Well... I was out there every single day this week, in one way or another, hanging out inter-tidally. Exploring the inaccessible areas. Doing tours. Had a big school group on Monday and found this lunker moonsnail...
In fact I found no less than 5 of these brutes this week. Catch and release only. I have long since given up trying to turn moonsnail meat into something palatable. Beyond hammering the meat to a pulp I'm saying. And frankly I have no interest in chemical meat tenderizers. I hear papaya and ginger can be used to this end but dang it, I refuse to believe that papaya enzymes can break down a moonsnail. Anymore than they can break down the sole of my hiking boots. Someone please prove me wrong on this. I looked in the logbooks of Lewis and Clark to see if I could find the first ever reference to the moonsnail, but it seems that Merriweather did not actually name the species. It was named by another biologist later in the 19th century, who felt indebted to Lewis for all his hard work exploring the uncharted wilds.
One interesting development this week was my discovery of a wildly abundant and easy-to-get-at shoal of common piddock clams. How strange! This is one of those rock-boring species that used to be caught by means of an 8 pound sledge hammer (and a total lack of ecological propriety). Of course no one takes a sledge hammer out on the reefs any more. I mean, with all due respect to ye old tyme clammers, smashing the reef with hammers to get at the clams is a bad idea. But as I was walking out to my favorite horseneck location I saw a number of tiny spouts shooting off in the sand.
Actually. These suckers are better than littlenecks! I can't believe it! Okay, okay a tad chewy but unlike cleaning macomas, you can clean the guts out of a piddock and there's still enough clam left to make it worth while. Next time I'm gonna dig a little deeper.
Thing is, I was early. Normally, I don't start clamming until about an hour before flat low. Today I was taking new friend and visiting pleistocenic forager par excellence, Prof William Schindler on what I hoped would be a representative California intertidal foray, so I wanted to start early in order to get everything in.
And What Did We Learn This Week Grasshoppah?
Well for one thing, that it's a good idea to mix things up a bit (I seem to remember Don Juan telling Carlos Castaneda (see left) this in Journey to Ixtlan... alas, the inner hippy is revealed). So you think surf perch only run on high tide? Night smelt only run on the outgo? Every now and then start fishing at low tide and see what happens. Walking out on the mudflats three hours before low tide I saw these tiny spouts going off about 20 feet from the top of the tide-line. Never would have seen them had I started two hours later. Thinking they were sand macomas I shoved the shovel down, and discovered that two inches below the sandy surface was a thick layer of clay. The first scoop of the shovel revealed two long siphons of a clam species I could not immediately identify, the second scoop revealed the tell-tale shells. I love this kind of surprise! Had no idea there were easily accessible beds of piddocks here. And I don't even need a sledge hammer to get to them... How cool is that?
One nice thing about all the crazy exposure I've been getting of late is that occasionally I am contacted by extremely cool people that never would have heard of me otherwise. I figured Bill found me through the Times article, or one of the TV shows but it was actually from the thing i did for an in-flight magazine that I totally forgot about.
Bill turned out to be an upright bloke, a walking talking encyclopedia of primitive skills (has a PHD in Archeology of course). Not only did he come bearing gifts (some hand made dogbane cord and a handsomely napped projectile head--for which I would have gladly sold Manhattan Island), but he was full of good cheer and even ate a raw limpet. It's not everybody who wants to wallow in the muck for horseneck clams but Bill leapt into it with childlike abandon!
It's interesting how regional the whole primitive skills thing can be. Late last night after spending the day with Bill Schindler, I got inspired and busted out my copy of Kroeber's Handbook of the Indians Of California. I've always been fascinated by the idea of cordage. Even more than stone tools. It seems to me that human life is almost impossible without string, rope or cord (how, for instance does one fish without it?). Anyway, Kroeber tells us that ground iris (Iris macrosiphon) was the preferred plant for this. Indians would use ground iris even in areas where dogbane was abundant. Bill had brought me a very strong cord he made out of dogbane fibers (see pic above) so I find this interesting. I guess I'll have to make some ground iris cord and compare the two. It seems from what I've read that fishing lines and nets were universally made of ground iris... maybe it holds up better in salt water?
Looking at the leaves of ground iris compared to dog bane stalks, can't even imagine how many hours the local natives spent doing this. I mean the leaves are only about a foot long. Probably took something like 30 feet of cord to bind a tule canoe. My gawd 30 feet of ground iris fibers. That's gotta be like... 600 hours of labor or something. I obviously have no idea what I'm talking about here so i'll have to go get myself some leaves. Now, forget about the bass, halibut, sturgeon and salmon... can someone please put me on the ground iris?
Anyway, I have decided this is something I must do. Make a net or a tule canoe or a tule skirt for the fishwife using ground iris fibers. How cool would that be?
That's it for tonight... got guests coming over to sample the fishwife's smoked herring (No, i did not find an early herring run, these are from the Russian market on Irving, I imagine they were caught in the north Atlantic) cream cheese dip and clam chowder. More later this week. Hey... three posts in eight days! Getting back to my past form.