Snails Have Feelings Too!

Not exactly breakfast at Tiffany’s but breakfast at the river cafe. And not exactly breakfast either – I preferred a freshly baked friand and two cups of coffee – my way.

I sat in the spring sunshine and watched the ducks, bottoms up, having their breakfast. The sparrows hopped so close that I could see the tiny inky black dots like a bib in front of the male birds’ necks. As I walked up the steps to the grocer, the scent of the miniature lemon bushes flanking the water-slide bisecting the flight of steps wafted past. The cherry trees were in that delicate stage of fading blossom with a faint green haze of leaf buds emerging. Altogether, so enjoyable that I decided to take my time going home.

Turning down a country road with a few houses at scattered intervals, I slowly drove down peering up long drives trying to see the houses at the end. One long and infinite drive was lined with poplars, the translucent apricot- coloured spring leaves just uncurling, shiny and shimmering with the sun striking through them, and their bunches of pale green catkins wriggling in the breeze.. On one side of the road was a meadow snowy with daisies, and a little further down, was another one sparkling with gold buttercups.

They wouldn’t gladden a modern farmer’s heart, but they did mine. Cows no longer browse on all the herbs and grasses that their system needs, they just get cultivated grass of one variety which feeds them: but this doesn’t give them the balance of minerals and herbs they instinctively seek out when left in organic fields with all these nutrients available to them.

I only know this from a farming friend whose cows needed copper injections, but when someone left the gate open, they rushed out and began browsing in the mixed grasses along the roadside. When their health improved immediately, he was converted there and then to organic farming. I also heard a radio programme last week in which an organic farmer said his vet’s bills dropped from over two thousand dollars a month, to a hundred and eighty a month when he switched over to organic.

Further down the road some horses were grazing contentedly in the sun, one beautiful palamino stretched out on his side soaking up the warmth. I hastily drew up at this curve in the road, for a big clump of deep blue Norfolk Island forget-me-nots had self-seeded and were sprawling along the verge. I snapped off two sprays which had gone to seed and put them carefully on the front seat so I could see if any seeds fell off.

Heading back I detoured to a tiny wharf on the edge of the estuary. The first settlers who came here in 1850 had landed their goods from Auckland here, and by 1880 this little wharf had been built. All the traffic into this region came up from Auckland and was decanted ashore here. A few years later, an enterprising local man built a shop out over the water next to the wharf, so that fresh goods could be taken straight off the boats, and this tiny space between cliff and sea became the hub of the area.

Now, only the restored wharf remains, and I stood there in the sunny silence watching the tide flow up the river, clear and blue. There were some huge shells down on the mud, so I climbed down the steep steps to gather a handful, magenta and maroon and plum colours merging into sherry and then cream. Big curved shells, and flat fluted ones, with not a chip or a mark on them.

As I stepped towards them, my black patent shoes sank deep into the mud, and I had a moment’s panic. But then thought, well you can always wash patent leather. I gathered a handful of shells, and then wiping the soles of my shoes in the grass, stopped in another bay with a tiny boat building industry, before driving home.

I put the forget-me-not stalks in a flower bed to dry and seed, but when I put the shells to dry in the sun, I found I’d inadvertently brought a muddy looking snail shell home too. I could see there was a live sea-snail inside, so put it carefully out of the sun to take back. It was only about an inch wide.

I was going to take it to the harbour, but then thought that was a bit unfair. If I’d been abducted accidentally by giants or aliens, I’d want to be dropped back home, so I did the same for the snail or crab.

Many people think it fanciful to attribute human feelings to other species, but since they can show fear and joy and all the other human emotions, why not credit them with other responses too? Some Christian authorities describe it as anthropomorphism, and use the term patronisingly and derogatively – okay for St Francis, but not for the rest of us!

But since we know that even a snail’s brain contains between 5,000 and 100,000 giant neurons, and they know when they’re being carted to market in a basket, and have lifted the lid in a concerted effort, broken out and escaped in recorded instances, can we really assume that any creature has no feelings or intelligence?

Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote an exquisite book called ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’, a story about her companionship with a snail that came into her sickroom in a potted cyclamen. Snails, she discovered, lay eggs in different places, and visit them all regularly until their babies are hatched. So snails are maternal. The secret life of snails we can only guess at!

After reading her book I’ve been unable to put out snail bait in the garden. I either grow plants they don’t like, do companion planting, or in the case of petunias, put out some lettuce leaves by them at night, and they obligingly eat the lettuce leaves instead of the petunias. I know of a couple who go out late at night and gently gather up all the snails in their garden and taken them to a wild place where they can do no harm to a garden.

We don’t know what place snails occupy in the great chain of creation, but what we Are learning is that every creature seems to have a purpose. We are learning that now GM plants are bred with pesticides in them that kill off pests, good insects are also dying, and bumble bees who ingest pesticides, lose their sense of direction. In Africa where pesticides are widely used, not only are they polluting the lakes and rivers causing fish to die, and fishermen to lose their livelihoods, but the animals and birds that feed on creatures that have absorbed pesticides are also dying.

So it seems to me that every little snail and spider and insect may just matter more than we realise. That to tinker with the ecological chain, is as destructive to our planet as drilling for oil in the seas, burning down forests, clubbing baby seals to death, and all the other hostile acts that we perpetrate on our world. So I was happy to return my little captive to its home in this world – which is also our home – and the only one we will ever have.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

There was plenty of risotto left over from the day before, so before putting it into the fridge that night I had fashioned it into patties. The next day they had set so firmly I didn’t bother to roll them in flour, but just put them straight into some hot olive oil and butter, and fried both sides. The crispy outside, and soft tasty inside were delicious, and sprinkled with parmesan, I almost felt the leftovers were better than the original dish.

Food for Thought

Man is so made that he can carry the weight of twenty four hours – no more. Directly he weighs down with the years behind and the days ahead, his back breaks. I have promised to help you with … today only; the past I have taken from you …

From God Calling written by Two Listeners in the thirties. You can Google it and find the messages for each day. The language is slightly dated after 70 years, but the messages are still timely.

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52 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, food, great days, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, wild life

52 responses to “Snails Have Feelings Too!

  1. The cherry trees, i Iove how you talk about these as in previous posts. Enjoyable post!

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  2. You are a woman after my own heart. Nothing is killed in our house, not even a fly – much to my husbands annoyance!

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  3. This was so beautiful!! I am now intrigued by snails. And hope to spend many mornings with you, as your descriptions are incredibly beautiful!!!

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  4. You’re a good soul, Valerie. I don’t like to kill snails either. When we were on our honeymoon, in the Bahamas, there were TONS of snails out and about, especially after it rained. One night, in the dark, I accidentally stepped on one and heard that awful “crunch” noise, and I felt terrible. The only things i kill are roaches. They have no business existing. And your fried risotto sounds delicious. That’s a fairly standard Italian way of using up risotto leftovers, actually, with or without rolling the rice balls in flour!

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    • That crunch is awful isn’t it… I’m lucky not to have the dilemmas of cockroaches… I read once that they are the only creatures that would survive a nuclear holocaust!!!

      Interested that that’s what a good Italian would do with their risotto, though theirs is so scrummy, I’m amazed there’s anything left over for leftovers!

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  5. Interesting perspective, Valerie, on man’s relationship with his environment. It usually takes a personal experience to make a believer of someone to change his ways…the farmer who saw the benefits of healthier animals through organic feeding. Your experience with the snail…put it back in it’s environment. Where I live,we have mosquito control which mean planes spraying over areas where mosquitoes are breeding. They have their schedule down to a science, but we also lose the wonderful dragonflies because of it. It’s a complicated balance and nature and the environment are not coming out on top.

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    • Yes, that’s tough… tragic to lose the dragon flies, and I wonder what part they play in the scheme of things… we had a moth spraying programme from a plane in Auckland, when a dreaded fruit fly infestation was discovered to have entered the country and which could have endangered NZ’s whole fruit growing industry… it did the trick on the fruit fly, but many people were ill because of it, and reported all sorts of side effects… it’s a puzzle, isn’t it? People like me felt there must be other ways of dealing with it…

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  6. Valerie this post is beautiful. I love your eloquent descriptions, they transport me to your part of the world … and I am so glad you returned the snail home. Now I think I am going to have to add that book to my reading list. I so look forward to your posts. Have a lovely weekend.

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    • Dory, lovely to know that you enjoyed this, I really appreciate your messages. I think you’ll love The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating… it’s a very gentle contemplative book. Hope you have a good weekend too, I’m off to Tai Chi in the morning and then a glamping conference with my mates about how many wine platters to order,etc !

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  7. What a wonderful person you are to take the little abducted snail back to its home where it probably had friends and relatives wondering what happened to it. I would have done the same thing and my husband would just shake his head I’m sure. He thinks I’m a bit over-the-top and living in my “fantasy world” as he calls it. I think all the little creatures out there have a life going on just as we do.

    I have to admit that we do spray for cockroaches though every year when they come out in droves in the hot months. Who would have thought that they could live in the desert heat where there is little water. I think you’re right about them being able to survive a nuclear explosion. I’d also add ants to that list. It seems they are real survivors as well.

    I guess I should feel guilty about killing the black widow spider in my garage tonight, but they can be dangerous. She had entwined her web around the cabinet I needed to get into where I store old blankets and sheets to cover up some patio plants tonight. It’s supposed to be 36 degrees F. here. Brrr…..I hate that and we have a strong north wind blowing. This little cold spell will only last two days though and is only a taste of what is coming later. Then it is back to the mid 70’s again, nearing 80 by next weekend. Now that’s better!

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  8. Hello Sunni, lovely to hear from you… hope you’re managing to keep warm in spite of the north wind blowing… here we have to worry about the south wind – it comes straight off the Antarctic, and is always freezing.
    I find with ants that if I put talcum powder where they come in, they never come back.. but cockroaches are another thing, aren’t they!
    Hope you don’t get any more Black Widows!

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    • Valerie, I’ll have to try the talcum powder the next time ants invade the house. Yes, I’m sure we’ll never be rid of the cockroaches, but they hibernate here in winter. As far as Black Widows, I just never stick my hand in dark places. I’m sure we have more somewhere – there is never just one.

      Where are you in Australia? I nver thought about the south Antarctic wind blowing in there.

      Sunni

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      • Hello Sunni – no I’m in the North Island of New Zealand, a tiny sliver of land between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.. Australia is a thousand miles away, and our nearest neighbour. Chile, the other side of the Pacific, is our other neighbour.

        Where I live on the edge of the sea, the wind blows up from the South. It it comes from the North, it’s a wet warm wind from the Pacific Islands

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  9. Wonderful post. I didn’t know the lettuce trick with the petunias! I will do that next summer, for sure. I do believe in caring for all creatures. Nothing dies here ….. except one critter. Unfortunately we have a new pest in my area of Pennsylvania that is not native, here, and is very invasive. It’s called a Stink Bug. They come inside for warmth, and they are a huge problem. For several years I took them back out outside, but I have learned that they just come back in, and the only solution is that they have to be destroyed. So I do. But I find myself apologizing every time. 😦

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    • Stink bugs sound awful. Presumably they’re not native to your area… it’s like the toads they have in Queensland which they imported to kill off some pest, and it’s now invading and destroying all forms of life all over the continent, while we have possums imported by a colonial governor from Australia where they have natural predators. They have none here, and have stripped the pohutakwa trees and the forests here,and considered a pest.. and trapped…. but they can’t help it!

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      • Yes, you are right. The Stink Bug is native to China, Japan and Korea ….. certainly not Pennsylvania! The “first one” was seen in 1998 and now they are overwhelming. Your toads sound like the same issue. A mess!

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  10. Loved your post this morning. But then anything that mentions snails grabs me. My first children’s book is called It’s Hard to Hurry When you’re a Snail, about a snail on his way to Noah’s Ark. The pics were drawn by a great guy called Thomas Taylor and I still get a thrill from looking at them and sharing them with youngsters in schools and Sunday schools. Snails are special. Our world is special and we do need to take good care of it.

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  11. An entirely new perspective on snails. When I was a child my brother and I would run to an empty lot down the street from our house in Germany because it had the best snail shells anywhere. We would collect empties for our jar each fall, they were so pretty.

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    • Its so intriguing hearing about everyone’s relationships with snails! I could never have imagined that so many people had a connection with snails in some way! Good to hear from you Valentine

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  12. So much to love about this post, Valerie! Buttercups – when was the last time I saw them? And a big eye opener about the raising of cows – why would they farm in such a way the natural plants cows eat are eliminated? Bizarre practices we have…

    I, too, find ‘anthropomorphism’ an offence term – and I love that you went to the effort of returning the snail to its home. I’ve never been comfortable with squashing, or baiting, them. They exist quite happily in my yard. Sadly, I’m not yet evolved enough to say the same of spiders…

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    • What a lovely response to the post, Alarna Rose, so glad you enjoyed it, and loved the buttercups too! So glad snails are allowed to co-exist with you! It’s funny, in the end, when you come to respect spiders, instead of being repelled or frightened, they become fascinating little beings too!

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  13. Valerie, your snail story reminded me of our trip to Giverny a long time ago to visit the garden where Monet painted his waterlily works. Walking along a graveled path, my daughter and I saw a glistening snail making its way…somewhere. We watched for a while, I may have some photographs somewhere, and moved along. It seemed to be purposeful in its movement and we didn’t interfere. There is a River Cafe here in NYC. A fancy-schmancy place on the Brooklyn side of the East River. Although exquisite in many ways, it doesn’t hold a candle to your little river cafe! xoM

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  14. I never gave thought or my heart to a snail…until now as I realize that they visit all their eggs until they are hatched!! How, my lovely friend Valerie, do you know all of these Wondrous Things!!! your mind and Heart amaze me, I feel so fortunate to know you! Love, Linda

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    • Oh Linda, I thought your heart would warm to my little snail!
      The Chain of Creation never fails to fascinate and awe me and I long for all creatures to be respected…I learned about snails and their babies from the book I mentioned…
      Thank you for your loving messages, and the love that you send out, love Valerie

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  15. I enjoyed the life-affirming post and the wonderful comments that followed. All I can think of to add is a quote: “Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find”. ~Quoted in Time

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  16. Amy

    I enjoy your eloquent post, Valerie. I also sense your sensitivity about nature through reading your post. The risotto sound so delicious.

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    • Hello Amy, so glad you enjoyed the post, thank you for your perceptive comments – I suspect you must feel the same way…
      risotto is easy cheap and delicious, – just the thing for a threadbare gourmet – and even for prosperous ones!

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  17. Lovely article. I completely agree – life is life in whatever form it takes. I love the fact you took the little snail back to its home. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I was several miles from home, out in the country when two birds flew in front of me – I think they were ‘yellow hammers’. One crashed into the windscreen and I thought it was dead. I stopped the car and walked back to where it lay. It was still alive, but appeared to be unconscious. I took it home, put it in a box in the linen cupboard, where it was warm and dark. I kept checking on it regularly and it recovered. Although it was quite some way, I took it back to where I found it, and held it up in my hands. After a few seconds, it flew upwards, tweeting loudly as it soared joyfully. I swear it was saying “thank you”.

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  18. I’m quite sure it was saying thank you – birds and animals are so gracious – have you seen that amazing video of a whale being un-entangled from a net, – it took hours, and then when it was free, it leapt and dived and blew and sprayed for an hour as though saying thank you….
    I thought your story of the little bird was precious and unforgettable.
    Lovely to hear from you Lizzyjoy, and so glad you enjoyed the post

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  19. I confess..I didn’t kill snails but just threw them into the neighbours yard…they probably threw them back…hahahaha..I do like snails and garlic sauce!!! ;-(

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  20. I used to keep snails as pets when I was young, in an outside bird-box. Apparently I named one Fred. I feel really horrid if I step on a snail in the dark by accident.

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  21. Ah-h-h! Valeria, you have such a warm and compassionate heart! All of God’s creatures have feelings, maybe not to the extent of humans but feelings are present. I have a very soft heart and have been known to save the life of many a critter, insects included. Mind you, not the brown recluse or black widow but those considered mostly harmless just going about their own daily business in the chain of life. Today our cat Boots brought a tiny field mouse into the house. While I definitely do NOT like rats, this one was so tiny, so frail, and probably no more than three inches long. I could not kill it. While I may not want it in the house or for a pet, I felt it needed a chance to return to the field. Whether it lives or not, I will never know. But at least I gave it a chance. Some may say I am crazy for it IS a mouse BUT it is a living creature! It does not make me go EEEEK! or have nightmares in the middle of the night.

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    • Mice are actually rather exquisite, aren’t they! And field mice are particularly beautiful. Have you seen those gorgeous pictures of their babies curled up together is their tiny nests slung between corn stalks?
      Lovely to hear from you Sharla – hope all the mayhem with Sandy doesn’t affect your part of the country…

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  22. Wow, your writing is amazing! Another good way to keep snails off your plants is by crumbling eggshells around the plant because they won’t crawl across the sharp edges, but it’s not as nasty as poisoning them.

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    • How generous of you to be so appreciative – that sort of enthusiasm is so precious, thank you. What a good idea about the egg shells, I’ll have a go when I’ve run out of lettuce leaves!!!

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