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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

No. 113 "Feelin' for clams"

When most people think of clamming, they imagine someone standing on a shoal, bending over a rake, and pulling and pushing it back and forth. With each pull they would try to feel or hear the scrape of the rake tongs on a solid shell. That is indeed how most people did it.

But on the Island, the most serious clambers left their rake in a skiff, and stayed far from the more shallow shoals. Instead they would squat or kneel in hip-deep water with a floating bucket strapped to their waist. There they would grope with both bare hands and bare feet to feel the clams with their fingers and toes and an acute sense of touch. “Feelers,” as they called them, could usually fill a bucket much faster, and easier, than someone toiling with an iron rake.

One family that I knew would go clamming as a group; father, mother and all six children. They would spends hours at a time, as long as the tide would allow, in Banks Bay or on Twelve O’clock Shoal, nestled together while working the bottom for “littlenecks,”  “cherrystones,” or “chowders.”

Working as a team they could scour an acre or more of sandy bottom in less than a day. In fact, one of the little girls was so energetic in churning the bottom with her ten fingers and ten toes that her brothers and sisters called her “Maytag.” When asked, why, one of them explained that the only other thing that could stir up as much water as she did was a Maytag washing machine.

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