Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gifts from the sea

A traditional trek, the family flocks at the summer house every Labor Day weekend, and this year was no exception.

Yet, the weather did not cooperate.

Driving through nonstop, blinding rain, we wondered whether we should have heeded the National Weather Service’s forecast of flash floods in our region.

But one by one we arrived, parking in the muddy grass surrounding the summer house, a bit late and soggy but filled with anticipation. Clams were on the menu.

Whenever I wandered down to the water’s edge as a child, I found the beach littered with the remains of a feast. Sometimes there were grayish quahog shells rimmed in purple hues, elongated blue/black mussel shells, fish heads of scup, flounder and blues, reddish lobster claws and crabs’ legs, tiny conical-shaped shells of gray and black periwinkles, snake-like skeletons of eels and mounds of brittle clam shells. These foodstuffs for humans, fish and fowl have always provided a delicious reward for those who hunt, fish and farm its depths.

Growing up along this shoreline, I marveled each time the Creator cast something new from the sea.

The first high tide after a storm usually brought in a treasure trove of marine wonders, and I can remember being knee-deep in live mussel shells following a fierce windstorm.

An extremely low tide unveiled a cache of quahogs that were as large and heavy as stones.

Strong, wind-driven breakers also dislodged many of the periwinkles clinging to rocks that hugged the coast. I can still hear the clatter of shells ringing in my ears as the pounding surf flung the shellfish onto the rocky shore.

Since food from the ocean was so abundant during my childhood summers, we feasted on gifts from the sea almost exclusively.

During low tides, we headed down to the estuary and dug for clams. Turning over large stones that had been covered with water a few hours’ earlier, we would look for the telltale holes in the muddy soil. We then began scooping the wet earth with quahog half-shells, searching for the prize.

My family no longer relies on our local waters to feed us. We drive to the fish market and purchase Maine clams.

For the first time in history our population of six billion people is breaching the limits of what our land and oceans can support. In my short lifetime I have watched the ocean harvest decrease with each passing year.

When we fish and shellfish too heavily, we run the risk of reducing the numbers of marine life to the point where they have difficulty reproducing themselves. Sometimes it takes years or decades to recover.

These days the ocean tosses more rocks and seaweed on the beach than shells, yet if I search more closely, the remains of edible foodstuffs are still there.

The wind-driven seas continue to carry sustenance to us – if only we would harvest God’s gifts more sensibly.

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