A parliament of snails

I ride my bike a lot. To say I ride my bike a lot doesn’t really cover it, actually, because that statement refers only to the frequency of my cycling adventures. It doesn’t refer at all to the fact that cycling is one of the great loves of my life; it’s up there with my husband, peanut butter toast, tea, coffee, Fat Jeoffy, Cold Comfort Farm, David Mitchell, The Catastrophizer, and a boy I fell in love with in jr. high school.

One of the myriad joys of cycling is all the beasties I come across. I stick to the recreation trails as much as possible, so the odds of encountering urban wildlife are higher than usual. I see squirrels and pigeons, of course, but I have also seen beavers, groundhogs, raccoons, bunnies, possums, chipmunks, deer, giant slugs, 10,000 different kinds of birds (none of which I can identify, save the red-winged blackbird), ducks, geese, fuzzy red caterpillars, and snails. (My husband has seen minks, which makes me jealous.) I see snails pretty much every time I go out for a ride. If it’s been raining a great deal, it wouldn’t really be an exaggeration to say that I see between 300 and 500 of them per ride–and only they and gawd know how many of them see me!

I’ve always kind of loved snails–well since I started thinking about them. I don’t recall NS being a snail-heavy sort of place (worms, however, and spiders. Shii-itt!), so I never thought much about snails at all until I saw an amazing documentary called Microcosmos. Have you seen it? It features snails making sweet love to opera music; yes; really. My squeamish/immature friends made gagging sounds in the cinema during this scene, but I thought it was kind of hot. Not that I think snails are sexy; but as a teenager/early 20-something making out with boys my own age, it occurred to me they could perhaps learn something about pacing from these patient wee beasties.

I also learned that it’s very hard to eat escargot after you’ve seen a movie in which snails are shown to be infinitely more intelligent, thoughtful, and sophisticated than almost everyone you know. I knew escargot was snail, but I hadn’t known, if you know what I mean. I didn’t know they were sexy and stylish and debonair. No more escargot for me; which was too bad, insofar as it was the only connection to the world of poshness I had at that point in my life.

So, I see snails almost every day now, including in my backyard. Sometimes I see them working their brave and crazy way across the path and I dodge and dodge and sometimes I still run them over; the crack of their shells ages me a little. But their sheer numbers comfort me somewhat, because they’ll certainly outlast us, and will thrive when the plants take over when we’re not around to do any mowing and paving and riding of bicycles.

“Not that kind of doctor” may be said about me in almost every situation where a doctor is called for; I don’t have a doctorate in snails but I’ve noticed some things; let’s say I’m a super-amateur and very lazy naturlist. Snails are persistent and organized and community-loving. They gather for important parliamentary debates, never failing to do so in a way that reflects their complex social organization coupled with impeccable design flair. I often wonder what they’re talking about, what important decisions they’re coming to, as they huddle together so thoughtfully.

A bunch of snails form a gestalt organism dedicated to kicking our asses. Or maybe it was just book club.
A bunch of snails form a gestalt organism dedicated to the discussion of higher truths. Or maybe it’s just book club night.

Perhaps they’re hoping we’ll Darwin ourselves soon and they can cross the 80-lane highway without risk of being flattened. Maybe they’re cooking up plans for turning the tables on the escargot thing which, I’ve learned recently from food write extraordinaire MFK Fisher, would be very ugly for us. (They starve them slowly over a week or several, and know they’re ready when the poor buggers pass out and thunk against the floor. Christ. I mean, surely, if you’re going to eat them, can’t you just get them really drunk? Then they’d already be marinated anyway.)

Snails are saucily defiant of gravity as well, which is something I have worlds of respect for. (I mean, geckos. Geckos, people!!) And spiders. Also ninjas. Sometimes snails reveal the ninjas inside their slimy souls, and I’m not sure it’s not some vicious combination of threat and mockery. I took this photo (and the one above and the very last one) during rides along the Leslie Spit, which is a nature conservation area built on top of a bunch of garbage (more proof that nature will win). The perspective is off, so you maybe can’t tellthat this ninja-snail is hanging upside down from a very thin plant about 3 feet off the ground:

Ninja snail. Or snail auditioning for Catherin Zeta-Jones's role in Entrapment.
Ninja snail. Or snail auditioning for Catherine Zeta-Jones’s role in Entrapment.

I would also just hang out from the tops of tall buildings if I had feet that oozed glue and I wasn’t severely afraid of heights.

But mostly I like snails because their best thing appears to be hanging out with each other. I’d like to hang out with snails but I’m not cool enough. And I’d like to run over them less so they can hang out together even more. Being a lummox in the eyes of most of the natural world is hard to bear sometimes.

How to be affectionate and stylish at the same time.
How to be affectionate and stylish at the same time; look at how their shell colours coordinate!

I have no idea what snails eat but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it was plants, so at least we have one thing in common. Slugs, on the other hand; yikes–I saw one eating another one on the Spit the other day. I probably won’t profile them here on Jam and Idleness, they’re just too prickish.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Stefanie says:

    You have such pretty snails there! Garden snails here, at least in my garden, are not common and when they do make an appearance they wear drab tan shells. And also, your use of Darwin as a verb, love it!

    1. Colleen says:

      They really are very pretty, aren’t they? It’s those fashionable stripes.

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