Once in a while there are small news items about bizarre highway accidents involving trucks. The ones that pique my imagination might describe a sorghum molasses tanker that crashes into a center guard rail on a freeway, and molasses leaks all over the pavement. The next truck, a grain hauler, skids on the molasses and overturns several tons of wheat into the sticky goo. Hundreds of crows and pigeons nearby are attracted to the grain, get stuck in the molasses, and need to be rescued by animal welfare volunteers. It’s serious business. It’s also quite funny when I give my imagination free rein to wonder how it all unfolds.

Another imagination wondering I have sometimes is when a highway accident involves a postal truck. If the truck catches fire, or the contents get soaked or smooshed or otherwise walloped, what then? Does all that mail just get hauled unceremoniously to the nearest dump?

I think not.

I think there are US Postal workers – lots of them – whose job it is to see that damaged mail is salvaged and eventually gets to its intended destination, regardless of its condition. I have proof of this from several weeks ago when I received this package:





It had been mailed from Indiana five months earlier. At first glance I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what I was seeing.




When I opened the package, this is how the contents looked:









There was no explanation to accompany the contents – just sooty, ragged, acrid-smelling pages of what was once the December 2020 newsletter from the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes (the village where I grew up) and an equally-battered illustrated monograph on the four-decade long effort to preserve the eroding Lake Michigan shoreline of the village.

Somewhere along the highways and byways between Indiana and Washington, this package – and, I assume, the vehicle that carried it – had come to grief. And somewhere, between Indiana and Washington, this package and its companions were hauled to a building where eventually a USPS employee carefully salvaged the delivery address and the return address from the original torn and sooty envelope, taped those to a fresh Priority Mail envelope, inserted the damaged contents, and sent everything on the way to me.

I sort of wish that kind employee had inserted note with a hint as to what the intervening story was. For now I’ll just have to rely on my imagination. But even if I’d gotten such a note, it might not have clarified things entirely, as you will now see . . .

True Story (as first mentioned in my blog post entitled “Gastropods” in August of 2017):

In 1999 I received in the mail a clear plastic envelope from England. It held a Swiss-cheese-looking paper envelope containing an equally-tattered letter from my daughter. The envelope sported a single blue BY AIR MAIL/par avion/ Royal Mail sticker, the only thing that was still perfectly intact. Also enclosed in the plastic envelope was a letter from Mr. Roland D. Phillips, Royal Mail Customer Services Manager. The British decorum of the letter – and its explanation – are worth repeating word for word:

Dear Customer

I am sorry to have to report that the enclosed letter is reaching you in a most regrettable condition. Although we go to great lengths to protect our customers’ letters from [here the word dirt is crossed out and the word snails handwritten above it] and the weather while they are moving around the country, we have failed to look after this one properly.

Please accept my apologies. If there is anything further we can do to help, please contact your local Customer Service Centre.

Yours sincerely, Roland D. Phillips


A few years later I would learn that snails actually have thousands of teeth, and that they particularly like paper for an evening snack. This story gives a whole new breadth to the phrase “snail mail,” doesn’t it?

And both of these mail delivery mishaps illustrate the commitment of the USPS, and the Royal Mail, to their creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night [nor highway accidents nor voracious snails] stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Have you thanked your postal carrier recently?




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!)