a snail’s tale (win ‘the sound of a wild snail eating’)

alien snailIT WAS NO ORDINARY SNAIL; far larger than any familiar native species in my cold zone, and obviously out of place. It was fall 2013, and fearing it would not survive, I scooped it up, found an old aquarium in the shed, brought it into the house along with soil and moss, and made the snail (above) a home.

A visiting friend saw the aquarium-turned-terrarium, listening patiently to my explanation of the new roommate. A few days later, a package arrived.

Inside was “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” (affilate link), Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s little prize-winning 2010 book, a kind of memoir blended with natural history and an almost-Buddhist sense of awakening.

It was written about a time when Bailey was bedridden, convalescing from a long and serious illness. The story begins when a guest who happened on a snail in the garden picked it up, potted up some violets from the yard, and set the flowerpot down, snail and all, at Bailey’s bedside. The accidental companion becomes not just a curiosity item or entertainment, but a teacher, a soulmate, and the source of revelation.

It’s hard to think of the story of a more intimate relationship—and all conducted in silence (except for that occasional munching on a mushroom slice).

I HAD REASON a couple of years ago to recommend the snail book to someone recuperating from illness, and having been reminded of it, pulled it out to re-read. In this year of foiled plans and do-overs, every move scotched by some meteorological outburst or another and homebound being the rule instead of exception, it seems like just the right choice once again.

Last time I read it, I was relieved to learn about the long periods of inactivity that snails undergo. Mine hadn’t “done anything” in months, yet it was still the same weight—it certainly hadn’t dried up as if dead, its operculum remaining tightly in place. Perhaps it read one of the many just-right quotes in Bailey’s snail book, like this one from Anthony Cook’s book on mollusks, in which he describes their basic operating philosophy:

“The right thing to do is to do nothing, the place to do it is in a place of concealment, and the time to do it is as often as possible.”

Indeed, and then some.

MY OWN SNAIL STORY continued another year or thereabouts, though my family wasn’t always sold on the situation.

“You need a new cat,” my niece insisted after my beloved Jack died not so many months after the snail’s arrival (no cause and effect implied; rodents were his passion, not mollusks).

“I have a snail,” I said back then, digging in.

“All right, then: You can get a cat and name it Snail,” she replied, negotiating—but only slightly—from her opening offer. I like to think she gets her stubbornness from me.

win a copy of the snail book

I’LL BUY one lucky reader a copy of “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. To enter, just answer this question in the comments below:

Has there been a wild creature who has informed, or continues to inform, your life–or just amazes you? It needn’t be one who has come inside to live!

Feeling shy, or no answer? Just say something like, “Count me in,” and I will. Two random winners will be selected and informed by email after entries close at midnight Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Good luck to all.

(Disclosure: Purchases made from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)

  1. Anastasia Nute says:

    When I was a child my mother had to groom me nightly when I came in. Caterpillars and snails were my special friends, and I let them crawl all over me (like 30). To this day, all creatures inform me.

    1. Tracy Webb says:

      I have two critters that add to my life…owls who seem to appear during times of great reflectiveness, especially along a walk through woods. One in particular flew tree to tree for over a kilometre, ahead of me as if waiting for me to catch up. It was after a very significant death to me, so I called that owl my Watcher. The other are the crows that live around me, they seem to cheer me on when I run by, and listen to my salutations to them…not sure if my crow imitations are saying good words or bad ones haha! This book sounds wonderful – a lovely gift to read

  2. I work at sea for long stretches, mostly with men, whose company is often unsatisfying. I’ve gotten in the habit of bringing along books that are written by women, about nature and/or women to keep my company and fend off darkness that can descend. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was just one of those books that pulled me into a magical, silent and wondrous new world. For reasons of space, I can only take e-books. I really ought to get a hard copy of this beloved book.

  3. Suzanne Edney says:

    My wild creature(s) are the hundreds of baby toads that come to live around my house and woodland garden every spring from a small man made farm lake through to hibernation in the fall. I have not had any chemical insect control hear at Olderwood for 25 years. I will not use chemical weed control to keep these little garden helpers healthy.

    1. Maria Fredericks says:

      American goldfinch visiting my echinacae seed heads in September.
      What a pleasure to see 5 of them feasting and then fly off when startled, to return minutes later.
      Nature is the saving grace in this crazy world.

  4. Ginny Ballou says:

    The deer that live in my woods continue to impress me negatively and positively. They are beautiful – still or moving, they are persistent as I find when I come across their munching. I have to figure them in to every garden decision I make so they are frequently in my thoughts.

  5. Susan MacNish says:

    What always gives me great joy is to watch for when a monarch butterfly or even 2 or 3 monarchs land on my zinnias in the late summer. They are so beautiful to behold. I am thrilled whenever they come to call in the garden!

  6. JoAnn Clark says:

    I have a squirrel that comes to my back door, sits on the post of the railing on my porch, looks in the kitchen window and looks at me ~ saying “when are you going to put more black sunflower seeds out for me to eat.”
    With that connection ~of course I have to oblige ~*

  7. Our wild creature is a lovely hummingbird who seasonally surprises us. Her name is “Audrey” after Audrey Hepburn, who possessed a lovely swan-like neck. Our Audrey has the same and is instantly recognizable from all the others at the feeders. She was first to arrive again and she simply hovered looking in at us . Our feeders were not out yet, but I instantly flew to fill and hang them. Guilt makes one move! As the season passed, Audrey sightings were part of every day.. As southern migration began, one by one the little beauties departed … BowTie Boy, Pudgie and all the rest.. But not Audrey. Where was she? We put away the feeders, already missing the tiny birds. A week passed and suddenly there she was! She flew INTO the porch, stayed for a minute and flew on her way. We actually hung a feeder as we weren’t sure she was finished here. But that was our Audrey’s farewell. She and her companions made our late Spring and all summer long. We are grateful for their beauty and their presence. The Adirondacks where we live are full of wonderful creatures, but these tiny birds truly live in our hearts. We are overjoyed when they arrive and so sad when they depart. Simply put, they make us happy and right now, we need all the happy we can get!

  8. Ginger Cawood says:

    I have a wee brown spider who has spun a web in the corner of my dining room ceiling in my 106 year
    old farmhouse. She sits there without moving for hours teaching me endurance and patience with my paperwork spread all over the tabletop.

  9. Ruth Erznoznik says:

    During this era of enforced isolation, a busy squirrel has been visiting my garden and sampling most of my plants. Often it’s an almost ripe vegetable or fruit, sometimes a succulent leaf. At first I was annoyed but, since my efforts to sidetrack or eliminate the squirrel were unsuccessful, I have slowed down and come to realize that I do not have power over nature, and that’s okay. Just relax a bit, step back, and observe. The squirrel really is quite cute! and keeps my indoor cat entertained, as well.

  10. kim frisbie says:

    We became pals with a green night heron that came to our dock in Nantucket – we ate most of our meals outside this summer, and she was a regular evening visitor/companion. Her iridescent foliage was spectacular and we look forward to seeing her again next summer.

  11. Joy O'Connor says:

    My heart skips a beat when I talk about our generations of chipmunks that have lived in my back garden. We provide sunflower seeds and peanuts to them, because they trust us so much . Coming up on the deck .. stuffing it’s little cheeks to bursting with seed, running to where ever it stashes it’s cache .. sharing the space with Blue Jays who are regulars for peanuts.
    It is that sense of trust that is built, a relationship with a wild creature that overwhelms your heart with a special kinship.
    There had been a year or two when it disappeared and I felt heart broken .. it was when we had our patio revamped with flagstone and I thought it felt driven out .. then what ever generation it was, because this has been over a 10 year relationship .. it came back and we were so simply HAPPY and grateful to have that relationship again.
    Wild creatures are so appreciated by us, having a relationship is our icing on the cake.

  12. Sharon says:

    Birds have been informing me especially this past summer. I had a birdbath right under a small willow tree and various types of birds loved to sit in the tree and then swipe down and play in the birdbath – fun for them, entertaining for me!

  13. Joyce Lazaruk says:

    I have just become fascinated by mason bees this past year. I went out every morning to make sure my container of clay was wet and kept checking throughout the day. Can’t wait until spring to carry on my new passion.

  14. Jan says:

    Once I started gardening for the wildlife, I became somewhat obsessed with trying to see how I can improve their little habitats ! I have an immense female American toad that lives in the rock wall by my little fishpond. She has been there for 3 years, hunting for bugs at night under the landscape light nearby, and we watched her depositing her egg strand in the pond this year. I know her life is short, but I hope I have made it better, and she seems to like the occasional worm I put in front of her.

  15. Dolores Konrad says:

    Yes, I have a spider who has attached his web to a houseplant that’s out on my stoop and a trash bin. I don’t use the trash bin anymore because I don’t want to upset his/her web. If the web gets broken, he works to get it back in perfect shape. He has even made use of a dried leaf that is imbedded in his web. It has become his resting place. I’ve watch him grow from a little guy to a large spider.

    He has taught me diligence and to just start over when things go wrong.

  16. Reta Goldman says:

    Count me in! Looks like a wonderful read full of comfort and wonder. Much needed and greatly appreciated now more than ever.

  17. Vicki Kunerth says:

    It was a spotted cuscus in the Toronto Zoo. It crawled on my back on its way to another enclosure in the Nocturnal Exhibit

  18. Deborah Rambo-Foley says:

    I appreciated hearing of the sound of a Wild Snail Eating. I, too, have learned quiet and being alone with my dog and now one kitty. Four years ago, i lost my husband. The next had sepsis from osteomyelitis of the lower jaw. Two years ago, lost my beagle Henry and three kitties to old age and last year; two surgeries and three grafts on my lower jaw.
    Long story short; through it all, the convalescing, being alone with myselfand my pets; i have gained an apprication, gratitude of the small things in life that bring us the greatest joy and peace.
    I would be honored, to win a copy of Ms. Bailey`s book.

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