256 pages, 7 illustrations
Abbie Gascho Landis first fell for freshwater mussels while submerged in an Alabama creek, her pregnant belly squeezed into a wetsuit. After an hour of fruitless scanning, a mussel materialised from the rocks – a little spectaclecase, herself pregnant, filtering the river water through a delicate body while her gills bulged with offspring. In that moment of connection, Landis became a mussel groupie, obsessed with learning more about the creatures' hidden lives. She isn't the only fanatic; the shy molluscs, so vital to the health of rivers around the world, have a way of inspiring unusual devotion.
In Immersion: The Science and Mystery of Freshwater Mussels, Landis brings readers to a hotbed of mussel diversity, the American Southeast, to seek mussels where they eat, procreate, and, too often, perish. Accompanied often by her husband, a mussel scientist, and her young children, she learned to see mussels on the creekbed, to tell a spectaclecase from a pigtoe, and to worry what vanishing mussels – 70 percent of North American species are imperilled – will mean for humans and wildlife alike. In Immersion, Landis shares this journey, travelling from perilous river surveys to dry streambeds and into laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time.
Mussels have much to teach us about the health of our watersheds if we step into the creek and take a closer look at their lives. In the tradition of writers like Terry Tempest Williams and Sy Montgomery, Landis gracefully chronicles these untold stories with a veterinarian's careful eye and the curiosity of a naturalist. In turns joyful and sobering, Immersion is an invitation to see rivers from a mussel's perspective, a celebration of the wild lives visible to those who learn to search.
"Getting into the mind of a mussel would be difficult, and Alabama vet Abbie Gascho Landis doesn't try. Instead, Immersion: The Science and Mystery of Freshwater Mussels (Island Press) focuses on the fight to preserve a creek near Landis's home, and reveals the vital role of molluscs as both indicators and preservers of water quality. Landis gets under the skin of not so much a single animal, but a whole ecosystem. Part scientist, part observer and part campaigner against water pollution, she puts herself and her family at the centre of the story. This is neither cloying nor vain, and her growing fascination with her subject is infectious. Immersion is science writing at its best: rich, accurate and moving."
– Matthew Cobb, New Scientist 3137, 5 August 2017
"This is nature writing at its best."
– Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
"This graceful, beautiful book is filled with almost unbelievable surprises. The biggest surprise is that it is not about mussels; they merely play a leading role. Immersion is actually about the wondrousness of life, and the invitation we've all received to simply be in awe."
– Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
"Kudos to this lyrical veterinarian for deftly carving space in our hearts and minds for freshwater bivalves that you'll never forget."
– Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us and Countdown
Chapter 1: Breaking Water
Chapter 2: Rocks with Guts
Chapter 3: The Lure of Mussels
Chapter 4: Search Images
Chapter 5: Mussel Memory
Chapter 6: Life at River Bottom
Chapter 7: The Dead River
Chapter 8: When to Clam Up
Chapter 9: Holding Water
Chapter 10: Mussel Resuscitation
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Abbie Gascho Landis is a writer and veterinarian whose work has been published in Pinchpenny Press, Full Grown People, and Paste Magazine. She has won Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies 2015 Essay Award and an Arthur DeLong Writing Award and was a finalist for the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award. Landis has a bachelor's degree in English and biology from Goshen College and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from The Ohio State University.