Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Ode to the Snail

July 31, 2011 – Snails

In Which I Unveil Just How Strange I Really Am
Several weekends ago Katrina and Oswaldo came out to the Casa Del Gringo to visit me. We are going from our picnic spot back to the house when Katrina pauses at a tree to admire a snail.
I admire snails on a regular basis myself. There are some that live on the underside of the giant leaves in front of the table where I do most of my writing and editing work during the day. They just hang out there all the time. Probably pondering deep thoughts, solving world problems, communicating with aliens, perhaps shaking their tentacles in bewilderment at the U.S. debt crisis. I talk to them at times when I need a break. I talk to lots of things that can’t hear. Snails can’t, by the way. I think this is because they don’t have ears.

Katrina makes a friendly passing comment about snails and I say in response (with an amount of emotion that surprises even me), “Snails are just wonderful!” Because just at that moment I’ve realized that they are.

One of my friends once told me, “I’m just getting used to your idiosyncrasies.”

I’ve got a lot. For instance, in the spice cabinet I used to have in my house, I liked for all the labels to face the same way and for the bottles to be artistically and evenly spaced. There was no touching. It was a very precise arrangement. That same friend knew this and he’d open the cabinet, give me a devilish look and shove a few bottles up against each other and turn their labels any which a way.
“I can handle it for a little while. I can even sleep through the night knowing what you’ve done,” I told him. “But rest assured that the next time you come visit those bottles will be back the way they’re supposed to be.”

Most of the time I keep my OCD tendencies in check, but occasionally I foster them, like in the instance with my spices. I also have a strange obsession with toilet paper. I used to buy the 24 roll packages from the store and hoard them in my laundry closet. I couldn’t stand the idea of running out. And I was the only one living there. If given the chance I’d have had a ten year supply of toilet paper on hand at all times. I don’t know why this is.  
In addition to my housekeeping weirdnesses I have a deep and abiding love for earthworms.

They’re so tremendously amazing. In Colorado when it rained I used to walk frantically up and down the sidewalks where I worked picking up the waterlogged worms so they wouldn’t get scorched to death by the sun when it came out in full force, and putting them back on the dirt. As my grandmother’s grand-neighbor says, “Earthworms are good for the world!” And they are.

I also have an unconditional love for honey bees, despite the fact that once I got stung on the tongue by one who’d gotten into a can of soda I was drinking.
Now, after making my statement to Katrina about snails I realize they’ve just joined my list of favorite things. And I hardly know anything about them. I do some online searches and learn. “Some people love snails and find them to be very fascinating,” says This describes me to a T. “Others though don’t enjoy them and find them to be quite gross.” This is probably in part because of the fact that snails leave trails of slime wherever they go. Slime might be a little gross. I’ll grant that. But this same slime allows a snail to travel across rough terrain without harming their very delicate bodies. As Darwin, my Machu Picchu guide said about the natural springs the Incans used, “AMAZING!”   

“Where are you from?” My research is interrupted by one of the Casa Del Gringo guests. He’s Canadian. Yesterday he’d come on to the main house’s patio looking for sugar. “Tienes azucar (do you have any sugar)?” he’d asked.
“Oh,” I replied in Spanish, pulled from my editing work back to real life, “if you need something, you’ll have to ask Jose. He can help you find whatever you need. I think he’s just over there.” I pointed across the lawn.

The guest asked me something else. I blanked, my face got that dreaded deer in the headlights look. I hadn’t understood a word. Lord, was my Spanish that bad?
“You don’t speak French?” he asked me then in English.

Oh thank the gods, he’d asked me in French! Though it hadn’t been, “Parlez-vous français.” That I do know.
“No, I don’t. I wish I did.” And I really do. I’m about half way through reading The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the whole book is littered with French and I feel like an outsider when Verkhovensky says all manner of witty things in the language of love and romance and I’m left in the dark.  

“I thought I detected a French accent in there,” he explained, and then trundled off to ask Jose for some sugar.
“You speak Spanish with a French accent,” he tells me again tonight after I tell him I’m from the States.

“I must not look quintessentially American,” I tell a snail after he’s gone. I’m glad. Not that I don’t like my country. I do. But there are things about the stereotypical American that I’m glad aren’t assumed about me.

The snail doesn’t answer. I don’t take offense. First off because I know snails can’t hear, but because sometimes I don’t answer either. There’s power in silence at times. Also snails are loners. This I understand because sometimes I’m a loner myself. There’s tranquility in being alone. However, there are great things that come through being with someone as well. I’m sure the snails know this too. But they don’t seek each other out very often. And when they do engage in nature it’s never in an aggressive way. They tend to live their own existence (according to without bothering each other. That’s a species trait that America might want to consider adopting. That’s a trait that humanity might consider adopting.

We should learn from all the snails of the world. We could too, if we just sought them out. “You will find,” says in its Facts About Snails section, “that there aren’t any shortages of snails around the world.” I’m encouraged by this information.
I read on and find that snails and I have a lot in common. I’m a vegetarian, they’re herbivores. They eat plants, fruits, vegetables, and algae. So do I. How similar we are, Helix Pomatia!

The one place we really differ is in our relationship to the sun. I’m a sun fanatic. There’s not much I love more than basking in the sunshine and letting my thoughts run rampant. Snails, because of their sensitive, slimy skin, can’t abide much sun and usually seek out shady spots in which to chill out. I’m usually most active during the day. They’re actually most active at night. I’d love to see that activity! I bet it’s hopping!
This afternoon I’m sitting out in the grass acquiring more freckles and half reading The Possessed and half thinking about climbing the avocado tree to get more avocados while Jose is showing some potential guests around the property. There are three ladies and two little girls. The little girls chase each other across the grounds, laughing joyously. I watch them for a while.

The girls put their hands in the swimming pool splashing the water out on the cement. They run around to the poolside swing and take turns pushing each other. When a squadron of squawking green parrots fly overhead, the girls look up in amazement as if they’ve never seen anything like that before. Maybe they never have.
Not very much later, the group is done with their tour and they all head back to the car.
“Quien es ELLA (who is SHE)?!” the oldest little girl asks with a delighted intensity when she catches sight of me.

“Quien eres tu (who are you)?” I ask her back.

She runs over to me, a huge smile coloring the page of her whole face, and presents her cheek for the Peruvian cheek to cheek greeting kiss. Her cheek is soft against mine. Her kiss a real one instead of just an air kiss. She stands back to look at me. Her little sister follows, though she’s too shy to play the greeting game. I pat the littlest one on her belly and she’s satisfied with the attention. Content, they both trot off.
Oh to be like a child always. Uninhibited. Accepting. Happy.  

Oh to be like a snail doing neither harm nor excessive good. “Who are YOU, snail?”

Now, in this moment, with the day gone and the snails getting ready for their great nightly adventures, I get ready to go to sleep and bid the snails happy nocturneling and smile at the last thing I read from my Snail Fact Site. “The snail has a very small brain which is known to have four distinct sections to it. They have more of an ability for thinking though than most people give them credit for.”

I’ll give them credit for thinking, those marvelous and slimy creatures. Never underestimate the snail.


  1. Ogden Nash probably has a good poem about snails. But here I go anyway.

    Snails abound in shady spots
    Like fallen leaves or rusty pots.
    And quietly just live their life
    Without excessive joy or strife.
    Mediocre's not quite their style
    But may seem so every once in a while.
    Sliding on slime to find their food
    They do no harm nor excessive good.

  2. Those pesky Russian authors and their French passages. I ran into that quite a lot while reading my copy of Anna Karenina (I really need a version with translations!)

    Here's a fun snail fact of your snail-loving self: snail slime is very healing and has become quite the rage in South American skin creams: