Editor's Note: Pacers radio broadcaster Mark Boyle is spending his summer working as a broadcaster/mentor with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" – English proverb
I'm not in Rome. Nor, for that matter, have I seen any Romans here on the cape. But I've tried to be respectful and open minded regarding local norms and customs, which is how I found myself waist deep in the Atlantic Ocean rummaging around for clams at 6:30 one morning not too long ago.
The General Manager of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox is a man named Steve Faucher. I'm indebted to him for affording me the opportunity to spend a huge chunk of this summer broadcasting baseball and mentoring young broadcasters, so when he suggested that I join him for a morning of clamming, I readily agreed even though I really had no idea what he was talking about.
As you might imagine, people out here are really into seafood, and it turns out that many are more than willing to put in the work to get their own. Which is where clamming comes into play. It's exactly what it sounds like. You wander into the ocean with a bucket and some tools (more on that later) and rummage around until you fill that bucket. Sounds simple, and I suppose it is, if you're a hearty New Englander. However, if you grew up in Minnesota, feared the water as a little boy and never really grew to be much more than tolerant of it, and have been convinced that the ocean is full of predatory creatures ever since you saw Jaws, well, then suddenly it's not so simple.
I've been curious forever, and that curiosity nearly did me in when I was a little boy. My family was at a local pool one day, I grew bored hanging with the rest of the little urchins in the shallow end of said pool, and wandered along the pool's apron to the deep end, where it looked like the adults were having much more fun than we were. Thinking it would be cool to hobnob with the large folk, I jumped right in. Alas, I didn't know how to swim, and had my dad not heroically yanked me from the water, you wouldn't know and love (tolerate?) me today.
When I got a bit older, I tried to overcome what was now a near terror of the water, but I was dismissed from swimming lessons on Day One when I wandered into the lake with the rest of the kids and the instructor and immediately vomited. After religiously avoiding pools, lakes, streams, and ponds (not easy to do in Minnesota) for the next several years, I finally sucked it up when I was 13 and enrolled in swimming lessons. Now, if you don't think being the only teenager in a class full of six-year-olds is anything less than humiliating, I suggest that you think again. But I did learn to swim, I became less afraid of the water, and even became a pretty flashy water skier during my high school days. Still, I've never become completely comfortable in the water, I couldn't tell you the last time I've actually been in a lake or a pool, and I've never been in the ocean.
Which brings us back to MJB's Great Clamming Adventure.
Steve and his buddy Eddie, a robust, genial, full of life type, picked me up early one Sunday morning and we headed for a local beach. In the back of Eddie's pickup, there was everything we needed, including mesh buckets, clamming rakes, and old tennis shoes. Old shoes were needed because salt water apparently destroys everything, and Steve and Eddie were adamant that I not wear my stylish lime green Nikes on our expedition. Both Steve and Eddie are bigger than I am, and it was never really clear to me where they dug up shoes that fit me perfectly. At the time, I remember entertaining a vague notion that they probably came from the feet of the last guy they took clamming. A guy that, for all I knew (the closer I get to the water, the more vivid and panicked my imagination becomes), never returned and is likely floating out there halfway to Europe by now.
As we pull up to the beach, there are a surprising number of people already out in the water, many of whom are dressed in hip waders. This makes sense to me, as I assume that the ocean is probably pretty cold. When I ask Steve and Eddie where our hip waders are, they look at me pitiably and Steve says, "We don't use waders. Those are for other people."
Okay, then. So we grab our stuff and wander out into the water. I'm more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the water is really not that cold. As we move further out, I start to become concerned about predators. I know this is idiotic, but it doesn't stop me from imagining that at any moment some deep sea denizen (an octopus? A mutant crab? The Loch Ness Monster?) will rise up, snatch me whole, and put an end to this lovely Sunday morning frolicking amongst the locals. As the minutes tick away, I begin to feel a little less terrorized and start to focus on the matter at hand. Eddie's off on his own, and I'm with Steve. We have our bucket, which is kept afloat in an inner tube, and our rakes. These rakes look a bit like garden rakes, except that there's a scooping basket on the end. Steve demonstrates the proper way to use the rake – you sort of dig around a bit, as the clams are typically a few inches under the ocean floor – and we get started.
Steve and Eddie have done this hundreds of times, and they start adding clams to their baskets right away. Steve also scoops up an occasional crab, which he is forced to return, as things like crabs, oysters, and scallops are not in season yet. Who knew? I had just assumed you could take home whatever you could find, but such is not the case. Your boy, meanwhile, is harvesting plenty, too. However, unlike Steve and Eddie, I am coming up with stuff like rocks, chipped clamshells, seaweed, and other detritus. This frustrates me, as I'm very competitive, and while I know that I can't hope to harvest with the skill that my seasoned partners obviously possess, I would like to contribute something. Steve is very encouraging, though, and when I do occasionally manage to dig up a small clam or two, he congratulates me as though I had just scored a goal to win the Stanley Cup. Adding to my frustration is the fact that everyone else out there makes it look so easy. At one point, an old guy – and when I say old, think pre-rotary phone old – and his seemingly even older wife wandered past with their buckets brimming to overflow, making me feel totally incompetent. Which, let's face it, wasn't far from the truth.
Anyway, we eventually filled our buckets and headed back to land. Though I wasn't exactly The Gorton's Fisherman, I did enjoy the experience, mainly because Steve and Eddie were so cool about it. So much so that, feeling pretty good about trying something new in an environment that is not exactly my milieu, I was emboldened enough to suggest that we try deep sea fishing before I headed home.
So far, they haven't gotten back to me.