The term “foraging” for food is too delicate for what was a morning spent elbow deep in thick mud tugging and pulling each clam to the surface to take it’s last pulse of life away.
Even as Hank Shaw and I went from the mud flats to the camp site to cook, I knew the worst part of the kill wasn’t yet over. Running the thin blade of the knife between the clam muscle and shell to extract the meat the creature clinched up tight. It knew the end was coming. It did as any creature would and held on fruitlessly.
But a girl has to eat, right? And make no mistake- survival is a simple tug of war.
July in Northern California feels more like fall in New England. The marine fog moving steadily from the Pacific is thick and unwavering. The air is crisp and chilly, as though a Friday night football game is merely around the corner. Bodega Bay is a tiny strip of town. A village with it’s heart in the nearby waters, it’s primary market carrys everything from deli sandwiches to firewood to fishing supplies.
Lucas and I camped nearby the night before. Hank Shaw, Hunter-Gatherer extraordinaire gave me a 6am meet time, further instructions brief and to the point “Find my Toyota out by the mud flats.” I figured sleeping on a bumpy, cold surface would easily get me up and moving at such an ungodly hour.
The Bodega Bay campsite, located at the northern end of town, was as luxurious as a Holiday Inn. It had actual toilets and hot showers- if you had a few minutes patience to wait for the water to warm up. At 5:30 am I had all the patience in the world for a touch of warmth.
Lucas and I made our way past the marina and crept around the bay looking for the elusive white Toyota. Our search made us about 5 min late at this point and upon finally finding Hank, his first words were “Where’s your boots? The tide waits for no man.”
Well, luckily I am a woman.
But that didn’t matter. Hank and his small entourage of local foragers had set out into the foggy dawn without hesitation for this lady. The trek began in ankle deep cold, salty sea. Then the terrain switched immediately to thick strands of the greenest kelp. The water grew deeper and colder. My borrowed boots, a size too big, kept getting sucked into the mud and my foot would barely have time to stop itself before stepping bare-assed into the cold kelp-y waters.
The fog grew thicker and finding Hank and the boys strained my eyes. Lucas and his camera were far behind us. At this point, I didn’t even know if he’d make it out to the mud flat- or wherever the hell it was we were headed. I could hear his temper flaring up behind his ears as I went faster, nearly running, to catch up to Hank. I grew up the only girl amongst three brothers and had a family composed of mostly boys. Which caused me to never show weakness around the boys- and instead be hell bent on outdoing them. If that meant eating shit from my partner and not getting the shots we wanted, stranded in that bay I decided “so be it.”
Luck happened to be on my side that morning and after our isolated battles to get to the hunting site the digging, the tugging, and the filming began.
Hank is a breadth of knowledge- a fact I never doubted for a second. And his sense of humor made me feel right at home as though amongst my kin.
I don’t follow many food blogs or rather, I don’t have time to follow many food blogs. But Hank has been my one consistent go-to for recipes and information on food for a few years now. I was insistent on getting out into the field with him. So insistent that after he turned me down via email the first time, I flew to Austin to the BlogHer Food Conference to try my luck in person. With some sweet talk, a shared passion for wine nerdom, and with my own liquid courage, I finally got my “yes.”
Back in Bodega the slaughter had only just begun. The few hours lost in the cold morning, writhing in mud to catch these elusive creatures, was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had. Lucas and I have traveled the world these last 7 years with our company, Iron Way Films. We’ve shot with musicians under the Hawaiian stars. We’ve spent warm nights in Bali with supermodels, afternoons in swamps with middle schoolers, We’ve been to every fancy schmancy office of companies transforming the 21st century. We’ve drank into the wee hours with fisherman and pirates just to uncover their secrets. But being out in that morning with Hank was by far the best shoot I’ve ever been on. Maybe it’s the kind of raw energy my body isn’t used to that makes my bones shake and my body tremble. Maybe it’s just so fucking cold and lack of sleep that make me delirious. Or maybe it’s simply the force of survival. The tug of war between my end goal of catching that clam before it sinks down as quickly as it can into that mud to survive.
After we reach our limits we head back to my campsite for to finish what we’ve started. We kills the clams. Slowly. Methodically. They push back anxious to survive. Their effort is not big enough for us. The slaughter ends. Hank sets up his Chef Smart cook stove and begins almost immediately preparing the best damn chowdah I’ve ever tasted. I don’t consider myself a chowder expert, my parents lived in New England for a few years and at the right fish house I may have had it from time to time. Instead I turn to Lucas, Long Island native, and chowder aficionado, who gives it a warm and happy two thumbs way up.
The chowder is eaten. The wine is poured. I argue with the local Napa foragers as to when Napa is going to start making good wine. They encourage me to buy a fantastic bottle of something that costs $120. I forget what kind of wine it was as the price tag gave me short term memory loss. Hank tries to sell me on a Zinfandel. I wince at the “z” word. Hank packs up his gear to head back on his next great adventure.
The morning ends and a few weeks later here I am writing this. I’m depressed now. I’m ready to get back out. Ready to quit my day job, hop in Hank’s Toyota, and set out into this fascinating world of hunting and gathering. Of exhilarating mornings and incredible camp side meals. Of getting face to face with life’s story of survival. Clearing the fog and facing clear-eyed our existence’s simple tug of war.
Watch the Episode.