The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating


This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to sound of a downpour. You know, the kind of rain that beats against the roof and you can just tell that it is soaking the plants and washing away the grit and dirt from weeks (no, months) of dryness. The kind of rain that is such a welcome sigh of relief at the end of a long, hot summer.

Just as it was getting light, the rain stopped and I noticed this little snail sliding across the pavement of our driveway, heading for the garden. And it reminded me of a book I wanted to share with you all.

Earlier this summer, I read a book for pleasure (GASP! for those who know me). It felt luxurious to read something that was not for school, not for my dissertation, and not a dark story of animal suffering. The book I read was The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. It’s a memoir of sorts. Through the book, Bailey is bedridden with a serious illness and a friend brings her a tiny woodland snail in a pot of violets to keep her company.  (NOTE: in order to enjoy the book, you have to suspend your discomfort with the fact that the snail was taken from its native habitat and relocated to Bailey’s nightstand…the snail is eventually returned to the woods.) As Bailey lay in bed, unable to move, she watched the snail. She built the snail a habitat with moss and plants from the woods and provided fresh portabella mushrooms for food. What she observes about the snail, what she learns about herself and her immobility, and what she learns about gastropods from books she reads as a result of her growing fascination with the snail — these are beautiful and strange and moving observations.

This book makes you think deeply about a lot of things. It makes you think about other species in a new way (even for those of us who are already thinking deeply about animals). It makes you think about the delicacy and impermanence of our bodies and our health. It makes you think about what we would see if we slowed down — like, really slowed down…like, if we were completely still and we were able to notice the world moving around our stillness.

The Sound of Wild Snail Eating humbled me. It reminded me of just how little I understand about the world, or the worlds, around me. It moved me by its simplicity, its beauty and the life of an astoundingly extraordinary tiny creature — the snail.

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  1. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is one of my favorite books; I actually began to reread it as soon as I came to the last page. It is not just about what happens when we finally slow down long enough to observe the world at a snail’s pace; is also about the magic of the intricacies of a small, seemingly insignificant organism, that is actually is a microcosm of life on this earth. I always looked at snails as the enemy of my garden and looked for ways to get rid of them. One day this summer I was talking to my neighbor, who told me that she actually feeds and waters the snails and slugs in her yard and that they do not eat her vegetables or other garden plants. My first thought, with a roll of the eyes, was, oh brother; but then, as I read this lovely little book, I started to leave bits of kitchen scraps instead of snail bait in a little pile in the garden. Yes, I did see a decrease in the amount damage to the kale and other plants, but the real lesson for me is that the snail and the slug and I share this space and there has to be room for all of us.

    1. Beautifully said. It definitely has made me think differently about slugs — they’re all amazing creatures. I love the idea of feeding them. Apparently they like mushrooms. 🙂

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