A short essay

Photo by Lachlan Gowen on Unsplash

My daughter keeps two snails in a large tupperware box in the corner of the kitchen. She found them in the garden, and since we aren’t able to let her have a ‘real’ pet like a cat or a dog, I agreed that she could keep them.

I don’t like keeping the snails in a box. I try to make it as homely for them as possible, keeping it slightly damp, making holes in the roof to provide fresh air and creating miniature arrangements of leaves, areas of moss, soil, pebbles, deadwood, fresh flowers, vegetable peelings, small slices of cucumber and melon and garden pots turned on their side to make ‘bedrooms’.

Every few days while I clean out their box and give them fresh food, I set the snails free in the garden. I watch as they stretch their soft bodies over the mosses and grasses, always making their way towards the vast, dark forest of the flower border with its towering canopy of nasturtiums, geraniums and weeds. It’s a meditation, watching these snails. I slow down, shrink to their size and explore alongside them just like in Alice in Wonderland or Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

They meet each blade of grass with a kind of rapture, bending and contorting their soft forms to climb flower stalks, wrapping themselves ecstatically around tiny leaves and waggling their antennae as they writhe through the undergrowth in a state of sensual bliss. Raindrops splash on to their brown shells and on to the back of my neck. Do snails feel joy? It certainly looks like they do.

I would like to go further with them, to enter the depths of the lush green underworld. To journey alongside these gentle creatures and see the world for a time as they do; to lose myself in jungles of giant ferns and great hanging vines of ivy, to drink the dewdrops and nibble on petals and wild strawberries as big as beach balls, to arrive at the shores of puddle-lakes and climb trees the size of cities. I would like to find some mossy grove to settle into for the night, to gaze up through a roof of soft-swaying leaves and sparkling cobweb chandeliers and to wonder at the stars in the cool, sweet night.

I am crawling through the rain forest with my invertebrate friends when reality calls. My phone is ringing, the washing machine is spinning noisily and will soon be finished, and the ticking clock reminds me that it is almost time to collect the children from school. Wrenched from my reverie by this strange community of machines, it saddens me to take the snails away from their adventure, but I do.

The garden and fields beyond are wet and green and inviting. I have a strong urge to walk on my own for a long, long time. But I turn and go back inside, where the phone has stopped ringing and the washing machine has clicked to a halt. For a moment, it is eerily quiet. Gently I place the snails back in their box, close the lid, and then the door behind me.

This piece first appeared in Scribe magazine here

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