August 11, 2011

"The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating"

Many of us live with animals, dog or cat or maybe a hamster, but much of the animal kingdom is too hidden or small for notice, and they rarely enter our homes as companions. The writer Elizabeth Tova Bailey, in her thoughtful and touching book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, describes just such a companionship during a time of bed-bound severe illness. To cheer her, a friend brought Bailey a flowerpot with some violets and added a snail that she happened to find. For a year, this little creature held Bailey's attention as she watched its wanderings and learned more about its life. She wrote:
Everything about a snail is cryptic, and it was precisely this air of mystery that first captured my interest.
And I followed along as a fascinated reader, as the snail left its flowerpot to look for food, leaving little square holes in pieces of paper. Later housed in a terrarium, the snail laid eggs stored until they could be hatched in safety. Each small snail adventure was described with loving attention, so how could I not also come to admire the ingenuity of snail design. The snail in the photo above is a White-lipped snail, the same as in Bailey's book, though it was living in the wild when I took that picture, having a nice mushroom meal. I don't know the species of the much smaller snail below, who was feeding on a plant alongside the pond. It is a beautiful little mollusk, with a long golden shell, looking almost translucent. Its tiny tentacles have delicate dark lines rising to the end, where its eyes are located. After reading this book, I felt an added tenderness for the small beings I usually overlook: the snails, the various caterpillars large and small, the many types of flying insects. The world is a more complex and wondrous place if we pay attention to the lives of the tiny creatures around us.


  1. gratitude for your readings and observations, Altoon. the sanity of your basic appreciation of what exists in a small space of the planet contrasted to the insanity of the headline news - very welcome.

  2. I so agree. I have read about this book. I will have to see if our library has it. There was a snail making trails on my window the other morning.

  3. Hi Altoon! Glad you got this book. The little snail in the lower picture is called an amber snail (genus Succinea), and it wasn't seen around here until sometime in the past 20 years. I'm trying to find out more about it.

  4. Thank you for the comments. There is definitely something heartening in paying attention to creatures who go about their lives oblivious of the larger world that humans have messed about in.
    and Susan, thanks for the ID on the little snail; "amber" is a perfect name for it. I've seen quite a few of them on my hostas.

  5. Ah, this makes me want to add another creature to my "I should get to know and love" list.