During low tide a walk along the Far North beaches is like strolling the aisle of a supermarket. For embedded within the white coastal sands is an abundance of shellfish, locally known as tuatua.
We carried a large crate in hand as we entered the cool calf-high water. I dug my toes into the sand with a movement similar to the Twist, only stopping when I touched what felt like smooth pond stones. I scooped up a handful and inspected the stunned tuatua as their rubbery white tongues retracted with a squirt of water. The smaller shells went back into the ocean while the larger ones into the basket.
Never having foraged food along the coast, I felt a bit like I was stealing from a refrigerated stockroom. With the bravado of a novice bandit I chucked the last tuatua into the crate- take that supermarkets!
I had fished from the coast once before when I lived in Florida, but I am pretty sure it ended in tears when I saw my father chop the heads off the catfish. Twenty years later the only worry I had was whether or not I would get sea sick.
The boat rocked over the secret fishing spot as our host, Cheryl, grabbed a piece of bait and deftly pierced it with a hook. Water like red Koolaid trickled down her tanned fingers and left small splotches on the deck. She turned around and planted her legs against the railing before demonstrating how to cast a successful line. After a few trials I was on my own; beginner’s luck on my side.
By the end of the day we had caught at least fifteen fish- a mixture of snapper and kahawai which Barret spent hours filleting. Translucent scales flew through the air like nail clippings while the knife traced the outline of the fish. With the flesh peeled back Barret began scraping his blade against the ribs. It was a process repeated over and over again until it became muscle memory. The kind of sweat-soaked memory that remains with you long after you leave a farm.