In High School during the summers I had an interesting job. You might call it a dirty job, even a… shitty job.
I was really bad at it. It involved waking up about an hour before first tide, putting on heavy rubber hip waiters, layers of heavy clothing, and going either to the dock to take a boat to one of the clam beds, or straight to the shore.
We’d wait for the tide to go out, take our heavy steel tools which I can only describe as a short murder rakes, and for four nonstop hours that felt like 24 hours, stab into a gravely mix of sand, pull back, toss clams into bags, move forward four inches, repeat until every muscle was cramped and neck kinked permanently into the most uncomfortable position possible. Necks are meant to swivel not dislocate, fyi.
Occasionally you’d find a crab instead of a clam. You might imagine that a mammal weighing 100 times more armed with a murder rake and a relatively giant brain would be able to fend off this tiny beast. You’d be wrong. Crabs are fearless bastard creatures, ugly as they are angry, and they’ll kill you if you’re not on your toes. This is going to sound harsh but the only way to survive is to stab it as hard as you can with your murder rake until it is dead. Repeated stabs. It won’t stop trying to kill you until it is dead and sometimes you will think it is dead, you’ll turn your back, and it will try to kill you again. This is survival of the fittest bitches. It’s you or the crab and you have a murder rake. You might think to yourself, “Ah cute nature and I invaded its home I should try to go around it…” No motherfucker. You will die. Kill it.
It was nice though, overall. Beautiful really except for the trout.
I worked with a Goliath of an ex semi driver who laughed like that green dude from those cans of vegetables. And a science journal-reading modern pirate prankster with an excellent sense of humor… usually. More about that in a second. There was an old man. Old like facial recognition tools would not have been able to unravel the maze of lines and wrinkles to identify who this relic had once been, how he could manage this job I had no idea, but he did quite well. The boss/owner was probably one of the nicest guys anyone could work for. I was by far the least interesting person of the group.
I had youth though. I was in better shape by decades, faster, more agile, there was less distance in between me and the clams. According to every law of nature and physics I should have been a clam-digging machine. The pirate and the giant always had more at the end of the day though. When the boss dug, he always got more. The relic usually dug on a different plot of land, but when it came time to weigh in, sure enough he had more. I was not very good at it, never did figure out how they pulled it off.
Normally I slept on the boat while waiting for the tide. The pirate liked to tell fish tales. They were usually pretty funny. He told a story about brown trout over a period of weeks.
“Brown Trout are rare, but valuable. If you see one David, try to get it.”
“They love salty water and fresh water, really any water. You can tell they love it because you just feel so much better after.”
“Sure you can grab it if you ever see one. No need for bait and poll and all that. You see the trick is to pin it to the bottom of shallow water and gently… very gently lift it back to the surface. Don’t worry they’re slow, and dumb. Why do you think they’re so rare?”
“Brown Trout aren’t like other trout, they swim downstream only. It’s weird but true.” (Remember he read science journals, these things interest him.)
“They are an acquired taste David, but believe it or not some people will eat anything,” and maybe the giant or the boss would chime in, “Dogs love it.” And the pirate would give them a look like they had gone too far with it which was weird.
“David, wake up. Think I saw a brown trout… ah too late ya just missed it.”
One early morning as the receding tide lulled me back to sleep I noticed something odd going on in the corner of the boat between the three, something about trout and grizzled middle-aged men giggling, too tired to be interested it just served to lead my dreams to this mythical creature when I heard the pirate shout at me, “David it’s right by you damnit, get that bastard!”
My eyes snapped open. There it was, barely visible beneath the murky water, brown, long with ample girth floating with the tide. I stabbed my whole arm into the sandy 12 inches left of receding water, nearly falling out of the boat onto my prey but saved by some hand on my leg, I pinning that brown trout to the bottom with the agility of youth, pulling it back to the surface gently, lovingly—my mind not quite awake enough to identify the problem, slowly realizing in that split second this trout truly does not act like a trout, delicate as it is rare it seemed as parts were literally disintegrating as I lifted the mushy beast to the surface.
The laughter of the giant, pirate, and boss first registered to me as victory until my mind fully bridged the gap in between semi-conscious and awake, with the prize in hand. I in that moment realized finally what they’d been baiting me for.