Clamming on Ocracoke, O!

Ryan with our clamming spoils
Ryan with our clamming spoils

Yesterday we went clamming, which involved a long bicycle ride through flat marsh on the Sound side, then a trek through yellow-brown muck through razor sharp grass and into the murky waters where the sand is gray and studded with cob-web like seaweed.  I clamped my jaw tight, which made my teeth hurt, as I waded out, fearful of coming into any contact with the slimy, tangled, underwater strings.  It was as though I was holding my nose with my entire, rigid body, and I said over and over, loudly and crankily, “I don’t like this.”  Every three or four steps I stumbled into a whole, for the bottom is anything but even and the water very cloudy.  Ryan stomped right out into it, whipped off his shoes and wiggled his toes into the sand.  “Clam!” he chirped.

I clambered up onto a duck blind and recoiled while pretending to meditate on the broad shoal, which goes on for miles and never gets any deeper than three feet of water.  Finally I saw that Ryan was struggling to hold his shoes and the clamming bag and waded over to help him.  At first I hung around, holding his shoes, while he found clam after clam with his toes.  The backs of my legs were badly sunburned and I tried to face them away from the sun.  Then I started to rake the sand with my own shoes, still strapped to my feet.

I wandered over a sandy spot, noticed something white and round in the water, and gingerly reached down for it.  “Clam!”  I shouted.  I found another one, and then another, and then it occurred to me that I could keep my legs out of the sun if I squatted down into the water, and while there I might as well fish around in the “clean,” sandy parts for a clam or two.  Before long I was hooked and digging down even into the cobwebby weed.  The clams were plentiful and easy to find, and each one I brought up came with a cloud of inky sand.  It was fun.  I filled Ryan’s shoes again and again, emptying them into the big mesh bag he carried.  After an hour or so we must have collected 15 pounds, more than we could eat, so we headed back to shore, through the muck and the mud.  And that was our day clamming.

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Ocracoke

Well, my dears,

Now that I have taken the time to set up the blog (www.sophiasailing.com), which took a surprisingly long time, I have a moment to write about where we have been for the last few days and what it’s like here.  I know some of you, at least are curious.  “She just quit her job and went down to North Carolina with her boyfriend to go sailing!”  Yes I did.  And very happy to have done so, in spite of the hundred bug bites and lack of laundry facilities and numerous bruises and scrapes all over my body.

Traveling aboard a sailboat is like a dance. The first, essential steps that come only with pain, allow you to move about without banging into lines, cleats, hardware, booms, and other dangerous metal objects.  With time, these steps become routine, but for now, well, just look at my legs.  Or don’t, as they’re not pretty.

North Carolina is lovely.  The dialect is lovely and lilting and slow.  But on Okracoke Island, its unique.  You’ve heard of the place where the locals have been so isolated that the locals speak an English closer to Shakespeare’s than anywhere in England?  We are there.  It’s not quite right to say that the dialect is closer to the original late 16th century speech, since all dialects change over time and this one has, too.  Still, it is true that many of the words used here, such as “mommuck,” which means to harrass or bother, and “quamish,” queasy, are found in the bard’s plays. Commonly referred to as the “high-tide” dialect, locals pronounce “high” as “hoi” and “tide” and “toi.”

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The first English explorers of the New World arrived on Okracoke in the late 15th century. They couldn’t have navigated the treacherously shallow waters of what is now called the Pamlico sound without guidance from the natives, who, it seems, never settled on the island they called Wokokon and used as a hunting and fishing ground. While searching for Roanoke Island in 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh’s navigators ran aground on a sand bar and stopped to make repairs. The first mention of the island in Sir Richard Greenville’s report to Sir Walter indicated that white settlers had shipwrecked there and were saved by locals:

And after ten dayes remaining in an out Island vnhabited, called Wocokon, they with the help of some of the dwellers of Sequotan, fastened two boates of the countrey together & made mastes vnto them, and sailes of their shirtes, and hauing taken into them such victuals as the countrey yeelded, they departed after they had remained in this out Island 3 weekes: but shortly after it see∣med they were cast away, for the boates were found vpon the coast, cast a land in another Island ad∣ioyning: other then these, there was neuer any people apparelled, or white of colour, either seene,…

From The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation. made by sea or ouer-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600. yeres:  By Richard Hakluyt preacher, and sometime student of Christ-Church in Oxford.

Wococcon was once an island that served as hunting, fishing, and herbal grounds for the Native Americans.  White people never stepped on its sandy shores until the late 16th century.  White people have taken it over now.   White people flood the island.   Indeed, one of the strangest things about being on Okracoke is the absence of people of color.  I’ve seen one Black family vacationing and one Black man taking care of the trash, one Latin man serving in a restaurant and another working as a dockhand.  Everyone else is white-white and most everyone here speaks with a Southern drawl.  It’s not unpleasant but eerie.  What is unpleasant are the confederate flags that seem to be so common, still, around here.  They’re ugly.