Winter in Brittany: Out on the Mudflats

mudflats cancale clamdiggers

Me: –Is it cold out?
My friend Glenn: Not cold, just miserable.

Yup. That pretty much sums it up. ‘Windy, wet, and gray’ sums it up as well. Relentless would be an appropriate adjective. Interminable an appropriate perception of time.

Glenn has since decamped to a tropical locale for vacation. I’m doing what I can to beat the misery…which usually means bundling up in foul weather gear and going for a walk despite the elements.

Yesterday’s walk ended up turning into an adventure—unplanned, as all the best adventures are. I was tramping along coast in my rubber boots when, far out on the mudflats I saw a pair of clam-diggers.

–Damn, they must really want those clams, was my first thought. (There was a fine mist falling and the wind gusts were in the 30 to 40 mph range.) This was followed shortly by a wave of envy. The siren call of the mudflats is strong for anyone who’s ever squidged around in them while the tide’s a mile out. I was standing at the base of a small channel that ran through the mudflats—a path of water that led out as far as the eye can see—and so let myself be tempted. I had my boots on, after all. And everything else was machine-washable.

The water-path channels are wondrous places to walk. Further and further, deeper and deeper they take you, to a space that’s both somewhere and nowhere because most of the time it’s covered by 30 feet of water. (Gotta love these Mont-Saint-Michel Bay tides!) The thick, gray, boot-sucking mud that stretches around them may not exactly be the quicksand for which the Mont-Saint-Michel Bay is notorious, but it’sclose enough, and not something you want to get stuck in on a cold day. The thing is, the mud is where the clams are.

It only took me 50 or so steps along the channel to feel I’d marveled enough. I wanted scope out the clam-digging potential. After checking the banks on either side of the channel, I dug my fingers around one of the dimpled holes in the mud that mean there are clams beneath. Then another. And another. (Because it wasn’t cold, this wasn’t unpleasant.) Soon, I’d stepped out of the channel and was ankle deep in the mud, rooting around for clams to put in a plastic bag I found in a pocket. (I’ve reached a stage in my life in Cancale where I stash bags in all my pockets just in case…though this one was meant more for light, dry foraged plants, not heavy, wet shellfish.)

By the time the two other clam-diggers had walked back to where I was digging, I had collected a dozen or so clams. Nothing stellar, but not to shabby. (Note taken: Lots of clams here, most of them too small to keep.) They greeted me warily; this was their turf. But I am an American, a chatty Cathy, and a former ESL teacher. In a past life, I made a career out of getting taciturn French people to talk! In English, but the skill set’s the same. Ask questions, show interest, and throw in a lot of leading Ah, bons?’ (Really?)

Turns out, the older taller one of the two is a professional clammer (this really was his turf!) and former oysterman. While he was telling me where to go for bigger clams and how far out I’d find the wild oysters, he was also raking his raking his hands through the mud and handing me clams for my now-tattered bag. In a couple of minutes, he’d tripled my haul and given me a reason (Free oysters! Bigger clams!) to continue walking.

I didn’t get far, though. The wind picked up, the mist turned to rain, some water got into a boot, and the weight of the clams tore a hole in the plastic bag—all signs it was time to head home before miserable could be used to describe me, not just the weather. Plus, I had to get those clams in a bucket of salt water so they’d have time to purge before I cooked them up with a massive tangle of linguine.

Linguine with Clams and Chorizo

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2018-01-21T17:47:33+00:00 0 Comments

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