To learn from a snail

“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.”  Tony Cook, The Biology of Terrestrial Molluses, “Behavioral Ecology.”

We were in the bookstore in a neighboring town, a small shop, but at the center of its community, the kind of place where you’d find the book I found. The title caught my imagination: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.

Fifteen years ago Elizabeth Tova Bailey became ill on a trip to Europe. She was only 34. It rendered her paralyzed and helpless for months,sometimes for years at a time.

The book is about her relationship to a snail, her snail as it turned out. She was staying in a room alone, only able to move minimally, with very occasional visits from friends and a caretaker who came and went. A friend discovered the snail in the woods near where she was staying and brought it to her where it lived for a while in a vase of violets on the table next to her bed – and then in a terrarium. The snail’s small life became a comfort to her because her life had become so small. She learned from the little mollusc that the life that seems most inconsequential and most limited is still a marvel.

This little book about a snail allowed me to imagine a reality very different from my own, one where everything moves slowly, quietly, impossibly. Life doesn’t look quite like it did before I read it. I came away with a deep respect for the snail and the author.

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