The power of a bedside snail

I just finished reading a beautiful meditation on mollusks. Gastropods in particular. The snail to be exact. An ordinary garden snail sustained the spirit of Elizabeth Tova Bailey for one year among many of a mysterious illness, and she wrote about it in her lovely book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Her friend had lifted the snail from the floor of the woods near her home, laid it under a wild violet uplifted from that same woods and planted in a pot, and gave it to her as a bedside gift. 

By day, Bailey felt comaraderie with the nocturnal snail who also lay motionless while the sun shone and the rest of the world hurried about. By night, sleep was difficult and she felt comfort in listening to the sound of the snail chewing wilted leaves and mushrooms with its 80 rows of 2,640 teeth and in knowing he was roaming about while the rest of the world slept. 

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Of course the book is not only a meditation on snails, but also on the mysterious bond between humans and pets, and on illness and survival.

"Everything about a snail is cryptic, and it was precisely this air of mystery that first captured my interest. My own life, I realized, was becoming just as cryptic. From the severe onset of my illness and through its innumerable relapses, my place in the world has been documented more by my absence than by my presence....Yet it wasn’t that I had truly vanished; I was simply homebound, like a snail pulled into its shell. But being homebound in the human world is a sort of vanishing."

The book’s 208 pages, which includes penciled drawings of snails, gives me new respect for the complex anatomy and physiology of, and surprising historical literary attention to, the common snail. In fact, it made me feel guilty for so intensely disliking the slimy slugs, gastropodal cousin to the snail, that invaded a garden I once had and on which I blamed the garden’s lack of growth. Every night I put out jar lids full of beer to entice them away from my plants, but these efforts of eviction did no good. Still, I remind myself, those slugs didn’t carry the snail's graceful shell with the Fibonacci spiral that speaks of elegance and mystery.