” Michelle said, shrugging her shoulders.
So when we met up with her mother, I immediately posed the question to the clam digging mastermind. “Huh!” She looked at me, “That’s a great question, You know, come to think of it, we should always turn right! We are Republicans! We should always turn right!” So it’s arbitrary, I nodded my head and laughed out loud. Michelle’s mom pointed us at a man trudging through the waves in the distance. “It looks like Mike’s got another clam.” She pointed at her husband who was diligently surveying the sand. Then she stopped abruptly, pointing next to my feet and said: “Actually there is one right here. Sean, why don’t you dig for it. Here, you got aim the gun at the little crater and dig it in. Shake it side to side and go fast.” I pushed the clam gun into the sand, shaking it side to side to wiggle it into the earth. “Now plug the vent hole and pull it out!” Everyone gathered around me as I pulled the clam gun out of the ground and dumped the sand on the beach. At the bottom of the sand column, a razor clam furiously twirled its digger trying to flee. I quickly reached out my hand and picked it up. “Wow!” Everyone were excited by the quick success.
“Here, Tim, there is another one. You should go for it!” Michelle’s mom pointed at a tiny little speck on the otherwise perfectly wave-washed beach. “How can you tell?” I asked. “Oh, I have done this for a long time. You stomp on the ground and watch for these little craters to form as the clam underground trying to dig away. Tim pushed his clam gun into the ground and pulled out a column of sand. Sure enough, a big clam was at the bottom of the sand pile. Hurray!
We scattered on the beach and each went out scouting for prey. There were plenty of clams around. Within thirty minutes, I had already collected a dozen clams in my bucket. The personal limit per day is fifteen so I decided to slow down a little. I talked to Michelle’s dad who showed me how to dig with a shovel. The technique is definitely more involved, requiring him to kneel in the shallow waves and to dig elbow deep into the soil to chase after a clam. The clams were incredible diggers when left alone on the beach, disappearing completely underground within seconds.
When everyone had maxed out on the clams, we helped Tag’s young son to collect his share. By 330pm, everyone, including the kids, had maxed out for the day. Michelle’s mom told us that they planned to return on the next day to give it another go. How do you cook these guys? I asked. “Oh, you can fry them, bake them.” She replied, “They are really good in clam chowders. There are a number of good recipes.” Nice! What a wonder way to spend a Saturday!
But my day wasn’t over yet. The second part of my birthday weekend was waiting for me three and half hour away, where I will be spending a night in my car waiting for the sunrise to summit Mount St. Helens. Don’t miss out on my next post on my climb up St. Helens!