Tuesday, April 5, 2016


"The hero of this story enters . . . well . . . rather slowly. It doesn't don a cape or sport a lightening bolt on its chest, but its effects are monumental. The actions of this tiny mollusk become all-consuming . . . Everything about this slip of a book is unassuming, yet its petite size, prose, and characters rise like quiet giants from its pages." --BookBrowse.com

In the Pacific Northwest, at least on our small island, we have few snails but many slugs which Mother Felicitas has an aversion to, since they devour her herb garden.  She has tried everything, including pans of beer set out at night.  When I came across this small book I thought it would make a fun Christmas gift. Little did I know! And as spring is in full bloom here the tiny creatures are coming out.

The author, Elisabeth Bailey,  shares an inspiring and intimate story of her encounter with a  common woodland snail. Elisabeth was in her mid-thirties when she was struck with a mysterious illness that soon led to her complete incapacitation. Without knowing the cause, much less the cure or the course that it might take, the disease was frightening. One day, a friend stops by with a rather odd gift- a snail she has found in the yard. First placed in a flower pot  with a small violet,  the snail becomes Elisabeth's constant companion. Because of her lack of mobility and energy, much of her time is spent observing the creature.

She discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this  creature brings and comes to a greater under standing of her own confinement. Life with her snail covered only a year of her nearly twenty-year struggle with illness, but it was an important one. In a big way, the tiny snail gave her reason to go on. She wrote her doctor: "If life mattered to the snail, and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on..."

Intrigued by the snail's  behavior, Elisabeth becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this tiny creature. The first surprise is that snails have a daily routine. They have certain times to eat and sleep and travel. They often return to the same place to sleep, and they sleep on their side.  As she watches the daily activities of the snail, she manages to study research on snails in general and in detail.

Elisabeth could actually hear the snail eating in the silence of her room. "The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously...the tiny intimate sound of the snail's eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space."

This small book is a great meditation and one Mother Felicitas will pass on to an invalid friend.  I recommend this book to everyone who has the time to ponder its message. Told with wit and grace, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

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