Under a burning July sun, in the fetid air of an urban swamp, I was drunkenly crawling through tick infested cockleburr, sinking in stinking mud, and stepping lively over hot white sand. I wasn't sure why, except that the day before, some chemically addled drug fiend had been going on about the mystic enlightenment of ancient alchemy.
He'd been out of his gourd, of course, and I couldn't trust what ramblings issued forth out of his flapping lips. But the next day I was in search of something, just like the alchemists of old. It wasn't personal transformation. I think it was a way to turn grain juice into beer.
Foolish, really. I know how to do that already. But what else is out there? What else can be turned into alcohol?
When I hit the riverbank, it seemed clear that my options were limited. The River's called "The Pearl," and there's a lot of mussels, but as far as I know, they're not really fermentable. I surmised you could make some sort of fish sauce with them, but it wouldn't get you drunk.
Well, it might. I was weighing that option when I realized that alongside reefs of massive mussels, the size of which would have taken ten or twenty years to grow, there was another swarming life form - something that was not in fact a mollusc, but rather, tires.
I felt an ambivalence about the bivalves. Mussels, I knew, but tires - I'd need to talk to a a tire farmer.
Fortunately, there was a tire farmer tending to the tire reefs.
I surveyed his operation. "What's the life cycle of a tire?"
"This is the old dump. These suckers spend a few decades underground. The river gnaws away the bank, the old tires fall out into the river, fill up with debris, slide around on the clay, the gravel, the sand."
"It's like the mussel." I said. This was a lie.
"The males shoot sperm into the water, hoping it finds a female." I said. The farmer was nodding in some sort of approval that I did not understand.
"The females release the fertilized eggs into the water." I said.
"It's like the tires." The tire-farmer said. I merely nodded.
"At this point they're called glochidia, and they attach to the gills of fish, parasitically sucking blood from the gills."
"There's where them tires come from." The tire farmer said. He pointed at a strange brick structure that was in the middle of the tire reefs, which stretched off in both directions, bisected by Town Creek.
"Listen to me carefully." I said. "This is important." It wasn't, and I didn't think any information would get through to the tire-raking man, but I kept it up for appearances sake, attempting to illuminate my fellow meander-wanderer.
"The glochidia get into the gills of fish. In this case, it's gar. They drop out of the gills of a gar, land in the sand, and start the more conventional "tiny shelled thing in the sand" part of their existence."
"Did you say... gar?" The man asked, clutching the long tire-aerating rake. "There's gar out there. They bite at your toes when you harvest the tires."
I left him there in the brain-melting heat. It was beginning to get to me, too. I braved a hard path to go and get pictures of common gar.
Crawling slowly along the steep sides of Town Creek, trying not to gag on the smell, I saw them - the carriers of glochidia, the biters of toes - the gar. At first, just the spotted gar, then - the prize of the gar world, the giant alligator gar. Though, this one wasn't quite giant. It wasn't much bigger than the spotted gar, either. Was this the monster biting the toes of the noble tire-rancher?
I was tired, sunbeaten, climbing along the reeking sides by holding onto trees and branches, swinging like a wild ape, dangling over gar-filled muck. They were gathering, either hoping that I would knock in delicious insects, scare up delectable crustaceans, or frighten minnows into their paths.
Or, maybe, I mused, sweat causing me to slip from the rocks and plant one leg into the fetid water - maybe they wanted me to fall in. I summoned up my strength and carried on.
Finally, I crawled over the last few feet of mud, the sand and gravel crunching delightfully under my boots as my sweat-soaked legs carried me on sturdy ground once again, my clothes torn (fare thee well, nondistinct khaki pants #3) my will drained, the sun sapping my sanity. I stumbled up to the low dam that prevents Town Creek from becoming deeper and deeper, pulling more of the Pearl into her banks. Scrambling onto the concrete, I looked down, and there, yet another one of these living fossils looked back up out of the water.
Waiting. Always waiting.
- FP JEROME