The weather’s so gorgeous, do we deserve this? (My friend Jake calls these “Conversations That Never Happen in L.A.”)  It is the most incredible October ever.

poodle and clammersOctober sunset 2October sunset 1October sunset 3october sunset 6October sunset 5October sunset 4This is not to say that there has been no erosion. It has been mild, but noticeable: the half-moon bays carved into the bluff, the backlit trees, the undercut banks.

doomed pinecones

new erosion 1trees before the fallother erosion next

Willy B. Next

Willy B. Next

I’m not waterfront yet, but the loss of fall leaves combined with electric sunset backlighting from the nearby edge is dramatic and ominous at the same time.

my sunsettracks filling in

There have been some high tides– 9.2, 9.4– and the corresponding low tides brought six days of razor clamming in fabulous weather.clam turtles

WW II gun turret, high tide

WW II gun turret, high tide

The beach was crowded, with cars and trucks

clam trucksand all manner of four-wheel drive vehicles.

clam wheelchair

The low tides often correspond with the sunset, making for scenic silhouette razor clammer pictures. Everyone is wearing knee-high rubber boots and on these occasions I am Washaway fashionable, even without clams.

wide clammers cropI ran into my friends Marcy and Bob while I was out taking pictures of clammers.

Bob and clams“Do you like razor clams?” Bob asked me. I had to admit I didn’t know, but wasn’t sure I wanted to.

“They’re not just, like, a big ol’ rubbery loogie?” I asked.

Marcy clam 1“You should come over and try one,” Bob said.

After he and Marcy caught their limit of 15 clams each they were going to go home, clean them and sautee them with butter and olive oil, mushrooms, red peppers and onions. Since I’d only heard of breading and frying them or making chowder, I decided to give their preparation a whirl.

Marcy clam 2

And they were tender and tasty, I have to say, subtle and mild in flavor but not rubbery, a texture thing, the texture being like that of a sauteed mushroom.

Clam model and hand model.

Clam model and hand model.

So I decided to school myself about razor clams, seeing how I’d been rushing to judgment all these years. Their Latin name is Siliqua patula, Pacific razor clam, due to a resemblance to a folded straight razor. And I would’ve called it Pruning Saw Clam. They are a large edible bivalve mollusk with a life expectancy of 5 years. Their maximum size is 6 inches, though these are seldom found.

Clammer catches an egg instead.

Clammer catches an egg instead.

Harvesters look for a dime-sized hole in the ground called a “show” that can resemble a dimple, a doughnut, or a keyhole. The tool of the trade is a clam gun, which works on the same principle as a straw placed in a Coke with your thumb over the top, enabling the removal of a core sample.

clams and gunRazor clams are susceptible to a marine toxin called domoic acid, discovered in 1991, which can kill you. So they check for it now before they let people dig.

bagged clamsFun fact: when Hitchcock was visiting a coastal town in California one time, all the seabirds were going nuts, which served to later inform and inspire his classic film “The Birds”, and the culprit was domoic acid.

clammers 6What sounds hard is the cleaning of the clams. You run boiling water over them for 5 seconds until they open. Then you shell them and put them in cold water. With a kitchen scissors, you then remove the dark parts of the clam–siphon, gills and digestive tract.

clammers 5Then you make a circular cut around the “digger” and remove the stomach, which may have something that looks like a clear straw sticking out of it?

clammers 2“It’s not hard, it’s tedious,” Marcy told me. “You open them up and take kitchen scissors and cut out the stomach and the poop and the crystal straw. They all have that thing. I’ll save you one if you want.”clammers 4clammers 7clammers 1I asked Marcy what she thought was the reason for the enduring appeal of razor clamming. Is it because it’s so easy to do, young and old can do it? Are they THAT good? Is it free food? Or does it have to do with a connectedness to nature, to the land, to the ocean, to the food we eat, sea to table?

clammers 8 “People just stampede out there,” Marcy said. “We don’t know why. We’re fair-weather clammers. But I think it’s tradition. Children hate it. It’s cold. But they always did it. So they keep doing it.”

clam sunset“A lot of people don’t even eat the clams,” she said.


About washybeach

Washaway Beach This Week is a blog by photojournalist Erika Langley. See more work at
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3 Responses to Clamnation

  1. Well, we used to eat the clams. In fact, it was our main source of protein when we lived in Grayland. My dad was the pastor of Twin Harbors Lutheran and we were as poor as church mice… or maybe poor as church clams. My mom would take us four kids with her when she went clamming. She had a short shovel with a long, narrow blade and she dug fast and furious. If a rogue wave came in too high while she was digging, the little ones would grab ahold of her legs and hang on so they wouldn’t be swept out to sea. A couple of times, she almost lost one; one of the kids, I mean, but a mom’s reflexes are very fast and we all survived. One of my earliest memories is standing on a stool in the parsonage kitchen, watching my mom bread and fry clams for breakfast. I still love clams but, as we live in Tokyo now, rarely get to eat razorbacks. Enjoy one for me.

  2. Tony O'Connor says:

    Tradition and nostalgia; The way things are done and how we remember. Each summer as a child gathering blackberries and raspberries which grew wild around the Grandparent’s property in Stafford, Virginia, was prickly, sweaty hard labor ( if I am to be honest). The task of trying to fill a modified milk jug with berries, the hours spent while sweating the pricks from the bushes and enough perspiration to fill that dam milk jug along side of My Oma, does not fill Me with glowing focus blurred memories.
    “We have to, My Dear… nuh? Is the only console My Austrian Oma would afford as console when I complained about the work ” We have to My Dear…nuh?” (pronounced ‘Dee- ah’). I loved Her so I endured the berry harvesting. But it felt like a sentence of ‘hard labor’.
    I currently live in the Mountains of Virginia surrounded by (You guessed it) berry bushes which ripen during the hottest part of summer here (late July- mid August). Though hot,sticky, sweaty and bug plagued, I pick the berries. I pick gallons and gallons of berries slated for jelly making here at “Witsend” (The Name of the house). I would hope that this would make My Oma proud but I have a feeling that I know what she would tell Me…”We have to, My Dee-Ah……Nuh?”

  3. Janet Northrup says:

    I miss digging clams. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I didn’t live on the coast but my aunt did. I hated the early morning wake ups but loved being on the beach. I do not eat clams but I can dig them and clean them with the best of ’em. Thank you for your continued updates on Washaway Beach. Living in the south now it presents a lifeline to a special place.

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