, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2014

Rowley clammer basks in winter's cold

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall

---- — ROWLEY — There are some who can’t wish this winter and cold weather away fast enough, and then there is John Grundstrom.

An avid clam digger for many years and one of the town’s shellfish commissioners, he has found himself experiencing one of the most enjoyable winters ever — and he works outside everyday at the frigid ocean’s edge.

Grundstrom, 58, a lifelong Rowley resident, has been digging clams since he was 6 years old and making a living at it since he was 13, and that includes digging all winter in the harsh New England weather.

“People think that just because it’s cold outside, the harvest of fresh seafood in this area stops,” he said. “We still have to make a living and get out there and dig.”

Grundstrom figures he’s missed less than five days clam digging this winter, and only because big winter storms have diverted his attention to his snow removal business.

Clam digging this winter for Grundstrom has meant a 5-mile boat ride out of the Rowley River to the clam beds in Plum Island Sound until it was too frozen at the Rowley landing to do this. He then switched to heading out to the beds via the Parker River landing, and most recently, parking at Stackyard Road in Rowley and pulling a sled 1.5 miles to the water’s edge to get his job done.

The process is complete when he drags his sled, filled with about 150 pounds of clams, back to his car then delivers them to Savage Seafood in Rowley, where Grundstrom sells all his clams. These clams often make their way back to local stores, like Market Basket, for sale to residents.

Protecting from the elements is key, especially on windy days. Clothing includes five layers of Under Armor, regular gloves and rubber gloves, snowboarder pants with hip waders over and a snowboarding jacket, which is shed when the digging really gets going because the physical labor of the job increases one’s body temperature.

For 2 to 21/2 hours before low tide Grundstrom digs, boots frozen in the mud and fork plunging into the freezing surface, in temperatures that would leave even the most ambitious of skiers huddled under the covers.

“I actually enjoyed the winter so much here that I had a hard time leaving for my sponge fishing job in Key West, Florida,” said Grundstrom. He pointed to the beauty of the vista when he’s out clam digging and the fact that he is doing work he truly loves, that make working in the cold weather not an issue.

“I am without a doubt one of the luckiest people because I absolutely love what I do for work and look forward to getting up every morning to do it.”

The benefits of sharing your day with local wildlife — Grundstrom spots foxes, coyotes, eagles, snowy owls and more nearly every time he goes out — and providing a product, razor clams, that were fetching top dollar this winter, are positive draws as well.

“When you get out there and the marsh is frozen and covered in ice and snow, and everything is white and still, and you see wildlife running about trying to survive, it is amazing,” he said. “There’s nothing more beautiful … it’s like looking at a field of flowers on a bright, summer day.”

“I am without a doubt one of the luckiest people because I absolutely love what I do for work and look forward to getting up every morning to do it.”

— Jack Grundstrom