the clamdigger

On last Friday's back roads drive with Calvin, I stopped at the cove that opens into Maquoit bay. The skies were dark, the winds were frigid and the mercury was beginning to plunge. Nonetheless, a lone clamdigger, a large, clean-shaven man perhaps not quite young enough to be my son, was putting in his airboat. I took a few photos before he launched his craft, then asked if he were going to go out the following day despite the forecast of single digits and windchills as low as minus nineteen degrees. He flashed me a handsome grin seeming to understand my worry, and assured me that he wouldn't.

As Calvin chewed his sock in the back seat, I watched from the car as the clamdigger boarded his boat, revved it up, then glided across the icy inlet as if riding a giant hockey puck. I wondered how he would keep his hands warm while sinking them into the freezing-cold muck. I couldn't imagine he'd feel his fingers for very long, even with gloves. I wondered how long he'd been a clamdigger and if it were his only livelihood. Life is hard, I thought, while considering the clamdigger's back-breaking work in all kinds of harsh conditions, and then of Calvin's daily and lifelong struggles and miseries. I silently wished the clamdigger a big haul in return for his tremendous effort.

Later on and well past my bedtime—which is often as early as seven-thirty or eight due to frequent sleep interruptions from Calvin—I watched from the bathroom window as some friends delivered a big piece of the ice cream cake that I had gifted to another friend for her husband's birthday party. Having been guests at the small celebration, they were given the foil-wrapped hunk of cake by the host to leave on our porch so I could taste some of it later. A few minutes before they arrived, the wind and Calvin's whimpers had woken me, and so I had gotten up and covered him (he can't do that by himself), then went to pee and get a drink of water. With a clear view to our driveway from the upstairs bathroom, I had seen them pull up. Watching my friend Stephanie brave the bitter, gale-force winds while trying to avoid patches of ice on our driveway made me appreciate her and her husband's effort, especially considering it was late enough they probably would have preferred to zoom straight home from the dinner party and crawl into bed themselves.

I tiptoed again through Calvin's room into ours and slipped back into bed with Michael (the ice cream cake would no doubt stay frozen outside.) Wide awake, my mind drifted from one angst-laden hope to another: that Calvin's seizures would someday soon abate; that his new medicine would begin working better than it is—if it is; that none of us comes down with Covid; that on Tuesday, Calvin's school will really reopen after eleven long days of having him home with me, both of us going in circles; that I can start running again in earnest; that more folks will get their vaccines and boosters; that this virus doesn't mutate into worse versions; that hospitals and their staff can soon catch a break; that people can get back to work; that more Americans decide to start protecting each other instead of being so small-minded and selfish; that voting rights legislation will pass despite despicable, unthinkable, partisan obstruction.

Lying in the darkness, I wondered again when so many Americans became so indifferent to the health and well-being of others—those in their community, their friends, their neighbors, their own kin. I wondered why some people insist on thwarting proven public health measures such as wearing masks in public during a goddamn pandemic. I mean, seriously, what is there to prove? Some twisted notion of freedom to do as one pleases despite posing grave risks to others? Some hackneyed belief in the myth of rugged individualism? Dude! Exactly no one accomplishes anything on their own, which made me think of my many friends who support my emotional well-being with their small kindnesses—flowers, cards, books, homemade goodies, entire dinners, phone calls, champagne, oysters, homegrown veggies, smiles, waves, hugs, love, and all kinds of cake. I thought, too, about the mailman and the grocery store clerks and the bookstore owners and Calvin's primary care provider and neurology team and teacher and aides and bus driver and therapists. We all rely on each other for sustenance. We're in this together. We need to look out for each other.

Then, I thought again about the clamdigger, who works in brutal conditions so he can pay his bills by peddling his harvest to restaurants for their patrons. In a previous life, despite being a stranger, zany me might have asked if I could join him. I'd have learned something new, might have lightened his load a bit and perhaps even made a new friend. Who knows?

Two hours later, as I finally began to unwind, I went to sleep hoping: that the cold snap would break soon; that my gifted ice cream cake (cherry chocolate fudge brownie with a coconut twist) was a big hit; that we can soon begin to see friends indoors again; that spring will arrive early; that the clamdigger made it home safely, and that his hard work, plus the care and help of others, keep him warm and dry, fed, healthy and loved.

Maquoit Bay


  1. Oh my gosh, I loved this whole post. You've such a way with the words and the setting description. You live on the other side of the planet! I hope for all the same things, Christy.