Life At A Snail’s Pace
Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s 2010 book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, describes life truly lived at a snail’s pace. Victim of a virulent virus which attacked her autonomic nervous system and caused mitochondrial disease, Elisabeth Tova Bailey faced a depressing prognosis of extreme fatigue and the inability to maintain adequate blood pressure in an upright position. In short, she would have to live life reclining because her body was unable to function in an upright manner. Although she had periods of improvement, serious health reversals repeatedly sent her back to bed. Dependent on caregivers and friends for her needs, she found that she had all the time in the world, but no capability to use it in the ways she would like.
Enter the snail.
One day a visiting friend brought her a small snail she had found in the woods, simply because it struck her fancy. This friend deposited the snail in a pot of field violets which she placed on Bailey’s bedside table. The author quickly found herself mesmerized by the seeming poise and adaptability of this wild creature suddenly placed in an alien environment. As she observed the snail’s tentative exploration of its pot, Bailey fancifully noted, “Pondering its circumstances with a regal air, as if from the turret of a castle, it waved its tentacles this way and then that, as though responding to a distant melody.” So began the author’s enchantment with the snail and her identification with its slow, but purposeful progress through each day. She enjoyed its nocturnal activity, glad to have the presence of another living thing close by on sleepless nights.
On one such night she first heard the sound of the tiny snail eating a flower petal. With this, the snail captured both Elisabeth Tova Bailey and me. I couldn’t wait to learn more about how the snail and the author might fare. In this short and endearing book, I learned much of fascinating interest about snails, their life cycles and languorous “love lives,” their unique and paradoxical physical aspects. Interspersed throughout the story are wonderful excerpts from poets and scientists who have long appreciated this miniscule, but marvelous organism. Bailey aptly quotes the haiku of Kobayashi Issa here, “Climb Mount Fuji/ O Snail/ but slowly, slowly.” What insights the author gleaned from her coexistence with this fellow slow-mover enabled her to examine and accept her own state of being. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating tells her story and that of the snail with beautiful prose and fluid style.
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