ROOKIE CLAMMER ON THE IPSWCH FLATS

Water Closet for February 16, 2018

“Tom had always impressed them with his disciplined style.  Wearing hip boots, he kneeled on the flat and thoroughly got all of legal size from the upturned clogs of mud”

     On January 11th Stream Teamer Thomas Jacques died.   He didn’t show up at Freddie’s in Middleton where a few friends meet for breakfast each Thursday.  Tom, a crackerjack master plumber, fisherman, clammer, gardener with ten green thumbs and much more will be missed on the Ipswich flats or wherever else he was found.[1] 

     The old Closeteer last dug clams with Tom in December on Clark Beach on the edge of Plum Island Sound in Ipswich.  Sunday, January 30, three Middleton Stream Team colleagues of Tom’s dug in the same spot.  Rookie Elaine Gauthier joined Judy Schneider and the Closeteer for Elaine’s maiden dig.  She was with them thanks to clamming mentor Francis (“Fran,” “Frank”) Masse, our leader on the flats for years.  Fran had recently given Elaine his no longer used gear and a Town of Ipswich mess digger’s[2] license.  Tom would be pleased to know a spunky replacement is with his clamming team on the flats.  Tom was an outdoorsman through and through.  Animal lover, kayaker and photographer Elaine is too.

Clark Beach, Ipswich. Middleton Stream photographer Elaine Gauthier on her first day clamming. – Judy Schneider photo

     At dead low tide in stylish white knee boots Elaine was led out on the sandy flat.  The veteran clammers figured this was a good place for her to learn.  Here, on firm sand she wouldn’t sink into the mud found on most flats and get stuck as old clammers sometimes do.  While pulling boots out of the suction they sometime fall and are caught by photographer Judy, her camera ever ready at companions’ most inappropriate moments.  She later entertains with images of black-muddied bottoms in the air.  Fran urged his flock to dig faces to lee, “asses windward.”   This position keeps the eyes from watering and faces from freezing in cold winds.  Professional clammers were seen on the flats at Pavilion Beach last month when wind chill temperatures were below zero.  The day of Elaine’s inauguration was mild.

Francis Masse and Stream Team president Sandra Rubchinuk with Ipswich clams they just dug. – Judy Schneider photo

     After Elaine’s instructors moved a short distance away to their own spots she developed a novel approach.  With clam fork she loosened up the wet mud-sand to a depth of eight to ten inches in places where she found lots of holes. Then with her hands in new, long rubber gloves she felt in the cold slurry for her 2-inch[3] plus long prey, “soft-shelled clams” or correctly Mya arenaria.   At the end of an hour or so the veterans had their allowed ten quarts; Elaine had gently pulled out five, a fine start for a first-time digger and good a “mess” for a supper of “steamers.”   Her companions bet her method didn’t break near as many clams.  The sea gulls waiting nearby will not find much in her area of flat disruption.  In the three long hours before the flood tide on other flats got to the pros each had no doubt gotten ten times a Stream Teamer’s yield.   As they left the flat the group talked of other diggers. 

Tom Jacques– Judy Schneider photo

Tom had always impressed them with his disciplined style.  Wearing hip boots, he kneeled on the flat and thoroughly got all of legal size from the upturned clogs of mud, sand, and in some places gravel or mixtures of all three he turned.  He usually obtained his ten quarts faster than most without impatiently walking place to place like the old Closeteer searching for more holes.  Tom’s method was somewhat similar to leader Fran’s who, even in his mid-eighties, usually got his quota quicker than his students. 

Eagle River tidal flat in Ipswich. Plum Island can be seen, background right, beyond the Plum Island River. The level salt marsh across the river is about nine feet higher than the low tide water elevation seen here. On high-runner-tides, also called king tides, the salt marshes are covered. – Judy Schneider photo

   People sometime ask old timers, (Elaine is not one yet), what they do with all the clams they dig from the same tidal flats that have been dug for over a thousand years.  The Indian women and girls gathered them long before the English and their pigs came.  The Algonquian speakers dug with forked sticks.  Soon after arrival prolific English pigs became a problem for upland gardens and clam flats.  There are records of hearings in the 1630s at which Indian women complained to their new leaders called selectmen about free range pigs out on the flats eating an important source of food.

     The Middleton clamming group has lost dear Tom and also Joe Elston another beloved clamming-oystering leader who died at 88 in 2006, a week or so after clamming with the gang.  The clammers are ever changing but under the Town of Ipswich’s good conservation and management rules the clams keep coming, providing jobs for many, and exercise for amateurs in beautiful places with challenging winter environments.  In answer to the question about what they do with the clams:  They eat them, steamed, fried and in chowder, and happily give those they don’t to friends.  The real reason these amateurs go is for the wonderful places ever changing with the tides beside the sea.

1 See Salem News for Tom’s obituary.

2 There are commercial diggers and amateur’s called mess diggers on our tidal flats.  In Ipswich mess diggers are allowed 10 quarts of razor or soft-shelled clams two days per week when the flats are open.  Oyster rakers are allowed 30 three-inch long oysters two days per week.  No gathering of oysters is allowed during the spawning months without a letter r:  May, June, July and August.  30 sea clams may be gathered two days a week. These, also called surf clams, are mostly obtained at low tides under a little sand on the edges of Crane Beach and Plum Island.

3 Ipswich has a clamming board that reports to the selectmen who make the rules. A shellfish warden enforces them. Soft-shelled clams must be two inches or over long, razor clams six inches, and oysters three inches.

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Nov Dec Jan Feb  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 4.12  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  1.54 2.97 4.9 1.3

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Feb 9, 2018     Normal . . . 45.5 CFS           Current Rate  . . .60 CFS

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 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec..

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan and Feb.

Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

 THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or          <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com

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