"Then you get down on your belly and you reach into that hole with both hands. The more you grope around, the faster the hole fills in. Mud and sand fall down the sides. Water seeps up from below. Did you ever try to dig anything out of a pile of sawdust? Finally you grab the clam. You get both hands around this enormous neck that will never fit back in its shell, and you pull.
"Imagine yourself trying to exert every ounce of energy you have to get this clam out of the hole. It feels like it's under a rock. All of a sudden, everything you dug out falls back on you and you're lying there half-buried in sand, trying to hang onto that great big slippery neck with one hand and slinging mud over your shoulder with the other.
"Some people put these big pipes down the hole to keep the sides from caving in," Ivar explains, "but real sport hunters want no part of them. They're not illegal like killing the clam by shoving a stick down its neck, but they still take some of the challenge out of the sport.
"After a while that hole seems about a mile wide, and the bottom keeps getting farther away. Your fingers are all raw and full of sand, and you think you can't go on. Then that neck starts slipping out of your hand, and you know you won't give up. No clam is going to get the best of you. You get a fresh grip and start pulling again. By now you are so far down in the hole that your head is inside it and you have to shovel like mad to keep from drowning. Every time you give that clam a piece of your mind, you wind up with a mouthful of sand. The harder you pull, the madder you get. This is no game anymore. This is man against clam to the end!
"All of a sudden something wet splashes over your feet and you realize the end is closer than you think. You do a quick time check, but this is for laughs. There is only one thing it can mean, and you know it. The tide is on its way in, and you are going to have one helluva hike to stay ahead of it. You put everything you've got into one last back-wrenching effort to yank that blasted bivalve out of the hole, and suddenly the clam quits and comes free. You straighten up, heaving like you're about to have a heart attack and clutching two feet of neck attached to a bucket-sized body, you take a fast look over your shoulder, postpone the heart attack and run like you have never run before to beat that water back to shore.
"Now, that's no ordinary clam that can do that to a man," Ivar adds, and if anyone is qualified to say so, he is. After 58 years of catching and cooking clams and even singing about them, only another clam could know more. He has written a book of ballads to the clam, including a touching ode to the geoduc, and he has sung about clams to his own guitar accompaniment. To the radio and television audience Ivar is known as the Troubador of the Tidelands.
Besides singing about the clam, he also sponsors Ivar Haglund's World's Championship Clam Eating Contest every April and is currently secretary of the International Free Style Amateur Clam Eating Contest Association, which has headquarters at Pier 54 in Seattle.
By remarkable coincidence, this is the very spot on which Ivar's Acres of Clams restaurant is also located. Here, within whistle call of one of the world's largest ferry fleets, hundreds of commercial fishermen deposit their catches each day, while Seattle's fireboats and Ivar's customers look on. Inside the restaurant Ivar presides over an incredible clutter of sea horses, ship models, clocks, compasses, life preservers, ships' wheels, copper buckets, driftwood, fishbone mobiles, yachting flags, iron skillets, carved mermaids, plaster-of-paris lobsters, cracked crockery, Japanese fishing balls, calcified blowfish, sharks' jaws, seine nets, seashells and about 30 varieties of clam guns.
Somewhat resembling a winsome walrus surfacing after a storm, Ivar waddles among the tables spouting salty and corny slogans ("Keep clam and let the chips fall on the tray"), sniffs suspiciously through the kitchens ("You can always tell by the sniff and smell if the seafood is really fresh") and energetically churns a canoe paddle through a 50-gallon stainless-steel tank of chowder.
"It takes lots of energy, strength and pluck to catch the elusive geoduc," Ivar sings, lumbering up on a stool to peer over the edge of the pot into its simmering brew. "Because we can't sell geoduc in any form we must try to match its true glory with other clams," says Ivar, now on straight patter. "This is impossible, of course. It takes genius to even come close. We do have a clam bisque that is ambrosia and clam nectar so potent I must refuse to sell more than three cups to any married man without his wife's consent, but I would not dare sell even one cup of geoduc chowder. It's just as well it is against the law. If I ever put it on the menu, I'd start a geoduc riot. Before you know it, nobody would be eating any other seafoods, everybody would be out hunting geoducs and Puget Sound would be swamped with strangers. Why, even the whole economy might collapse. No, the risk is too great."