Looks like another night without electricity. The gas stove and range are keeping the pipes thawed. Shoveled out from underneath this morning, cruised the beaches, and took the dog to the dock. Life has come down to eating, reading, and listening to the radio. We broke out the Strat-o-matic and are going to play the 09 Red Sox against the Yankees. I picked the wrong weekend to start watching the West Wing on Netflix.
On my late morning stroll to the Town Dock with the dog, leaning into a strong southerly breeze that felt like a Swiss foehn, I saw a clutch of clammers working the shallows off of Lowell (or is it Lowell’s?) Point. Being a Tuesday, it is either a bunch of commercial quahoggers or the volunteers from the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing performing one of their relay projects. Recreational clammers like yours truly are permitted to clam on Wednesday and weekends, while the commercial license holders get the other days (and sometimes clam off their personal recreational licenses on their off days).
Relays are the process where clams are harvested from polluted waters — usually up high in the estuary where the tidal flushing is very slow and the nasty bacteria make the clams inedible — and relayed to clean beds near points of public access, or Town Ways to Water. This is back breaking work, performed by volunteers from BARS under the supervision of the town’s Department of Natural Resources. Relays in Cotuit are located at Handy’s Point, Cordwood Landing, Lowell’s and in the cove behind Uenoyama’s and the lane behind the Stucco Cottage at the corner of Oceanview Avenue and Main Street.
The clams clean themselves out after a few months, during which time the relay area is closed. Most of the relay beds local to Cotuit are accessible by foot. I don’t know of any around Dead Neck/Sampsons Island.
Apparently some commercial clammers hit the Lowell Point bed pretty hard last year, hard enough that complaints were made and fingers are being pointed at some Wampanoags clammers. I saw them at it last year — they seemed like nice enough, hardworking guys and I assumed they were Wampanoags because they had a tribal bumpersticker on their pickup truck — but now there is a sign on the beach saying the beds are closed to commercial clammers. The volunteers who broke their backs relaying the quahogs are upset, the town is considering changes to its regulations to stop the commercials from hoovering up clams, and talks are underway with the Mashpee shellfish warden to see if it can be stopped from happening again.
The issue of native American fishing rights is an interesting one that has been played out in the courts over the years. The issue comes down to the sovereign riparian rights of a recognized member of the tribe to fish and hunt without license or regard to the regulations of whatever town they clam in.
The issue has been in the courts before. In 1984 a precedent was set in [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415]. Quoting a page on Wampanoag fishing rights hosted at the University of Massachusetts:
“A court decision in October, 1984, [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415] had decided in favor of Wampanoag Indians’ rights to hunt and fish, holding specifically that the Wampanoag have the right to hunt and fish in order to sustain themselves, without obtaining any permits from the towns or the state. That decision became the basis for a consensus among Wampanoag people and most law enforcement agencies not to interfere with Wampanoag fishing and hunting.”
The 1984 ruling was tested when two Wampanoag clammers were fined for clamming on a “closed day” in Bourne. They were fined $50 but appealed, their case making it to the state supreme court where their “aboriginal” rights were upheld.
The situation is murky in the case of this recent contretemps due to the alleged commercial interest of the Wampanoags and whether or not “sustain” as quoted above applies to the harvesting of shellfish for resale. The Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association discussed the issue at their December board meeting:
“Tom Burgess noted that he had been contacted by State Senator Dan Wolf’s office concerning alleged over-harvesting of relay shellfish. This was in response to letters written to the Governor, State legislators for our district and the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council. The Senator’s office will contact Kris Clark, the Mashpee Shellfish administrator, The Tribal Chairman, and former congressman Bill Delahunt, who works with the tribe to try to open up a dialogue on this concern. Meanwhile the Town of Barnstable may be exploring legal avenues to establish relay areas as Town owned grants, so Jessica Rapp Grassetti mentioned.”
Declaring the relay areas “grants” is akin to fencing off a section of public property for private use — aquaculture grants abound on Cape Cod — there are at least three in the Three Bays complex, some very old such as the Cotuit Oyster Company’s. I suppose by calling the relay beds “grants” then the town could impose a different set of regulations. Anyway, nothing like a clamming controversy to help pass a Cape Cod winter.
On a related note regarding the Dead Neck dredging proposals. I didn’t make the Conservation Commission hearing on Tuesday but watched a replay via the town’s website. I’d say the Three Bays Preservation/Mass Audubon application is in for a hard fight — this is not a popular project gauging from the public comments, which ranged from socio-economic concerns to some interesting biological/habitat preservation policy issues. Shellfish are a big concern as past dredging projects have had a negative impact with water borne sediment gunking up the bed, especially in West Bay. One commercial shellfisherman from Cotuit arrived at town hall with a five-gallon bucket and pulled out a nasty blob of slimy algae he attributed to the recent dredging around Cotuit’s Town Dock. I know exactly the slime he’s talking about — it’s pretty much everywhere and another harbinger of a dead harbor but I don’t know if I would tie it to the dredging.
And on an unrelated note — Lowell Point has the remains of an old concrete seawall in front of it which has broken apart, revealing some iron rebar rods that have corroded into nasty sharp points. I have nightmares about stepping on one of those fangs. The armoring of the bluff with rock has also resulted in a lot of small, “non-native” sharp rock, to scatter over what was once a nice sandy beach. In general the entire beach front is a mess — partially due to erosion, but also past construction sins. If the town wants to declare the place an important shell fish grant/relay zone t should think about a restoration project as it gets more and more use as time goes by.
Final digression: It’s called “Lowell’s Point” after Abbot Lawrence Lowell, the late president of Harvard who lived in the grand mansard roofed (now covered perpetually by blue tarps) mansion on the bluff above. It has the best views in Cotuit in my opinion and should be bought by the town and turned into a park as the current owners seem to be content to let the place sink into decrepitude. He was pals with my great-great grandfather, encouraged him to write his reminiscences, and even had his secretary type up the manuscript. He was also on an advisory committee appointed by the governor to review the Sacco-Vanzetti case, a role that according to Wikipedia “dogged him for the rest of his life.”
The definition of melancholy came to me last night in the top row of the home side bleachers at Cotuit’s Elizabeth Lowell baseball park: it’s watching 30 college freshmen and sophmores dressed in white and cranberry pin-stripes hug each other goodbye at the end of their first summer swinging a wooden bat in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
The last game started at 4:30, a half-hour earlier than usual due to Cotuit’s wonderful lack of lights and inability to play ball deep into the gloaming. I arrived on time, scorebook in hand, and staked out the top row for myself and my two kids while they bought t-shirts and caps from the Kettleer’s Store with my credit card. For some reason I thought Cotuit had a shot at making the playoffs, but alas, that was not the case. The team that won the championship in 2010 was finishing the western division of the CCBL in fat last and yesterday’s game was the swan song, the final act, curtains on an all-too-brief season that began in early June, seemed to never end in July and suddenly, like the day after Christmas, was over and done.
The worst part for me is February, when bored out of my mind and numbed by the black and white colorless movie that is Cape Cod in winter, I eventually turn my car into the parking lot and and idle in front of the home plate gate, staring through the chainlink backstop at the blue tarp protecting the pitcher’s mound and the stand of pines arced behind the outfield fence.
“Somehow the summer seemed to slip by faster this time,” wrote A. Barlett Giamatti in his famous sad ode to the game. It’s been accelerating for years it seems. Where summer used to end in a procession of station wagons with bikes strapped to the roof on the afternoon of Labor Day, sad faces pressed to the windows in the line of traffic waiting to cross the Sagamore Bridge, it now peters out in mid-August, as the schools open ever earlier, pre-season soccer eats into sailing, and hurricane season lurks off the coast of Africa waiting, making me fret: “Will this be the year of the big one?”
Cotuit went out with a win over Brewster. A crisp 3-0 win where all went well, no major dramatics, some heroic catches and the usual eccentricities of Cape baseball. I ate a hot dog and popcorn. My children were next to me, their friends next to them. A friend I hadn’t seen since 1974 introduced herself and her children and I think we both felt older because of it. Ivan Partridge, the ageless booster of the Kettleers, who stands steadfastly at the chainlink fence and yells “Have a Hit!” at every Cotuit batter, stood before us in the stands and exhorted us to make some noise and “let the boys know how much you appreciated them this summer.” And so we cheered, dropped our bills into the plastic kettles passed out by the children, bought our 50/50 raffle tickets from the players working the stands, and scurried to the snackbar when the announcer declared it was two-for-one time as the concession owner tried to empty the shelves before lowering the shutters and locking up for the next nine months.
I started to regret every missed game, those lost chances to sit in the stands for three free hours and watch the timeless game, a little maudlin that this team would vanish forever, to be replaced by a new one next year, in the same uniforms but all different young men. Some would become stars in the big leagues. This year’s designated hitter, Victor Roache, was a pleasure to watch every time he came to the plate, and yesterday he received the top prospect award from the major league scouts who prowl the games looking for talent. So one never knows looking at the rosters which few will go on to become the next Chase Utley, Buster Posey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nomar Garciaparra — but some will, and knowing that makes the process of getting acquainted with every year’s new team so worthwhile, so that someday you’ll be able to say: “I remember when he played for Harwich in 2008 …..”
Regret is a silly thing, so I stood and applauded while the boys hugged each other out in the middle of the diamond, stuck my pencil behind my ear, collected my trash, and headed for home.
“I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.” A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and president of Yale, The Green Fields of the Mind, from A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti
The more I cook the more I realize I have never gone wrong with Marcella Hazan‘s cookbooks, especially my well worn and falling apart copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. On Saturday night I found myself with a lot of quahogs and about four dozen beautiful littlenecks I dug with my son on the falling tide. Littlenecks generally get opened and eaten raw on the half-shell, but I wanted a white clam sauce and some pasta so I turned to Marcella’s bible of Italian and made her version of the classic spaghettini con vongole.
The clams came from a very special spot that I won’t disclose because it’s my go-to spot for littlenecks. Quahogs are graded by size. and the most delicate and tasty are the small ones, about the size of a silver dollar, called littlenecks. A step bigger, the right size for clams casino, are cherrystones, and above them come a sort of neither here nor there middle ground that really doesn’t have a name — save perhaps “clams” — and at the high end, for stuffed quahogs or making chowder are the eponymous “chowder” clams about as big as a big man’s fist.
The smallest clams have to be run through a steel gauge to make sure they are legal. The basket on my Ribb rake is also allegedly spaced correctly to let juveniles drop through, but I use the gauge just to be sure. Any babies get tossed into deeper water where the gulls can’t forage them and they can grow up to become chowders.
The spot is good because it is a small river — a stream really — that has a lot of water velocity with the rising and falling tide and that means the clams are fresher than the ones in stagnant water. They live in sand, not black mud, and are easy to clean and usually deliver a chewing experience without sand or grit. I also have a respect for funky clams, the kinds that give you 36 hours on the toilet or a permanent case of hepatitis. Let’s just say I don’t eat August littlenecks.
We took all we needed in 10 minutes, coming up a few times with rakes filled with six, seven littlenecks. These are not littlenecks in the picture below, but cherrystones.
We wore waders because it is April after all and waders made a day on the water a lot more enjoyable — no filling of boots, no shivering in the windchill of the speeding motorboat, the air temperature on the water in the early spring feels at least ten degrees colder than it does on land, in the yard, out of the wind. We took our littlenecks, measured them, then set off for another spot to look for bigger clams for an Easter Clams Casino and some chowder base to freeze up for the summer when there is company.
The bigger clams are a little harder to harvest, but in 15 minutes we had our limit, coming up with multiple clams on every pull of the rakes.
We packed it in, climbed back onto the boat and went for a brisk spin around Grand Island to see if Dow Clark the mechanic had success in clearing the clogged carburetor jets on the old Honda. We flew through West Bay, under the drawbridge, and past the boatyard, still in hibernation under a shroud of shrink wrap.
So the recipe? Steam the clams on high heat until the shells pop, then pluck them out and shuck them into a bowl, saving the clam juice. Saute in 6 tbsp. of olive oil about six big garlic cloves sliced very thin and a big shallot. Throw in two diced plum tomatoes, a cup of dry white wine, two tbsps of red pepper flakes, three tbsps. of chopped parsley and reduce it down. Turn that off, boil a big pot of salted water, cook a box of thin spaghetti until it is almost done — drain, throw in the saute pan with the tomatoes, garlic, oil, etc., toss over high heat until all the liquid is evaporated. Turn off the heat. Throw in the clams and their juice, a dozen torn up basil leaves and eat. One of the better uses of four dozen littlenecks I’ve ever tried. Tomorrow – clams Casino and chowder before the Easter feast.
Nothing like talk of secession to get the blood flowing in February on Cape Cod. Cotuit seceding from the Town of Barnstable won’t happen, too many reactionary conservatives will fret about services and infrastructure. So the idea fades again into a quiet death, but it’s been tried before and is always good for some heated discussions about tar-and-feathering the scoundrels in Hyannis.
This article in the Cape Cod Times cracks me up. I know where it emanated and it astonishes me that it made it to the paper. Then again, my case of salmonella last summer made the front page of the CCT, so nothing is beneath its notice.
Santa came to Cotuit yesterday, arriving on the Fire Department’s boat around 4 pm under grey skies from the southeast, on the wind, rolling into the town dock where about three hundred excited kids and parents greeted him with great pleasure and enthusiam. I got off the water from my first (and perhaps only) row of December just in time to shower and change and make it down to the dock for the happy occasion.
I stood on the beach and shot some video; Daphne took the Nikon so the photos are better than usual. I met the one other Cotuit blogger I know of, Paul Rifkin, and we chatted until the great event began.
Santa walked up the hill to the village park where he sat in his throne, was blessed by Reverend Nicole, and then ignited the village Christmas tree which I can see from my reading porch.
My buddy Chris drove people around the village in his dump truck filled with hay bales then came over for a dinner of braised short ribs (from the Balthazar cookbook), roast potatoes, salad, and cranberry and apple pie.
We pulled the boats in the Cotuit version of an old fashioned barn raising — the Hurricane-Is-A-Coming Boat Pull — a ritual that involves at least six Cotuit Skiff owners simultaneously flipping out and amplifying weather rumors into a pending disaster worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer/Chad Oban film. Strike up the bad electric guitar solo as these six adults anxiously unrig their antique sailboats while bemused rubberneckers drive past in their SUVs and snap pictures.
It’s not that frantic. We’re pretty good at it. Conrad hauls his boats and his customers boats out of the water fully rigged and up the hill to his boat shop. Since he’s a boat builder he has a special trailer that makes skiff pulling a simple one-man operation. The rest of us — Dan, Jimmy, Brad, Tom, and me — play boat trailer roulette, pressing into service anything with wheels and a trailer hitch to get the job done. In a full-on hurricane boat pull during the summer season, dozens of people swing into action and we can move an entire fleet of 40 boats into the meadow atop Rope’s Hill in about three hours. Off season, as we are now after Labor Day, the remaining townie sailors have to play good Samaritan and pull the remaining fleet. Thankfully yesterday’s pull was minor as we’re only operating under a tropical storm watch and Hanna was pooping out in the Carolinas. Nevertheless, I had to pull my boats because of next week’s trip to Bangalore and the fact that two more storms — Ike and Josephine — are right behind Hanna.
Our last legit hurricane on the Cape was Category 1 (the weakest on the one-to-five scale) Bob in August of 1991. That is the one and only true hurricane to hit the Cape in my 50 years on the planet, but beginning in 1938 on through the early 50s, the Cape got pasted with some regularity, including some big damage to the Cotuit Skiff fleet. So, rather than risk a 60-year old nautical antique built by my grandfather in the hopes of getting a few more weekend sails in before Halloween, I pull.
So, here’s the drill. My son Fisher and I row out to the motorboat, tow the dinghy to the beach, motor back out to the skiff, untie and tow it ashore and do the same for the other boats. The first rule of boat pull is the first boats to get pulled are those belonging to people physically present and assisting. Boats being pulled for those absent — pity pulls — take low priority.
Fisher rides the skiff in and starts unrigging the sail while I anchor the motorboat. I fetch the ditty bag (sailor term for canvas bag of nautical tools) and start pulling out the mast wedges that hold the mast secure inside of the mast step. Forestay is unshackled. The halyards (ropes that raise and lower the sail) are unreeved. Fisher stands on deck, hugs the mast, lifts it out and we lower it down and into the cockpit of the boat along with the boom and the gaff. I get into the car attached to the trailer, back it down the ramp until the rear wheels touch the water, set the parking brake, jump out and pull out ten feet of winch rope. Fisher guides the hull onto the carpet covered bunks, gets the boat centered and I stick a rubber mallet with the winch line clove-hitched around the handle into the mast hole on the deck and start winding the boat carefully up onto the bunks. As soon as the boat is secure on the trailer, Fisher and I hop into the car and drive the boat out of the water, up the ramp and up Old Shore Road hill to Main Street, bang a left, go 50 feet and drive into my driveway.
Brother-in-law, brother, and college roommate/best man arrive in pickup truck. Hop out. Two guys on the bow. Two on the stern. Fisher on the saw horses. We lift on one-two-three, step over the trailer, put the gunwale or side of the skiff on the sawhorses, tip it up and over and then upside down, bottom up on the sawhorses. The horses are placed in the middle of the yard so when and if the trees come down they won’t land on the boat. The boat could, in theory, blow off of the horses, but the hull weighs 500 pounds and should be secure. Putting in a garage isn’t a smart move because a) the boat needs to be washed with freshwater first b) that takes too much time and c) the garages are too close to the treeline and could get smashed by a falling maple and really mess up the boat.
Then we jump back into the vehicles and drive back down the hill to do it a few more times on the other guys’ boats. Whole operation takes less than hour but can be made more complex when:
- The gang drinks beer and tells stories in between boats.
- Tools from my ditty bag are borrowed and dropped in the water
- The trailer tire goes flat and a can of a Flat-Fix gunk needs to be located
- The stem on the trailer tire rips off and the flat fixer is coated with white Flat-Fix gunk
- Another trailer is found
- More beer is drunk
- People who don’t know how to back up a trailer are allowed to back up the trailer
- Weekend Wally’s who don’t understand boat ramp etiquette slip in with their trailers and decide to give their boat a manicure on the ramp while the rest of us made loud suggestions that they move it elsewhere
Colleagues in North Carolina are reporting no big deal, their lights are still on, and Hanna is right to their east. We awoke to a good, unrelated rain storm, now everything is muggy and quiet, but the fun should begin around 7 pm. Tomorrow I should be able to relaunch the motorboat, and sun shine permitting, get in some beachtime before departing for the airport and my Bangalore flight at 6:30 pm.