Chasing these buried treasures on 53 miles of flat, sandy Washington coast has helped shape our identity and psyche.
I FIRST WENT razor clamming out of the most casual curiosity. I was a transplant from the East to the West Coast. I’d barely heard of razor clams, but I had a clam shovel I’d purchased at a garage sale, thinking it might be useful in the garden.
I somehow managed to get myself to the beach at the right time. I can’t remember much about the one and only clam I caught. I was too spent from battling surf and sand. The clam was much deeper in the beach than I had expected, and it moved fast. Subsequently, I heard people say, “These are clams you have to chase! It’s sport!” But nobody had told me that.
To find myself on a miles-long beach, under an endless sky, chasing a clam buried in the sand, was quite novel. After hours of fruitless effort, I found the one clam only after extending my arm much farther into the sand than I thought sensible; I was up to my shoulder in the beach and felt like I was reaching in to turn around a breached calf. But then my fingertips brushed the tip of something hard. I pinched and gave a pull. The object, to my surprise, pulled downward. I pinched harder and pulled upward. The clam strained and pulled the other way. It was a battle of strength and wills that I only slowly won.
Every year, tens of thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest go razor clamming, an iconic (and often freezing) “beach-to-table” experience. In his book “Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest,” David Berger was inspired to dig deeper, illuminating the science and history behind the perplexing rules that seek to keep the razor-clam population healthy and the biomechanics that make these delicious bivalves so challenging to catch — while also joyfully taking part in what, for many clammers, is “personal therapy, family vacation and the quintessential Northwest experience all rolled into one.” Berger brings to light the long history of razor clamming as a subsistence, commercial and recreational activity and shows the ways it has helped shape the identity and the psyche of the Pacific Northwest. Oh, and there are recipes.
“Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest” by David Berger
Copyright © 2017 by David Berger.
This excerpt is published courtesy University of Washington Press.
I wasn’t alone that first dig, one…