Snails have been on my mind a lot lately. In fact, “snail” is probably a good metaphor FOR my mind lately: spirally and slow and withdrawn.

 

Last month I wrote a poem, using the snail metaphor, that was accepted for publication in a literary journal called “Snapdragon” for their September issue.

 

I have eaten escargot in Normandy, been amazed at the huge moon snails on the shore of the Salish Sea, been startled by the shell-less yellow banana slugs in a Northwest forest.

 

Every morning when I wander out with my first cup of tea, I see new snail trails across the concrete walk in my front garden. Sometimes they are determinedly headed for a destination straight across the walk. Sometimes it’s clear that a snail has changed its little gastropod mind and circled back, and then changed its mind yet again, its little trail of slimy hyphens making loops of indecision. By morning the snails all have arrived wherever they were headed, and gone into hiding from the sun.

 

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a beautiful little gem of a book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. It took me deeply into the life of one particular woodland snail, and of the woman who observed it for over a year. This book, wonderfully-written by Elisabeth Bailey, taught me how amazing all snails are.

 

My all-time favorite snail story happened about fifteen years ago when I received an official envelope from the Royal Mail in England. Inside the envelope was a letter professing, in an extremely proper British apology, that they were dreadfully sorry and did not understand how this could have happened, but that the enclosed piece of post, sealed in the accompanying plastic bag, had apparently, to their embarrassment, been eaten by snails. Again, they were terribly, terribly sorry, and wished me a good day. Inside the plastic bag was a letter, addressed to me from family in England and dated some four weeks earlier, with holes and paths dug by thousands of the little teeth* of a hungry, or inquisitive, snail. I laughed out loud when I realized that this gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, “snail mail”!

 

And right now I feel the urge to emulate my little fascinating friends. I’m going to curl up and perhaps digest today’s mail while I take a wee nap.

snail photo

*(FYI, a snail may have up to 120 rows of 100 teeth, though some species may have more than 20,000 teeth!)

 

22 replies
  1. Damian "Bo" renshaw
    Damian "Bo" renshaw says:

    Hi Cyndi;
    Someday a snail with evil eyes and all those rows and rows of razor sharp teeth will look at me and drool like I’m gourmet lunch. It’ll probably by a shark snail, the most deadly kind. If a snail will eat Royal Mail, why not me? But even though I’m almost 86, I should be able to out-run it. Gee, I sure hope so What a fun piece.
    Love you;
    Bo

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Bo,

      Well, you still are “gourmet handsome,” so you might have to worry. There actually IS a “shark eye snail” that is predatory (but only on oysters and clams) – it can get up to 3″ in diameter, but I think you still can outrun it! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post – it was fun to write! Much love backatcha, C

      Reply
  2. Jarrett DeWyse
    Jarrett DeWyse says:

    What a delightful and informative entry on snails. God’s humor made manifest in that many teeth! Mine are so bad that if I had that many I would have to rob a bank to get them fixed.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      And that’s where a snail’s anatomy is sheer genius too: when the leading row of teeth wears out in a snail’s mouth, the next row just moves up into position and she’s good to go! I never would have imagined I’d get so excited about snails!!

      (If you decide to read “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” you’ll also learn about snails’ “love arrows” – totally amazing! But mostly you’ll just be enchanted by the beautifully-written story of the author and her very long illness and the snail who companioned her through it all.)

      Great to hear from you, Jarrett – let’s see if we can talk to our Designer about re-designing human teeth so they are automatically replaced as necessary ☺

      Reply
  3. Dave Bieniek
    Dave Bieniek says:

    Always enjoy your writing! Thanks for a fun little respite from the news of disasters – floods and otherwise…
    Love,
    Dave

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Ordinarily I would just send it to you. However, this journal, Snapdragon: a Journal of Art and Healing, is a pretty special literary journal. You can see the poem in the Fall 2017 issue (#3.3, on the theme “Remember”) for $5, and I’d ask you to support the journal by doing that. Thanks, Kiddo. I appreciate you. Love, Grandma

      Reply
  4. Sheila Foster
    Sheila Foster says:

    I’ve often wondered why I see a snail as cute, but not a slug. Anyway, all creatures are fascinating I think and can give us much to think about. If we don’t take time to see the details in life, we aren’t really living.

    Reply
  5. Katheryn
    Katheryn says:

    I love this, and as the sender that snail mail I am delighted to be reminded of that funny story as well. I cherish your insatiable curiosity. I love that I have inherited this and that has kept me in good stead through good times and bad. Thank you. Thank you for your writing genius. Thank you for your heart full engagement and living to the full through wonderful details like snail teeth.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Curiosity and noticing are the joys of my life. Also they are the qualities that I recognize in good relationships. And, not incidentally, they are a great source of material for poetry and other writing! Love, Mom

      Reply
  6. Starr Rohrman
    Starr Rohrman says:

    I had my first escargot in Normandy also, with the option of no charge if I didn’t like it. Loved it! But these days I am guilty of dispatching every one that I find in my garden tho I did not know they had teeth. By the looks of the damage they do I am certain they must be the ones with 20,000. They are fat and prolific. I go out at night with a flashlight…first I look for rattlesnakes and THEN I start looking under the leafy greens the deer have been so kind to overlook…ah the joys of living in the country! By the end of summer there is hardly anything left. I have faith in renewal and I am never disappointed.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Beautiful meditation on the cycles of life! And if you read “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” you just may end up calling a truce with the snails. I never knew they were such small miracles. Thanks, Starr!

      Reply
  7. Ed
    Ed says:

    Cynthia —
    I appreciate the edification contained in your little story, along with the “snail mail” humor and your delightful presentation of British formality.

    I have never eaten escargot — that is one of my gastronomic holdouts. I’m certain I would thoroughly enjoy the buttery garlic (or garlicky butter) — that everyone raves about — on a piece of lobster or crab, or even on a humble crouton without having to ingest one of those slimy little rascals from the garden. Aside from their trails and the damage they can inflict on a human-envisioned garden, I suppose they are remarkable little critters, worthy of a level of consideration I have never granted them.

    As for the Brits: I am half English and half Welsh, and, truth be told, I rather like that. In 1996, I sent a note to Queen Elizabeth acknowledging the wonderful way she upholds the integrity of the monarchy, a note she undoubtedly never laid eyes on. However, the response I received from a Lady-in Waiting was a note of two paragraphs (three sentences in total) saying “Thank you” with the same level of effusiveness you describe in your anecdote about the note from The Royal Mail.

    Life can be such joy!

    — Ed

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Your response made me smile – several times! Thanks, Ed. (BTW I am a Welsh hybrid too, and it’s much more fun to claim that part of my heritage than the German and other miscellanea. Not many people cop to being Welsh.)

      Reply
  8. Corrine Bayley
    Corrine Bayley says:

    You can make anything fascinating and fun to read, Cynthia. Who knew snails had teeth and could gobble up mail? Guess I should put a warning on the mailbox, where I occasionally get “snail mail.” Thanks for a great read.

    Reply

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