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.