There are many places we have gone clamming along Baja, but there
is one beach we frequent in Bahia de Los Angeles that is my
favorite. Our little patch of sand and stone is near a place we
have lived across summers and the clams there are tiny and tasty.
I'm told they're called butter clams. They're about an inch
across or a little bigger. Our niche is so filled with clams that
you need no scoop of other tools, just a small bucket. We sift
with our naked hands through the shore at the appropriate level
and they pop up, brown and tan and glistening in the shallow
water and we are careful to take them conservatively.
On this morning our son Kevin and his friend Carly are with us.
We mine clams for 20 minutes and have almost enough. Mary Ann and
Deb and Brendan continue their search. Kevin and Carly are
looking through the shallows of a small lagoon. The tide is going
out, draining the tiny basin.
"Octopus!" Kevin calls. We all go over to investigate. He's just
a baby, maybe 12 inches long and, worried about all the legs he
sees gathering around him, he cowers on the tiny stones, blending
in. There were two large rocks a few feet away that he could see
but not reach for cover. He was afraid, I'm sure. But all we
wanted was his picture and Carly maneuvered her camera to avoid
the midday light reflecting off the shallows. This took her
There was a family nearby, locals from the nearby village, and
they saw us gathered there, a hundred yards away, could hear our
commotion. Several young children came running to see what we
were doing. I told them we were observing a young pulpo in the
"Look," he said in Spanish, holding open a thick burlap sack for
us to peer into. "Otro pulpo." Inside was another octopus, the
same size as ours, dead. He indicates that he wants ours, now
hiding under the rock of his attention.
I tell the boy that this is our octopus, but he and the other
children are persistent and soon are calling to their father and
mother to come and get the beast. We gringos are confused by this
brash confrontation. We don't want the octopus to die, we just
wanted to observe and let go.
It was a tense moment. The children wanted him for dinner, I
suppose. For us he was entertainment. The boy's father was
hanging back but working in our direction. I didn't know what to
do but the situation needed managing somehow, before things got
confrontational. The children were not buying into my story that
this was OUR animal as we had found it.
I ran to the car and grabbed the net we used to bring in larger
fish on our boat. We had brought it in case the tide permitted
crabbing. We swept up the small octopus in the net and ran out of
the lagoonmouth, across a small gravel rise and into the open
gulf. The octopus, not having a clue, was slinking out of the
net. We slowed several times to get him back inside. We reached
the open water and lowered the net below the surface. The
children were right behind us. I just wanted the poor baby beast
to let go the net and make for deeper water.
Finally, we got him out; he settled, confused, on the stones in
about three feet of water. But he was afraid and wasn't moving.
Soon the children are upon us and circling, a circle within our
circle. I knew they wanted to kill him. I told them that they
already had an octopus. This one was ours.
"What will you do with him?" They asked.
"We just want to watch him." I said, realizing how silly that
sounded to someone who had lived here their short lives and
needed, only knew the octopus as food. All the while the father
of the children was hovering nearby.
We all just looked at each other. The dialog stopped and we
simply made eye contact. The children had this quizzical,
mystified look. The rest of us didn't know how to resolve the
conflict. Was it reasonable to protect the beast when a family
was hungry? We were in their land, not our own. We wanted to let
the baby go. They wanted to eat it.
In the end we left the children and the octopus and walked away,
back to the truck and left. I don't know that they captured the
octopus, but I can't imagine that they didn't. On the way back to
camp we were quiet for a time in the truck.
It did occur to me that the local family was going to have
octopus for dinner over the next day or two. Two lives, perhaps,
lost from this Earth. We, on the other hand, would be dining on
clams, a much smaller animal. Our meal would require the taking
of many more lives then theirs. At twenty years I would never
have thought like that. But at sixty, your thinking gets re-wired
and you know that everything is expendable and when one life is
gone the world is changed forever and it really does matter.