While bedridden and convalescing from a long and mysterious illness, author Elisabeth Tova Bailey adopts a snail.
A visiting friend brings her some potted violets and, living among them, a common forest snail. Bailey is barely able to sit up in bed let alone walk around her room without becoming completely exhausted. So, while lying down she takes to observing the snail in its pot on a crate beside her bed. Later she has her caregiver bring in an old fish tank which she converts into a terrarium for her mollusk friend.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a collection of observations and reflections about snails and frailty and existence and time.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
By Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, New York, 2010
I’m not really interested in snails and this book didn’t change that despite loads of information about how snails eat, move, perceive and reproduce, and what they use all that yucky slime for. Instead, I found the parts of the book concerning time to be the most interesting.
The book proceeds at – forgive me – a snail’s pace. Bailey’s illness forces her to abandon her previous active, engaged, energetic life. Visitors come less frequently. She feels more isolated, withdrawn from the world. Her days, her whole calendar, are empty now. She has so much time but no energy to fill it. Her life slows down. The snail occupies the center of her attention. She watches it closely, observing its movements, learning its habits, noting its likes and dislikes. And yes, she listens to it eating.
It’s the snail that fills her days now. It becomes her companion. Gives her something to focus on. I think it keeps her from going mad.
Her snail moves a few inches per minute but sometimes she’s surprised by how quickly the time passes while she’s watching it.
At other times, like when she has to wait weeks or months to get a doctor’s appointment, it seems like the snail moves much faster than humans.
Ironically, as she begins to recover and gain more energy, Bailey feels herself losing the patience needed to watch her snail closely.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating takes place over the course of a year. It’s a short book and rather sad. Maybe moving is a better word. Bailey has been struck by a debilitating illness, one for which there is no clear diagnosis, and which affects her to some degree for twenty years. It made me think about how fragile our lives really are, and how they can be completely upended by unseen forces.
No matter what pace we’re living at, our time is so precious.
Thanks for reading.
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Thanks to Christopher @ Plucked from the Stacks for recommending this book.
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