Our week began as previous weeks had begun with my travelling companion: mishap as the pounding Burlington rain passed through lining and curled the edges of my passport; confrontation as a Vermont driver stepping out of his car at a light to lecture my companion on his driving; exhaustion as the words to “Loveshack” repeated to infinity; fascination as the perfect expression machine that he is emptied itself out and seemingly paraded its entire being before me. All of this washed over me as we followed the Winooski upriver. Although we stopped for the night in a small New Hampshire border town, the machine did not, and, over dinner, I played a captive audience to the elaboration of how one divvies up booths in a restaurant.
We set off in no hurry the following day, with neither departure nor arrival time, and proceeded to discover the countryside in much the same way that I approach cities. One such detour led us to a Martin Bridge, north of Berlin. Far off the main road, this covered bridge spans the Winooski’s narrow upper reaches, which only many miles farther on spill into Lake Champlain. From the shore, a bird caught in lost fishing line was pointed out to me, as well as the way its trailing wings broke the surface. Once across, we found grackles above and their younglings in the grass below, freshly cut. I turned back to the river’s roiling water, flush with the previous day’s rain, and the eddies which developed, held spinning form, unfurled and at last dissolved in the brown water before passing beneath the planks.
Again on the river’s northern shore, I examined more closely the documentation that a local historical society had provided the site with. Remarkable not just for its relative remoteness, but also its preservation, the bridge had been recently restored after a considerable “fallow” period during which it had been removed from its banks and left in a bordering field for five years. Now back in place, it again spans an important section of the Winooski for wildlife, being situated on a swift-flowing stretch with a bed of boulders, cobble and gravel, home to fish, insects and freshwater mussels. Among the latter figures prominently the Eastern pearlshell, then unknown to me, but of which I was soon to learn more.
This rare freshwater mussel can live to over a hundred years, it seems, yet relies on a peculiar reproductive cycle to attain such longevity. In summer, so I read, the male fertilizes the water column with sperm, which is then siphoned by the female, incubated until such a time as larvae form, which are themselves then ejected into the gills of a brook trout drawn by the lure of the mussel’s fleshy flap. The larvae remain with the trout through winter only to drop off come spring and, at last, anchor themselves to the riverbed with a tongue-like mussel called, of all things, a foot. The entire process, which I have only with difficulty been able to picture in my mind’s eye, seems neither wholly left to chance nor planned out with the forethought of a creator, but simply what results from letting a handful of pieces fall together as they will.