Alumni and development VP Reaske's shellfish books back on the shelves
by Brian Fitzgerald
In fact, after more than 20 years of stalking shellfish, Reaske had become so skilled at the activity that he wrote a book about it in 1986. The Compleat Clammer was followed by The Compleat Crab & Lobster Book in 1989. Both received favorable reviews as informative guides on gathering and preparing the sea's finest. His editor, Peter Burford, of Burford Books, asked Reaske to revise the books this year, resulting in updated editions, which are now available at Barnes & Noble at Boston University and other bookstores.
But they're more than just handbooks. Included are facts, trivia, and how clamming, crabbing, and lobstering bring one closer to nature. Reaske writes about the wildlife that add to the tranquility of the largely solitary activity. "Standing still, alone at the edge of the water on a long stretch of deserted beach, or walking slowly through an inland saltwater marsh at low tide, I feel very much at peace with an unchanging part of the world," writes Reaske in The Compleat Clammer. "I find it easy to center in this world that is characterized by natural bouquets of sea lavender, by sea grasses quivering in the breeze."
"Clamming provides a wonderful contrast to the workplace craziness that we all live with," says Reaske in his office in the School of Management building. His is a frantically paced job, in which world travel is a constant. "When you're digging for clams, you can think about other things, but you're mostly thinking about getting clams," he laughs. "There's no fax or phone or anything that makes it a multitasked activity."
A few weeks before Reaske began to write the book, he observed terns diving for fish and noted their "smooth, symphonic efficiency" as they hunted. "Observing these beautiful birds made my principal goal in this book come clear -- to convey a sense of 'doing it right,' to explain that there are time-proven ways to gather clams efficiently and to do so in harmony with nature," he writes. With a little practice, one can use a clam rake "almost like a dancing partner."
Reaske knows someone who backs his outboard motor onto a muddy bank and blows the clams out of their holes, he writes, but that is not the right way. The tools of his weekend and vacation trade are a pointed spade, a pail, a pitchfork or short-handled clam rake, and insulated rubber gloves if the water is cold.
He points out that although much of the pleasure in clamming is getting close to nature, it's always a good idea to wear old sneakers in case of broken glass or sharp shells on the bottom. Clamming is not quite a blood sport, but there are other hazards too: the main one being jellyfish, especially when venturing into shoulder-deep water. "I stay out of their way," he says. "But I've been stung, and the pain goes away quickly."
Illustrations by Suzanne T. R. Crocker, Reaske's daughter, also help in telling the differences among clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops. Reaske explains to the reader where to find each. Although there are more than 50 kinds of clams regularly eaten around the world, he focuses on the principal ones gathered in this country.
Reaske, a cum laude Yale University graduate, earned a Ph.D. in literature from Harvard University. Noticing that bookstores were filled with books about fishing but none on clamming, he decided to "write it all down." The research in the book includes facts from wildlife and biology journals. "The how-to part of the book flowed smoothly and quickly because I had been thinking about it for so long," he says.
The book might be the first one written completely at high tide. "Low tide is for clamming," he points out.
When he finished the first book, he writes in the introduction to The Compleat Crab & Lobster Book, "I sensed that my work had just begun." Crabs and lobsters: the words "evoke seemingly contradictory pictures that both frighten us and make our mouths water," he writes. The latter might just happen to readers when they get to the recipes.
Reaske reports that the revised and updated editions are generating interest: he has been invited to speak at the University of Rhode Island's oceanography department at its Narragansett campus in the fall, and radio and newspaper interviews are "heating up." And for Reaske, the next best thing to clamming, crabbing, and lobstering is writing and talking about the subject.