Day 47 of 100 Days in the San Juans
June Burn on contract to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; 1946
"When we woke up in our little playhouse down on the Bessner Beach, that Sunday morning, the tide had lit out from there like a scared rabbit. Water was almost out of sight. The SAN JUANDERER, completely at the end of its 150-ft tether, was a half mile this side of the water's edge, or nearly. A little more, and you could have walked all the way to Jack Island on dry land––or on firm sand, the clams spurting at you all the way.
Native to Washington State
Courtesy of WA. State Fish and Wildlife.
We went up beach to breakfast at the Batleys' and then out, with them and Mr. Kemoe, to dig geoducks––our first in all our years in the islands. We took two shovels, a bucket and the camera. The sand was pitted with round holes as much as an inch and a half in diameter. Now and then a hole would be full of what looked like a bit of sandy flotsam.
We found a very big hole with the animal there at the top––or his snout, anyway. He was probably far down in the sand. The two men fell to digging just as hard and fast as they could, one on each side for the hole. Mr. Kemoe put his hand down, burrowed for the big clam, grabbed the withdrawing neck and held on. Farrar kept digging and and at last the heavy, thick, long clam came up. The first one must have weighed four pounds, more than a meal in itself, if you ate all of it.
We dug several more and gave them to a neighbor on the beach who hadn't enough muscle for that kind of digging. She had a host of guests to feed.
Native to the San Juan Islands
Courtesy of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
By that time, the beach was full of people digging for geoducks. We felt tremendously proud of our big one. Then someone said: 'They aren't geoducks at all; they're horse clams.' And when we looked them up in our Seashore Animals, later on, sure enough they were horse clams, summer clams, otter shells, gapers or, if you prefer, Schizpthaerus nuttallii.
'This, the books says, ' is one of the largest clams to be found on our coast. Shells reach six to eight inches in length and the weight of the whole clam may reach four pounds––the clams are of excellent quality, siphon and all being used though the siphon has to be 'skinned' before it is cooked.'
This is the clam which the Agners on Big Double call the sweet clams and that they fry and steam. The Batleys use only the white muscles, the skinned siphon, and the foot for meat. These they grind and make into patties.
They and many other people throw away all the rest. 'But that is the very best part of the clam,' someone else will tell you. One man there on the beach said they cut away the muscles, the neck (siphon), and the foot, grind them for chowder, but fry as tasty delicacies all the rest of the clam that is tender as butter, and certainly the flavorful portion.
If people can eat the whole oyster alive and raw, stomach, intestines, and all, why not the clam?
(For others who also do not know geoducks when they see them, that animal has a whiter shell than the horse clam, with no dark edges on it, the shells much more clearly marked with growth rings, and the 'neck' or siphon is longer. The geoduck goes up to five or six pounds, too. My Seashore Animals gives 'goiduck' as the pronunciation of geoduck.
Last winter, when I was on Guemes, I met Tony Naser, a retired railroad engineer who lives with his wife in a green cottage here on North Beach. He was gone but across the road we met Mrs. Whicker, the wife of an artist about whom we have been hearing about for a long time. Mr. Whicker wasn't at home, but his wife with the shiny yellow braids obligingly posed for us on the porch of their house. She was canning salmon and making doll clothes for the gorgeous rag dolls she makes as her hobby to match her husband's paintings.
I wish we could have photographed the interior of that cabin. But Mrs. Whicker said it had been tried without success by experts. We didn't try. Of one room, it is spacious, colorful, simply beautiful and fully as utile as any pioneer cabin ever was. You can't say that humans aren't adding to the beauty of this corner of earth."