June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:58 PM
"One of the earliest memories I have of this world is of a beach. The tide is out, it's hot and I'm carrying a small can of wee crabs I've plucked from under the beach rocks. I'm wearing white rubber shoes that pinch my toes and a one-piece bathing suit that itches. In my memory, I'm vaguely aware of mother nearby, also walking slowly along the water's edge and occasionally picking up something, peering at it, then dropping it back onto the gravelly beach or tossing it into the water. Someone else is there; it might be my brother or it might be Raymie Tracy, the boy who lived next door and who seems to be present in almost all of my memories of that summer. Raymie and I were both four years old; my brother was eight and, in these memories, mostly seems to be our enemy.My mother put a life jacket on me, as I recall, every morning after breakfast and the rest of the day was spent outdoors, poking under beach rocks for crabs and drumfish, fishing for pogies off the dock and jumping into the chilly water, taking turns pulling each other back up the ladder to jump in again. Both Raymie and I quickly learned to swim that summer; my brother did not, and this gave me one sure way to get even with him for any grudge I might be carrying at the time. All I had to do was wait until he, too, wandered out onto the dock. One quick push and he was in the water, sputtering and hollering for help. Raymie and I always fished him out before my mother could hear and mete out the punishment we no doubt deserved and when he went running to tattle on us, we'd add his tattling to our list of reasons to get even. Lest you think it sounds as though he got the worst of this sibling warfare, I remind you he had four years of devilry on me, and to this day I carry the scar on my upper lip where, late that same summer, he clobbered me with a gaff hook, settling many a score on his side of the ledger.Ever since that long, hot summer, spent living in a small cabin at Madrona Beach on Hood Canal, a saltwater beach has been as necessary to my life as food and drink. Those nurture the body, but a beach feeds your mind and heart, as well. I've just spent the last two hours mucking about on, digging in and meandering along the beach in front of our current home, and when the tide finally drove me off and the necessity to do this column by today's deadline sent me indoors to my computer, I found myself still mentally beach walking. As my mind wandered back over many years and many beaches, I realized that a great many of my most peaceful, pleasant and happy moments are associated with being on a beach somewhere in the world.One of today's popular treatment methods for stress relief, pain control, mental health and probably a number of other illnesses, is to tell people to recall a place where they were very happy and then to close their eyes, relax, and try to imagine themselves back in that place. Well, I've been doing that for years, during visits to the dentist, when my insomniac spells hit, when the house needed cleaning, ironing piled up and kids were whining, whenever any painful procedure had to be gotten through, when meetings were boring, non-productive and seemingly endless, and especially when my mind was running in ever tighter circles trying to cope with something I couldn't find an answer to.....off to the beach I'd go. In my mind, I could smell the salt air, the slight fishiness of low tide; hear the water lapping the beach and the gulls' shrill squawks; feel the chilly mist on my face or hot sun warming my body as I sat on my mental strip of beach and left the real world behind for a bit. It always helped.From a cold and windy stretch of beach on the North Sea to the white, hot sands of the south coast of Crete, I've never met a beach I didn't love. The beach I walked on this afternoon and the hours I spent there are now safely filed away in those memory banks, ready to revisit whenever I need to leave the real world temporarily or happen to find myself in a place where there are no beaches. Perish the thought; life without a beach? Impossible.RecipesOne of the reasons I was digging around on the beach today was to get a bucket of clams, a great way to spend some beach time without feeling guilty for beach dawdling. With the low tides of summer, clams and even geoducks (pronounced gooeyducks, for you newcomers) are readily available and oh, so tasty in so many ways. Of course, an old-fashioned clambake, held right on the beach, is wonderful, but the reality is that not all of us are lucky enough to have a beach that handy. Don't let that daunt you - here's how you can have a clambake right in your own back yard, or wherever you keep your barbecue. This recipe is for four people; double or triple as needed, but you'll probably need more than one barbecue grill, preferably the kind with a cover. Backyard Clambake2 lbs. steamer clams and 2 lbs. mussels, in the shell and scrubbed (also debeard the mussels but don't do it too much in advance as the mussels will die)6-8 ears of corn, not husked4 boiling-type potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn or White Rose4 white onions (Walla Wallas would be great), skins left on4 whole bulbs garlic, not peeled4 fresh cleaned Dungeness crabs or 4 medium lobsters4 T. butter, melted1. If you've just dug the clams, purge them first; if you've purchased fresh clams, they'll presumably be ready to use. Scrub both clams and mussels; set aside.2. Pull back the husks of the corn but leave them attached at the stem end; remove corn silk and pull the husks back up around the corn so the kernels are covered. (If your corn is already husked, wrap it in aluminum foil.)3. In a large kettle of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes, onions and garlic bulbs until just tender (still a bit crisp in the center); drain and set aside.4. Build the fire in your barbecue grill; soak 2 cups of wood chips in water.5. In a large kettle, bring 4 to 5 inches of water to a boil and then parboil the crabs or lobsters for about 3 minutes only - until they turn bright red. Do this in two batches, if necessary.6. When the barbi fire is down to red-hot coals with a bit of fire, drain the wood chips and squeeze out as much water as possible and spread over the coals. Place rack on the grill and arrange crab or lobsters first on the rack, as close together as possible, then put the corn on top of them and arrange all remaining ingredients around and on top of the corn. Put the cover on, leave vents open and cook until everything is cooked through and the clams and mussels are open, probably anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Remove everything from grill to big platters and serve immediately, with melted butter on the side for those who wish it.And here's what you can do with leftovers, if such there be:Clambake Leftovers Chowder2 onions, peeled, cooked and pureed in food processor4-5 potatoes, peeled, cooked and diced1/2 cup cream and 2 cups milk or 2 1/2 to 3 cups half-and-halfAny remaining cooked meats from the clambake (crab, clams, mussels, lobster)Salt, to taste1. Place pureed onions in a heavy saucepan over medium heat; add potatoes, cover and bring to a simmer. When potatoes are hot through (5 minutes), add cream and milk or half-and-half and heat about 5 minutes more. Add seafood leftovers and continue cooking over low heat until meats are heated through, 3-5 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Season to taste and serve in warm bowls, with a dab of butter and dash of cayenne pepper for garnish, and a green salad and warm, fresh bread. "