Sunday 6 May 2012: Spoots
Razor clams. I blipped them last year on the shore where I find them about a mile away from my house. Today being a very low tide the time was ripe again, since they live in the sand below the normal waterline. Spoots is their Scottish name, from their habit of spouting a jet of liquid up from where they lie buried. There are various methods of gathering spoots but the easiest is to learn to recognise the little depressions on the sand that indicate their presence beneath, then to cover each with a small mound of salt and wait for the clams to thrust themselves aloft out like a 'Heil Hitler' salute or to eject themselves entirely on to the surface. As you patrol the beach, salt container in hand, gulls watch and wait - they like clams too.
It's a very exciting business, a relatively easy form of hunting that nevertheless involves skill and cunning, sharp eyes and a quick firm grip to pull the shellfish from lair. There's a great satisfaction to be had from this, I suppose you could call it the thrill of the chase. I recognized it when I read Temple Grandin's book Animals Make Us Human. She describes the work of neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp in distinguishing seven emotional systems that appear hard-wired in our brain. Of these the most compelling seems to be seeking, the motivational urge that drives animals (including humans) to forage, to hunt and to be curious about their environment. Seeking is fuelled by the brain chemical dopamine, producing the sense of arousal, alertness and excitement that makes us feel alive; and in turn we, like all animals, instinctively go after the dopamine buzz via the activities that stimulate its production: taking risks, pitting out wits, scoring drugs, chasing, hunting, searching and collecting whatever it is that gives us gratification and a sense of purpose. There's a not-too technical article on the subject here which suggests that seeking for knowledge, answers and explanations is fired by the same engine. Seeking our daily blip is too.
Anyway, it's one way to explain the lure of the spoot. And they're spootiful!