Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stalking the Wild Abalone

One of the first questions I could answer when I emerged from my awful depression was: “What do you want for your birthday?” Without hesitation I said, “A guided abalone dive.”

This is a good test question for mental health. Healthy people usually want things and if they can get those things for free they should have no trouble remembering what those things are. If you’d asked me the same question over a month ago I would have been absolutely stumped.


Sunday I cashed in Kathleen’s gift and went stalking the wild abalone-- that terrifying mollusk of the deep! It was after 5 PM. The water was murky, the swell was picking up. Strands of bull kelp and sea grass clawed at my head like blackberry vines. Visibility perhaps 15 ft. Seawater in my snorkel, damn! They come….…

sliming, sliggering, slouching, suctioning forward on dirty tongues with the black ruffle around them, the army of angry mollusks pursue their ancient grudge against vertebrates: "The shell was it, man! Impregnable. And now you feast on me. I'm gonna go Pre-Cambrian on your ass.”

“That’s because you evolved far enough to survive and afterwards got lazy.”

"Beware, vertebrate!”

When the abalone attacked I was already fitted with 30 lbs. of weights (to counteract the flotation of my wetsuit), so that the weight of each additional abalone that grolloped on my bod would drag me further down to Davey Jones' Gym Locker no matter what manic counter-propulsion my fins attempted.

Here come the limpets on steroids! The Barry Bonds Barnacles!

"Belt first!" Their general cried.

I tried to release my belt but the damn clams wouldn’t let me get my hands on the buckle in time.

In ten-foot depths I clung to a large rock and hoped that my house—the one with a spine and real lungs--would not have its subprime jumbo shrimp bluff called.

On they came, sucking, seeking…

When my eyes dipped toward the waterline and I took my last breath, I realized that the mask and snorkel were of no use now—but before I tossed them a thought arrived: What if I were to blow air underneath the abalooneys with the snorkel! They use water cannons above ground, why not reverse the elements?

I began air-goosing every parasitic mollusk I could find clinging to my suit. Miraculously the damn clams ran from air like black from rice. Lightened, I rose to the surface; frightened, they twirled back to the bottom, licking their tongues and whining invertebrate excuses.

Despite these initial difficulties I managed three legal abalones in my first hour.

Afterwards I bought an abalone hammer and pounded the beasts into delicate strip-steaks of firm white flesh for my dear wife who had never tasted abalone. It lived up to its reputation; she said it was “to die for,” and indeed, every season five divers agree with her.

Sorry to leave you with the taste of death in your mouths.

Happy Halloween,

Craig Erick


  1. Anonymous11:36 AM PDT

    Try egg/milk mixture ... dip them in a bed of POTATO BUDS... pan fry them in Olive Oil....

  2. Horrifying. I’m staying in Ohio.

  3. This is a delight, CE...submit it to the Chronicle.

    Indeed...and sadly...every season five do die here for the delicacy...but rarely on guided dives and rarely local folks who swim, work out every day. The people who die diving for them often come in from inland, out of shape with little respect for the sea or the limits on abalone. If you have a wetsuit, next minus tide during the season, come to our can get them off the rocks just wading some days. I don't, but many do.

    Anon, I am intrigued by the potato buds recipe...I rarely get abalone but you can bet I will try it for calamari steaks. If you like pan-fried oysters, let me know. I have them down pat. : )

    My best to you and your bride, CE.


  4. Pat--I'm all about oysters.

    Thanks for the compliment on the story.

    When are you going to invite us to your place? (I know you are busy woman!)

  5. Anonymous7:23 AM PST

    Potato bud recipe...........good on fried fish also !!! Makes it crispy !!!

  6. Last night we ate fresh frozen abalone. It wasn't nearly as good though my guide said it would work well. He's obviously not a seafood gourmand like I am.

  7. Anonymous11:51 AM PST

    You ate "fresh frozen abalone"? Why didn't you COOK it first?
    It would taste better !!

    Silly man !!


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