We made our annual pilgrimage to a friend’s cabin on Thetis Island recently. Thetis is two ferries away from Seattle, in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia off the east coast of Vancouver Island. It’s pretty much an all-day affair to get there, but once you’re there, oh boy is the effort worth it.
We lucked out this year with low tides in the mornings, making clam digging the first order of the day. The butter clams, which apparently hold the toxins of red tide longer than other species, are off limits—even though there hasn’t been a red tide in recent memory—but littlenecks are plentiful and as big as I’ve seen them anywhere.
Bottom fishing is another regular distraction. Flounder, greenling, rockfish, and lingcod all haunt the lower depths. One of the kids even caught a dogfish. In the ensuing melee of trying to land and release it without losing a digit, the little shark thrilled its antagonists by snapping the rod in two with its jaws. Down, Fido!
Besides the usual chowder and oyster po ‘boys, we made a cioppino one night, cooking the catch of the day (flounder, littleneck clams, mussels) in a tomato-wine broth gussied up with chopped fennel bulb and saffron. The other key ingredient wasn’t a food item—it was the camp stove that made the cioppino seem all the more authentic (if I can use a term that normally curdles my appetite).
The kids, or some of them at any rate, experimented with their taste buds and their courage. Steamed sea lettuce drizzled with soy sauce over a bed of couscous wasn’t so bad after all, a few admitted. And a small gill-hooked flounder didn’t even require utensils.
There was one big difference between this year and previous: our young charges eventually tired of clamming and fishing, announcing their desire to go after bigger game. In keeping with the practical tenants of The Three-Martini Playdate, we parents heartily encouraged them during one evening’s cocktail hour, suggesting they cease running around underfoot and fully investigate the woods out back. Next thing we know, a small mob has armed itself with sticks and is in pursuit of the rather tame local squirrels and robins.
The next few days saw steep technological changes—not unlike those occurring over the course of millennia—as the little primates used their enhanced cranial capacity to invent a variety of tools/weapons, including bow-and-arrow and spears with honest-to-god spearpoints. Though the rodents and birds escaped harm this year, we shudder to think what future trips will hold for the hapless critters of Thetis Island.