The Start


The ice finally cleared off of our shellfish bed yesterday, some chunks bobbing in the channel ominously.   Shifts in the winds could bring them back in or shoot them out of Wellfleet bay for good.  The sandy stretch of beach where I worked looked surprisingly familiar compared with the chaotic jumble of huge icebergs of just two days ago.  Somehow you expect the winter ice to transform the flats but there are only subtle changes and the impression of resilience.  The oyster cages that I left out were still there and most of the ropes that marked the sides of the clam rows were in place or angled offshore, dragged by the ice still anchored by one stake on the end.  When I pulled them straight and staked them down they recreated the orderly outlines of the clam rows.  The deepest parts of the grant, where there is considerable soft muddy sediment, was pock marked from where clumps of the sediment had been frozen to the rising and falling icebergs and floated offshore.  There were curious piles of clean coarse sand in places like over sized ant hills.  Sand that had been  stuck to ice from the upper beach and dropped as the icebergs melted and moved off.  It had rained all day which created a kind of ground fog of melting snow and ice and I could see the retreating storm clouds moving off on the horizon.  This is the very beginning.  How many of these clams survived?  It seems so improbable at the very start of a season.  For the next few months I’ll go through the various year classes of clams and see how big they are, how many survived and figure out when they will be ready for harvest.  I looked down at a row with new seed from the previous summer.  There were a few little clams on the surface and I could see that their siphons were out.  I was surprised that they would be active this early.

They were reaching up, ready to draw water into their bodies to feed.  Four days until Spring.  The clams seem to know.  A net was twisted and pulled off of a clam row.  It was saturated with fine sediment and water and almost too heavy to lift.  I wrestled with it for about twenty minutes unraveling and stretching it back out and staking it in place over the clams.  I’m way too old for this, I'm thinking.  I get back in the truck and head out.  Got the radio on, the heat on and I feel exhilarated as I drive home.

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