It was a cloudy day over the Great South Bay. The cold grip of winter was loosening and we could feel some sort of changing in the seasons starting. The sky was streaked with dark grays and deep, gray-blues and it made the water out on the bay look deep and dark like horrible fathoms. It was ominous yet it wasn't startling because it was one of those days that felt connective...a universal kind of connection to all things living and breathing.
We drove up the end of the block in East Patchogue, where my buddy Devin lives. It was a nice view from there and you could see across to Fire Island that day with a clarity you don't always get from this vantage. It was a strange kind of depth of field going on because it looked like Fire Island was a mile or so closer then it truly was. I remember thinking that the ocean had a way of tricking you when you peered into its massive eyes. It didn't want you to ever have a feeling of comfort with it. It never wanted to give up its secrets and it always made sure you understood that no matter what, she was in charge. It was an overwhelming feeling but yet I wasn't fearful, just mindful. We were clamming and Devin was geared up. Waders on, we walked up the small, isolated beach. I was tuning my camera to capture the lighting which was near perfect while keeping a sharp eye on the beach below my feet for anything interesting that may have washed up. We were here to get some good pics for Barnaby Black but we were also here to harvest some fresh little necks from the bay we both grew up near all of our lives. This was important on many levels. It was our history and it was a history that was still writing itself as we walked into the water that day and scraped the floor of the bay and raked the thick sand to find those beautiful filter feeders that had made such a glorious come back the past few years. To Devon the land was a sacred kind of place. It didn't just ring true on the tattoo of the striped bass on his arm...you could see it in his eyes. When he looked "out there" you could see that the land reflected back into his eyes with a gusto. It shared something back with him because he let this place into his soul.
There was going to the farmers market to purchase fresh or local grown bounties on the weekends and then there was going out into the water or the woods and harvesting these things yourself. They both were living off the land but one kept you at an arms length to the natural world still and one dropped you directly into its purely, wonderful, magical, and spiritual source. I am smarter to think that everyone had the time to wake up before work and go out into the bay to go clamming or fishing and there is no judgement here whatsoever. Its just a choice that is made and in part, a sacrifice. Either way it was all good to connect to the land and the people that may grow veggies for you to purchase, or local fish for you to grill up or fresh, local brews made from fresh locally grown hops, or wine made from Long Island grapes. In this way, we were all connected.
We took just enough clams to make ourselves a little afternoon lunch. We took care to be respectful because on another day, maybe soon-maybe not, we would want to harvest some more. This was a mantra and sometimes we were aware of it in that moment and sometimes it sat quietly in the background but we never lost sight of it. We wore the t-shirt and the hat. We talked the talk. We went into the bay and trudged through the muck to get at those clams. We cast the lines into the blue fathoms hoping for a bite but always, like a friend showing up on your doorstep unexpectedly, we embraced our history and let it in like a warm, summer rain. We weren't just locals that day or any other. We were part of this land. We gave back to it because we had to and if were in the know, you'd understand that it was part of the deal. You take and you give back. You pull your weight and you do it as a reflex not a conscious decision. It became part of you like the tides were part of the bay. Like the weather was part of this planet.
Giving back to the place you live is the most important thing you could do. Perhaps not just a physical piece of something but a spiritual impart. If you truly love the soil that yields tomatoes or cucumbers, you will learn to appreciate every part of what goes into it...those unseen things you put into the ground or flush down your toilet. If you dig clams or shuck oysters from the bay, you will realize how scarce they have been in the past few years and if you make plans to go out on a beautiful day, to spend quality time under the sun and you get "a" clam, you will realize just how important it is, to not just take but to sometimes leave things as they are. Maybe that night you go home, sun-burned and sun tired, and Google, how you can help save the shellfish. There is a plethora of sources here on Long Island that can help you with that. Giving back is also sometimes going off on your own, educating yourself, imparting that knowledge to others, and digging in, getting dirty and creating a path for others to work on as you seed the bay with shellfish that will further the future of a healthy ecosystem. It starts in the soul though...within you. Like being born in a town and having grown up there your entire life. Knowing every little nuance of the locality and the fingerprint of its streets and neighborhoods. Its knowing how the morning awakens and how it ebbs with the tides. Local isn't just being part of a place or shopping on Main Street. That is great, that is a wonderful thing for all of us to support but its more. Its about giving back to a more universal concept. Its about truly examining who you are and what you impart on that community. Its a full time job and more...its a sacrifice.