As I sat down to write my April article, I found it very difficult to find the positive in many of the topics I was interested in writing about. With our world in an unforeseen “pause” due to Covid-19, our mental, emotional, and physical health can start to hit a wall. I know mine has. However, a few nights ago the burden of this scary and unknown time was made a little bit lighter – with the help of a snail.
As a Michigan native, I’m not accustomed to the warm, sunny days that we have had in my new home state of Tennessee. But with the early warm weather, comes more life. Some of those lives belong to a very lively rout (the word used when referring to a group of snails) that lives on my back patio. In the midst of all the chaos happening outside my backyard, I realized that to some, my backyard is the only known world. I find comfort in that. So, every night for about a week or so I would see these snails, inching along the bricks, doing what I can only assume snails do. I started to become more curious, as a true naturalist does, and decided to conduct a sort of observation experiment of my own. With just a notebook and the social distance safety of my own backyard, I was able to immerse myself into nature and science again, and that has helped me a great deal.
Every night I observe these backyard gastropods. Wondering, what does a snail eat? Do these snails stick around? i.e. Are these the same snails I am seeing over and over again? Do they come out when it’s sunnier or cloudier? And with these questions and observations I began to differentiate between the snails; I began to learn from them. One has a chip on the left side of their shell. One is always in the third hole of the brick to the right. My interest in these snails roots from reading “The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. With an illness that has kept her bedridden, the protagonist discovers a woodland snail on her nightstand and in turn spends her days observing the small animal, while also finding an appreciation for her own place in the world and what it means to be alive – a lot like the situation we are finding ourselves in today. While not bedridden necessarily, we are for the most part, house ridden and that calls for an appreciation of the smaller things. So, I encourage you to grab a pencil and paper, or the notes section of your smartphone, and take a moment each day to become a naturalist in your own backyard.
And maybe you don’t have snails or a backyard of your own – and that’s fine! I can guarantee you have a window and some sort of life right outside that you can observe or start asking questions about. And realize, it’s not every day that you have time to stop and smell the fresh cut grass, or observe the small snails gliding along. Perhaps this virus has given us a sense of place, and time to reflect on the world around us that doesn’t revolve around economic gain or political standoffs. Perhaps we can learn something from the critters whose whole world takes place solely in our own backyards.
“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” – James Stephens
What is something new you’ve noticed outside your window since being stuck inside?
Latest posts by Tori Frailey (see all)
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