The Clam-Farm: A Case of Conservation

OUR hunger for clams, and their present scarcity, have not been the chief factors in the new national movement for the conservation of our natural resources; nor are the rising prices of pork and lumber and wheat immediate causes, although they have served to give point and application to the movement. Ours is still a lavishly rich country. We have long had a greed for land, but we have not felt a pang yet of the Old World’s land-hunger. Thousands of acres, the stay for thousands of human lives, are lying to-day as waste places on the very borders of our Eastern cities. There is plenty of land yet, plenty of lumber, plenty of food, but there is a very great and growing scarcity of clams.

Of course, the clam might vanish utterly from the earth and be forgotten; our memory of its juicy, salty, sea-fat flavor might vanish with it; and we, ignorant of our loss, be none the poorer. We should live on, — the eyeless fish in the Mammoth Cave live on, — but life, nevertheless, would not be so well worth living. For it would be flatter, with less of wave-wet freshness and briny gusto. No kitchen-mixed seasoning can supply the wild, natural flavors of life; no factory-made sensations the joy of being the normal, elemental, primitive animal that we are.

The clam is one of the natural flavors of life, and no longer ago than when I was a freshman was considered one of life’s necessities. Part of the ceremony of my admission to college was a clambake down the Providence River — such a clam-bake as never was down any other river, and as never shall be again down the Providence River, unless and until the Rhode Island clamdiggers take up the barren flats and begin to farm.

This they will do; our new and general alarm would assure us of that, even if the Massachusetts clam-diggers were not already leading the way. The clam shall not perish from our tidal flats. Gone from long reaches where once it was abundant, small and scattering in its present scanty beds, the clam (the long-neck clam) shall again flourish, and all of New England shall again rejoice and be glad.

We are beginning, as a nation, while still the years are fat with plenty, to be troubled lest those of the future come hungry and lean. Up to the present time our industrial ethics have been like our evangelical religion, intensely, narrowly individualistic, — my salvation at all costs. ‘Dress-goods, yarns, and tops’ has been our industrial hymn and prayer. And religiously, even yet, I sing of my own salvation: —

While in this region here below,
No other good will I pursue:
I’ll bid this world of noise and show,
With all its glittering snares, adieu;

— a most un-Christian sentiment truly, and all too common in both religion and business, yet far from representing, today, the guiding spirit of either business or religion. For the growing conception of human brotherhood is mightily expanding our narrow religious selfishness; and the dawning revelation of industrial solidarity is not only making men careful for the present prosperity of the ends of the earth, but is making them concerned also for the future prosperity of the Farther-Off.

Priests and prophets we have had heretofore. ‘Woodman, woodman, spare that tree,’ they have wailed. And the flying chips were the woodman’s swift response. The woodman has not heard the poet’s prayer. But he is hearing the American public’s command to let the sapling alone; and he is beginning to heed. It is a new appeal, this for the sapling; there is sound scientific sense in it, and good business sense, too. We shall save our forests, our water-sheds, and rivers; we shall conserve for time to come our ores and rich deposits; we shall reclaim the last of our Western deserts, adopt the most forlorn of our Eastern farms; we shall herd our whales of the Atlantic, our seals of the Pacific, number and multiply our truant schools of mackerel that range the waters of the sea; just as we shall restock with clams the waste, sandy shores of the sea, shores which in the days of Massasoit were as fruitful as Eden, but which through years of digging and no planting have become as barren as the bloodless sands of the Sahara.

It is a solemn saying that one will reap, in the course of time, what one sows — even clams if one sows clams; but it is a more solemn saying that one shall cease to reap, after a time, and for all eternity, what one has not sown — even clams out of the exhausted flats of the New England coast, and the sandy shores of her rivers that run brackish to the sea.

Hitherto we have reaped where we have not sown, and gathered where we have not strawed. But that was during the days of our industrial pilgrimage. Now our way no longer threads the wilderness, where manna and quails and clams are to be had fresh for the gathering. Only barberries, in my halfwild uplands, are to lie had nowadays for the gathering. There are still enough barberries to go round without planting or trespassing, for the simple, serious reason that the barberries do not carry their sugar on their bushes with them, as the clams carry their salt. The Sugar Trust carries the barberries’ sugar. But soon or late every member of that trust shall leave his bag of sweet outside the gate of Eden. Let him hasten to drop it now, lest once inside he find no manner of fruit, for his eternal feeding, but barberries!

We have not sown the clam hitherto: we have only digged; so that now, for all practical purposes, that is to say, for the old-time, twenty-five-cent, rockweed clam-bake, the native, uncultivated clam has had its day; as the unenterprising, unbelieving clammers themselves are beginning to see.

The Providence River fishermen are seeking distant flats for the matchless Providence River clams, bringing them overland from afar by train. So, too, in Massachusetts: the distinguished Duxbury clams come out of flats that reach all the way from the mouth of the St. Johns, on the down-east coast, to the beds of the Chesapeake. And this, while eight hundred acres of superb clam-lands lie barren in Duxbury town, which might be producing yearly, for the joy of man, eighty thousand bushels of real Duxbury clams!

What a clam-bake Duxbury does not have each year! A multitude of twice eighty thousand might sit down about the steaming stones and be filled. The thought undoes one. And all the more, that Duxbury does not hunger thus alone. For this is the story of fifty other towns in Massachusetts, from Salisbury down around the Cape to Dighton — a tale with a minus total of over two million bushels of clams, and an annual minus of nearly two millions of dollars to the clammers.

Nor is this the story of Massachusetts alone, nor of the tide-flats alone. It is the story of the whole of New England, inland as well as coast. The New England farm was cleared, worked, exhausted, and abandoned. The farmer was as exhausted as his farm, and preferring the hazard of new fortunes to the certain tragedy of the old, went West. But that tale is told. The tide from New England to the West is at slack ebb. There is still a stream flowing out into the extreme West; rising in the Middle Western States, however, not in the East. The present New England farmers are staying on their farms, except where the city buyer wants an abandoned farm, and insists upon its being abandoned at any price. So will the clammer stay on his shore acres, for his clams shall no more run out, causing him to turn cod-fisher, or cranberry-picker, or to make worse shift. The New England clam-digger of to-day shall be a clam-farmer a dozen years hence; and his exhausted acres along shore, planted, cultivated, and protected by law, shall yield him a good living. A living for him, and clams for us; and not the long-neck clams of the Providence River and Duxbury flats only: they shall yield also the littleneck clams and the quahaug, the scallop, too, the oyster, and, from fartheroff shore, the green-clawed lobster in abundance, and of a length the law allows.

Our children’s children may run short of coal and kerosene; but they need never want for clams. We are going to try to save them some coal, for there are mighty bins of it still in the earth, while here, besides, are the peatbogs — bunkers of fuel beyond the fires of our imaginations to burn up. We may, who knows? save them a little kerosene. No one has measured the capacity of the tank; it has been tapped only here and there; the plant that manufactured it, moreover, is still in operation, and is doubtless making more. But whether so or not, we still may trust in future oil, for the saving spirit of our new movement watches the pipes that carry it to our cans. There is no brand of economy known to us at present that is more assuring than our kerosene economy. The Standard Oil Company, begotten by Destiny, it would seem, as distributor of oil, is not one to burn even its paraffine candles at both ends. There was, perhaps, a wise and beneficent Providence in its organization, that we might have five gallons for fifty-five cents for our children’s sake — a price to preserve the precious fluid for the lamps of coming generations.

But should the coal and kerosene give out, the clam, I say, need not. The making of Franklin coal and Standard Oil, like the making of perfect human character, may be a process requiring all eternity, —longer than we can wait, — so that the present deposits may sometime fail; whereas the clam comes to perfection within a summer or two. The coal is a dead deposit; the clam is like the herb, yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth. All that the clam requires for an endless and an abundant existence is planting and protection, is — conservation.

Except for the North Pole, the PayneAldrich Tariff, or the cost of things, the vast smallness of our navy (I have a Japanese student in a class of mine!), ‘and one thing more that may not be’ (which, probably, is the ‘woman question ’) — except, I say, for a few of such things, I were wholly glad that my lines have fallen unto me in these days, when there are so many longdistant movements on foot; glad though I can only sit at the roadside and watch the show go by. I can applaud from the roadside. I can watch and dream. To this procession of Conservators, however (and to the anti-tariff crowd), I should like to join myself, should like to take a hand in saving things by planting a sapling along my roadside, at least, or by sowing a few ‘spats’ in a garden of clams. For here in the opposite direction moves another procession, an endless, countless number that go tramping away toward the desert Future without a bag of needments at their backs, without a staff to stay them in their hands.

The day of the abandoned farm is past; the time of the adopted, of the adapted, farm has come. We are not going to abandon anything any more, because we are not going to work anything to death any more. We shall not abandon even the empty coal-mines hereafter, but turn them into mushroom cellars, or to uses yet undreamed. We have found a way to utilize the arid land of the West— a hundred and fifty thousand acres of if at a single stroke, as President Taft turns the waters of the Gunnison River from their ancient channel into a man-made tunnel, and sends them spreading out

Here and there.
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
And the desert is meshed with a million veins,—

in order that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.’

We are utilizing these arid lands, reclaiming the desert for a garden, with an effort of hands and a daring of soul, that fall hardly short of the original creative work which made the world — as if the divine fiat had been: ‘In our image, to have dominion; to subdue the earth; and to finish the work we leave undone.’ And while we are finishing these acres and planting them with fruit at so lavish a cost, shall we continue stupidly and criminally to rob, despoil, and leave for dead these eleven thousand acres of natural clamgarden on the Massachusetts coast? If a vast irrigating work is the divine in man, by the same token are the barren mountain-slopes, the polluted and shrunken rivers, the ravished and abandoned plough-lands, and these lifeless flats of the shore, the devils in him — here where no reclaiming is necessary, where the rain cometh down from heaven, and twice a day the tides flow in from the hills of the sea!

There are none of us here along the Atlantic coast who do not think with joy of that two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-acre garden new-made yonder in the distant West. It means more, and cheaper, and still fairer, fruit, for us of the East; more musk-melons, too, we hope; but we know that it cannot mean more clams. Yet the clam, also, is good. Man cannot live on irrigated fruit alone. He craves clams—clams as juicy as a Redlands Barflett, but fresh with the salty savor of wind-blown spray.

And he shall have them, for the clamfarm— the restocked, restored flat of earlier times — has passed the stage of theory and experiment, being now in operation on the Massachusetts shore, a producing and very paying property.

The clam-farm is not strictly a new venture, however, but up to the present it has been a failure, because, in the first place, the times were not ripe for it; the public mind lacked the necessary education. Even yet the state and the local town authorities give the clam-farmer no protection. He can obtain the state’s written grant to plant the land to clams, but he can get no legal protection against his neighbor’s digging the clams he plants. And the farm has failed, because, in the second place, the clam-farmer has lacked the necessary energy and imagination. A man who for years has made his bread and butter and rubber boots out of land belonging to everybody and to nobody, by simply digging in it, is the last man to build a fence about a piece of land and work it. Digging is only half as hard as ‘working’; besides, in promiscuous digging one is getting clams that one’s neighbor might have got, and there is something better than mere clams in that.

But who will plant and wait for a crop that anybody, when one’s back is turned, and, indeed, when one’s back isn’t turned, can harvest as his own? Yet this the fishing-laws of Massachusetts still allow. Twenty years ago, in 1889, grants were made for clamfarms in and around the town of Essex, but no legal rights were given with the grants. Any native of Essex, by these old barnacled laws, is free to help himself to clams from any town flat. Of course the farm failed.

Meantime the cry for clams has grown louder; the specialists in the new national college of conservators have been studying the subject; ‘extension courses,’ inter-flat conventions, and laboratory demonstrations, have been had up and down the coast; and as a result, the clam-farm in Essex, since the reissue of the grants in 1906, has been put upon a hopeful, upon a safe and paying basis.

It is an interesting example of education,—a local public sentiment refined into an actual, dependable public conscience; in this case largely through the efforts of a state’s Fish and Game Commission, whose biologists, working with the accuracy, patience, and disinterestedness of the scientist, and with the practical good sense of the farmer, made their trial clam-gardens pay, demonstrating convincingly that a clam-flat will respond to scientific care as readily, and as profitably, as a Danvers onion-bed, or the cantaloupe-fields at Rocky Ford.

This must be the direction of the new movement for the saving of our natural resources — this roundabout road of education. Few laws can be enacted, fewer still enforced, without the help of an awakened public conscience; and a public conscience, for legislative purposes, is nothing more than a thorough understanding of the facts. As a nation, we need a popular and a thorough education in ornithology, entomology, forestry, and farming; and we want sectionally, by belts or states, a scientific training for our specialty, as the shell-fish farmer of the Massachusetts coast is being scientifically trained in clams. These state biologists have brought the clam-men from the ends of the shore together; they have plotted and mapped the mollusk territory; they have made a science of clam-culture; they have made an industry of clam-digging; and to the clam-digger they are giving dignity and a sense of security that make him respect himself and his neighbor’s clams — this last item being a most important change in the clam-farm outlook.

With so much done, the next work —framing new laws to take the place of the old fishing-laws — should be a simple matter. Such a procedure will be slow, yet it is still the only logical and effective one. Let the clam-digger know that he can raise clams; let New England know that the forests on her mountains must be saved, and within a twelvemonth the necessary bills would be passed. So with the birds, the fish, and every other asset of our national wealth. The nation-wide work of this saving movement will first be educative. We shall hasten very slowly to Congress and the legislatures with our laws. The clam-flat is typical of all our multitudinous wealth; the clam-digger is typical of all of us who cut, or mine, or reap, or take our livings, in any way, directly from the hands of Nature; and the lesson of the clam-farm will apply the country over.

We have been a nation of wasters, spoiled and made prodigal by overeasy riches; we have demanded our inheritance all at once, spent it, and as a result we are already beginning to want — at least for clams. At this moment there are not enough clams to go round, so that the market-man sticks the end of a rubber hose into his tub of dark, salty, fresh-shucked clams, and soaks them; soaks them with fresh water out of rusty iron pipes, soaks them, and swells them, whitens them, bloats them, sells them — ghastly corpses, husks, that we would fain fill our soup-bowls with; for we are hungry, and must be fed, and there are not enough of the unsoaked clams for a bowl around.

But there shall be. With the coming of the clam-farm there shall be clams enough, and oysters and scallops, for the whole mollusk industry, in every flat and bar and cove of the country, shall take to itself a new interest, and vastly larger proportions. Then shall a measure of scallops be sold for a quarter, and two measures of clams for a quarter, and nothing, any more, be soaked.

For there is nothing difficult about growing clams, nothing half so difficult and expensive as growing corn or cabbage. In fact, the clam-farm offers most remarkable opportunities, although the bid, it must be confessed, is pretty plainly to one’s love of ease and one’s willing dependence. To begin with, the clam-farm is self-working, ploughed, harrowed, rolled, and fertilized by the tides of the sea; the farmer only sowing the seed and digging the crop. Sometimes even the seed is sown for him by the hands of the tide; but only on those flats that lie close to some natural breeding-bar, where the currents, gathering up the tiny floating ‘spats,’ and carrying them swiftly on the flood, broadcast them over the sand as the tide recedes. While this cannot happen generally, still the clam-farmer has a second distinct advantage in having his seed, if not actually sown for him, at least grown, and caught for him on these natural breeding-bars, in such quantities that he need only sweep it up and cradle it, as he might winnow grain from a threshing-floor. In Plum Island Sound there is such a bar, where it seems that Nature, in expectation of the coming clam-farm, had arranged the soil of the bar and the tidal currents for a natural set of clam-spats to supply the entire state with its yearly stock of seed.

With all of this there is little of romance about a clam-farm, and nothing at all spectacular about its financial returns. For clams are clams, whereas cobalt and rubber and wheat, and even squabs and ginseng roots, are different,—according to the advertisements. The inducements of the clam-farm are not sufficient to cause the prosperous Middle-West farmer to sell out and come East, as he has been selling out and going on to the farther West, for its larger, cheaper farms, and bigger crops. Farming, mining, lumbering, whatever we have had to do, in fact, directly with Nature, has been for us, thus far, a speculation and a gamble. Earnings have been out of all proportion to investments, excessive, abnormal. We do not earn, we strike it rich; and we have struck it rich so long in this vast rich land, that the strike has lost its element of luck, being now the expected thing, which, failing to happen, we sell out and move on to the farthest West, where there is still a land of chance. But that land is passing, and with it is passing the lucky strike. The day is approaching when a man will pay for a Western farm what he now pays for an Eastern farm — the actual market value, based upon what the land, in expert hands, can be made yearly to yield. Values will rise to an even, normal level; earnings will settle to the same level; and the clam-farm of the coast, and the stock-farm of the prairie, will yield alike — a living; and if, when that day comes, there is no more ‘Promised Land’ for the American, it will be because we have crossed over, and possessed the land, and divided it among us for an inheritance.

When life shall mean a living, and not a dress-parade, or an automobile, or a flying-machine, then the clam-farm with its two or three acres of flats will be farm enough, and its average maximum yield of four hundred and fifty dollars an acre, profits enough. For the clammer’s outfit is simple — a small boat, two clam-diggers, four clam-baskets, and his hip-boots, the total costing thirty dollars.

The old milk-farm here under the hill below me, with its tumbling barn and its ninety acres of desolation, was sold not long ago for six thousand dollars. The milkman will make more money than the clam-man, but he will have no more. The milk-farm is a larger undertaking, calling for a larger type of man, and developing larger qualities of soul, perhaps, than could ever be dug up with a piddling clam-hoe out of the soft sea-fattened flats. But that is a question of men, not of farms. We must have clams; somebody must dig clams; and matters of the spirit all aside, reckoned simply as a small business, clamfarming offers a sure living, a free, independent, healthful, out-door living — and hence an ample living — to thousands of men who may lack the capital, or the capabilities, or, indeed, the time, for the larger undertakings. And viewed as the least part of the coming shell-fish industry, and this in turn as a smallest part of the coming national industry, due to our reclaiming, restocking, and conserving, the clam-farm becomes a type, a promise; it becomes the shore of a new country, a larger, richer, longer-lasting country than our pioneer fathers found here.

For behold the clam crop, how it grows! — precisely like any other crop, in the summer, or more exactly, from about the first of May to the first of December; and the growth is very rapid, a seed-clam an inch long at the May planting, developing in some localities (as in the Essex and Ipswich rivers) into a marketable clam, three inches long, by December. This is an increase in volume of about nine hundred per cent. The little spats, scattered broadcast over the flat, burrow with the first tide into the sand, where with each returning tide they open their mouths, like young birds, for their meal of diatoms brought in by the never-failing sea. Thus they feed twice a day, with never too much water, with never a fear of drouth, until they are grown fat for the clammer’s basket.

If, heretofore, John Burroughs among the uncertainties of his vineyard could sing, —

Serene, I fold my hands and wait, —

surely now the clammer in his cottage by the sea can sing, and all of us with him,

The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.