While the rest of you were lolling amid the wreckage of flightless birds and tangled NFL teams last Thursday, we went for the mollusks. I suppose we could have gone fishing, but considering that the tide was going to be unusually low at a convenient time of day, plus the fact that a few calm, cool, golden days of St. Martin’s Summer had briefly wandered back to the lagoon, probably by mistake, it seemed to fly in the face of Providence not to take a boat and go clamming.
I refer to “we,” in the sense that an anesthetist might refer to “our” brain operation. Lino does the hunting and gathering of the submerged morsels, and I help him by rowing there and back and keeping quiet. I have dug clams in my life, so I know it’s possible. I also know that I do not have the (A) knack (B) patience (C) desire (D) interest in this endeavor. Perhaps if I were to actually find a clam occasionally, all of the above would increase, even if only a little.
He jams his finger into the sediment where there are NO SIGNS of bivalve habitation, and comes up with one after another. I jam my finger into the sediment where there are NUMEROUS signs, and come up with nothing or — worse — a little castanet full of mud where the clam used to be. This is the clam’s way of wreaking revenge, even though he wasn’t eaten by us but by some passing marine creature such as a sea snail. But if you can be fooled by the shut clamshell, you will happily claim it and throw it into the skillet with the others, where it will duly open up and distribute sandy mud all over its companions. Not a lot of sand. Just enough. So not wishing to risk being the agent of this unpleasant eventuality, I tend to sit in the boat and watch and breathe and listen. And take pictures, or read. Sometimes I even think, if there’s any time left over.
Rowing out in the lagoon when the weather is chilly (or cold, or very cold), but calm and sunny, is almost the best thing ever. The traffic has been slashed to the bone, the light is delicate yet rich, with shifting nuances that overlap in alluring combinations that set themselves on fire in celestial sunsets.
Watching the tide drop is also a beautiful and mysterious thing. Of course you can’t see it drop any more than you can see a leaf changing color, but you can notice it in phases and it’s a pleasant reminder of things that are bigger and even more important than you — I mean me.
Reverence for truth compels me to add, though, that the soundtrack isn’t nearly as seductive as the scene itself. I said there was less traffic — I didn’t say there was no traffic, because since the advent of the motor (or at least since the advent of me), I can tell you that there is no day or night, no season or location, in which you will find silence in the lagoon. There is always — I need to repeat that — always the sound of a motor coming from somewhere.
Trying to imagine the lagoon without the sound of motors — and believe me, I do try to imagine it, on a regular basis — is like trying to imagine the Garden of Eden, or being Angelina Jolie, or even inventing some stupid little app that makes you five million dollars in six months. That is, your brain can’t do it. Because no matter how divine may be the velvety midnight sky, how nacreous the dawn, how resplendent the vault of heaven seared by the flaming rays of sunset, there will always be motor noise. Small, but steady and grinding, like a dentist’s drill, or deep and ponderous, or silly and busy and self-important. It’s the aural equivalent of the vandalage inflicted by The Society for Putting Broken Bedsteads into Ponds identified by Flanders and Swann. Only not so funny.
Back to clams. Lino was happy, I was happy, the clams — well, I try not to think about their mood. They were put in the lagoon to be consumed, not to write bi-lingual dictionaries or form a sacred harp choir. Apologies to any Catholic vegetarian readers, but I have to say that clams make a beautiful death. And broth.