WON Landing Page OCT 2022

Bonding by Geoduck Clams

My family traveled to Washington state in June for a clam digging trip. But for me, the trip wasn’t really about clams. It was about family, bonding and seeing passion and teamwork from my three adult children as they worked together to hunt elusive geoduck clams.

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My husband, Carlos, set the tone in our household to ensure that family was always the top priority. We both aimed to set an example that family is more important than your career, wealth or prestige. 

Our time in this world is finite. The older I get, the more I realize that nothing really matters except the people in my life and the relationships I have. You can buy a house, car, clothes or jewelry, but those possessions won’t satisfy you the way strong relationships will. Heartbreaks and negative moments can create relationship hurdles, but if your bond is strong enough, you can navigate these challenges and preserve a strong relationship that enriches your life. 

Carlos believes that each member of our family has different gifts and that our three children are at their strongest when they work together.

Carlos’ belief in the collective strength of our children reflects an old Chinese proverb about chopsticks. 

chop sticks

In the proverb, a man holds a single chopstick. He easily snaps it into two pieces. Then he puts two chopsticks together. He encounters more trouble snapping them, but still manages.  But as the number of chopsticks increases to three, four, five, etc., their collective strength keeps the man from snapping them.

Clam digging is our daughter Shane’s passion. In particular, she is motivated by the geoduck clam, which is considered a delicacy. 

catching the geoduck in Washington State
Shane catching the geoduck in Washington State.

Shane’s passion became seeded when she was about 10 years old. Carlos used to dig clams with friends in college, and he exposed our children to the activity. Like me, Shane embraced any sport or activity to which Carlos exposed us. She became especially enthusiastic about clam digging.

Shane and her older sister, Christina, possess a competitive, warrior mentality, which they demonstrated during the clam dig. Nothing was going to stop them from capturing their prize. 

digging for clams
In search of the geoduck clam

Shane scouted a spot on the Pacific coast in Washington that would give our family a chance to harvest geoduck clams. Shane and her daughter, Mia, hunted geoduck last year in Washington. This year, she expanded the trip to include the whole family.

We stayed at a beautiful lakeside rental house. The four-bedroom home was a little cramped for our party of 10, but the idyllic setting made it worthwhile.

The geoduck, native to the Pacific Northwest, has a distinctive appearance, thanks to its awkward phallic shape. Its shell can range from six to eight inches, and its neck can stretch a couple of feet. They usually weigh a couple of pounds. They’re difficult to catch, but the task became slightly easier with the family working together.

To hunt geoduck, you must dig a hole during low tide and then place a pump in the middle of the hole. Shane and Christina teamed up to dig the hole. 

My family - Vera Koo
My family

When the tide came in, the returning water threatened to make the hole lose its shape. Shane and Christina worked tirelessly to maintain the hole while Carlos pumped. Austin, the youngest of our children, was holding his four-year-old daughter when he realized his sisters needed help. He handed his daughter to his wife and joined his sisters.

Austin does not appreciate the outdoors as much as Carlos and I or his sisters. This was not the type of trip he would have planned for his family. But he made a point of going on this trip and bringing his wife and children so that his family could participate in making memories with his sisters and parents.

I found it both funny and heartwarming to watch my three children fight to maintain this knee-deep hole while Carlos pumped water with a homemade device. 

the warriors in my family Vera Koo
The warriors in my family.

The four of them would not stop at anything to claim their treasure: the geoduck. 

The experience proved what Carlos has preached since our children were little: Christina, Shane and Austin can accomplish anything when working as a unit.

Carlos and I are proud to know our children understand the importance of family. We taught them to value togetherness, to stand up for each other and to work together.

When Christina was a baby, we spent countless hours together. She liked to play with one of my old childhood dolls. The doll was a young woman in a flare skirt. One night, when Christina was two-years old, I picked up the doll and began crying. I thought about how much time we spent together and how it would not last. She would grow up, embark on her own life and perhaps move far away.  

As I reflect, the sorrow I felt that night when Christina was little is replaced by a sense of joy and appreciation for how much time Carlos and I spend with our children and grandchildren, even as they blossom into families of their own. And we’ve watched as our children teach their kids the same family values that Carlos and I taught Christina, Shane and Austin.

Gotcha geoduck

Toward the end of our trip, Carlos and our daughters discussed how the family’s participation in clam digging might end with Christina and Shane’s generation. My grandchildren are not as enthusiastic about clam digging. 

There’s perhaps a twinge of sadness about this, but I do not worry about our family’s togetherness waning in the younger generation. Christina, Shane and Austin embody the sense of family and togetherness that Carlos and I had hoped to impart in them. And our grandchildren see the importance of family in the example their parents set.

Because of this, I am content in knowing that the Koo family will remain strong and together for years and generations to come. We will be the chopsticks that hold firm in unison. 

  • About Vera Koo

    Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with two published books -- "The Most Unlikely Champion" and "Wisdom and Things: Essays From an Unlikely Champion" -- she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News."