The wind whips my hair, smelling of salt and seaweed. The car bounces, then splashes through a puddle, spraying my dad with a mixture of seawater and mud; potholes litter Dune Road, and even hours later, high tide has left water on the road. In the trunk, the bucket rattles against the rake, clanging a symphony with the thunderous waves crashing on the other side of the dunes. I look over at my family and smile. The beach rushes by, anxious to cater to a myriad of people, but holds no sway over us. The lot we look for is crusted over with crushed clamshells, the spoils of thousands of intrepid gulls. Herons roost on the crooked fence, and osprey chicks cheep from a nearby telephone pole. Our feet crunch as we leap from the car and with a leap I grab the bucket and enter the bay.
It’s never hot in the water, not here. The water barely swirls around our ankles, and the best the sun can do is warm. Perhaps it is the tides, constantly replacing the water around our feet. Or maybe it’s the seaweed, snagging at our legs. My younger brother falters, then continues unhindered as eddies clear the weeds away. Little fish swim by, not ready for the sea. They live in their small world, in the small bay, unburdened. Maybe they’re the miscreants responsible for the cool water, my sister suggests. I disagree. I think it’s the clams that feel like rocks, coarse and hard, scraping against my soles. Now is the best time to hunt for shellfish, as low tide reveals endless mud flats. We clammers need no weapons, either; just a bucket with a patched, inflated tube around it, and our feet, with rough soles and sensitive toes. One step, I squish into the mud, the next, I squash, the next, I find a hard patch and shake my feet clean. My mother is not so lucky, and must forge on with the sticky mud clinging to her feet. Onward I march, heading towards the nearest bed of mussels, where those mollusks grow in clumps so large the strong man from the circus would have a hard time picking them up. The rest of my family chooses to splash towards a jungle of seaweed in search of hidden treasures. I glance down at my future catch, but they’ve found something already, off in the distance. My brother holds their find high: a lost scallop, washed in from deeper waters. Together we exclaim, and laugh, and everyone holds it in their hands. In all our trips to the bay, this is the first time we have encountered a scallop. Then, in one swift move, he releases it back into the bay. Maybe the governing tides will be kind and return it to its original grounds. We wander away from the scene, hiking through drowned forests. Watery denizens scatter before us, crabs vanishing into the weeds.
Now we search for oysters, a recent addition to our table. We harvest only a few, because having vanished once, they may do so again. The thicket parts for a moment, revealing a clamshell. My sister reaches down to grab it, but the clam is long dead. All that remains is a crab that scuttles over her feet, giving her a good pinch for her trouble. Already, the omnipresent tide is returning to its bayside home. Our journey is not yet over, however. There need not be a destination-all we must do is wander, walking along the shoreline, to the bridge in the distance. We may not find our mussels, nor our oysters, nor our conch, but we will find clams, hundreds of them, as we walk, on and on, into the distance.
This is Long Island.