'Tis the season to dig in for clams.


Byline: Mark Blazis


For many, Fourth of July means clams. Calls are going out now to local clambake providers, such as Marie's, Blanchard's and B&M Clambakes. From Colony Farms to AP Fish Company, soft-shelled clams are selling fast.

They are the favorite mollusk of legions of us who, like pilgrims going to the promised land, faithfully visit revered clam shacks, including Ronnie's, Cooke's, the Clam Box and Baxter's. But for those of us who dig clams ourselves, dining pleasures are magnified by our adventures on the clam flats. Going outdoors to gather our own food always energizes us. The physical activity of hunter-gathering, venturing into the natural world for sustenance, serves better than caffeine to stir our senses.

I love feeling the ocean soil, being scolded by a willet, wading across a chest-deep channel to dig in solitude, sharing the flats with terns, waders, shorebirds and a fresh salt breeze. But even in paradise, there are tempering moments. The early, intense summer heat this year brought out squadrons of no-see-ums for a brief rampage. These minuscule torturers attacked in hordes, entering ears and savaging exposed skin. We even inhaled these worse-than-pepper demons, all the while wishing for a seasonably cooler, windy day to keep them at bay. Alas, their time was short, and the mud flats reverted to their magically peaceful essence a week later. Now, for a short time at least, clam diggers need not worry. Their annual, mid-July to mid-August encounter with carnivorous green heads is still weeks away.

At low tide, diggers typically scout the sand-mud flats looking for concentrations of distinctive holes that reveal clam locations. Clammers quickly distinguish crab, quahog, razor and soft-shell clam holes. Once they're located, it's time to rake deep, digging a foot or more to their feeding and resting levels. The work is strenuous, especially when concentrations are in grassy thatch. But for every hole, there will be a reward.

Inexperienced diggers miss or damage many, often hearing a disconcerting crunch of shell before they see their clam. Until rookies learn to feel their way gently in the muck, they'll often break more shells than not. Great diggers' steel rake tines are like sensitive extensions of their fingers. They seldom break a clam. Soft-shelled clams are sharp when broken. Many rookie diggers lacerate their fingers from aggressively pursuing their prey. Veterans wisely use gloves.

The extreme...

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