Clams. We were on the hunt. On the hunt, in the car and rolling down Mines Road in Blue Hill, Maine.
This country is beautiful, and some of us haven’t seen the half of it. Spending last week in Blue Hill, I was convinced I ought to see more before the hunter becomes the hunted. Photos are fine but they don’t capture context, the interplay between clouds and a blue sky, the bracing sea smell, the hush, promising a change of seasons, flags whipping in the morning breeze, the what-kind-of-bird-shrieks-like that and the comfort of knowing there are places where we can go and get right again. Right, clear and close to the source.
Sometimes the source you are looking for is the one selling good clams and Johnson’s Shellfish — white clapboard, Mainey-looking house flanked by a small, white shed that looked like a fruit stand except it sold clams — looked like it might be it.
Fare chalked on a rectangular green board included “Local clams, mussels, oysters, cherrystones, littlenecks as well as fresh fish and scallops.”
A solid blonde walked from the house to the stand when she heard our car pull up in the gravel driveway and stood behind the counter, which had a fridge on one side and a coffin-like freezer on the other.
“What do you recommend?” I asked.
"I like the littlenecks," she said. "They’re really sweet. My husband digs them.”
You like them and your husband digs them. Sounds like you’re both fans. “Dig” made me think of Peter, Paul and Mary:
“I dig rock and roll music
“And I love to get the chance to play (and sing it)
“I figure it's about the happiest sound goin' down today
“The message may not move me ...” but the idea of those sweet littlenecks that everybody dug, did.
The woman looked at me frozen in my California reverie and said, “They’re fresh. My husband dug them this morning.”
Oh, that kind of dig. The shovel kind of dig. The sweat, thrust-and-bend-over kind of dig.
I nodded like I had known what she was talking about all along. We bought four pounds, took them home, steamed them in a big pot, melted a stick of sweet butter with minced garlic for the sweet clams and chunked up a loaf of rosemary bread.
“No way we can eat four pounds,” I said to my mom and her helper, Fabi.
Mom, the source of wisdom gleaned from her 90 years, said, “Yes, we will.”
Yes, we did. Ate them and dug them too.
September is good in a lot of places. Good in California, good in Colorado, probably good in Nebraska but in Maine too because after Labor Day it empties out like Blue Hill Bay during low tide. The mornings are cool and dry and the water is a bracing 55 degrees, perfect for a dip to wash away the stubborn streaks of a San Joaquin Valley summer.
I’d never been to Blue Hill or Maine, but it felt familiar thanks to Robert McCloskey, author of “Blueberries for Sal” and “One Morning in Maine.” McCloskey had a house on one of the many islands nearby. When you include “Homer Price” and “Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price,” McCloskey was the source of much of my pleasurable childhood reading. This trip was a road back to my childhood and there was no digging necessary.
Sunday, two days before leaving Maine, I walked down to Blue Hill Bay. The wind was blowing out to sea.
Blowing out to sea after having its way with the leaves on the stand of aspen, maple, birch, beech and cherry trees. A few weeks from now, the leaves would change color but not now as late summer held.
Music. Wind through the trees, and the small waves lapping against the shore. Music as sweet as those littlenecks.
Sweetness that reminded me that I’ve spent this year going to places that Dad loved. The beach, desert, mountains, tennis courts, the Pantages Theater. Places he went to feel whole again.
September. Fall. Rest at last.