Contemplating a harvest at sea

“It is one of those Cape Cod mornings … the Technicolor of dawn has lasted all of eight minutes, and now the sky is black and white.

Fishermen are able to adjust to such mixed signals, checking the weather’s subtle signs while preparing to launch their boats.

Although the sky has changed, the sea remains calm, at least here in the harbor. It’s different at the outer bar, where protected water meets open sea. Still, venturing out each day is a necessity for these men.

They make their solitary decisions, sensing what’s best for themselves and those they leave behind.

Overcast skies don’t call for them to scrap their day – they just proceed with more caution, taking nothing for granted. So it should be with each of us as we begin a new day.”

- A Year By The Sea,

by Joan Anderson



The year that author Joan Anderson spent at her family’s seaside home sounds like a dream to me.

Anderson was born into money – or at least a comfortable dose of it – and the family’s seaside home proved to be an incredible place for her retreat when her children were grown and her marriage appeared to have hit a transition.

The ocean has always seemed intriguing to me on so many levels – it is a healing place, a powerful part of our planet with many stories to tell.

In her book, Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “If it is woman’s function to give, she must be replenished too.” It was this outlook that sent Anderson packing, settling in within the walls of a cozy cottage that had been her childhood summer home.

For Anderson, the year was not an easy one. As cold weather set in and the excitement of the summer crowd vanished, Anderson hit on hard times. “I’ve taken up clamming, not because I yearn to battle the fickle spring elements of the outer bar, but because I am in dire need of some cash,” she writes.

A leaking water heater meant an expense too costly for her meager budget, and the search for work was on.

She realized that she could become a fish baiter, baiting miles of line in order to lessen the fisherman’s daily labor, or pack fish at the cooperative or get some other odd dock job.

She meets up with a local fisherman who points her in the direction of clamming. Clamming requires a license ($100) and a rake and basket, a strong will and lots of fortitude.

There is nothing easy about clamming. It requires a strong back and a determined, self-motivated soul. The first day, Anderson fought high winds and heavy mist. Her heavy clothing weighed her down as she dug and trudged her way through one hour with no luck whatsoever.

The kind fisherman who was clamming down the way saw her predicament and advised her she needed to stomp around a bit, “to get the clams to spit,” he said. He told her to picture where she thought they would be hiding, then stomp and scoop them out. With his little bit of advice, clams started to materialize. But finding clams didn’t make the hard labor any easier.

Autumn, 1994 was our last shore vacation with my father. Dad, a born farmer, was the kind of man who looked at everything in terms of potential harvest. The pretty boats that went by didn’t interest him nearly as much as the stark, working vessels.

He wondered what the fishing boats were finding on that particular day, he wondered aloud just how many hands were on deck helping with the work, and how many would be too many to hurt the captain’s profitability on any given day.

But the comment that made me smile the most was the beautiful, still morning at low tide when I asked my dad what he was thinking as he stared out to sea. Contemplating the meaning of the universe, perhaps?

His answer: “Just think how much corn a fellow could grow if that was all good topsoil!”

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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