Pamela Huber


Arctic Ocean by Meganne Rosen


At low tide, when the slick mudflats wink back at the setting sun, Mom and Dad take us to the beach to collect seashells. Dad points at the far-out flats where, in his 20th summer, he used to rake the floor of the bay for clams sold at twelve cents apiece. Two hundred in an hour meant 24 dollars at day’s end; he could buy drinks all night off the earnings. I pluck a razor-shell clam from the sand and ask if he’s ever eaten one. Only good razor-shell clam is a dead one, he says. He’ll teach us to dig for clams with our feet when we’re older and can keep our heads above water. We’ll become strong swimmers, lifeguards, acrobats spinning through water, daring ourselves to open our eyes to chlorine and salt. One day, Dad will buy a real boat and we’ll head out to the flats at low tide and dig enough clams for dinner.



The air moving in off the water brings a storm with it. It bites. The wind threatens to howl. Clouds stack like yeasted bread on the horizon: proving, rising, gathering air. Our parents believe we can best the storm. All smiles and glee, my sister flings herself from the side of the boat. Dad cinches my life vest tight and chucks me into the water after her. At eight, I am trapeze limbs dancing along the air. We are waist deep somewhere in the Boston Sound and I follow my father’s instructions to clamp together my ankles and knees and twist and shout my legs back and forth, tunneling down into the muck bottom of the bay until my ankles are buried and my toes hit a clamshell. When we find one we must shimmy our feet further into the sand and grip it between our toes or the pads of our feet. We must crunch our knees into ourselves to bring the clenched prize to the top of the water. Dad tells us to make an OK sign with our fingers and only keep the clams the size of the O. We throw back the ones the size of our fists; they’re too tough. You’ll be chewing them for hours, he says. We’ve filled a bucket when lightning crackles across the sky and it is time to go. Into the boat and race to shore and tumble into the screened-in porch as the first, fat drops of summer batter the roof. Our host pulls a large pot from under the sink. Dad chops tomatoes for the clam chowder, Maryland instead of New England style. A little piece of home when we’re far away. It’s the warmest soup I’ve ever tasted.



No one in my family agrees on religion. We hold more respect for the Christmas traditions that our father created than we do for the motivating forces behind them. But my atheist-Jewish mother, agnostic sister, and I, a reform Jew, can all agree with him on one thing for over a decade: order the two pounds of littleneck clams and shrimp for pickup on December 24th. While Mom spreads her inherited china across the dining room table to impress her in-laws and makes plates of ham and salad for us to ignore, those of us born in Delaware gather around the cracked, white linoleum breakfast bar and race to claim as many clams as we can. Dunk them into butter and shove them into our mouths before they’re gone.



I taught myself cribbage and boating in spring afternoons when Dad wasn’t paying attention; I have a boating license for years before he trusts me to captain the boat. I hate the unfinished fiberglass monster: it’s bigger than his first plastic angler and the sporty speedboat that always sucked mud into the motor; but, it’s not the pontoon boat we women wanted. It scratches at my calves and blooms rash in its wake. I’m tempted to run it aground. But as we enter the canal, Dad prods me to the steering wheel and I feel the trust: sacred horsepower. Slow, no wake. Cut back on the throttle. A family digs for clams in the shoal behind the rock wall at the canal’s entrance. Mom asks why we’ve never dug there. That’s where the sewage water lets out, Dad says. We try to send out a warning to the family, but our words are lost on the air.


About the writer:
Pamela Huber is a Pushcart Prize nominee who lives on Piscataway land in Washington DC. Her writing has appeared in Furious Gravity, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Rising Phoenix Review, American Literary Magazine, and CommonLit. She was born on the water and rubs the leaves of trees for good luck.

Image: Arctic Ocean from the body of work called Bathymetry by Megann Rosen. Acrylic on canvas. 38 x 63 inches. 2020. By permission. Meganne Rosen recently moved back to Springfield, Missouri after residing in Oakland, California for two years where she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at California College of the Arts in San Francisco (2018). Rosen also completed a Master of Arts (MA) in Studio Art and Theory at Drury University (2011). In Springfield, Meganne teaches in the Art and Design Department at Missouri State University and in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Ozarks Technical Community College.